We’ve all heard the saying about boats being “holes in the water into which you throw money”, but how about the legend that a classic Riva yacht can actually make you money? While no boat could truly be described as a copper-bottomed investment, wooden-hull Rivas at least have a reputation for being more watertight than most.
But is it true that old Rivas really do represent nautical nirvana by combining fun, glamour, performance and style with minimal depreciation? Can these classic Riva motor yachts be a money-making investment truly? Or, as often happens with classic cars, are our rose-tinted spectacles simply obscuring the less pleasant reality of a heavy purchase price, high maintenance costs and the likelihood of taking a hit when it’s time to move on?
One man who knows better than most is Alexandre Latscha, the president of the Riva Club de France – just one of a dozen “chapters” of the Riva Historical Society (RHS) operating in Europe and the US. Of the 4,000-plus classic Riva yachts built between the late 1940s and 1996, more than 2,000 survivors are recorded on the RHS register, with “forgotten” examples still being occasionally unearthed.
“Wooden Rivas have a reputation as being symbolic of the playboy era,” says Latscha, who owns a 1962 Super Florida that he bought in 1999 and a more recently acquired 1968 Ariston. “All the famous images of stars such as Brigitte Bardot, Peter Sellers, Sean Connery and Richard Burton behind the wheel have made them one of the best-known boats of all time.
“The glamorous image often attracts people to want to own one, but it really isn’t something that should be entered into lightly, as it is very easy to make big and extremely expensive mistakes,” he warns.
Here is what to consider if you want to turn a profit and make money off your classic Riva yacht purchase.
How a classic Riva yacht can make you money
Pedigree Riva yachts are more likely to make you money
Classic Rivas now change hands for anything from £50,000 to £500,000, depending on the model, the condition and who has owned it. In 2012, for example, a 1962 Riva Super Ariston was offered for sale by Sotheby’s at a sensible pre-sale estimate of £80,000 to £100,000, but the fact that Dracula III had belonged to legendary playboy Gunter Sachs, resulted in it selling for £385,250 – proof that classic Riva yachts can make their owners a good deal of money.
But few Rivas can boast the gold-plated provenance of one Tritone, which was commissioned new in 1958 by a Milanese textile tycoon as a gift to His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco. The Prince and his young wife, the former Hollywood star Grace Kelly, were often to be seen having fun in the boat off Monaco’s shores. This undoubtedly helped it to achieve €403,000 when it came under the hammer at RM Auctions in Monaco last May.
You’ll need to invest in your Riva in order to make money
“You need to think very carefully before buying, especially when considering a restoration project,” Alexandre Latscha. He encourages potential owners to be prepared to invest in their investment if they hope to make money off of their Riva yacht.
“It’s difficult to know how much work is going to be involved in a restoration until you actually undertake it, and it is, therefore, very easy to lose control of costs. The bare minimum you can expect to lay out on the restoration of a five-metre Junior – the smaller model made famous by Bardot – is €40,000. But it can easily rise to €80,000 and, with most Juniors currently fetching around €35,000, you would struggle to get your money back.”
Investing in a classic Riva yacht is different to buying a classic car
This might sound overly obvious, but the comparison with classic cars and classic Rivas is likely to lead you into trouble when trying to make money from a Riva yacht purchase, according to Peter Wallman from RM Auctions, one of the go-to auction houses worldwide for buyers seeking a classic Riva.
“Rivas represent the very essence of the Dolce Vita era and speak of a time when the rich and famous seemed far more carefree than they do today. Riva boats provide a chance to get back into that world – but they don’t really compare with classic cars as an investment. “People can easily keep a car in the garage and take it for a drive on a sunny day. With a wooden Riva you need to have easy access to somewhere to use it, somewhere to store it and someone to maintain it. Most people don’t, which, of course, makes them less of a tempting proposition.”
The Riva investor’s dilemma: use it and risk losing it?
Investors hoping to earn a profit from their classic Riva yacht face a dilemma: to actually use the boat, or keep it safe, away from the harmful environments for which it was built. Latscha says many owners end up reluctant to use their pride and joy for fear of it becoming damaged.
“When you’re using a Riva, you can’t, for example, afford to bump a mooring or knock against another boat because it will damage the varnish and open up a way for water to penetrate,” he warns.
Employ the best specialists to boost your chances of making money
What you absolutely must do, though, if you hope to make money from a Riva yacht is have access to a reputable specialist who can look after your classic Riva to the required standard, he says. This is why the greatest concentration of these boats is to be found in the Italian lakes, notably on Lake Iseo, which is the base of Riva RAM, the repair and maintenance service established in 1957 by Carlo Riva.
If the potential pitfalls of Riva ownership don’t put you off, says Latscha, they can be among the most rewarding of boats to own: “There is really nothing else quite like being in a Riva on a beautiful sunny day – and one that has been properly restored and maintained is an absolute joy. They are extremely reliable and as fantastic as they always were.”
And if you buy well, he says, “you will have a beautiful boat that should at least hold its value and may even increase”.