Sidney H. "Buster" Kelley, who had built the world's largest used-car business by the 1940s and helped develop the Kelley Blue Book as the bible of automobile values, has died. He was 92.
Kelley died Wednesday at the Norco home of his daughter, Deborah Sanchez.
A resident of Huntington Beach, Kelley had been battling cancer and related illnesses for several years, said his son, Robert.
"Dad was a goer, always saying, 'Let's go for it,' " Robert Kelley said. "He was very innovative. If told he couldn't do something, he'd ask, 'Why not?' "
Kelley was among the first auto dealers to take to the new medium called television about 50 years ago. He was featured in the commercials, showing off his huge Los Angeles lot and listing car prices.
He also pioneered the five-year auto loan, offered car insurance and extended warranties, and started an auto club for customers.
At its peak after World War II, Kelley Kar Co. had 600 employees and was selling 600 used cars and 400 new ones each month, the younger Kelley said.
The success of Kelley Kar set the stage for the increased popularity of the Kelley Blue Book, his son said.
The Blue Book, which was first published 75 years ago, has become the key reference for the automotive industry in assessing the value of new and used cars.
Buster Kelley's older brother, Leslie, started the used-car lot and began issuing a list of autos he wanted and prices he would pay.
The list became such a trusted reflection of car values that Leslie expanded it in 1926 to publish his first Blue Book of Motor Car Values, which contained prices and cash values for thousands of vehicles, from Cadillacs and Duesenbergs to Pierce-Arrows and Hupmobiles.
But Leslie became tired of the car dealership and the Blue Book business, gradually turning over operations to his younger brother, Buster, who was running everything by the late 1930s. Leslie died in 1990.
The Kelley brothers were born in Arkansas, the sons of a Methodist minister who eventually brought the family to Los Angeles.
Leslie parked three Model T Fords in an open lot and started Kelley Kar in 1918. At 13, Buster began working as a lot boy, changing tires and washing cars. Five years later, he was running the company's busy repair shop, overseeing a dozen mechanics. Leslie managed sales and started working up his list of car values.
Buster Kelley was dynamic, energetic and had a sense of fun to go along with a strong work ethic, said Robert's wife, Wanda.
"In the 1920s, the very first time a car with a radio came into the lot, Buster and a buddy hopped in and took it to the beach in Malibu," she said. "They turned on the radio and cranked it up real loud. Within five minutes, there were girls all around. He loved it."
By the late 1950s, the Kelleys began scaling back auto sales. Leslie Kelley sold the business, including the Blue Book, in 1962.
The Kelley family, however, maintained a long-term management role in the Blue Book business. Robert's son, Michael, joined in 1978 and helped lead the company into the computer generation.
Buster and Robert Kelley remained as co-publishers until about two years ago.
Buster Kelley is survived by his son, his daughter, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. A service is set for 1 p.m. Monday at Forest Lawn in Cypress. The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to Inland Valley Hospice in Riverside.