Dingell Attacks Opponent's Auto Enthusiasm In Motor City Stunner

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
dingell attacks opponent s auto enthusiasm in motor city stunner

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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2 of 36 comments
  • John Horner John Horner on Oct 18, 2010

    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.

  • BklynPete BklynPete on Oct 29, 2010

    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!

  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.https://www.lhd.com.au/lhd-insights/australian-road-death-statistics/
  • Lorenzo In Massachusetts, they used to require an inspection every 6 months, checking your brake lights, turn signals, horn, and headlight alignment, for two bucks.Now I get an "inspection" every two years in California, and all they check is the smog. MAYBE they notice the tire tread, squeaky brakes, or steering when they drive it into the bay, but all they check is the smog equipment and tailpipe emissions.For all they would know, the headlights, horn, and turn signals might not work, and the car has a "speed wobble" at 45 mph. AFAIK, they don't even check EVs.
  • Not Tire shop mechanic tugging on my wheel after I complained of grinding noise didn’t catch that the ball joint was failing. Subsequently failed to prevent the catastrophic failure of the ball joint and separation of the steering knuckle from the car! I’ve never lived in a state that required annual inspection, but can’t say that having the requirement has any bearing on improving safety given my experience with mechanics…
  • Mike978 Wow 700 days even with the recent car shortages.
  • Lorenzo The other automakers are putting silly horsepower into the few RWD vehicles they have, just as Stellantis is about to kill off the most appropriate vehicles for that much horsepower. Somehow, I get the impression the OTHER Carlos, Tavares, not Ghosn, doesn't have a firm grasp of the American market.