To Ron Dauzet, it’s a collection of more than 200 cars—some common, some rare, everything from old BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes to MGs and Jeeps and Porsches. But to the Michigan township he lives in, it’s an unlicensed junkyard, an eyesore, and the cars must go. But Ron fears they must go at a quicker rate than he, or anyone else, can possibly manage.
Ron, 74, is being forced to sell off his enormous car collection at a rate of 20 cars per month because of a township ordinance banning the storage of unregistered vehicles outdoors. And he is utterly overwhelmed.
I first learned about Ron Dauzet from an internet forum member who drove to Northfield Township, Michigan—located between Ann Arbor and Brighton—to buy a Mazda Miata he had spotted on Craigslist. What the prospective buyer ended up finding was much more than just one little Japanese roadster: it was a giant field filled with scores of old, mostly-European, mostly quirky enthusiast cars.
He had, at one point in June, 218 cars on his property.
After seeing photos of the cars on the forum, I went to one of the owner’s many, many Craigslist postings, copied his phone number, and dialed. The voice on the other side was that of a cheery, upbeat older gentleman who told me he was a huge car enthusiast who had been buying up cool cars since he was 21, but that he was now being forced to part with them.
When asked why, Dauzet said he wasn’t entirely sure. All he knew was that Northfield Township wanted him to get rid of 20 cars from his flock every month—a rate Ron says is “virtually impossible for one man to do.”
Despite his cheery initial greeting, Ron’s tone became somber as he told me that he, at the age of 74, has been working all day, seven days a week to keep up with the township’s quota—a quota which a representative from the township checks up on once a month by visiting Ron’s property.
Keen to learn more about why this older gentleman is in such a bind, I asked Ron whom he spoke with from the township. When he told me to get in touch with the township supervisor, Marlene Chockley, I shipped off an email. A few days later, I received a response, which included a link to the township’s code of ordinances, particularly section 36-702 (which relates to zoning). It reads, in part:
Operative or inoperative automotive vehicles or trailers of any kind or type which are unlicensed shall not be parked or stored in any recreation-conservation, agriculture, residential, office, or RTM zoning district other than in completely enclosed buildings.
The ordinance prohibits the storage of unlicensed cars outdoors, even on someone’s own property.
Explaining the ordinance in her email, Chockley told me it’s all about fighting blight, saying:
The township has an ordinance that deals with unlicensed cars. They often contribute to blight...Most municipalities have such ordinances also. There is no problem if the cars are licensed or housed inside a building...I hope you can help him find new homes for some of the cars.
I learned more about the situation after Ron sent me a copy of a court document from the Washtenaw County District Court. That file claims that Ron has a total of 218 inoperable vehicles on his land, and that those cars violate section 10-19 of the township’s code of ordinances.
This section of the code of ordinances deals with environmental issues, and describes the environmental, health, and economic concerns that drive the township’s ban on unlicensed cars stored outside. It reads:
...The places in which such motor vehicles are, or in the future may be, stored tend to become overgrown with weeds, littered with rubbish, and infested with rodents and insects. Such conditions tend to attract children and endanger their lives and health, spread disease, invite plundering, create fire hazards or other safety and health hazards, create or extend blight, interfere with the enjoyment or reduce the value of private property, and interfere with the comfort and well-being of the public. Adequate protection of public health, safety, and welfare requires that blight and conditions that cause blight, including, but not limited to, dismantled or inoperable motor vehicles, be regulated and controlled.
It is for these many reasons that the township took Ron to court for storing unlicensed cars on his own property, and it is for these reasons that the court issued a judgement requiring Ron to reduce the number of inoperable vehicles stored outdoors.
But can he?
Ron said the township initially wanted him to rid of his cars at a rate of 25 vehicles per month. But selling “damn near one [car] a day,” was impossible, so Ron proposed 15 vehicles a month instead. Ron claims the attorney told him the township would never settle for that, and thus Ron “had to compromise at 20.” He still finds that figure far too high.
I asked Chockley if she knew who had come up with that quota, and she told me the township has a “legal consent agreement with Mr. Dauzet.”
So now Ron is facing the daunting task of selling 20 mostly non-running cars a month, and if he can’t meet that quota, there will be consequences.
The document says failure to remove cars fast enough means Ron “shall be compelled to immediately bring the property into compliance...by immediately removing all of the remaining vehicles from the property.” In other words, if he can’t hit the 20 cars per month mark, the township could seize all of his vehicles, leaving him out all of the money he could make selling them. It’s worth noting that they haven’t acted yet, despite Ron failing to meet the quota.
And if that pressure isn’t enough, the court makes it clear that it will take no excuses for Ron missing the quota, saying in the court document mailed to Ron:
In no event shall any of the following be grounds for relief from this Consent Judgement:
a. difficulty in obtaining buyers for the vehicles,
b. Failure of buyers to pick up vehicles,
c. any other problems in selling the vehicles,
e. difficulty in accessing the vehicles, or
f. difficulty in obtaining title for the vehicles.
Clearly, the Township isn’t playing around. They want these cars gone.
Ron admits that his collection has gotten out of hand over the years. Most of the cars on the lot, he says, got there since he moved to this house 15 years ago. And he’s really not that upset about parting ways with his vehicles.
After all, he’s getting older, and doesn’t want to leave his wife all those vehicles with which she’ll have no clue what to do.
“I’m gonna have to get rid of them sooner or later...it was getting out of hand,” Ron told me.
But what Ron is upset about is being forced to sell off his cars under terms other than his own, because according to Ron, the vehicles are out of sight. Ron owns the property across the street from him, and his closest neighbor can’t even see his yard through the trees, so Ron is confused that township stepped in.
“What the hell, what’s the difference between [my collection] being inside, and it being out of sight?... It wasn’t hurting anybody.”
So I stopped by Ron’s property to have a look, and he’s got a point. Aside from the opening to his driveway (see picture above), it’s difficult to notice Ron’s collection while driving down the rural gravel road he lives on.
The photo above shows that rural gravel road; his property is on the left and right. On the left side, where most of the cars are housed, is a high dirt mound and trees blocking the view.
Where the dirt mound isn’t so high, if you look closely enough, you can see the outlines of some cars through the vegetation —and during the winter, when the bushes have lost their leaves, the collection might become a bit more prominent. But again, this is on a gravel back road with little traffic flow.
Ron also owns the lot across the street. If you look carefully while driving by, you can spot a couple of cars through the fence, but by and large, like his other property on the other side of the road, the vehicles are hidden from view by shrubs.
Here’s a bird’s-eye view of his property and that of his closest neighbors:
I don’t live there, so I can’t say for sure that the car collection (which I understand some might not find “aesthetically pleasing”) is completely out of sight of neighbors.
But after stopping by the property a few times, I have to say that—considering how remote Ron’s property is—I really didn’t see Ron’s collection as a “blight” concern whatsoever.
Upon entering Ron’s property, I saw cars everywhere.
Old BMWs, diesel Volkswagens, Audis, Saabs—tons of quirky European cars, and very little boring stuff. I spotted Ron standing in the back corner near his house negotiation the price of a Cadillac Allante.
After some heavy haggling, the two agreed on about two grand (the man never returned, Ron told me), and Ron then showed me around his panoply of automotive wonders. It was incredible.
Here’s one of a couple BMW 2002s:
Here’s a sweet Beetle next to a beautiful fourth-generation Mercedes SL.
This is one of a couple of VW Vanagons:
Here’s an extremely rare Dodge Dakota Sport Convertible (one of under 4,000 ever built!):
This nice old Chevy truck was actually in fairly decent shape:
Check out this beautiful Willys Jeepster Commando:
Ron had tons of Volvo wagons. In fact, he had tons of wagons in general:
Here’s an MGB next to a Porsche 924:
And this is a pretty MG TD convertible for sale for only a few grand:
While I was there, Ron negotiated with a gentleman over a clean old first-generation Toyota 4Runner from the East Coast (the body was actually fairly decent):
Ron had a ton of BMWs and Benzes:
Perhaps most common in his fleet were Saabs. Here’s a link to a decent one that Ron’s selling for a mere $600. Here’s another one:
And another one:
Rust started getting the best of this Datsun Z:
Speaking of Datsuns, here’s the carcass of a Fairlady:
And across the road sat an old Buick Special with a straight-eight under the hood:
Ron’s got an incredible assortment of really weird cars. Lots of diesels. Lots of wagons. Lots of manuals. Lots of turbos. All different kinds of engine and drivetrain layouts. The man just loves quirky cars (and can tell you anything you ever wanted to know about them), which is why he’s spent all this time gathering these things.
But while Ron admits that he should probably get rid of his cars (many of which have withered away over the years), he says he just wants more time.
The Day And A Half Per Car requirement just isn’t feasible, with Ron telling me over the phone “It takes that long to get the car out of storage,” especially when his fork lift gets stuck anytime it rains. (It’s worth reiterating that the court document specifically mentions weather and “difficulty in accessing the vehicles” as two unacceptable excuses).
He recently had to break the window of one of his cars to get inside, as there wasn’t enough time for him to find or make a new key.
As someone with arthritis, asthma and four previous bouts of cancer—and nobody to help him get the cars out of their spots—Ron says he simply cannot get rid of a car every day and a half. He’s in way over his head with the township’s quota, telling me “I don’t sleep at night,” and saying he’s concerned about a car falling on him, or that he’ll have a heart attack from all the stress.
Ron says he thinks the township came up with the high figure because they think of him as a junkyard. They figure: how hard is it to just get the cars to the scrapyard? But Ron insists he isn’t running a junkyard. Over the phone he made it clear: “I’m a car collector,” he said “All the stuff I have is special.”
And that’s one of Ron’s biggest concerns. He says he’s being tasked with dispatching a car collection at the same rate as someone might be expected to scrap a bunch of junkers. But Ron doesn’t want to scrap some of these priceless gems (he admits that he has scrapped some, but ends up making only a couple of hundred dollars because he has to pay the scrapyard to pick up the cars). Instead, he wants to sell them off to a good home at a reasonable price—and that takes time.
According to Ron, a number of Craigslisters have come over to buy a car, then backed out after Ron’s spent hours fixing the car up. He says many of the buyers are “[Wanting] a $5,000 car for $500,” and that because of the time constraint,“I haven’t sold one car yet for anywhere near where I paid for them.”
As someone’s who’s working from 10 to 5 every day to sell off 20 cars per month, Ron is worried about his health and his bottom line. Rushing to get rid of so many cars—especially at his age—is stressful, and trying to sell the cars so quickly means he’s forced to offload his collection for far too cheap.
It’s worth noting that, this ordinance isn’t specific to Northfield Township, and according to Lemon Law attorney and auto journalist Steve Lehto, there’s a good chance the ordinance is just a standard one that the township adopted at some point as a “uniform” ordinance. Still, the township is actually enforcing it, and that’s putting Ron in a bind.
Ron could go back to the township and ask for a bit of leeway on that lofty quota (which, again, he says he felt pressured into accepting) that keeps him working all day and awake all night. Ron says that, even though he hasn’t formally asked for relief since the court’s judgement (in part, because of the strong words on that court document make asking for help seem pointless), he’s going to give it a try soon. He told me over the phone he needs just a couple of years to thin the heard. He said: “Just give me a reasonable amount of time, and I’d be happy.”
But as Lehto told me, reaching out to the township for relief isn’t exactly a promising option, saying: “The bigger problem here is that [Ron] already conceded he was in violation and entered into some sort of agreement, didn’t he?”
Ron’s best option would have been to ask for the township to grant a variance; he could have done this by making “a case that his case was special (or that his property was out in the middle of nowhere and the violation wasn’t hurting anyone).”
A little bit of legal help could have saved Ron a lot of hassle.
I understand the township’s concerns here. But I fall on the side of “let the man live.” For local government to tell Ron he can’t collect cars out of sight on his own property unless he spends possibly tens of thousands of dollars either registering those cars or building garages to house them is absurd. I mean, hoarding cars is the American dream, one that I myself have been living to the fullest.
There’s a decent chance the township won’t grant Ron relief from that quota. In that case, Ron’s only option is to get rid of his cars as quickly as he can. (If you see something in these photos that makes you weak in the knees, hit up Ron via one of his Craigslist listings.)
In the meantime, it doesn’t matter if it’s a collection or a junkyard; it has to go, and Ron’s got a lot of work to do.