A Slice of Old Towne Character, Don Kelly of Hoffman Radiator

 In People Stories

I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Don Kelly, Custom Radiator Specialist, the other day to learn a little bit about him and well, I just loved him! He is the proud owner of Hoffman Radiator which has been a part of Old Towne Orange since 1946, definitely one of the oldest businesses in towne. Don himself took over the business in 1976, about 35 years ago and has been excelling at what he does since then.

If you spend a bit of time in OTO, you may have seen Don around towne. He spends quite a bit of time enjoying the Plaza, eating at various local restaurants (one of his favorite’s being Watson’s) and hanging out at the Elks. He’s also been driving the same ’53 Chevy for the last 35 years, every day to work…license plate #RADATR1, love it!

I asked Don how he got into the business so many years ago and was surprised to hear it was purely by chance. It was 47 years ago that he was looking for a job and went to an employment office in Long Beach where he was sent to a radiator shop (a huge business back in the day). He started as a pick up and delivery guy, and every chance he got he’d work on the radiators (though he’d be chased away by the boss) until eventually, they decided to train him. Now, nearly 5 decades later he’s part of our local history and character.

His motto is that he “does radiators for everyday cars and always has” but he also does a lot of custom work. The custom side of his business was all self taught, just trying this or that until it worked. He makes all kinds of pieces and parts himself and he’s quite a creative cat! He makes brackets for electric fans, overflow tanks and then there’s the crafty side like this desk lamp and these cool cars to put on a mailbox or outside of a store front. He reuses all kinds of materials, so his creations have a unique charm and rustic appeal. If you stopped by his office, you could spend hours just looking at all the items in there, even his couch is made of what I think was an old front seat of a car, and it was pretty comfy too!

 

Don’s the kind of guy that has customers for life, 2nd and 3rd generation families utilize his service, I’d say that’s because he’s ‘the man’, great at what he does, creative, trustworthy, friendly and from my point of view, charming. He’s got 4 children and 2 grandkids, one of which will probably end up with his classic ’53 Chevy, lucky kid!

A few details about Don: He’s designed/built radiators in award winning Street Rods, Customs, Rat Rods, Classics, Ford 49’er Concept car, Hyundai Concept car, all the OCCA give away cars and Phil Letterman’s Extreme Automotive-31 Chevy Coupe (18 years ago and still going strong).  Other custom designing/building includes electric fan brackets, stainless steel top radiator hose for 55 to 57 Chevy’s, custom overflow tanks and military canteen overflow tanks for the Rat Rods with custom designs and pin striping by Doug Dorr.
He’s been featured in STREET RODDER, ROD & CUSTOM, SUPER CHEVY, CUSTOM CLASSIC TRUCK and JAPAN’S CUSTOM/TRUCK CAL.
Hoffman Radiator is located at 237 West Chapman at the corner of Chapman & Lemon in Old Towne Orange.
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Showing 2 comments
  • Donna

    Wow,what a great story. I love to read about someone with such a passion for their job.

  • Mike Greene

    Boy Don, how much did that cost you? Great article, about a great guy!

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