A boat that Leonid Brezhnev may or may not have given to Richard Nixon — and which may or may not have surfaced in a Brooklyn auto-body shop — is definitely for sale on eBay for $1 million, though there’s one more more thing you should know: caveat emptor.
Enter “Nixon” into the search bar on the online auction house’s Web site, and a listing will come up for a hydrofoil speedboat, that, according to the seller, was given to then-President Nixon by the former Soviet Premier in 1972.
“The model name of this boat is ‘Volga 70,’” reads the post. “We would be glad to provide you with access to inspect the condition of this historical item in person and to verify its authenticity.”
We took the owner — Vladimir Filippov — up on his offer and met him at his auto-body garage in Mill Basin. Sure enough, a Volga 70 boat was mounted on tires, nestled between a red Opel and a Fiat. Filippov wore a black-and-white tracksuit, an unlit cigar hanging from his mouth.
Filippov claimed that he bought the boat from a nearby boatyard a year ago (he won’t say what he paid for it). Filippov’s eBay posting doesn’t question the boat’s authenticity, but in person, he admitted he didn’t have “100-percent proof” that the boat was the same one Brezhnev gave to Nixon 35 years ago.
“Nobody has any papers to prove it,” said Filippov, whose strongest proof consists of an “RMN” monogram on the back of the boat. The laters could stand for “Richard Milhous Nixon.”
They could also stand for “Really Missing Notoriety.”
When The Brooklyn Paper reached out to Filippov’s hand-picked appraiser, for example, he didn’t back up Filippov’s origin story.
Capt. Gerard Zingale, owner of a private marine surveying and consulting firm, said he did inspect the boat — but only to determine the damage caused when a car crashed into it in Filippov’s own garage.
“There were rumors in the boat-owning community that it was used in a James Bond movie and that it had been owned by Nixon,” said Zingale.
“But, if I had to appraise it, absent any documentation of its origins, it would be as scrap metal.”
In fact, Filippov’s story is correct only on one count — the former Soviet premier did indeed give Nixon a hydrofoil speedboat in 1972. But according to an archivist at the Nixon Presidential Library, it was destined for more illustrious — and mysterious — duties.
“[That same year], the boat was transferred to the Coast Guard in Miami, and provided security and transportation at Nixon’s Key Biscayne retreat,” said the archivist, John Powers.
In 1977, the boat ended up in Washington DC, where it was “used for surveillance and security by an unspecified federal security agency.”
Five years later, the boat re-emerged as a Fish and Wildlife Service tour vessel on Lake McConaughy in Ogallala, Nebraska.
And, in July, 2005, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce auctioned the machine on eBay for $10,100. The lucky buyer was a hydrofoil museum in New Brunswick, Missouri.
And in Missouri it remains.
“We still have it,” said Eliot James, the treasurer and co-curator of the museum. “We’ve been restoring it to the original paint scheme, which was white with a red stripe.”
James has been trying to get in touch with Filippov, but to no avail.
James estimates that there are only a dozen or so Volga 70s in the United States, so this boat, even if Brezhnev never really gave it to Nixon, could bring in about $40,000.
Part of its worth is due to the fact that it is, frankly, a cool boat.
When it reaches speeds between 20 and 25 miles per hour, the Soviet-made aluminum boat emerges from the water, and the vehicle glides along the surface on its foils.
James doesn’t rule out the possibility that Filippov’s boat may have some connection to Nixon.
“Richard Nixon did keep a house in Florida,” said James. “Maybe he purchased a Volga 70, since he couldn’t keep the [Brezhnev] gift.”
Not likely. Nixon may have gone to China, but there’s no way he bought a Soviet-made boat during the height of the Cold War, Powers said.
“We conducted extensive research on the hydrofoil and I must confess that, in all of this research, I have never heard of him purchasing a hydrofoil or a Soviet-made hydrofoil.”