By on October 16, 2010

John Dingell Jr. has represented Michigan’s 15th congressional district for 55 years. His father held the same seat for 22 years before that. Dingell has lived his entire life in Washington, D.C., never in the southwest suburbs of Detroit where his constituents live. For perhaps the first time in his life, Dingell is actually in a political battle. The Detroit Free Press published the results of a poll that showed him 4% down to his challenger, Dr. Rob Steele, a cardiologist from Ann Arbor, with just three weeks to go before the election.

Perhaps if Rep. Dingell and the people near him spent more time in his district and less time in Washington, he would have known that around the Motor City, attacking a guy because he happens to have a collection of cool cars is not a very smart political move. That’s right, John Dingell’s campaign attacked Rob Steele for the fact that he was a car guy, in Michigan, in the Detroit suburbs. Yep. Well, not exactly John Dingell’s campaign, it was the affiliated Michigan Democratic State Central Committee who set up an attack site called Who Is Rob Steele? Still, how out of touch are these people? Are they insane? Attacking someone near Detroit for being an auto enthusiast?

In a naked effort to engage in class warfare, the site originally criticized Steele for making a lot of money as a cardiologist and from the group practice he started (which today employs 300 people). Dr. Steele and his wife, also a successful physician, have a large home, with a five car garage. Now most auto enthusiasts understand the concept of having more cars than storage allows, but to the MDSCC, that’s apparently a sin. Originally Who Is Rob Steele? had the following information mined from vehicle registration databases on the site:

“His five-car garage isn’t big enough to hold all of his eight luxury cars Look at this list of vehicles:

1968 Ferrari 330GTC12
2000 BMW M5
1965 Alfa Romeo
1962 Willys Station Wagon
1970 Fiat
1967 Fiat
1970 Buick Skylark GS 455
1996 Cadillac Seville

Really think a rich doctor with eight fancy cars understands what it’s like to get by in this economy?”

Now how out of touch with the world of cars and with the people of Michigan who love them do you have to be to call a ’62 Willys “fancy”? To describe Fiats as “luxury” cars?

In response to an inquiry, the Dingell campaign said

Mr. Dingell does not think Rob Steele’s 1962 Willys Station Wagon is a fancy luxury car but his other eight autos include a Ferrari, BWM M5, Alfa Romeo and multiple Fiats. Those are pretty darn fancy luxury cars! Made in America? Not so much

Know anything about car culture? Not so much.

Actually, according to Dr. Steele, the Willys belongs to his son, a gift from a grandparent, and the M5 was stolen. To a car nut, that list doesn’t say “fancy” or “luxury”, it says “car guy, cool cars”. Car guys know that if Dr. Steele were interested in luxury, the BMW would have been a 7 Series, not a M5. Car guys know that of all the M5s, he picked the purest of the breed.

And Dr. Steele is indeed a car guy, a serious car guy. The list above is incomplete due to project cars, etc. He actually has three Alfas, two ’65 Spyders, one he races and one that’s being restored as a historic racer since it competed in the 1965 Daytona Continental, and 1988 Alfa Romeo Milano Verde. The “Verde” means that it’s a “factory hot rod”, Steele explained. The Fiats are actually Dino models. Steele is such a car guy that in the middle of campaigning and treating patients he called me back to make sure that I knew that one of the Fiat Dinos is a Pininfarina roadster and the other a Bertone coupe, and that the ’65 Alfa had a bunch a aluminum components and one of the first 5spd transmissions you could buy in America. Every single one of his vehicles is a special example of that model or marque. His muscle car is a Buick.

The cars aren’t trailer queens either. Dr. Steele has raced in SCCA, at the road courses in Waterford Hills and Gratton, Michigan, and he sometimes takes his Buick down to Milan dragway, though he doesn’t “push it real hard, I want to keep it stock”. Our conversation started including words like DeDion rear axle, suspension mods, inboard brakes and dual spark ignition. Not the kind of things you hear from the usual politician.

If Steele wanted to drive fancy luxury cars, he can easily afford something fancier than the eight year old GMC Denali XL that’s his daily driver. That’s also the family car (the Steeles have four children), since Mrs. Steele just bought a 2011 Mustang GT that her husband describes as “an awesome car” that he wishes was his.

As an Italian car lover, he’s hoping that Chryslers start coming with Alfa Romeo engines.

Now some of you may be saying, yeah, okay, so he has some interesting collectible cars that are not particularly valuable, what about the Ferrari?

Steele took pains to note that the vast majority of his cars were bought at least 20 years ago. He’s been fooling around with cars since he got an MGB-GT as a teenager (followed by a 240Z, than a 944 Turbo). The Ferrari was bought in 1986, and it took a second mortgage on the family home to afford it @ $40,000. It’s hard to say what it’s worth but in the past half decade the auction prices on 330 GTCs have skyrocketed, peaking last year at ~$670,000. This year, four ’68 330 GTCs have sold for an average price of about $400K. So it’s true that Dr. Steele isn’t poor, and it’s true that his car collection is worth many thousands of dollars. He has nothing to be ashamed about and the truth is that he made his money honestly, helping people, and he is spending his money wisely and creatively, at least from looking at his collection.

Steele responded to the MDSCC attack on his cars directly with the following statement on his campaign’s web site:

A long-time auto enthusiast, Dr Steele enjoys all things automotive, including autocross, racing, mechanical work and restoration. He is a lifetime member of … the National Motorist Association

That’s also something you don’t expect to hear from a politician, even near Detroit. Michiganders are used to our politicians invoking all they have done for the auto industry, or mentioning a favorite Mustang or other special interest car in their garage or their past, but I can never recall a candidate making a point about how important car culture is in his life.

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36 Comments on “Dingell Attacks Opponent’s Auto Enthusiasm In Motor City Stunner...”


  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Dingell’s bell rang long ago.  He should have retired after his stroke and taken numbskull Conyers with him.

    How did Dingell happen to get a list of what vehicles were in the good doctor’s garage?  Is such information public record?  Did the doc advertise this in his social networking site, or tweet it?  Or did somebody in D.C. call somebody in Lansing and ask for confidential info?

    • 0 avatar

      Robert,

      They got the list the same way companies that send you car dealer sales announcements – car registrations are public records.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Thought it might have been so, regardless, what a lame use of the information.  What is the message he is also sending?  Don’t go to school.  Don’t study hard.  Don’t build a business.  Don’t employee people.  Don’t earn money.  Because if you do, and you do all well, somebody is going to blame you for it…

      Over here, in Switzerland, people are celebrating democracy as the enabler which allowed the longest tunnel in the world, 36 miles, to be bored under the Gotthard mountain … on time, in budget … and back home, our politicians are busying themselves with asinine, divisive, and dangerous things like this…

      p.s. I don’t get junk mail over here … all I have to do is put a little sticker on my mailbox and the post office is not allowed, nor are indepent circular deliverers, allowed to put junk mail in my mailbox. Kinda like the “Do Not Call” set-up in the states (which they have had forever over here.)

  • avatar
    Omnifan

    Conyers and Dingell deserve each other.  Both are numbskulls, both are senile, and out of touch with reality.

    Also, Debbie Dingell was a GM VP for many years as their chief Washington lobbyist.  Hmmmm.

    Time to retire Johnny boy.  Stay home with Debbie.  Polish your GM cars.

    P.S.  John.  Stop running that stupid ad about Rob Steele “Privatizing Social Security.”  I’m tired of seeing your lies every ten minutes on local TV.  After all, weren’t you one of the boys who wanted to put Social Security into a “lockbox” several years ago?  We all know how that worked out, don’t we.

    • 0 avatar

      As for Conyers, I don’t know if the guy has early dementia but sometimes he comes across as missing a few brain cells. He’s an example of someone who can sound articulate while still being stupid. He still won’t comment on  his wife’s conviction and prison sentence for bribery, he gets indignant if he’s asked.
       
      Debbie Dingell (an heiress to the Fisher Body fortune) didn’t make VP till long after she stopped working as a lobbyist. The Dingell’s have long insisted that Mrs. Dingell switched jobs from lobbyist to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
       
      Spousal conflict of interest is rife in Washington, but nobody ever complains about it unless the wife of a conservative SCOTUS justice is a Tea Party activist.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Spousal conflict of interest is rife in Washington, but nobody ever complains about it unless the wife of a conservative SCOTUS justice is a Tea Party activist.
       

      Oh yeah, nobody ever complained about Hillary Clinton.

    • 0 avatar

      psar,
       
      Hilary has gotten her share of criticism but I don’t think anyone’s ever brought up the issue of conflict of interest. I’m more concerned with lower profile marriages. Most people know that Bill’s wife is Hilary, not too many folks knew that one of the most powerful congressmen was married to a GM executive.

  • avatar
    Daanii2

    “Dingell’s bell rang long ago.”

    Well said. Some people in government just cannot give up their grip on power, long after they have anything left to offer. Robert Byrd and Strom Thurmond both come to mind.

    • 0 avatar

      What else could Dingell do? He’s a creature of Washington. He has no other skills than being a congressman. I’d say politician, but he’s never really had to campaign hard. He knows how to move the levers of power to advantage the special interest groups (above all, the UAW) that he represents.
       
      For a man who has never worked in the private sector and has become a multi-millionaire while serving in the US House (Dingell is the richest member of the Michigan delegation), who is married to a millionaire heiress, to attack Steele as a “rich doctor” is the height of hypocrisy. Steele made his own money, and created 300 jobs along the way. He earned his wealth. Can the Dingells say the same about their millions?

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      (With apologies to John Houseman) They made their money the old fashoned way, they inherited it (or got it thru back door deals.)  The whole set-up is just pathetic.

      Debbie Dingell’s VP position always reminded me of being as useful as those of the Board of Bystanders, except for her marital connections.

      Although I think the Dingell and Conyers guys are embarassing (and Stabenaw also said quite some dumb things too), I have to say that (if they did,) I don’t recall the Levin brothers putting their feet in it.

    • 0 avatar

      The Levin boys are smart, no doubt, but Sander tried to tell me, to my face, that his son Andy’s appointment as Deputy Director (now Acting Director, soon to be anointed Director) of Michigan’s Dept of Labor and Economic Development had nothing to do with their last name. Andy Levin has never worked in the private sector since graduating from Harvard law. He’s either worked for labor unions or he’s been appointed to political positions by Democrats.
       
      Andy’s never created a job or any wealth, but he’s managed to get himself a $124,000/yr salary and a house in Bloomfield Twp., Michigan.
       
      Now tell me that there isn’t a ruling class.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I’d love to have a Fiat Dino.

    The class envy card may actually play well with Dingell’s constituents.  Would they try this tactic if their opponent owned 8 Corvettes?

    Since Fiat/Alfa is now Chrysler, and BMWs are US-made, only the Ferrari is truly an ‘import’.  Sort of.

  • avatar

    Not only is the Dingell campaign out of touch with auto enthusiasts, note how their campaign spokesperson is still playing the “he owns foreign cars” card. Perhaps Dingell and the MDSCC are not aware of the 106 acre Toyota Technical Center located in Ann Arbor, in Dingell’s own district. As a matter of fact, there are a number of facilities operated by foreign automakers and vendors in MI 15, including the Hyundai/Chrysler engine plant in Dundee.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Let me see if I can name a few of them:
      - TMC TC in Ann Arbor
      - Nissan TC in Farmington Hills (on the grounds of the former Farmington Country Club)
      - Hyundai TC in Superior Twp
      - JTekt(formerly Koyo) in Plymouth Twp
      - Aisin Seiki in Plymouth
      - MACO (Michigan Automotive Compressor Co) in Jackson
      - OGIHARA Stamping in Howell
      - Calsonic HVAC and Cat Conv in Farmington Hills
      - Denso Corp in Southfield
      - American Suzuki in Wixom
      that was just from memory, attached is something else I found just peeking on the web:
      http://www.oakgov.com/peds/assets/docs/foreignfirms/Webjapanese.pdf

    • 0 avatar
      pgcooldad

      Sorry, I’ll have to correct you on the Dundee Engine Plant. Fiat booted Hyundai and Mitsubishi out of there soon after taking managerial control of Chrysler.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    Since Ferrari is owned by Fiat- Chrysler , I guess that’s a domestic also.
    Knowing the way US automakers think, expect a 12 cylinder RAM truck in “Rosso red” soon!
    Just the thing for the Saturday Costco run.
     

    • 0 avatar
      bomberpete

      It’s not that unprecedented. When he was alive, gambling tycoon and auto collector Bill Harrah had Ferrari V-12 engines installed in a succession of Jeep Wagoneers for his quick 100mph+ dashes down the Nevada interstates.

  • avatar
    AaronH

    These people are too stupid to be free. Bratty moronic parasites voting for thieving political psychopaths…That’s rare in a Democracy….Duhhh.

  • avatar
    also Tom

    I need more elaboration on the two Fiats and the choice of that particular year of Caddy.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    It’s a fair point: a doctor with a car collection might have a lack of empathy for the plight of the lower and lower-middle classes.
     
    That said, a career politician would have a similar gap.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a fair point: a doctor with a car collection might have a lack of empathy for the plight of the lower and lower-middle classes.
       
      Why should the fact that he has a car collection or any other material possession necessarily mean he has a lack of empathy for those less well off? You’re making assumptions based on your own political and economic biases. One could just as well say that as a doctor, who treats rich and poor alike, he shows empathy to his patients. My experience with wealthy people is that they tend to be philanthropic because they know they have more than they can spend on themselves. I live in a community where most of the communal buildings and institutions have been underwritten by wealthy folks.
      Also, as a guy with a car collection, particularly a well thought and well bought one, probably has lot in common with your average car enthusiast, who is likely to be not nearly as wealthy as Steele. If Steele wanted to put on airs, he’d be driving a PMY Gallardo.
      Either way, it’s stupid to attack a guy in the Detroit suburbs for having a few cool cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      “Either way, it’s stupid to attack a guy in the Detroit suburbs for having a few cool cars.”

      Welcome to American politics – where the best, and now only, tactic is to attack your opponent. Rather than espousing a platform, most candidates spend copious amounts of money buying television ad time to expose the worst facets of their opponent.

      My cable company carries broadcast stations from Atlanta, Rochester NY, Seattle, Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago – and for the past several months we have seen nothing but mudslinging and character attacks. Not one single candidate has spoken of the serious issues facing their constituents and the country itself. Some candidates even have websites devoted to their opponents personal lives and foibles.

      This exposé by Rep. Dingell of his opponent seems like an act of desperation, because if this is the worst dirt that could be dug up about his opponent, he’s got to be running scared.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Why should the fact that he has a car collection or any other material possession necessarily mean he has a lack of empathy for those less well off?

      Because it’s likely true.

      Notice I said empathy, not sympathy.  You can be sympathetic, and thusly philanthropic, without really understanding the situation that the people you’re sympathetic to.  I’m sympathetic to the plight of, say, a soldier in Afghanistan but I don’t really understand what he/she is going through.

      It’s the same reason why labelling someone as “elitist” is, frankly, bullshit.  Whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a career politician or a hobo who rode populist sentiment to the White House, what matters is execution, not whether or not you sound like someone I’d like to go for a beer with.

      Side note: I actually agree with you that, on Dingell’s part, this is a lame ploy that only lowers the level of political discourse.  What’s next, accusations that someone breaks the Sabbath and goes to church barefoot?

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      What’s wrong with barefoot?  I have it on good authority that J.C. himself often attended in sandals.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      It’s also a fair point to note that someone who spent virtually all of his or her professional career in government or academia might lack empathy for small business owners trying to cope with increased government regulations.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    For the record, I am a liberal Democrat.
    I have no idea why Mr. Dingell has attacked Mr. Steele on this.
    Mr. Steele appears to have excellent taste in automobiles, and his garage is not particularly extravagant. It adds up to a pretty decent answer to “How would you spend $100,000 on your dream garage?”
    The Ferrari 330 has often been called a bargain – a true Ferrari V12 GT for far less than what its more famous relatives go for – and if bought in a year when values were down would have cost less than $20,000.
    The Skylark GS-455 was about the peak of the later Detroit muscle-car. It or a Dodge/Plymouth with a Hemi would have been the fastest midsizer you could buy in 1970. If bought before 1985 or in the 1990s it would’ve been “just another used car” at a four figure price.
    An E39 BMW M5 has cost less than $20,000 for the past few years, and would be a bargain if it wasn’t for the heavy maintenance cost.
    The ’65 Alfa, again, was very cheap at some point and between the 1980s boom and the 1990s boom could’ve gone for four figures.
    The Fiats and Willys, if running and in good condition, are the sort of cool old ordinary cars that go on Jalopnik all the time.
    A 1996 Seville is 15 years old now and is probably some sort of winter beater.

    • 0 avatar

      Chaparral,
       
      You hit it on the head. I tried real hard not to make this a partisan political piece. I can’t think of an auto enthusiast of any kind not finding something to like in this collection. All the cars are special in their own right (well, except for the Caddy). Steele knows his cars.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    Go Steele go!
    I haven’t found anything I dislike about him, although the one thing he needs to be is NOT-JOHN-DINGELL.
    All of this good stuff is icing on the cake.
    Dingell was redistricted from the Detroit area to Ann Arbor ish over many years and likely has to clue about where his district exactly is and is not, but why should he care? The idiots keep reelecting him, he might as well be the Emperor of Michigan.
    “He should have retired after his stroke and taken numbskull Conyers with him.”
    Couldn’t agree more.

    The more plausible statement is not that Rob Steele has 8 cars, a majority of which are ‘non-Detroit,’ but rather that everyone in Michigan would have 8 cars in their driveways if we hadn’t been plundered all of these years by Dingell, Conyers, and friends.

  • avatar
    mcs

    Steele’s academic record looks impressive. It looks like he got his medical degree through a 6 year accelerated program. That’s impressive. Those programs are really selective and difficult to survive. He’s worked hard and deserves every bit of his earnings. That’s how things are supposed to work – work hard and get a reward.

  • avatar
    djn

    @expatbrit
    Knowing the way US automakers think, expect a 12 cylinder RAM truck in “Rosso red” soon!
    Just the thing for the Saturday Costco run.
    Bill Harrah would be proud.  Remember the “Jerrari”?

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    Attacking his car collection is ridiculous. It’s not very impressive but that’s his own tastes.
     
    What needs to be attacked is the Dr.’s sanity for running for Congress. With his success and young family he ‘s nuts to want to go to Washington and have to work with the likes of Conyers.
     
    I admire his altruistic ways and regardless of what party he is affiliated with he would get a second look.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    This guy seems more ingenuous than all the bogus congressmen/women and senators driving Priuses to enhance their green image publically.

    Heck, even his daily drivers are cool -Yukon Denali XL and a Mustang for his wife. And out of touch? Well, nothing says “American everyman” like still having a ’96 Seville…

  • avatar
    MikeAR

    Wish I could vote for Steele, he sounds like a good guy. As for Dingell, he has been in office since 1955 and his father had been in that seat since 1933. Almost 80 years and here it is I though we didn’t have a House of Lords.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I would vote for Steele over Dingell in a heartbeat, and I’m a registered Democrat. I long for a country which looks at results more than it does ideology. Get over it people, there is no magical ideological formula which if followed faithfully will lead to peace and prosperity.
     

  • avatar
    bomberpete

    Here in New York, Andrew Cuomo is WAY ahead of Crazy Carl Paladino. If the eco-greenies here are upset about Andrew’s Muscle-era horsepower lust, I haven’t heard much about it:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/29/nyregion/29cars.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1
     
    Then again, we just want the damned election over with already!


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