World’s coolest boats: Riva Aquarama is La Dolce Vita on ice

Each month we pick out an iconic boat that can lay claim to the title of world’s coolest boat. This month, we take a closer look at the Riva Aquarama…

The history of Riva dates back to 1842, when a storm on Lake Iseo in Italy devastated the local fishing fleet. A young shipwright called Pietro Riva worked hard, repairing many of the vessels and earning the respect of the locals in the process.

It was on the back of this that he opened his own boatyard, and Riva was born. The yard continued to flourish under Pietro’s son Ernesto, who introduced boats powered by internal combustion engines, creating large passenger and cargo boats.

Serafino Riva shifted production from transport vessels to motorboats in the late 1920s and early 1930s, building successful racing boats. But it was his son Carlo Riva who turned the company into what it is today.

In the 1950s, Carlo had admired the wooden Chris-Craft motorboats in the USA and felt that there was a market for high quality luxury motorboats in Europe.

In 1962 he introduced the Riva Aquarama, putting the Italian brand on the global stage. The name was based on the Cinerama panoramic cinema screens popular at the time, echoed in the beautiful curve of the stainless steel-framed windscreen.

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Fitted with a pair of Chris-Craft V8 petrol engines, the first boat was capable of almost 40 knots. Carlo took it to Monaco, where it caught the eye of lawyer and enthusiastic helmsman, Gianni Agnelli (who later became president of Fiat). Carlo Riva famously told him “if you can turn it over, you can have it”.

The performance, the quality (the mahogany planks that the boat was built from were dried for 10 years before they could be used) and above all, the style, captured the imagination of the 1960s jet set. Richard Burton, Brigitte Bardot, Rex Harrison, Peter Sellers, Sophia Loren, Joan Collins and Ferruccio Lamborghini all owned Aquaramas.

Ferruccio’s was probably the most iconic, you don’t own Lamborghini and have American V8 engines in your boat. Ferruccio’s was built with a pair of 350hp 4.0 litre V12 Lamborghini engines, making it the fastest Riva Aquarama ever.

Although Riva began building fibreglass boats in 1969, the Aquarama lived on until 1996, evolving through the Lungo, Super Aquarama and finally Aquarama Special. The last boat built was a Riva Aquarama Special, hull number 784.

Riva Aquarama specifications

LOA: 27ft 7in / 8.4m
Beam: 8ft 6in / 2.6m
Power: Twin 185hp (at launch)
Top speed: Circa 40 knots
Years built: 1962-1996
Price: From approx £500,000 (used)

To submit your suggestion for the world’s coolest boat, head over to the MBY forum.