LUXURY ON THE SEA

We are at fashionable Saint Tropez, at the start of the 1960s. It is absolutely the golden age of the Cote d’Azurs, an elegant and extremely fast speedboat with swept lines is at rest on the blue waves of the Mediterranean sea. Lying on the deck of the boat is the biggest superstar and film star of her day – Brigitte Bardot. The boat – a Riva – is a gift from her husband, film director Roger Vadim. Now in 2016, the Riva brand is just as popular as it was in the 1960s. BY FINN CLAUSEN PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES & ALAMY
Riva yacht Brigitte Bardot
Brigitte Bardot on her Riva.

The jet set's favourite yacht

There are Riva yachts all over the world. Today, the company is one the world’s largest makers of luxury yachts, and Riva boats are famous for their timeless design and above all, their swept, smooth lines. Below deck, the interior is as luxurious as a 5-star luxury hotel, right down to the smallest detail. For example, it has an ultra-fast champagne cooler. The materials are exclusive, all of the finishing has been done by hand and the interior’s Italian design is in a class of its own.

The perfect boat

Brigitte Bardot’s boat was a Riva Florida, which has a single engine. The boat was called Nounours, (Teddy Bear), and it still sails today. The last time it was at auction, it fetched around EUR 163,000. Riva Yachts from the 1950s and 1960s are popular items among collectors and their prices are high, often very high. For many, the Aquarama from 1962 is the ultimate Riva Yacht. The name was inspired by Cinerama, which was a popular widescreen format at the time.

The Aquarama comes with two engines and is made from the finest mahogany with beautiful shades and a warm glow, polished to perfection and varnished 12 times. The leather seats are either turquoise-white or red-white and even the sun deck above the engine is polished. Turquoise is Riva’s colour and the boats have a turquoise band along the waterline.

Carlo Riva, fourth generation in the Riva dynasty, created the Aquarama. He was extremely ambitious and sought to create the perfect boat. Many people believe he succeeded – the Aquarama is his masterpiece. Over 3000 hours have gone into making the boat, which sits so beautifully in the water. The style is cavalier, slightly lazy even, because of the half-planed design. And it is fast due to its dual engines, each with 185–400 HP, depending on the customer’s requirements. Riva uses specially tuned Cadillac or Chrysler engines. From 1967, Riva was allowed to use the Riva name for adapted Chevrolet Corvette engines.

The Aquarama is known as the Ferrari and Lamborghini of the sea, because Italian automobile giants also acquired special versions with their own engines, like Enzo Ferrari and Ferrucio Lamborghini, whose Aquarama was built in 1968 – Riva number 278, has dual 12-cylinder 4-litre Lamborghini engines, delivering 350 HP. In other words, Riva Aquarama Lamborghini was extremely fast. After Ferrucio Lamborghini’s death in the 1990s, the boat was stored away and forgotten, but was rediscovered in 2010. Its restoration took three years and cost millions but the result is magnificent.

The owner of Fiat, Gianni Agnelli, attended the launch of the Aquarama in 1962 and challenged Carlo Riva, claiming the boat would have problems at high speeds. Carlo Riva accepted the challenge and allowed Agnelli to take the boat out and ordered the boat to be propelled at full speed. If the Aquarama failed, Agnelli would get the boat for free. Of course, Carlo Riva knew that his boat’s design ensured that it could be steered at high speed. Agnelli propelled the boat at full speed. The boat lay perfectly in the water – Carlo Riva won his bet.

Former USA President George Bush owns a classic Riva from the 1960s, which he sails near the Hamptons in New York. George Clooney sails his boat on Lake Como, which effortlessly cuts through the lake’s waves. There is huge demand for the classic models from the golden age of the 1950s and 1960s. Aquarama was manufactured from 1962 to 1996. A total of 769 boats were built. Owners also spend years and hundreds of thousands of euros restoring their Riva Yachts. The boats sell for up to EUR 500,000.

Riva Yacht
A total of 769 Riva Aquaramas were built, some were owned by famous people like Peter Sellers, Prince Rainier of Monaco and Ferrucio Lamborghini.

Riva history

Riva Aquarama was the successor to a boat from the 1950s that was just as iconic, the Tritone. It also had two powerful engines and a large fuel tank, which meant it could be propelled at fast speed and for long distances. It also had an extra row of seats at the rear and an aft sun deck. Tritone Rivas were the most expensive model in the 1950s. But the history of Riva Yachts stretches much further back in time – to 1848 and the beautiful Lake Iseo in northern Italy, where the local Riva family were well-known boat builders. Founder of the business, Pietro Riva, was a true master in repairing boats and he dreamed of building boats of the like no one had ever seen before. He realised his dream and his handmade boats were greatly admired. His son Ernesto carried on the family business and at the same time he could see there was a huge potential in transporting people and goods between the cities along the wide lake. He built his boats with space for passengers and freight and equipped them with piston engines.

Riva Yacht
In the most fashionable harbours in the Mediterranean where the international jet set spend their time, Riva motorboats are a familiar sight.

The next innovation came when the family decided to build racing boats. Ernesto was responsible for this crucial development, and it was a huge success. Ernesto’s son Serafino, followed in his father's footsteps. In 1912, he achieved a speed of 24 km/h, which was impressive in its day. Riva Yachts won many races with their extremely fast speedboats in the 1920s and 1930s and the elegant boats were admired for their beauty.

From racing boat to luxury icon

Just as racing cars were often the predecessors to luxury cars, Riva’s racing boats were also a step towards the luxury yachts that the company is known for today. In the 1960s, the Italian sports car was very popular as the toy of the rich, and Serafino’s son, Carlo, the fourth generation in the Riva dynasty started to design yachts for connoisseurs. During the 1950s, he succeeded in creating an exclusive luxury brand with Tritone and other successful makes followed, and in 1962, the ultimate flagship was created, the Aquarama. Both the famous and royalty admired the sophisticated boat and thanks to its popularity among the jet set, the boat could be seen in seas and lakes around the world. Some of the world’s richest and most powerful people acquired a Riva Yacht, and the list of famous Riva owners was long and impressive.

Riva Yacht
A modern Riva – and a classic.

Tradition and innovation

In 2000, Riva became part of the Ferretti Group, which manufactures some of the most sought-after yachts in the world. Today, there are two types of Riva yachts. The classic open models are direct descendants of the classic Riva boats from the 1960s and the coupé models. Then there are also the flybridge models and the huge specially-built super yachts. But whether it is a 33 foot open yacht or a 122 foot Mythos with three or four luxury cabins, it is the 100% Riva design with classic materials of wood, steel and leather that are the important elements in the interior design. While production has moved to La Spezia by the Mediterranean, Riva name’s fame is undiminished. "Officina Italiana Design" now design the boats – and tradition and innovation are as important as ever. Aquariva Super has been designed as a restoration of the Aquarama, but it is also an innovative version and like its legendary predecessor, it is a flagship for Riva.

All Riva yachts continue with the tradition for quality, style and elegance, and Riva is without doubt a luxury brand. The design is timeless, original and sophisticated, the boats are unrivalled in the water and all of the details are exquisite. After 150 years, Riva Yachts still shares the founder’s dream of building the prefect boat.

The rare Aquarama

768 Aquaramas were made in the years 1962-1996.
Aquarama (1962-72) 281
Aquarama Lungo (1972) 7
Super Aquarama (1963-71) 203
Aquarama Special (1972-1996) 277