Collision repair for modern vehicles is much more than getting your hands greasy and oily.
“You have to stay educated,” said Kelly Lyons, owner of Kelly’s Auto Body in Centralia. “Working on modern cars is not harder, just different in the way we repair. When I got into the business in 1974 to today, it has changed overnight and is totally different in the way the cars are repaired.”
Lyons should know. He has been the owner of Kelly’s Auto Body for 30 years. An anniversary celebration is planned for April 1, April Fool’s Day, with cake and refreshments. The anniversary is of the exact date Lyons took over the business in 1981.
Lyons began his automotive career as a 16-year-old driver, experimenting on his own vehicles. Eventually he went to work for Brown Chevrolet Buick and when that business closed its body shop, Lyons leased the building from them and began his own collision repair business.
Born and raised in Onalaska to parents Bob and Elvina Lyons, Kelly Lyons did not move far. Today, he still lives on the family farm in Onalaska where he jokingly “raises grass.”
He attended LH Bates vocational school in Tacoma and continues with his education to this day, keeping up on new and improved body standards.
The main difference between older and newer vehicles, Lyons said, is that older vehicles “were built tough — and not built to be wrecked. Nowadays, vehicles are built to be wrecked and protect the passenger compartment.”
Lyons’ main work is no longer body repair but part replacement — replacing parts back to factory standards to offer the passengers and driver a safe vehicle. And those parts come with a lifetime warranty after repair.
Lyons stressed vehicles should always be taken to an auto body repair shop after every collision, no matter how minor the accident might have been.
“Cars nowadays have rubber bumpers, and these don’t really show the damage. Underneath the rubber bumper are reinforcements that you can’t see,” he said.
Lee Smith, insurance estimator at Kelly’s for the past three years, said Lyons has a “passion” for his work.
“There’s always something happening in this business — always something fascinating or new in just dealing with the insurance companies,” said Smith. “And every car is damaged differently.” Smith said Lyons is “very passionate about his business and about his customers.”
One of the more interesting vehicles Lyons has worked with over the years was a 1955 Corvette.
“It hit a deer,” Lyons said. “We found a company down in California that still makes parts for (Corvettes) and we ordered a whole front end and fiberglassed it back to together.”
Lyons has expansion plans and recently purchased the building behind the current location.
When not repairing vehicles, Lyons loves traveling. He has been to Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Australia, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy. Next on his travel agenda?
“I really want to do the Inside Passage all the way from Puget Sound to Juneau,” he said.
Part of his travels include repeat trips to Cambodia.
“I’ve been there three times with medical teams,” he said.
Lyons became a part of the team due to a chance visit to his own dentist. While sitting in the chair during an appointment, the dentist asked him if he would be interested in sharing his mechanical talents and coming along to keep the dental equipment running while the team worked with children in orphanages.
“I’ve taken some classes on dental equipment repair so I can go along and keep the electrical systems running over there,” he said.
Rick Fisher of Showcase Kitchens in Chehalis has been taken his cars to Kelly’s since it opened.
“I knew him when he started out at Brown Chevrolet-Buick. Every time has been a totally pleasant experience. He does quality work, the best in the area,” Fisher said, adding, “I think any company that survives 30 years deserves praise and I hope he continues for another 30.”
Victoria Stewart is a freelance writer and photographer living in Chehalis. Contact Victoria Stewart at: email@example.com.