The beginning: The birth of Riva’s dockyard
Everything started in Laglio, on Lake Como. In 1842 a fisherman from Sarnico visited this hamlet, he was fascinated by the mastery shown by the young Pietro Riva while repairing his boat. He proposed that Pietro move with him to Lake d’Iseo in order to fix two boats damaged by the flooding of the river Oglio. There the young Riva proved himself to be an excellent shipwright and started his business: that’s the beginning of Riva’ Story.
Ten years later Pietro married Lucrezia Taroni and had five children. Among them Ernesto soon decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. It was Ernesto who influenced the family business by foreseeing that engines would be the future of boating. The company and the dockyard grew considerably.
In 1881, Ernesto Riva married Carolina Malinghetti and had six children. Meanwhile he commissioned the first motor boat: it was a success, so impressive that he decided to produce one by himself. With his own boat, called Sarnico, he started to offer the first tours on the lake. In particular the tour on Montisola, the largest lake island in Europe, which provided, at lunch time, one stop at the dockyard where, years later, came to light the tavern managed by Ms. Riva.
Serafino Riva and the technique evolution
In 1907 Ernesto Riva lost his life due to the collapse of a wooden scaffold that was prepared for the launch of a big ship. Despite the tragedy that hit his family, the third-born Serafino restarted work at the dockyards right away.
Aware of all the changes that were happening in the boating market, Serafino decided to focus mainly on the construction of boats for recreation activities, exploiting the availability of small inboard engines, developed in Europe in the late 1800s, and outboard motors, produced in the United States in the early 1900s. The boating world was being transformed. With a great innovative spirit, Serafino devoted himself to the construction of motorboats for racing, particularly in vogue after the end of the war. Entrusting his boats to the most renowned pilots, Serafino made Riva a top brand, thanks to the unmatchable performance of his speedboats. Those speed races became a valuable promotional tool for the dockyard even outside the boundaries of Lake Iseo.
In 1928 Riva participated in the first motorboat exhibition in Milan gaining great endorsement.
The great races and the first Runabout
The sporting events and the motorboat meetings of the 1920s continued even in the following decade, galvanized by the propaganda of the Italian fascist government. In those years the names Serafino, Riva, and Giuseppe Guerini were ofter heard together, both great pilots, friends on land, rivals in water. Both took part at the races driving Riva boats, with outboard engines of the same brand. Their exciting challenges occupied the front pages of the sports news in the early 1930s. Riva’s hulls were always present at all motorboating events until 1939, when this activity was banned in Italy.
In 1935 the pilot Metello Rossi from Montelera became the Italian champion driving the Ronzino (BPM Riva) a 1500cc racer. Two years later Serafino Riva displayed the racing inboard at the motorboat exhibition in Milan.
In the mid 1930s, the construction of the first Runabouts in mahogany started, and they shortly became the worlds most famous. Due to the outbreak of The Second World War dockyard production declined but never stopped.
In 1946 the first «spider of the sea» came to light, the sport speedboat that was known by the name of Corsaro.
In 1950 the first Ariston was constructed, an inboard of 6,24 mt. (20,50 feet); the first Scoiattolo, sporting outboard of 4,14 mt. (13.60 feet); and the first Tritone, a 7,60 mt. long (25 feet) inboard with twin engines and a deck. A big turn took place in 1951: Carlo Riva’s dream of mass-producing the Sebino, inboard 4,93 mt. (16.17 feet) long, came true. Mass-production remarkably reduced production costs.
Gigi Figoli also opened the first Italian school of water skiing in 1951, founded by Gianni Fustinoni in Santa Margherita Ligure. This sport spread rapidly and became one of the most popular hobbies in the beach resorts of the Mediterranean. Riva’s speedboats were the protagonists once again. In particular the Florida n°7, known as “The Barracuda” was bought by the Grand Hotel Miramare in Santa Margherita and equipped with more powerful engines (Chris Craft 158HP) so that it could be used for water skiing.
In 1954 Riva conquered the international star system: a legendary era started, an era that continues until today. Movie stars, high life protagonists, playboys and sports champions: everybody owned a Riva. The hulls made in Sebino became a status symbol, easy to spot in all the most fashionable beach resorts of those times.
The Aquarama is born
Since its first appearance at the Nautical showroom in Milan, the Aquarama became the unquestioned symbol of Riva’s dockyards. A prodigy of design, style and technology that is still considered a legend to this day. FIAT president Giovanni Agnelli was also stunned by the Aquarama, as he was the first one to test it.
The name of the speedboat was inspired by the term «cinerama» that in Italian refers to the American big screen. Even the slogan with which the boat was presented summed up its magical world : «Sun, sea, joy of living!». The price was 10 million and 800 thousand lire (about 141.000 USD at those times).
A boom for the young
The slogan invented by Mario Poltronelli, RAI’s (oldest Italian TV channel) popular sport reporter, was almost prophetic. When he first saw the Junior motorboat he exclaimed: «A boom for the young!». In fact it was just for the young that the hull was created: for the sons of those who already possessed an Aquarama.
Conceived for both fishing and water skiing, the Riva Junior proved popular also as a tender for big yachts. It was the first Riva with painted sides.
In 1972 it was replaced by the Rudy, very similar to the Junior but made in Fibreglass.
Les Italiens en Côte d’Azur
That summer, the popularity of Italians became clear in Saint Tropez . Admired, envied and courted, the paladins of the Italian Dolce Vita showed off their luxurious lifestyles, sailing the sea on their Riva speedboats. Followed everywhere by the paparazzi, these superstars of Saint Tropez spent their days enjoying the company of beautiful women on the beach, wealthy heirs, movie stars and attending exclusive parties.
«A few hours of sleep was more than enough, then we would start all over again» recalls Gigi Rizzi, an icon of those times, «and at the berth there was always a Riva to welcome us».
From tradition to fibreglass
In 1970 the first two models of Riva in fibreglass were created: The day-cruiser Bahia Mar 20′ and the cabin-cruiser Sport Fisherman 25′. A transition season began in which old and new models coexisted, shoulder to shoulder continuing Riva’s traditions and values. In 1971 Carlo Riva left the position of president and GM of the company, handing the position to his partner since 1950: Gino Gervasoni.
The year 1972 saw a great achievement made by the Super Aquarama Zoom, an achievement that reconsolidated Riva’s name back on the top of sports competitions, from which Riva was for many years missing. The hull wins the category runabout and reaches second place in the worlds most exhausting motorboat race. From the 10th to the 24th of June 1972, the Super Aquarama went through 14 stages from London to Montecarlo with an average speed of 36.8 mph (32 kn), on a 2.700 mile long route.
In 1977 a calendar by Jhon Player, immediately sold out, leading to a scandal caused by the abundance of pictures of naked models posing on Riva boats, among them a Riva 2000, a fibreglass day cruiser that was produced from 1975 to 1981, only 54 of them were constructed. During the same year the St. Tropez and the Bravo also came to light.
Discover the historic collection of Riva Boats, one of a kind
Riva characterises excellence and style. For this very reason, owning a Riva speedboat means owning a piece of nautical history, means navigating the water conscious of the fact you are driving a worldwide sailing jewel.
Forever a Riva fan and fascinated by its work, Romano Bellini gave life to a unique collection. He bought and restored vintage models, nowadays extremely rare and valuable, proudly giving his contribution in the diffusion of Riva’s prestige, handing down its history and preserving the memory of glorious and unforgettable times.
To share his passion and make it accessible to as many as possible, Romano Bellini transformed his private collection in an open exposition.
Visiting it is like reliving the excitement of a brilliant past, routing towards La Bella Vita and the fantastic years that followed.