The first Kelley Blue Book was published in 1926. In those days,
the price of a new Packard sedan limousine was around $3,825 and that of a used
1921 Nash touring car, even with a clock, was about $50.
Les Kelley, California-transplanted son of an Arkansas preacher, authored the original
Kelley Blue Book. A dozen years earlier, in 1914, Les had arrived in Los
Angeles at the age of 17broke, unemployed, but with a fine old car he maintained
on his own.
At the urging of friends, Les sold his car. With the proceeds he bought another
which he rebuilt and sold, then another, and another. In 1918 Les started his own
business, the Kelley Kar Company, with three rebuilt Model T Fords, $450 in cash,
and his 13-year-old brother, Buster, as lot boy.
The Birth of the Blue Book
By the early 1920's the Kelley Kar Company was thriving. To acquire inventory, Les
handed out to banks and other car dealers lists of vehicles he wanted to obtain,
along with prices he was willing to pay for them. The business community trusted
Les Kelley's price evaluations. It even began relying on them. Some members started
asking for copies of Kelley's lists for their own use as guides to current automobile
market values. Soon Les Kelley realized he had a unique, marketable commodity. Thus
was born the Blue Book of Motor Car Values, which in time became simply Kelley
The Kelley Success Story
The automobile and publishing business rewarded Les and Buster Kelley. The Kelley
Kar Company expanded during the 1920s to occupy an entire city block at the corner
of Figueroa Street and Pico in Los Angeles. The repair/body shop that was part of
the company sat on a different site and employed over a hundred people. In those
days new-car dealerships didn't sell used cars, so the Kelleys bought vehicles the
dealers were taking as customer trade-ins, while also buying directly from the public.
During the Depression, Kelley Kar Company sometimes bought the entire inventories
of dealers going out of business.
In the 1940's, World War II brought on a shortage of used cars, and prices for them
skyrocketed. The Kelley Blue Book became the standard for the government's
price ceilings on used cars, and the book became a must for every dealer in the
Les Kelley bought a small Ford franchise before the war ended, and after that the
company sold both new and used cars. Buster's son, Bob, joined his father and uncle
in the business; and Buster became perhaps the nation's first car dealer to advertise
on the new medium: television.
Some of Buster Kelley's TV commercials ran as long as 15 minutes, with Buster walking
around the showroom pointing out specials and offering a guarantee: return the car
within 30 days and you could trade it for any other car at the same or higher price.
Plenty of Hollywood's show business people bought cars from Kelley. By the 1950s
the company had become the largest Ford dealer and the largest used-car dealer in
The Blue Book's Evolution
Throughout the next three decades, the Kelley Blue Book thrived as a trade
publication, sold only to business subscribers within the automotive industry. New-car
prices were added in 1966 as a separate publication, followed soon after by publications
compiling prices for recreational vehicles, motorcycles, and even mobile homes.
Kelley became the automotive industry's leading provider of pricing information.
In 1993, Kelley made its first venture into the consumer marketplace, by publishing
a consumer edition of the Kelley Blue Book. That volume, updated regularly,
is available at bookstores, auto supply stores, newsstands and other locations today.
In 1978 Bob Kelley's son, Mike, joined the company, bringing with him a background
in computer technology. Named General Manager in 1981, Mike Kelley developed systems
for dealers to get trade-in values and new car prices onlinethe first step
in bringing Kelley Blue Book pricing information to yet another new medium, the
Microsoft and Kelley Blue Book
Les Kelley's original want-list of models and prices, kept in shirt pockets and
beneath desk blotters by the bankers and car salesmen of the Roaring Twenties, has
made the leap to cyberspace. On the Internet since 1995, Kelley Blue Book supplies
new- and used-car information for millions of pricing reports generated online each
Today, consumers and the automotive industry continue to rely on Kelley Blue Book
for trusted new-car pricing, trade-in values, and related information essential
to the vehicle buying and selling decisions.
MSN Autos is proud to partner with this venerable information provider that continues
on the cutting edge.