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An Italian Classic

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The name Riva is known around the world for being synonymous with stylish, Italian-built recreational boats. That reputation originated in large part with the Riva Aquarama, the most famous of Carlo Riva’s designs that was in production from 1962 until 1996.

Carlo Riva was a great-grandson of Riva founder Pietro Riva, who started building boats in the 1880s. Carlo’s father is the one who added pleasure boats to the line of small racing boats that Riva was turning out, and in the 1950s, Carlo took over the business and transformed it. After the Aquarama launched in 1962, it became known as the Ferrari of the boating world. According to Riva, there were about 760 Aquaramas built, and about 650 are still out there today, often meticulously maintained by their enthusiast owners.

And, throughout the years, some of those owners have had world-renowned names themselves. Peter Sellers, who played Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther series, had an Aquarama. So did Prince Rainier of Monaco, and King Hussein of Jordan. They all sought out the Aquarama for the same reasons that other boaters loved it: twin engines that produced 45 to 50 knots of speed, depending on the engine choice; a cushioned sundeck for relaxing and being seen along the Côte d’Azur, and a convertible roof that could retract to open up the rear seat and cockpit for extra sun and refreshing breezes.

Even the renowned Ferruccio Lamborghini, founder of the carmaker that bears his name, commissioned an Aquarama. He requested it in 1968, and it became Hull No. 278, outfitted with twin Lamborghini 4.0-liter V-12s from the Espada road car. To this day, it’s the fastest Aquarama ever built—and Riva built it in just three months, working day and night to meet his deadline. Eventually, a new owner of the boat
replaced the engines with standard V-8 power plants, and the V-12s ended up in the Lamborghini Museum, but Hull No. 278 has since been restored to its original specs. Carlo Riva himself took to the water to make sure everything on the boat was correct.

This year, with the Aquarama celebrating its 60th anniversary, Riva is offering a collectible book that commemorates the mahogany-and-chrome design. The book includes more than 200 photos and illustrations, highlighting everything from the fine craftsmanship in the woodwork to the robin’s egg blue and cream-colored upholstery that continue to be defining elements of the model today. —Kim Kavin

This article was originally published in the September 2022 issue.

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