Mike LaViola grew up in New Jersey, a big, strapping, handsome kid. One glance at his muscled six-foot, 200-pound frame told you he was strong. He was a volunteer firefighter in Old Tappan, NJ. He loved sports and music and his "home boys" the New York Giants. And Mike loved Z cars. Really loved them.
Even in his early teens Mike could identify a Z at a glance, and he grew more passionate about them as he neared driving age. Mike knew every Z model, but for him the most enticing was the 1992 Z32. Even before he could drive he devoured all the information available about the car. He knew the factory options, specifications, performance tables, and its strengths and weaknesses. He also knew the going prices and the best-bang-for-the-buck modifications for street driving and appearance. Maybe Mike was obsessed. For sure he was a dreamer. For better or worse, he knew the 1992 300ZX like the back of his own hand.
One day, out with his dad, Mike spied a 1992 300ZX with a For Sale sign on it. His dad, a career cop, jotted down the number written on the sign. And just like that, Mike was the proud owner of his dream car.
Whoa, you say, he was just a kid. True, but Mike was a dependable kid - the kind who could be trusted to avoid real danger, to make sensible decisions. He simply wasn't one to get into trouble. He finished high school and took his goals and dreams to Bergen Community College in Paramus, NJ. He was serious about his future. So his dad was confident that Mike would be responsible with his Z32.
And he was. Mike may have been young, but from the beginning his efforts to modify his Z, which he named Isabella, were first rate. He bought the first goodies on his wish list and modified her lights, bumpers, exhaust, and suspension with the good stuff from Stillen, PowerTrix, Concept Z, KYB, Eibach. The Z32 is a stunning car, even stock, but Mike wanted his Z to be distinctive. Like most of us, Mike's dreams were bigger than his budget. The mods he wanted for Isabella were expensive, but he had vision and he was determined to change her gradually, as he could afford to. All he needed was time.
But time was the one thing Mike didn't have. At the invincible age of 17, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It's difficult to imagine the anguish of knowing your life will be cruelly shortened, but Mike strove to fully live every hour he had on this earth. And not only for himself and his own dreams. He was a true friend, and involved himself with his friends' dreams and helped them along their roads, even as he began to see the end of his own.
During his final year with us, the Make-a-Wish Foundation of New Jersey (nj.wish.org) came into Mike's life. As their name implies, Make-a-Wish helps children with life-threatening illnesses realize their dreams while they can still enjoy them. So they asked Mike, what do you really want most in his life?
Mike could have asked for a lot of things. Like any teenager with intelligence and imagination, Mike was full of dreams. But one dream pushed its way to the head of the line, and, without hesitation, Mike told them what he really wanted most: for Isabella to look the way he envisioned her. His list was long. Kaminari body work, '99 JDM fascia, Volk racing wheels, fully adjustable suspension, slotted and cross drilled rotors, leather seat skins, and more.
His dream was granted. But as Isabella got better, Mike got worse. On Christmas Eve 2007, Mike got the greatest - and last - present of his life. Isabella came home to him exactly as he had imagined her. Mike had to be helped out to the garage to see her, and there he stayed, surrounded by family and friends, shaking his head in amazement. She was perfect. It was the happiest moment he had had in a long time. Believe me, there wasn't a dry eye in that garage.
Mike embodied the heart, the mind, and the spirit for which Nissan designed the Z32. This car was Mike's blank canvas, a work-in-progress which inspired him to push his illness aside and look to the future. Modified the way he envisioned her, she was his masterpiece. Mike was barely 20 years old when he died on February 2, 2008, but he left his own legacy - an uncommon 300ZX whose beauty and speed stand tribute to a (tragically short) lifelong love of the Z, and, more importantly, to the love of family, and the courage of a young man who had everything to live for, and never got the chance.
We'll always remember you, Mike. Especially when a Z32 rolls by.