13th February 2020

Take me to the Riva

“If you can turn it over, you can have it for free,” was the challenge to a potential buyer set by Carlo Riva before a sea trial in the Aquarama. The speedboat in question was a hand-built wooden masterpiece costing the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of pounds, so this was a steep bet to make. But as no Aquarama was ever given away by the factory during the 34-year production run, it would seem that the challenge was never met. In fact, Carlo Riva knew very well that design of the hull gave the boat such safe handling that to flip one would have been almost impossible, allowing him to take the gamble repeatedly with confidence.

The Riva Aquarama was named in reference to the newly introduced wide-screen ‘cinerama’ films of the era. It was more than just the boat’s sweeping one-piece windscreen which nodded towards the glamour of Hollywood and American car designs of the period. The dashboard, the steering wheel, throttle controls and even seating designs all had the look of a contemporary Cadillac and the boat had an undeniable glamour. Under the rear sundeck, nestled a pair of smooth and throaty Chrysler V8 engines giving the Aquarama sound and the power that it needed to match its looks – it was an instant success with the glitterati of the day.

Although a new model at launch in 1962, the Riva family and boatyard had been designing and building wooden boats from their workshop on the shores of Lake Iseo since 1842. With more than 120 years of experience in the design and construction of wooden hulls behind it, it was no surprise that the latest model wore this wealth of knowledge openly and with pride. Each hull was hand-built with layer upon layer of Honduran Mahogany, chosen for its beauty and strength. The outer layers were hand-lacquered in clear varnish to emphasise the beauty of the wooden grain, and if an owner were to catch a glimpse of the inner frame of the hull, they would have found it to be similarly finished. No corners were cut in production, whether visible or hidden. The trim was perfectly stitched, the chrome was deep-plated and every aspect of the boat was built by hand.

Such glamour was reflected in the roll-call of celebrity owners that included Sofia Lauren, Brigitte Bardot, Peter Sellers and Prince Rainier of Monaco to name but a few. Ferrucio Lamborghini famously ordered his model to be fitted with a pair of his own V12 engines, in a conversion process that reportedly took three months to complete, and which allowed him to boast of owning the fastest Aquarama ever built.

Whatever the engine, or whoever the owner, the Riva Aquarama enjoyed a justified reputation as the ‘Rolls Royce of the water’ and today are valued across the world as the boat of choice for the well-heeled.

If you're lucky enough to own an Aquarama, did you know that Footman James now offers Marine Insurance as part of our Private Client service? Visit our Private Client page to find out more and to request a call back.