Stories of Automotive Archaeology
Kevin Biebel is not like other car collectors. He’s never been hung up on “bright and shiny” or sought out the most expensive vintage cars to impress others. Instead, he has had a lifelong interest in the stories behind particular cars and the related artifacts that bring those stories to life. In short, those who do not know Kevin might call him a collector. But to those who do, he is nothing short of an automotive archeologist.
Kevin’s automobiles are just part of his story. The Connecticut home that Kevin and wife Yvonne share is chock-a-block with hundreds of items, large and small, that chronicle over a century of automotive evolution. Our only regret in organizing this exhibit is that we do not have the space that would be needed to share more of their fascinating collection with those who visit “REAL STEEL: Stories of Automotive Archeology.”
Frederick K. Biebel, Kevin’s father, was a staunch Republican who served as both Connecticut and national party chairman and was a trusted advisor to President Ronald Reagan. But unlike Kevin, he had no interest at all in automobiles.
“I was the black sheep of the family,” says Kevin. “The local police were always bringing me home with my go-kart in the back of their Chevrolet station wagon. But then I learned how to weld after getting my first acetylene torch set and a contract for replacement tanks on my 11th birthday. I got my first Model A when I was 13 and it’s been cars and metalwork ever since!”
Biebel’s business, Art Metal Industries, is a huge success, supplying high end metal work to municipalities, hotels and casinos across the nation.
“We build what others can’t,” says Biebel, whose customers include New York City’s DOT, MTA and the Port Authority. At Yankee Stadium, he fabricated the stainless steel logo that dominates the floor at the entrance and he has done extensive work at the Time Warner Center, on Wall Street, where he supplied both sculptures and security controls, and in Times Square, where he built the Planter’s Peanuts can that periodically tilted and dumped peanuts out.
Clocks and soldiers at FAO Schwartz came out of his shop, as did many characters at Pennsylvania’s Hershey Park and much of the metalwork gracing the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut and Las Vegas’ Luxor Hotel. But getting to this stage of his life was not easy.
“My dad bought me a Model A to keep me out of trouble but I was always driving it without a license,” recalls Kevin. “I got caught so many times they wouldn’t let me get a license until I was 18 as punishment.
“My parents collected antiques but I was painting motorcycles and working on cars. Then I met Gerald St. George, head tool and die maker for Lycoming, and he took me under his wing and taught me to run a milling machine. He was a big Model A guy and introduced me to Fred Paige, a New York stockbroker who flew home to New Hampshire every weekend to play with his Model A collection.
“By the time I was 18, St. George and I were producing mirrors and selling them through ads in Hemmings and at the big show in Hershey, PA. We sold to all the dealers and in turn, they sold me parts from their business and I developed a mail order parts business out of my grandmother’s basement.”
There was but one cloud on the horizon and Kevin, ever the innovator, soon solved that.
“I couldn’t stand school and it looked like I wasn’t going to graduate. So I cut a deal with my English teacher to graduate. All I had to do was supply her with two nice Model As as a centerpiece for the Cotillion dance.
“I worked at my business full-time after graduation and soon realized there wasn’t a lot of money in old Fords. But I had a real talent with my hands and started doing full restorations of Mercedes Gullwings and grew from there. I became a master painter, which soon took me to Pebble Beach with a W154 Mercedes Grand Prix car I restored.”
But like so many other successful businessmen, Kevin Biebel had to go through a major down cycle before finally finding his true niche.
“By mid-life I’d had a heart attack and been divorced, with my business pretty much going away as well. Then a friend got me to do sets for Broadway, where I found my coordinating skills from organizing restorations and my mechanical skills were a perfect match for their needs.
“Then Hasbro Toys found me. They had big projects with short deadlines but I pulled them all off. They paid ridiculous money and pretty soon I was doing a million dollars a year for Hasbro. From there, I refined the business to doing the high end architectural metal work.”
Business success let Biebel invest in the automobiles and memorabilia he had loved since childhood. Every car has a story, but the tale of one Model T perfectly illustrates Kevin’s devotion.
“I fell in love with a T when I was 11. It had been traded in at a Buick dealer in 1938 and ended up in a junk dealer’s building, surrounded by a head-high pile of newspapers. I had asked for right of first refusal, but it sat there for decades before the site was sold for a McDonalds and it was put up for sale. My business was down, so I passed on it. Then the guy who got it, and did a lot of work on it, died in 2007 and I ended up buying it. He had 20 grand in a car worth less than half that, so I bought it for 12. I just couldn’t let it get away again!”
A walk through Biebel’s shop and storage area reveals dozens of cars and trucks awaiting restoration, each with an interesting history. It is a certainty that he will never run out of vehicles that need his magic touch.
Kevin Biebel truly loves his automobiles and memorabilia, and he and Yvonne continue to seek out interesting memorabilia while sharing their cars with the public at major shows near and far. We are honored that Kevin has chosen the Saratoga Automobile Museum as the first venue to display his entire collection.