Thursday, 25 April 2013 21:27

Crazy Painter Mitch Kelly, Father & Son Keep on Truckin’ in SoCal

Written by Melanie Anderson
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Crazy Painters Mitch Kelly, 53, his father Tom Kelly, 73, and son Thomas Kelly, 22, might be a little crazy with the schedule they keep. Based out of Bellflower, CA, the three-generation trio don’t have much free time between painting custom hot rods, Harleys, semi tractor trailers, race haulers, motor homes and, recently, even a plane.

Owners of Kelly & Son The Crazy Painters, Mitch and his dad Tom still have yet to add “& Grandson” to the sign, but the younger generation is holding his own with his computer-generated design and logo work.

You might say painting is in their blood. Mitch’s great great grandfather was striping horse-drawn wagons on the Ford line before motors were even invented. Tom Kelly’s grandfather did pinstriping back in the ‘40s, and Tom, who started in the business at age 13, is well-known for working with Von Dutch as well as Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth. Mitch also started in the business at age 13, painting wheels for his dad. Mitch says his dad and grandfather named the shop “Crazy Painters” because of the airbrush work they did back in the ‘50s involved a lot of monsters, flames and ‘crazy’ graphics and lettering.


Blue Heaven
At SEMA 2012, Mitch unveiled his 1957 Bel Air Chevy called ‘Blue Heaven’ and since then the car has won several awards. In November, it was selected as Goodguys Builder’s Choice Top 10 at the Goodguys 2nd Fall Del Mar Nationals in Del Mar, CA. In December it won ‘Best in Show’ at the 15th Annual John Force Holiday Car Show in Yorba Linda amongst approximately 3,000 cars in the show. In January, Blue Heaven came home with the ‘Best Paint’ award in their division from the Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, CA, and in March, the car was selected as a Vintage Air Custom Rod of the Year Finalist at the Goodguys 4th Spring Nationals in Scottsdale, AZ.

Upcoming shows include the Long Beach Grand Prix and Cruising for the Cure in Orange County. The car will also be featured in an upcoming issue of Hot Rod Magazine.

Despite the car’s popularity and award-winning looks, Mitch says it’s time for the car to go and he is looking for a buyer. Mitch is eager to start his next street rod project and has a ‘61 Impala and ‘57 Chevy Bel Air convertible awaiting his attention.

“Rock My RV”
Mitch, Tom and Thomas Kelly also have been busy taping episodes of a new TV show called “Rock My RV” which will begin airing on the Travel Channel in May. Legendary rocker Bret Michaels, a long-time RV devotee, will host the all-new “Rock My RV” series. According to their website, Michaels leads a team of skilled, custom RV designers and fabricators to transform ordinary RVs into “outrageous, badass, hooked-up mobile mansions on the road.”

The Kelly’s have recently painted two motor homes for the show, a GMC for a gourmet sausage entrepreneur and a Fleetwood for a Midwest family who travels the California coast.

The GMC, Mitch said, looked like it had been in a hurricane with broken fiberglass and rusted screws, nuts and bolts. Kelly and crew repaired the fiberglass, replaced all hinges, sanded, base coated with his all-time favorite red—PPG’s Hot Red—and then added a black and gold pearl belly stripe while son Thomas created an awesome 3D logo for the owner’s business.

“This was a three-Kelly effort,” said Mitch. Thomas did the design and logo work,  Mitch did the mask off, and base painting and stencil graphics, and Tom Kelly, with his phenomenal airbrushing talents, added depth and shine with candies and pearls and created a 3D affect.

Mitch painted the 30-foot Fleetwood motor home belonging to the Midwest family black with gold stripes and red candy with graphics in a three-layer design in red and gold with drop shadowing done in stages.

Three sets of graphics lay on top of each other. Tom finished it off with a custom 3D mural painted in the back of the motor home to commemorate the wild and scenic California coastline that the traveling family loves to visit.

Kawasaki Motocross Race Trailer
Another recent project the Kelly men have worked on includes a Kawasaki Volvo tractor with a race trailer. Painting extravagant tractor-trailer rigs is a Kelly specialty. Clients include professional motocross and supercross teams and manufacturers. These jobs are great calling cards for the Kellys as the trucks travel across the country on nationwide tours with riders giving TV interviews and doing commercials in front of the Kelly custom-painted trucks.

What’s different about this new project is that Thomas is solely responsible for creating all the design work. Proud Papa Mitch says his son presented his design ideas to the corporate Kawasaki race team decision makers who loved his work and agreed to the concept within five minutes. The semi is painted black with white and lime green and a heavy metallic blue, with a green and blue pearl for sparkle. Mitch says you can’t see the glitter until the sunlight hits it just right and then the paint job “winks at you.”

Mitch is able to paint semis in a huge 63’x19’x19’ paint booth, but he didn’t start in a fancy, monster-size paint booth. He got his first semi-truck custom paint job back in 1992 from the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP). They wanted an image of a 30-foot volleyball player diving for the ball on the side of the truck. Mitch said yes before he even knew they could do it. Mitch recalls they set up a projector in the driveway and parked the truck on the street. They projected the image they wanted on side of the truck to sketch it out. Out of hundreds of custom paint jobs completed over four decades, this job turned out to be his all-time favorite. Today, custom paint jobs on a semi run about $50,000. It takes about a week of prepping and another four days to paint a semi, Mitch said.

Truck for Brian Deegan
Mitch completed another recent tractor-trailer project for Brian Deegan who races off-road trucks. Thomas created the designs, incorporating all the sponsors’ logos and Mitch painted the rig using his favorite PPG Hot Red, Titanium Silver and created a bright yellow to match the “Rock Star” yellow. Mitch completed the black, red, silver and yellow look with red and gold micro sequence flakes.

Deegan of Temecula, CA, is a former freestyle motocross racer who founded Metal Mulisha, a freestyle motocross FMX team, and is a Rally Car Gold Medalist and winner of  ten X-Games medals.

And a Plane
Motorcycles, custom vehicles, motor homes, semi trucks. So, why not a plane? Mitch’s friend Dana Pontious lives on an airport in the Mojave Desert and owns a 1955 Cessna 172, the second oldest Cessna 172 still flying today. Dana has owned the plane for a few years and she’s been flying it bare aluminum. The plane needed a paint job. Who better than her good friend Mitch? The father of Dana’s fiance, Adam, happens to be a mechanic and rated with FAA to work on planes, so they tore the plane apart and they hauled it in a trailer in 104 pieces to Mitch’s Bellflower shop.

Mitch met Dana years ago as a fellow dirt bike rider. “Dana is the kind of girl who hooks up a trailer to the motor home by herself, hauls it out to the desert, gets out her bike and rides with the boys at the same speed we did,” Mitch said.

Mitch recently spent a long weekend prepping, sealing and painting the Cessna. He used PPG’s base colors, a titanium silver and white, to create a light gray with slight pearl metallic sheen. Of course, he added his favorite Hot Red and then they covered the plane in black and silver graphics. Mitch said his son went a bit crazy on the graphics and after three long days of adding color and graphics all over the body, tail and wings, Mitch was completely worn out. Adam put the plane back together and Dana made immediate plans to fly to Florida to pick up her sister to go to an air show and have some fun girl time. Dana’s plans included showing the plane and flying in a showcase.

“I have waited a very long time to get this paint job,” Dana said. “As I sit back and look at it now, it was well worth the wait. It is better than I could have ever imagined. I can’t believe this is my airplane!”

Can’t Move Without It
One of the products that Mitch finds invaluable in his shop is his mobile car dolly built by DJS Fabrications Inc. The dollies can be bolted to disk brakes, tires aren’t necessary, and it allows a tech to work beneath the car and works well for low-sitting cars that can be put right on the dolly.

“They are invaluable for pushing a dead car around the shop,” said Mitch. “Currently, we have a 1982 low-rider Cadillac getting customized and it wouldn’t push anywhere, so we have it on one of Doug’s dollies. We can move it wherever we want to work on it. If you can’t move it, you can’t work on it. They are vital to getting the job done.”

For more information about Mitch and Tom Kelly Crazy Painters, go to:

Read 2699 times Last modified on Wednesday, 25 January 2017 22:21