Every car club, or every group of car guys in the world has that one guy-the guy that goes above and beyond the hobby into legendary status.
Kelly Anderson was definitely one of those guys – on many levels.
The first time I met Kelly was back in the late 60s in junior high-they call it middle school now, but back then it was “junior high”. Kelly was a big guy even then, but fortunately he was also a calm, even-tempered guy. That was a lifetime trait and when you’re in that junior high jungle, large guys without mean streaks were a real asset.
I lost touch with Kelly until the 80s and then I got back in synch with him. He was the same guy – still large, but with that same laid-back look at life. I remember that he was a car guy back in school and that definitely hadn’t changed. Nor had his allegiances because he was still a Chevy boy to the core.
He’d driven a Dodge back in high school and he grudgingly admitted that it hadn’t been a bad car, but everything since was GM.
Like most car guys, there’s always a good rivalry between the Big 3-it’s really close to the same devotion football fans have for their teams. Kelly was no exception, because 2 minutes into any conversation always ended up in a Dodge versus Chevy debate. Kelly was an astute guy, so he knew the difference between Dodge and Plymouth but he dismissed them all as Dodges-even a giant 1961 Imperial was just a big “Dodge” to him.
So the natural strategy was to call Pontiacs and Buicks “Chevys” in any debate just to get Kelly off his game. It never worked. He played the car argument game better than anybody I’ve ever met.
Kelly was an incredibly talented guy-he was an electrician by trade but he knew his way around a car on many levels. He was comfortable in the world of bodywork and the mechanics of a car because he had the kind of natural talent that allowed him to assess any facet of a car.
Kelly’s real strength was in the electrical side of a car–this guy could take a fried, tangled mess that used to be your car’s wiring harness and sort it out in half an hour. I remember running into a blockade on rewiring a car and Kelly had it explained to me in ten minutes-that was after 2 days of painstaking non-effective work on my part.
That also illustrates another facet of Kelly Anderson-he could get to a point without being condescending. That is something you can’t teach because if Kelly had a point to make that was contrary to yours, it was done with tact and style-not confrontation.
Except when it came to his Chevy loyalty. I was one of the first guys to welcome Kelly officially to the old car owner world when he bought his dream car-a 1969 Camaro. Prior to that, he’d been looking for years for the right car and this red Chevy met all of his standards as a buyer. The next spring, Kelly brought the car out of storage and took my brother and me out for a run. The car sat in storage all winter (he’d bought it in late fall), so it had a few glitches. It was bogging down, and the rear end had a sound that definitely got your attention.
Kelly pounded on the Camaro a bit, but it was clear that the car wasn’t at 100% so I made the mistake of telling him that my ‘59 Plymouth with a poly 318 V-8 would probably beat it. That was one of those rare moments when Kelly’s idle went up, so 2 weeks later he showed up at my former business demanding to know where that “Dodge” was.
He wanted me to take the old Plymouth out of storage and accept my inevitable beating in the real world of cars. In the two weeks since I’d ridden in the car, Kelly had been burning the midnight oil working on the car to defend its Chevy honor. Needless to say, that race never came off (I liked holding the myth over him about possibilities, rather than the reality of what would have happened) but Kelly never let me forget my spontaneous response to that first ride in his beloved Camaro.
Kelly had another talent-he was a detail guy to the 10th power. That really helped because he was a human encyclopedia about a car. You could point to a tricked-out ‘67 Nova and Kelly could tell you who owned it, how long he’d owned it, motor, transmission-even his E.T. at the track. That was incredibly valuable information, plus Kelly was so well liked and respected, he was a great conduit to meet these owners. If you met these guys through Kelly, then you were automatically accepted.
He was that well-respected as a standup guy.
Among his many talents, Kelly was also a great photographer-he’d acquired that talent via his dad, who was a police photographer. Kelly was as finicky with pictures as he was with cars-in both cases, everything had to be perfect. Kelly’s vehicles were always immaculate and well maintained and his pictures were scrutinized just as diligently in every case.
The picture at the top of this article is a Kelly original of his Camaro. This was difficult to format because if its size but I wanted to make it meet Kelly standards. It seemed appropriate. I sure wasn’t going to use the only picture I had of Kelly driving his car-he didn’t like being in the car for the picture and he sure didn’t regard the result as even good enough to be sub-standard.
But it was a picture of Kelly in his car – I’m glad I took it.
Kelly Anderson only had a few years with his dream ride. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and like so many people who go too soon, he had unfinished business-his car.
They had the Camaro at Kelly’s funeral and it looked great-to the superficial observer. I looked at it like Kelly would have in the same situation and noticed the sins on the car.
The paint wasn’t great, the interior needed a lot of work and the motor looked a little less than factory clean-all things and more that Kelly would have done to perfection with more time.
But he didn’t get the time, and, like every car guy in every car group that didn’t get the time, he left a legacy that was more than a classic Camaro.
Kelly left a presence that you can feel at every car show because, somewhere in the corner of your eye, is this big, hulking guy with a camera-you feel it most around a collection of vintage Camaros…