R. L. Kelley, 93; First Published Blue Book on Used-Car Values


R. Leslie (Les) Kelley, a minister’s son who as a car dealer in 1926 began publishing a Blue Book that has since become the bible of the used-car business in terms of establishing automobile market value, died Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles.

The one-time owner of the Kelley Kar Co. and Les Kelley Ford--once the largest Ford dealership in the world--was 93 and had been ill for some time, a company spokesman said.

Born in Arkansas, the son of a Methodist minister, Kelley moved to Los Angeles as a youth and attended USC before opening his first used-car dealership in 1918. That was the forerunner of his car company and eventually his Ford dealership, which at one time had 625 employees.


Kelley closed the dealership in 1962 and retired. At that time, his Kelley Blue Book was in use by 95% of the automotive trade, banks, financial institutions and courts of law in the West in establishing the value of cars.

The company in recent years has expanded and now publishes subscriptions to valuations of both new and used cars and motorcycles as well as recreation vehicles. Kelley Blue Book remains a family enterprise and today is operated by Les Kelley’s brother, S. H. Kelley, a nephew, Robert Kelley, and a grandnephew, Michael Kelley.

Les Kelley was a philanthropist and funded a family health center and clinic at Santa Monica Hospital and contributed to the restoration of the Hollywood sign, which he could see from his home. A golf tournament at the Bel-Air Country Club where he was a longtime member has been named for him.

With him when he died was his wife, IngLis. His other survivors include an additional brother, two daughters, a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter.

A funeral service will be held Monday at 12:30 at Wee Kirk o’-the Heather Chapel, Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Glendale.