One of the oldest and most revered names in boating, Riva has had many faces over the decades. We pick out our favourite Riva boats from their extensive back catalogue...
Decades after Riva stopped making wooden boats, no-one has ever done a better job of making timeless works of art out of mahogany. But there always was much more to the legendary boatyard than its woodworking skills.
Power, performance and gorgeous looks have always been as crucial to the Riva offering as impeccably grain-matched dowels and twelve coats of varnish.
And the yard has built some absolute classics in fibreglass too. With a history that stretches back into another century, choosing just ten of the best Riva boats to write about is a tricky task.
10 of the best Riva boats of all time
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If Carlo Riva gave the boatyard the iconic status that we still acknowledge today, it was his father Serafino’s passion for racing hydroplanes that set the ball rolling, back in the 1920s and 30s.
Boats like the victorious Ronzino, built for Count Metello Rossi, shone the limelight on the Riva brand for the first time, and set the stage for the famous high-performance runabouts that followed.
Fifteen feet long and powered by an inboard four-cylinder, 145hp, 1.5-litre BPM petrol engine, Ronzino was built of double-skinned aviation plywood on oak formers.
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Riva Tritone (1950)
Twin engined and more than 26ft long, the Tritone was a muscleboat before the word had been invented. The earliest examples sported 177hp engines and had a top speed of 45 knots, but the 16-year course of its 258-unit production saw the Tritone grow slightly longer but a lot more powerful, culminating in the Cadillac model with its pair of 320hp V8s.
Less voluptuous than the fabled Aquarama, which shared its hull, the Tritone is still regarded by many aficionados as the quintessential wooden Riva – powerful, authoritative and effortlessly elegant.
Riva Bertram 25 Sport Fisherman (1970)
In 1970 both Riva and Bertram found themselves owned by the Whittaker Corporation. The synergies weren’t immediately obvious, but Carlo Riva knew he had to get into fibreglass boatbuilding, and Dick Bertram’s boats had an unequalled reputation for high-speed seakeeping thanks to their race-proven deep-V hulls.
Carlo’s decision to bring a 25 over to Sarnico to fit out as a Mediterranean luxury weekender, with an elevated finish, plenty of interior wood, and a more versatile cockpit design, was an instant classic.
Riva Rudy (1972)
Small, fast, fun and gorgeous to look at, the 19ft Rudy speedboat was Riva’s first in-house GRP project, its hull mould taken off a wooden Riva Junior.
With a single 190hp four-cylinder petrol engine and shaft drive, it made an ideal yacht tender, ski-boat or fun runabout, while its stylish looks, 36-knot top speed and big aft sunbed offered all the advantages of the wooden boats without the maintenance headaches.
Riva 2000 (1973)
Design legend Sonny Levi was not just a superb naval architect and brilliant engineer, he also drew some of the best-looking boats of his era. When Riva asked him to design a triple-engined sportscruiser powered by his innovative surface drive system, the result was destined to be something special.
The 37ft, two-berth Riva 2000 packed 1,050 horsepower in a 20-degree deep-V hull, and could reach 53 knots fully loaded. It inspired boatyards on both sides of the Atlantic to up their game, and still turns heads today, 40 years later.
Riva 50 Superamerica (1981)
In the days when the London Boat Show was squashed into the original 1930s Earls Court Exhibition Centre, the biggest boat on display was often the 50ft Riva Superamerica shown by Lewis Marine, behind a red rope and guarded by a uniformed commissionaire.
British boatbuilders at the time had nothing to match it, but as well as picking up some valuable marketing tips, they also saw just how cool and desirable a big flybridge yacht could be.
It took a while, but when Fairline’s 50 came out in 1986 it represented a huge step for UK boatbuilding, its two-tone gelcoat a conscious homage to its Italian inspiration.
Riva Ferrari 32 (1988)
Early Rivas sported engines from Chris-Craft. There was at least one Lamborghini-powered Aquarama. The shipyard was never shy of collaborations with bigger brands, and in the world of high-octane luxury there’s no bigger brand than Ferrari.
So although it’s a shame it didn’t have Ferrari engines, the Riva Ferrari’s twin 390hp BPM V8s with surface drives still pushed it to 53 knots, and it was designed using Ferrari’s CAD software, an idea as advanced for the time as the carbon fibre used for the radar arch. Just 40 were built.
Riva Aquariva (2000)
Back in 1998 Riva was owned by British engineering group Vickers. Wooden boat manufacture had been wound up two years before. The yard was floundering, but Stephen Julius, a canny Anglo-Italian entrepreneur (who soon moved on to Chris-Craft), understood the problem, and the brand.
The result was the magnificent Aquariva, 33 feet (10m) of perfectly-proportioned, high-performance dayboat, which had all the quality and allure of its thickly-lacquered predecessors, but in fibreglass. It showed the way to Riva’s future, and when Julius sold up in 2000, all the Ferretti Group had to do was keep going along that path.
Riva 76 Perseo (2015)
Given Riva’s indelible association with fast, open sports machines, it’s easy to forget how pioneering the yard has also been in the more sensible world of flybridge cruising boats.
And dazzled by the pure allure of the 76 Perseo you might be forgiven for not noticing that it too has an upper helm station, and seating up there for ten – not forgetting the spacious deck saloon and four sleeping cabins down below. Sensible, however, it isn’t – the Perseo packs up to 3,600hp and can blast along at close to 40 knots.
Riva Rivamare (2016)
The old Riva spirit is alive and well in the 39ft Rivamare, a fibreglass reimagining of the legendary Aquarama, complete with a powerful flared bow, wraparound windscreen, sculpted stern and a central walkway up through the sunbed.
Times have changed, though, so it also offers a modern medium-V hull, twin 400hp Volvos on Duoprop drives, a practical galley, air-conditioning and a gyro stabiliser. But it remains an unashamed, old-school open boat, without even a radar mast, and it goes as good as it looks.