Why vintage Riva boats are worth so much and how to restore them

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Some consider them as the most beautiful boats in the world, others would do anything to have them and probably there are those who even do not like them for some reason. But one thing is certain: everybody knows Riva yachts. In the 90s, a British magazine carried out a survey among its readers about the boat name they know best. The result? Aquarama, one of Riva’s cult models.

Vintage Riva boats all around the world

There are few countries in the world where Carlo Riva’s boats have not arrived.

“It was the main strength of the shipyard from the very beginning – explains Piero Maria Gibellini, president of the Riva Historical Association he founded with Carlo Riva in 1998 – and there were no real international rivals, but only local competitors. Riva yachts, instead, were distributed everywhere. A Riva yacht is equivalent to a cashier’s check”.

The work is done around the brand since the creation of the association and the 13 Riva clubs spread worldwide has made that a Riva boat, wherever it is in the world, has a certain value.

From the left Piero Maria Gibellini and Carlo Riva

Carlo Riva excelled not only in building and designing his yachts but also in advertising and selling them. The period between the 60s and 70s, when all the movie stars and celebrities spent their holidays on the French Riviera onboard their Ariston or Aquarama, left an indelible mark and played an important role in the brand consecration, so much so that today Riva yachts are evocative of these images and these protagonists.

“Nevertheless – Piero Gibellini says – do not think that one of these boats has a certain value just because it belonged to a star. The only two boats that, in my opinion, have a particular value linked to their owners, which may have a weight at the price, are the Riva Junior which belonged to Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren’s Aquarama, which is currently on sale”.

Brigitte Bardot sul suo Riva Junior – Photo Courtesy: Piero Maria Gibellini

But there is also a classic Riva which, according to many, deserves the title of “the most beautiful of all”. Carlo Riva and Piero Gibellini are among the supporters of this thesis.

“The Ariston is the boat I fell in love with – explains Piero Gibellini – I bought one in 1989. For me and for the Engineer (Carlo Riva), she was and is the most beautiful one. Her design ignores all markets and using logic. It cannot be said that she is the most comfortable, but she is certainly the purest ever”.

From the beginning of the 1950s, the Ariston was the only model that stayed in the price list throughout the Carlo Riva management, in production until 1971. Over time, she was joined by the Super Ariston, slightly longer and more powerful, which remained in production until 1974.

“When it comes to the most beautiful ones, we cannot forget the Triton which was one of the flagship products for a long time as well as the predecessor of the Aquarama, based on the same hull. The Triton’s charm was so strong that the Aquarama took about 5 years to get it out of production”.

Riva Aquarama

The Aquarama is maybe the most famous model of all and was born at the explicit request of customers who wanted a more practical Triton. In order not to spoil the perfect line of the boats, just think of the “Carlo Riva stern” which develops as a single volume without interruption; the Triton was not good in this regard. The Aquarama, which went into production in 1962, brought improvements such as the gunwale at the perimeter of the bow harness to support the feet or an aft sundeck that was easier to reach.

In 1969, the shipyard introduced a new version of the hull, significantly softer in navigation, and the livability process culminated in 1972 with the Aquarama Special which, based on the Super hull, is characterized by a more elongated stern, crossed by a walkway that ends in a bathing platform (today we see it getting bigger and bigger on every type of boat) to give instant access to the sea. From the beginning of the century with the first prototypes, prior to series production, of Serafino Riva who first ventured into building pleasure boats making a name for himself in the powerboat sector, wooden Riva boats went through almost a century, until 1980 when the Olympic was the last wooden model left to be mass-produced, not considering the Aquarama Special produced, until 1996, on-demand in the 1990s.

Why vintage Riva boats are worth so much

The most famous motorboats in the world are, however, still in great shape today. How? Thanks to the work of people like Romano Bellini and his company, Bellini Nautica, that he runs together with his son Battista, CEO of the company, and his daughter Martina, Marketing Manager.

“A Riva yacht is always restorable”, says Romano Bellini who, although he is not a shipwright, has been working on the restoration of wooden boats his entire life.

”We mainly restore Riva yachts for a maximum of ten boats a year, no more. Each boat requires an average of 9-12 months. The first step is the analysis of the boat, with a special focus on hull, engine, and upholstery conditions. The goal is to restore the original parts, but, sometimes, this is not possible. Wood requires a long study and the choice of the raw material is fundamental: the trunks we use must be perfect, depending on the boat parts.

Photo Courtesy: Bellini Nautica

For the dashboard, for example, they must be without veining, as Carlo Riva wanted. The mahogany that our shipwrights use must remain at least five years to mature. For the upholstery, we have been turning to the same upholsterer for forty years and the same applies to the chrome plating that needs very special processes. It takes a lot of passion because it is a meticulous job, where you cannot be superficial or rushed.

Photo Courtesy: Bellini Nautica

To bring a Riva back to its original splendor, for example, thirty coats of paint are needed. And before the last two ones, the boat must be put in the water to see that everything is in place, from the engines to performance. I care about every single boat they entrust to me, as if it were mine, also because they are pieces of history that must be preserved in the best way“.

Gregorio Ferrari

We would like to thank Piero Maria Gibellini, who is also the author of several books, such as the two monographs “Tritone” and “Aquarama”, of “Tutti i Riva dal 1950 a oggi” and, finally, of the Riva historical register. He is president of the Riva Historical Society. www.rivahistorical.org.

A heartfelt thanks also to Romano Bellini and his sons Martina and Battista, for the in-depth analysis and images of the Riva restorations, which are made by Bellini Nautica’s ax masters in Clusane, Brescia. www.bellininautica.it

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