Sixty years ago the most beautiful boat ever was born. It is the Riva Aquarama

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Riva-Romano-Bellini
Romano Bellini aboard an Aquarama from his collection – Photo credit: Bellini Nautica

Everyone knows the Rivas, from the legendary wooden boats of Carlo Riva, the Engineer, to those still being born today. Not only in Italy, but throughout the world this name makes fans’ eyes light up every time it is uttered. Beauty is subjective, but the
Riva Aquarama
is endowed with a charm that has very few equals. Certainly this is among the most famous boats on the planet (although it has been out of production since 1996), and today, with input from Riva Historical Association president Piero Maria Gibellini, we retrace its true history on the occasion of its 60th anniversary (1962-2022).

Full article in

Motor Boats No. 27

Riva Aquarama

The Aquarama was born in 1962, in place of the Triton #214, that is, after 213 hulls of the Triton, the twin-engine Riva runabout born in 1950. It uses the same hull, 8.02 m long and 2.62 m wide, and the same engines, Chris Craft model 283, 8-cylinder V engines, 185 HP each. TheAquarama Super was born the following year, in 1963; it is 20 centimeters longer, to accommodate two larger gasoline tanks, with two Chrysler 413 engines with 8 V-cylinders, 290 HP each.

Riva Aquarama
Riva Aquarama

From 1966 onward, the engines will be only Crusader-derived Riva, 220 HP for the regular and 320 HP for the Super. Lengths will gradually increase over the years to 8.30 meters and 8.50 meters, respectively, in tandem with changes to the bow slips and dihedrals of the hull, which has been optimized to achieve safe sailing every time. With a refined and sturdy construction, executed with highly selected mahogany, both in grain and color, and with marine plywood easily interchangeable in case of damage, she is still today a motorboat that has no fear of aging and obsolescence, thanks in part to the work of the Riva Historical Society.

side view
1963 Aquarama #3 by Sophia Loren

They will be built by Carlo Riva until 1971 in 486 examples between Aquarama and Aquarama Super, as well as 7 Aquarama Lungo, hulls originally intended for the Super, completed in 1971 to use the bones built, but with the less powerful engines of the Aquarama. The Triton is a typical runabout with a Riva stern, created for fast transportation, which can be considered undoubtedly successful for the postwar era, when nascent recreational boating was the preserve of a wealthy few. It is still prized by many for its muscular, sporty lines and was produced even after the birth of the Aquarama, until 1966, with a total of 242 hulls, so admired that three wealthy owners obtained their Aquaramas as expensive off-the-shelf with a closed stern, Triton-style.

The birth of the Riva Aquarama

The Aquarama, on the other hand, is the result of a search for comfort and luxury, with a less spartan cabin that is comfortable for more family use, thanks in part to a sunpad recessed aft. It quickly achieved international success, helped in part by more widespread economic prosperity in Europe and the presence of many VIPs vacationing on the French Riviera and in Italy. Carlo Riva, in the preface of my book “Triton Aquarama” volume 5*, gave the following reasons for the birth of the Aquarama: Although the Triton had been on the crest of a wave for some time, the years 1961 and 1962 were those in which its prestigious success was further consolidated. However, modifications made to some examples to make a sundeck aft had begun to attract the interest of some customers; the Riva dealers themselves were pressing for a more comfortable model, proceeding along the path taken with the Triton Aperto.

Aquarama 1969 dashboard details
1969 Aquarama dashboard details.

Therefore, the time was ripe to make a speedboat that was fast, classy, quiet, and above all capable of long sailing on all the seas of the Mediterranean. The Aquarama, although initially having a hull geometry similar to the Triton, later profoundly modified, is in fact a new model, a unique and exclusive boat, still considered by owners and nautical magazines around the world, “the best” for perfection and elegance.

Riva Aquarama: its features

In fact, the Aquarama represents the design quest for a more habitable and comfortable boat capable of taking long cruises safely. The more starry hull and also the sleeker bow wheel, for example, are specially designed to soften the impact on the wave, likewise the shape of the bulwarks such that the gales are foiled to the outside without taking on water. I absolutely believe that the first quality of a boat is safety, a golden rule that I have never deviated from in designing and building my mahogany boats. Being able to have suitable arrangements for this purpose is of paramount importance. In my humble opinion, safety is much more important than the aesthetic side, the flashier side, which was nevertheless taken care of by me in every detail, thanks to my natural inclination for beauty.

top view

Here I simply point out a significant detail, such as, for example, the possibility, in case of failure of one of the two engines, of still being able to reach port even in bad seas. I myself experienced its importance several times aboard my “Lipicar” #1 … In 1962 I therefore decided to discontinue the construction of Triton #214 because I was anxious to realize as soon as possible this dream of mine that had been waiting too long to be translated into reality. The prototype of the Aquarama, the Lipicar #1, underwent long and extremely severe testing before being put into production. In the summer of 1962 I sailed for a long time on the French Riviera; soon afterwards I wanted to test it in Dalmatian waters, facing rough seas at times, down to the Aegean, attracted by the allure of the Greek islands. It is in this way that I discovered important details, I repeat for safety and practicality, that are not improvised on the drawing board, but arise only by experiencing the sea. Driven by my insatiable thirst to seek the best, even in winter I sailed the Ligurian Sea shuttling between Monte Carlo and the Gulf of La Spezia.

Riva Aquarama and an incredible record

But the incontrovertible proof of Aquarama’s exceptional marine qualities was the massacring


London-Montecarlo


of 1972 in which the legendary “ZOOM” earned a prestigious second place overall and first overall in its class. In the grueling 4,736-kilometer marathon, mostly in the Atlantic, the Aquarama demonstrated its superlative marine prowess behind the luxurious finish and gleaming chrome. Indeed, it is the technical features of this Riva runabout that make the difference. The success of the superb motorboat of high shipbuilding school is evidenced by this exhaustive and passionate research*, accompanied by a rich repertoire of historical documents and recent images, depicting the “Rolls Royce of the sea” in its most striking habitats.” Carlo Riva.

Riva Aquarama Zoom (n 427)
Riva Super Aquarama Zoom (n 427)

The 1962 “Lipicar” (named after Carlo Riva’s three daughters, Lia, Pia, and Carla) was followed by the 1965 “Lipicar II” #65 with two 280 HP Crusader engines, the 1970 “Lipicar III” #418, used by Carlo Riva to fine-tune modifications to be made to production, and, lastly, the 1971 “Lipicar IV,” still in the family: all hulls registered to Carlo’s wife, Licia Vigani. But after the mid-1960s, fast American fiberglass powerboats were appearing on the French Riviera. This is a wake-up call for Carlo Riva, who was already thinking about a fiberglass cruiser (in fact, in 1967 he had asked the famous American designer Virgil Exner for a design). He then thinks of finding a fiberglass heir for the Aquarama as well, and asks his friend and engine supplier Calvin Connell for the name of an American engineer specializing in fast hulls, for a project to be turned into a Riva.

Riva Aquarama: the evolution

During a business trip to Florida, Charles in 1968 met naval architect Bob Hops, who was already designing torpedo-boats for the U.S. Navy. Together they studied the hull of a 27′ characterized by 2 transverse steps, a major innovation in recreational boating at that time, which had been in vogue in racing racers until 1940. With the collaboration of Giorgio Barilani, then his personal advisor from outside the shipyard, he fine-tuned the hull line, with a forward cabin, central helm console, large cockpit, and with a retractable swim ladder at the stern. After an initial wooden prototype run in Miami was disappointing at sea, Charles studied further modifications to the hull. Fascinated by the new idea, he set aside the modifications Barilani had studied for the Aquarama in 1968, had Connell build a second prototype, and, after the results, decided to have the molds made.

Unfortunately, strikes in the fall and a lockout of its yard by the unions led Riva in late 1969 to a sudden decision to sell the brand and factory to the Americans of Whittaker. He retains the position of president and ownership of Ram, the company he had created to study modifications, prototypes, and customer service, so as not to interfere with Riva’s shipyard production schedule. But he is also left with the molds of the new creation he personally financed, and he then sells them to Franco Vaini and Carlo Rossi, owners of Monaco Boat Service, those who had urged him to counter the advance of American offshore powerboats. The molds remained parked until 1975, when their “Sole e Mare” yard in Ventimiglia was ready and the Monte-Carlo Offshorer 27′ could finally go into production. In 1978 it is again rethought by Carlo and, with the help of collaborator Alessandro Paris, will become Monte – Carlo Offshorer 30′ (8.91 m long and 2.45 m wide with two 350 HP Crusaders): it is Carlo Riva’s last runabout. “Still appreciated and sought after by sportsmen, a total of over 300 unmistakable and timeless examples were built, of which I am still proud today.” Carlo Riva

Riva Aquarama Special

In 1972, after Carlo also relinquished the presidency of the Riva Shipyard in the summer of 1971, the Aquarama Special went into production, with the new trapezoidal stern that Giorgio Barilani had redesigned in 1968. A design that erases Riva’s sculptural stern, which since 1946 with its all-around between the broadside, deck and transom, distinguished Carlo’s single- and twin-engine runabouts. Perhaps, partly because of this, his personal speedboat remained the “Lipicar IV.”

Nevertheless, the Special, with a more prominent length and appearance and greater convenience for rising from the water, meets with the favor of a refined clientele, on a par with the earlier Aquaramas. In fact, despite the advent of fiberglass, 278 Aquarama Specials were still being sold until 1996, using the same last 1969 hull as the Aquarama Super, to which an aft appendage with a small swim platform was added, above the waterline. The total length becomes 8.78 meters, while the width does not change. The engines, 320 HP Riva, became 350 HP from 1973. The demand from Aquarama collectors today is greater than the supply because, after 60 years, unparalleled in elegance, it is still usable and safe at sea, and there is no shortage of specialized centers for maintenance and restoration of its beautiful mahogany, either. ” the world’s most famous boat” after it went out of production, it became a cult object.

Article by Piero Maria Gibellini


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2 thoughts on “Sixty years ago the most beautiful boat ever was born. It is the Riva Aquarama”

  1. I am about to complete the construction of the 1970 Riva Aquarama, from the exquisite Amati kit. I need to merely mount the craft on a board I have especially made. I will then be going on to my second build of this boat.

    There is something that triggers a heady emotional sense during the construction of this truly iconic boat. You’re not only building a boat with materials that are so superb to work with, you’re mind is thinking about the great country of Italy, in which this craft was born. Every angle, every shape is a testament to what Italian artistry is all about. It is in it’s history, and it is as much a glory today to observe as it would have been centuries ago.

    It has a particular way of revealing the true essence of all that is beautiful, in its
    people, customs and legacy. It has to. That is why the Aquarama will always be to me more than just constructing the world’s most magnificent motorboat.

    I am reminded me of a song Bing Crosby sang, titled, “So would I.” In the bridge part of the music are the words, “I saw a rose try to imitate your smile. Could’ve heard my heart, for a country mile.” That’s why there will only be one Riva Aquarama.

    Thank you for allowing me this privilege.

    Frank Cain,
    Toronto ON CAN

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