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One last cruise

With only weeks left before his death, a Beacon Woods man ordered his dream car: the 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser.

When Mike McCormick hobbled onto the car lot at Ferman Chrysler-Plymouth, cane in hand and cancer assaulting his organs, he was searching for his final dream.

It came in the shape of a 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser, a bubble-shaped model that reminded the 52-year-old Beacon Woods man of a 1930s mobster car, with its panel-wagon looks and its long hood. Seeing it in a brochure, McCormick, who had never before owned a new car, fell instantly in love.

I'll take it in taupe, McCormick told Bart Hanna, a salesman at the Ferman lot in New Port Richey. He asked for what he called "all the bells and whistles": suede and leather seats, power sun roof, 16-inch aluminum chrome wheels.

There's just one problem, Hanna explained at that March 26 meeting: The car was so wildly popular it would take 10-15 weeks to get it.

"Mike and I just looked at each other," said McCormick's wife, Barbara, who was sitting by his side at the dealership. "We said, "Really?' "

Cancer, growing in Mike McCormick's lungs and liver and pancreas, might not wait that long. Two months earlier, a doctor had given him six to nine months to live.

"He knew he was going to pass away, barring a miracle," said his wife.

He wanted to ride in the car before he died; he wanted to take his wife on a little trip, maybe to Mount Dora to tour the antique stores; and he wanted her to have a solid new car after he was gone.

The McCormicks made a down payment. Hanna, the salesman, said he would try to speed up the delivery. It helped that Mike McCormick's brother, Tom, was a former car salesman himself who knew the dealership's sales manager, Lou Pepe.

The dealership's general manager, Tom Blake, called the distribution office in Detroit to hasten delivery, while Hanna called the McCormicks regularly _ sometimes several times a week _ to let them know where the car was, from the assembly line in Toluca, Mexico, to the ship carrying it to Tampa Bay.

"By us calling every day, we sped up the process," Pepe said. "We kept them on their toes."

Mike McCormick, meanwhile, was wasting away. An Air Force veteran and former firefighter who in recent years worked in a local golf shop, McCormick didn't show outward signs of despair. But, his family says, he knew how little time he had left. At home, his wife took care of him in a hospital bed.

When visitors came, the conversation invariably turned to the car. He pored over every page of a glossy booklet filled with pictures of the PT Cruiser.

"Every day he would talk about it and look at the book, and it was almost like a reason to keep on keeping on, even in the face of all the agony he was in," Barbara McCormick said. Her husband, for years a frugal man, didn't mind paying the $21,815 sticker price, she said.

On April 22, less than a month after the McCormicks put in their order, the car arrived on the lot.

"They called Friday and said they'd have the car ready Saturday," she said.

By then, however, her husband was too far gone to understand. The night before the car arrived, he was slipping into a coma. "We were telling him, "You car's here, your car's here,' " she said. "He didn't even seem to respond to that at all."

He died April 25, never having taken a ride in it. His wife brought his ashes home from the funeral home in the car.

The McCormicks want to thank the dealership for trying. "I'm just real grateful," said Scott McCormick, 28, one of Mike McCormick's five children.

Added Hanna, the salesman: "I wanted to do the best job I could for them, seeing it was his last wish. I just wish we could get it to them sooner."

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