I found myself one late August evening in 2008 listening to the tick-tick of various components and liquids contracting as they cooled, watching the shimmy of heat coming from the hood of my black on black 2006 Chevrolet C6 Z06 after a thoroughly abusive and soul-releasing drive through the canyons of Manhattan. On that night I was angry.
After years of working undercover for the Federal Bureau of Investigation against Russian Military Intelligence I learned my adventure was about to come to an end. To ease that anger, I had taken my Z out for a rev limiter-bouncing drive.
(Editor’s note: Naveed Jamali is a former double agent and author of How To Catch A Russian Spy, which you can read an excerpt of here. Naveed told me that he “loves American V8 RWD cars and has no plans to travel to Russia anytime soon.”)
The LS7’s exhaust growl echoed off the buildings as I flew down the West Side Highway towards the USS Intrepid, and the clutch started to slip as I muscled the big car through an unexpected flock of Crown Vic yellow cabs that were crawling around a stalled car.
Then, a break in the traffic. I stood on the gas, flying towards the ever-looming construction that would soon be the Freedom Tower. By the time I reached Battery Park and the tip of Manhattan to begin my loop back home, I was drained. But my anger had subsided. It was almost as if it all had been transferred to the Corvette and the tick-tick was my pressure slowly being released.
As I walked away from the ticking and popping Z that evening, my steady scowl had been replaced by a smile. My mind was clear, and I was ready for perhaps one of my most challenging moments: bringing a multi-year clandestine operation against Russian intelligence to a conclusion.
I bought the Corvette in late 2006 from MacMulkin Chevrolet in Nashua, New Hampshire sight unseen. A few weeks after striking a deal she was delivered on the back of a flat-bed to me in New York.
Like me, the Corvette was young. It only had a thousand miles, and like my involvement with the fledgling counter-intelligence operation, the fact that it was stock screamed potential. In short order I painted the wheels and badges all black. A Katech cam and longtube headers gave it that throaty LS7 growl and coilovers gave it that aggressive stance that only added to the beauty of the C6. It was fast and it was loud and it had character.
But by the summer of 2008 what I saw as character started to feel more like a second car that was less and less practical. It had an errant airbag light that would randomly come on and the heat from the headers would make the footwell ungodly hot, especially during ever-present New York traffic. By the time my work for the Bureau came to a close, I had begun a new phase of my life as an Intelligence Officer in the US Navy Reserve and, soon thereafter, a father.
With a young family, I faced with anguish the decision many a new parent faces: parting with their car. There was no practicality in the Z06 and with a new baby, my wife and I could no longer steal away for a long drive in the country. With the car sitting more and more, I decided it was time to sell it.
I hoped that a fellow enthusiast would buy it and care for her, and that’s what happened. Brian, who had been looking for a black Z06, made me an offer and quickly grabbed a seat on an Amtrak to come get the car. I picked up the new owner from New York’s Penn Station and watched him drive the Z back to Virginia, then I hailed a cab (queue sad The Incredible Hulk music) and figured that would be the last I ever saw of the car. But the story didn’t end there.
In early 2014, the release of my book How to Catch a Russian Spy was a few months away, and I felt comfortable with answering any question about this classified and sensitive operation, save one: “where was the Corvette.”
It was a question that I very much wanted to know the answer to myself. I’d begun to see the Z through the rose colored-glasses that often come when thinking of the past, especially old modified high-performance cars. I didn’t think about how the Z would inexplicably drain its battery after sitting or how the heat in the armrest would overheat my iPhone.
Instead, I remembered (presumably with the FBI’s approval) how I powered and weaved through traffic at triple digit speeds, turning onto exits and pulling out at the last minute, and then randomly stopping on the shoulder all to make sure I wasn’t being tailed by the Russians. The exhilarating times I shared in the Z came rushing back to me. That itch was back, but it had been nearly 6 years since I had even seen her. Where to start?
With the encouragement of my friends Rob Ferretti and Alex Roy I began the search and struck gold almost immediately, or so I thought. Although the gentleman who had purchased my car had sold it, I was able to connect with the new owner in Maryland.
We spoke at length and he sent me videos and pictures of the Z and besides the chrome wheels it looked and sounded as I remembered it! The new owner was a track junkie, who hadn’t raced the Z, but enjoyed running his kart instead. I gingerly discussed buying it, and we agreed to talk further after my return from a trip abroad. But then as with most things, life got in the way for me and our negotiations fell by the wayside.
With the book launch in full swing I dropped the ball, and by the time I got back in touch with the owner I was dismayed to learn that the car had been sold!
Meanwhile, the question of whether I still owned the Corvette became a common one. One of my first interviews was with Mike Spinelli who asked me about the Z while filming me in front of a new yellow C7 Z06.
I told Mike stories about how Matt Farah once helped me rip the roof off my car and how Larry Kosilla and Mike Musto had driven the car numerous times. In short, that Z could say it knew these car personalities when they were just guys from the neighborhood (and oh yeah, it was involved in a successful counter-intelligence operation)! To say I was depressed that I had let her slip through my fingers would be an understatement. But then lady luck smiled upon me once more in the form of a Facebook message.
It turns out that the new owner had been fixing that errant airbag light and took out the driver’s seat where he found a set of keys with a New York Sports Club barcode with my name on it. I wasn’t going to let her slip away once more. A deal was struck quickly and then I impatiently waited to get the title so I could hop onto an Amtrak and pick the car up from Delaware.
On November 12, 2015, I arrived at the Wilmington Amtrak station and practically flew down the stairs were my old Corvette was waiting for me. She was as I had remembered her, and the drive home was simply glorious. A set of tires and TPMS sensors later I was on my way with her down to DC to show her at the International Spy Museum, and then back to New York City where she was to be picked up to be put on display at the National Corvette Museum in Kentucky.
But before she went anywhere I did something I had always dreamed of doing: I drove my kids in it. In fact, I drove quite a few neighborhood kids in it! We did a loop around my Morningside neighborhood, spinning the tires and winding up the motor to whoops and cheers from the passenger seat.
The Z that had once shirked Russian surveillance and had even been confused for a Mustang by a Russian spy (which almost resulted in a physical altercation), was now giving nickel rides to the local kids.
The tick tick of the cooling motor as it sat outside my building waiting for the next kid to hop in was the same sound as on the fateful summer night nearly 7 years ago. Unlike that night, though, my smile was just as wide sliding into her driver’s seat as it was getting out.
It was good to have her home.