The roots of classic Riva yachts go right back to 1842, when a young Pietro Riva began repairing and building yachts on Lake Iseo in northern Italy. But it was his great-grandson, the legendary Carlo Riva, who had the vision to create a range of wooden-hulled speedboats that were to become the epitome of the jet-set era of the 1950s and 1960s.
Carlo Riva was inspired by the products of the American yacht builder Chris-Craft, for which he was an agent, and he used Chris-Craft and Chrysler engines in his classic Riva yachts before developing the firm’s own Crusader power units that prevailed from 1967 to 1996.
The arrival of fibreglass as a boatbuilding material sounded the death knell for the viability of wooden Rivas and, although Carlo introduced the fibreglass Rudy in 1969, the future looked bleak, and he sold the company in 1970. After decades in the doldrums, Riva was bought and revived in 2000 by the Ferretti Group, which today uses the Riva name on a new range of high-end yachts – some runabouts that capture the essence of the original classic Riva yachts, and other contemporary beauties, such as the recently launched Riva Mythos, which stands far apart from that first wooden-hull speedboat.
The timeline below traces the most popular classic Rivas, and calls attention to a few of the most memorable Rivas of all time…
The top 10 classic Riva yachts
1) The first-ever classic Riva yacht
CORSARO (1946-55): Only one yacht is thought to survive from the 40-strong pack of the first range of classic Riva yachts. The two-seater Corsaro Riva series was designed by Carlo Riva, based on the AR Sport motor boat. Production started on 1950, and the series ranged in length from 4.8 to 5.65 metres LOA and she was fitted with various engines.
2) The first twin-engine classic Riva yacht
SUPER TRITONE (1950-66): The first twin-engine classic range Riva yacht was the Tritone, in build from 1950-1966. While 221 of the standard Tritone version were delivered, far fewer of the far more desired Super Tritone came into being, with only 21 hitting the water. At nearly eight metres LOA, the Super Tritone was a long, powerful version of Riva’s Tritone, its biggest thus far. The Super Tritone is valued at €200,000-€300,000.
3) The rarest classic Riva yacht
Ribot III: Riva owners may commonly have been rich and famous, but it was rare to get special treatment; however, Carlo Riva broke his rule in the case of the Como industrialist, champion sailor and Riva patron, Achille Roncoroni. In 1960, Roncoroni persuaded the company to build him a one-off version of the Tritone Special model classic Riva yacht. He wanted the best, fastest and largest Riva ever. What he got was an 8.3m wood-clad wonder powered by two high-performance, marinised Cadillac Eldorado V8 engines, each producing 325hp to push the boat to a stunning 60mph. The unique interior had red, white and blue front seats that could be laid flat to let occupants sunbathe away from prying eyes. The dashboard featured sparkling, chrome bezel instruments befitting the Cadillac-powered Special.
Roncoroni used the boat, Ribot III, mostly on Como, and kept her until 1970 before selling her to someone who has owned this beautiful classic Riva ever since. And, true to his word, Carlo Riva ensured Ribot III remained a one-off, even turning down a request for a similar craft from King Hussein of Jordan.
4) The most popular classic Riva yacht
ARISTON (1950-74): Perhaps the best-known by sight classic Riva yacht, and certainly one of the most popular, is the Ariston, which was built for nearly 25 years. The single-engine Ariston measures 6.7 metres and features a distinctive rounded stern and wooden sax board. There were 823 Riva Ariston yachts built and another 189 Super Aristons delivered. The Super Ariston values at €80,000-€140,000.
5) The sporty classic Riva yacht
FLORIDA (1952-69): Featuring a large, sunken sun deck and often seen towing water-skiers, this sporty Riva classic yacht was equally well suited for a day of sunbathing or watersports. The Riva Florida is propelled by a single engine and ranged from 5.59 metres to 6.27 metres in her Super Florida size. Though she was built in Italy, like her brethren, her sun-loving demeanour earned her the moniker of the US “Sunshine State” and was named after Florida as at the time it was the place most closely linked with the sport of waterskiing. In her time in build, 426 Florida Rivas were delivered, including 711 of the bigger and more powerful Super Florida models, which value at €40,000-€75,000.
6) The most expensive classic Riva yacht ever
AQUARAMA (1962-96): The original Riva Aquarama line was delivered from 1962 to 1972. This included first classic Riva Aquarama yacht, of which 288 were sold, and the Super Aquarama, with 203 splashing. The Aquarama Special then emerged, running from 1972 to 1996 with 278 boats built.
The most expensive classic Riva ever built was probably an Aquarama, which crossed the block at Mecum Auctions in Kissimmee, Florida, back in 2011, for an impressive $975,000. Bidders from around the world competed to own the boat, which was considered extra special, because it was the last of the original, wooden-hulled Rivas to be sold to the public. Hull No 774 was completed in 1996 and delivered new to the founding family of the giant Sony Corporation on 23 December 1998.
Surely the ultimate Christmas present, it was one of six “End of the Era” commemorative editions produced. Its owners, however, clocked up fewer than 20 hours aboard her in 12 years, with their most ambitious voyage being a return trip across Lake Garda for lunch.
7) The classic Riva yacht Bardot preferred
JUNIOR (1967-72): The Riva Junion was the late 1960s replacement for the basic Riva Florida. At 5.6 metres, the classic Riva yacht model Junior found fame as the choice of the celebrity set such as Brigitte Bardot and Peter Sellers. The Riva Junior is valued at €30,000-€40,000.
8) An Olympic-medal worthy classic Riva yacht
OLYMPIC (1969-83): Named in honour of the Mexico Olympic Games of 1968 was the last wooden classic Riva yacht designed by Cantieri Riva. The Olympic Riva was introduced specifically to replace the Super Florida. Unlike other Riva models that evolved over time, the Olympic were introduced at 6.55 metres LOA and all were this length until production ceased in 1983, and nearly all carried the same 220hp or 270hp Riva-branded engines. Though 275 were built, the majority were delivered in the Olympic’s heyday, prior to 1975. The Riva Olympic is valued at €50,000-€85,000
9) The first classic fibreglass Riva yacht
RUDY (1972-83): In 1969, Carlo Riva sold the company US company Whittaker, who specialised in the emerging fibreglass technology. It’s no surprise that they soon began building Rivas in fibreglass, attempting to marry the lines of classic Riva yachts with the new material. Riva’s move into fibreglass was Rudy, a model that measured 5.75 metres and used a single Crusader engine. Controversial with her new-fangled build material and departure from wood, Rudy is not considered a true Riva by many. Despite that, she still is valued at €20,000-€35,000.
10) Classic Riva yacht revival seen today
AQUARIVA (2001-present): Despite the move into fibreglass – and now superyacht-size yachts even – Riva’s current owner, the Ferretti Group, are still passionate about preserving the essence of classic Riva yachts in its new runabouts. In 2001, a year after Ferretti Group purchased Riva, the Aquariva was launched. This 11-metre yacht was specifically designed as a successor to the inimitable Aquarama. Though built in GRP, her sweet exterior lines and wood detail harken back to the days of a bygone era when the first classic Rivas plied the waters.