In 2012, the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance featured the Riva Aquarama as its Marque class. With 33 Rivas on display, it was perhaps the largest presentation of Aquaramas ever assembled for display. In addition to the Aquarama, Aquarama Special, Super Aquarama, and Aquarama Lungo models on display, there was also a good collection of other Riva models, including the Super Tritone, Ariston, Super Ariston, Super Florida, Junior, Olympic, Iseo, and Ruby Super.
The year 2012, represented the 50th anniversary of the iconic Riva Aquarama, which came into existence in 1962. Subsequently, Motorboat & Yachting Magazine named it number one of the top 100 best boats ever!
In 1962, Carlo Riva built the prototype of the Aquarama based on the Riva Tritone, which had been inspired by Chris-Craft runabouts. The boat’s speed, beauty, and craftsmanship earned it praise as the “Ferrari of the boat world.”
For the Aquarama, Carlo Riva added a different bow piece with built-in vents, raised mopboards around the perimeter of the forward covering boards, and an anchor housing mounted at the bow. He split the front seats for ease of passage. The driver’s seat sported a flip-up seat section so the driver could pilot the boat in a standing position. Additionally, he built picnic trays into the backs of the seats. Carlo added a crossing area at the transom to ease the boarding of bathers from the stern ladder. Carlo fitted the boat with twin Chris-Craft 8-cylinder, 185-hp engines. He personally tested the boat extensively and, once satisfied with the design, ordered full production to start in 1963.
Riva built hull numbers two and three plank-on-frame, the same as the Tritone models of the time. Hull number four was the first model to employ the “armor laminate” triple-planked laminated sides. Riva sheathed the Aquarama’s hull mahogany and then varnished it to accentuate the beauty of its natural wood grain.
On top of the engine compartment was a cushioned sundeck. The boats also carried a convertible roof which retracted behind the rear seat and cockpit. Riva often mounted a swim ladder in the stern.
All versions were twin-engined, with top speeds of 45 to 50 knots, depending on engine choice. Power varied from 185 hp to 400 hp per engine, delivered by Riva ‘tuned’ Cadillac and Chrysler motors, among others.
The Aquarama continued in production until 1995, when Riva completed hull number 784, resulting in a total of 769 boats completed. Of these, 288 were “normal” Aquaramas, fitted with small block engines; 203 were Super Aquaramas, fitted with big block engines; and 278 were Aquarama Specials, representing the final design of the boat and built from 1972.
The most famous of Carlo Riva’s designs, the Aquarama has become over the decades a nautical legend. Its evocative name, derived in part from the widescreen Cinerama movie format popular in the early Sixties, echoed in its sweeping wrap-around windshield, conjures images from another time.
BoatXchg.com would like to express our appreciation to Herb Hall, President of Sierra Boat Company in Carnelian Bay, California, for providing much of the content for this article.