Roughly two years ago, a Michigan township told retired Ford powertrain dyno-cell technician Ron Dauzet that his 218-car automobile collection did not comply with a local ordinance, and so the vehicles had to go. Since then, the now-76-year-old has scrapped or sold approximately 180 cars, but the township is still after him to finish the job. And time is quickly running out.
“They’re back on me,” Dauzet told me over the phone after his helper, Jesse, emailed me about the situation on Monday. Dauzet says he recently received a registered letter from the township, which—after allegedly having left Dauzet alone for at least the past four months—wrote to notify the car enthusiast that he had to remove the remainder of his vehicles by a looming deadline. Dauzet didn’t share the letter with me, but he did describe its contents, simply stating: “[It said] you got until the 17th [of August] to get everything out of the yard.”
Dauzet thinks that’s too tall of an order. “They give me three weeks or less to get rid of the 50 cars...That’s pretty freaking tight because I couldn’t make 20 in a month,” he told me a few days later over the phone. “Now they want me to get 50 in three weeks, it’s an impossibility. Nobody can do that unless you do what I did.”
What Ron “did” was any car fan’s nightmare. “Yesterday I had [the wrecker] come over and he took five cars that were perfectly good cars. Went right to the scrap. I scrapped them all.” Dauzet told me that the cars he recently sent away—which included a V12 1989 BMW 750i and a Mercedes SDL (a fairly rare diesel, long wheelbase S-Class)—were “runnable,” and that they represent just a fraction of the machines that he’s had to offload for less than their true values.
“I’ve got 3 [thousand], 4,000 dollar cars that I’m scrapping for $300. Nobody’s that’s stupid. But that’s what [the township] make[s] you do,” Ron told me, clearly frustrated. “The cheapest one I scrapped [yesterday] was a $1,500 car. Everything else was $3,000 or more...It’s disgusting, I don’t want to think about it. I’m giving up. I’m just gonna let ’em go. I don’t care, I don’t care no more.”
I visited Ron’s house earlier this week, and watched in the mosquito-infested sweltering heat as he used a severely worn-out Allis-Chalmers forklift—which brakes didn’t work, and the transmission struggled to go into gear—to load what looked to be a totally restorable Mercedes 300E onto a flatbed to later be destroyed.
Just look at the image a few photos up and gander at the condition of the rear left tire on that forklift. That’s what Ron has been working with to remove scores of cars from his property. I watched as the machine’s front tires struggled for grip on the grass, and as the motor revved up as Ron tried getting the thing moving, and yet as loud as the engine sang, the vehicle barely moved.
The lack of brakes made maneuvering the machine with any sort of precision difficult, and Ron even pointed out a Mercedes 420 SEL, the door of which he’d accidentally dented a while ago due to the forklift’s lack of functional brakes. Here’s that car:
But Ron chooses to keep that old Allis-Chalmers because it has served him well. When I asked him about picking up a different one, he responded with: “I don’t need it. This thing works fine.” It’s clear that Ron loves old machines, even if they make his life harder than it needs to be.
Ron showed me around his property, which still contained about 40 cars according to Ron. Compared to what I’d seen two years prior, the land was totally transformed. But compared to what I saw about a year ago, there were only minor changes. Here’s a photo from the summer of 2017:
Here’s last year:
And here’s a picture from earlier this week. You’ll notice that the white Mercedes on the right is gone (either sold, scrapped, or moved to Ron’s property across the street, which is zoned commercial and in another county), and an old Benz in the background has disappeared:
Here’s a picture from two years ago:
Here’s last year:
And here’s this year:
Again, from two years ago:
From last year:
And here’s this year:
And the final before-and-after. Look at all these cars on the side of his property, parallel to the dirt road just on the other side of the trees:
A year ago, he’d whittled away at those cars quite a bit:
And now, that same area looks pretty empty:
You’ll notice that absent from these pictures are two of the most desirable trucks formerly in his collection, a Jeepster Commando and an old Chevy stepside. He sold them for $2,500 and $4,900, respectively. A fair selling price for everyone, I think.
Ron gave me a tour of his land again this week, and in typical fashion, despite all the turmoil of broken machinery and tight deadlines, the car-nut didn’t just point to cars and say how much he was selling them for (check out his Craigslist listings). No, he opened the hoods, pointed out dozens of interesting features, and told me about the vehicles’ histories and rarity.
He’s a true car enthusiast, even if his enthusiasm likely led to the death of scores of cars that could otherwise either have been saved or—more likely—killed many years ago after having rotted away on salty Michigan roads. At least in the latter case, they’d have been driven; To see a classic, low-mileage car scrapped is a sad thing to think about, and Ron knows this.
“I wasted a hell of a lot of money,” he admitted when I asked about lessons learned. “I should have gotten rid of the cars when they were still worth something.”
Ron’s property is pretty disorganized (we spent a half an hour looking for the 300E’s title to give to the wrecker driver, and he couldn’t for the life of him find the letter from the township), he seems to sometimes make things harder than they need to be (he just loves that Allis-Chalmers hi-lo), I think he can be a bit lofty on some of his vehicle prices (presumably since he still has in his head images what the cars looked like prior to being parked for decades), and it sometimes seems as though he thinks he has all the time in the world for projects (I have a similar problem).
That last point is why you’ll see all sorts of engines, transmissions, body panels, and wheels sitting around the yard. Eventually, Ron says, he plans to either swap them into some car, or perhaps find a buyer for them.
But despite despite these quirks, the thing that stands out to me most about Ron is his true love for cars. Again, many will point to the shredded low-mileage cars and say that a true car-lover wouldn’t have let that happen, but the man’s got gasoline, oil, coolant—and whatever else may have leaked out of these cars and into his groundwater—in his veins. And that makes him a hell of a lot of fun to talk to.
I reached out to the Northfield Township< code enforcement department, and was put in touch with the township manager, Steven Aynes to get his perspective. He said he wasn’t sure the exact deadline his team gave Dauzet, though he was, as one might expect from someone in that line of work, not particularly sympathetic. “He signed a consent judgement order...that he’d have them all done way before now.”
“What we’re asking him to do is to comply with what he agreed to do. Otherwise we just need to take it back to the judge and ask him what we should do about it,” he continued, before mentioning that this type of blight ordinance is not unique to Northfield Township. “It’s very common to have these kinds of ordinances, because you have other people who to preserve property values, the condition of the area and so forth,” he told me over the phone.
When I mentioned that Ron had gotten rid of over 150 cars, and asked whether there would be a point at which the township would just count it as a win and stop going after Ron, Aynes kept everything by-the-book.
“When he signed the consent judgement order, he agreed that he’d get em out of there regardless of whatever obstacles he faced with it. He’s had far beyond what the time limits were involved there,” he said. “He’s been given a lot of leeway that is way beyond what would be normal.”
After I tried to learn more about environmental impact of these cars, since Aynes had mentioned that as a reason for such an ordinance, the township manager seemed a bit defensive about how his team was handling this situation.
“[Your readers a couple of years ago when you did a story on this] wouldn’t care what we said about it,” he told me. “If we tried to tell any person to do anything that they didn’t want to do themselves. That was just very apparent to us. And we could have hauled him into court at that time; we haven’t taken action yet. Now it’s time to get up and moving because he hasn’t..abided by his agreement.”
Aynes, who is 66, says Dauzet’s age is not an excuse, and the Northfield Township employee was sure to mention that, though he himself isn’t a car enthusiast, he’s well aware of the importance of car culture in the southeast Michigan area.
I called up Dauzet to ask about the agreement that he’d signed, and about why this deadline was such a surprise to him. He claims he didn’t agree to a specific date, just that he felt like he was forced into agreeing to sell 20 cars per month—that he had no choice. Over the past few months, he admits that he’s been taking a breather. “I kinda backed off,” he said, “because I hadn’t heard from them from over three or four months.”
“Maybe they’re giving me a break or something happened,” he figured. Ron says he was having issues securing a trailer, finding someone to help him, and that he had to have knee surgery. What he’d really like to, he told me, is advertise his cars so he can find the appropriate buyer and sell them for what they’re worth. He doesn’t want to scrap them. But it seems time has run out on that dream.
At the same time, though he wants some relief, he’s no longer resting. He says he’s pecking away at his fleet, and he hopes to make the deadline regardless, in part, by storing cars on the the commercial property he has on the other side of the street.
Dauzet says he just wants the township to be “reasonable.” “I don’t sleep at night. I’m rolling around. Waking up three times a night. That’s bullshit. And it’s absolutely unnecessary. If they just got reasonable, I’d be fine,” he said.
The situation is unfortunate for everyone involved—for Ron Dauzet, for the Township officials who have to keep checking up on him, for whichever neighbor complained about the growing fleet of rusting and overgrown cars, and especially for the cars. Those poor, poor cars.
I don’t know where this story will go from here, but I do think the township largely accomplished its mission by now. Sure, the 35 cars that Ron says remain on this property still represent quite a large number of vehicles compared to most households, but a 76-year-old managed to get rid of 180 cars in two years. That’s a car every four days. Sure he didn’t quite hit the target, but that still seems like a feat worthy of a small extension. Not just to let him get the most out of the remaining cars, but also to let the world get the most out of them; scrapping decent cars or even nice good parts cars is not cool, and if this mint-condition AMC Pacer Wagon interior ends up in a landfill, I will weep: