Classic Formula...

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Riva and its Rivas are every bit as good today as they were in the past. Innovation and quality underpin the brand, but it's showmanship that really counts, suggests Phil Draper.

MAY 2007

The other day while visiting Riva’s two production sites in Italy, the original one outside Sarnico on the shores of Lago Iseo and the new-era big-boat coastal facility in La Spezia, I had some time to scan a few of the old black-and-white photographs that adorn the walls of various offices and corridors and to check out a few of the old Rivas themselves in the Sarnico site’s small museum. Glorious stuff.
For obvious reasons Riva’s big on nostalgia. Some of its models conceived from the late ’40s through to the late ‘60s are generally acknowledged to be design classics. Indeed most people ‘into’ boats and a reasonable proportion of those that aren’t will probably have heard of the Riva Aquarama, which went into production in ‘62. Such is the status of that model, which was produced in various guises right through until the mid ‘90s, that the notoriously hot-and-cold BBC Top Gear presenter and motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson — not much of a voice when it comes to boats and boating, I know, but certainly one appreciative of things mechanical — gave the Aquarama its own chapter in his book ‘I Know You Got Soul’, a collection of essays eulogising some of man’s greatest creations. For an old wooden sportsboat to get equal billing to aeronautical milestones such as the Spitfire, Concorde, Blackbird and the Space Shuttle, never mind the Hoover Dam and the AK47, is not bad going at all.

“I would suggest it wasn’t just the way the old Rivas looked, how they were built or the way they performed that earned them their legendry status. There was another important ingredient to the mix. And that was marketing…” 


But why are the various Aquarama models and those other classic Rivas so revered? What makes them so special?
Beyond some incredibly sweet lines and exceptional poise, which is admittedly a fairly good starting point, I would suggest there is quite a bit more to the reverence. Bear in mind the retro appeal of these boats came much later. When they were first built, they were state of the art.
In fact technically they were in a class of their own. Riva was always a big innovator and has a string of ‘firsts’ to its credit.
When new, not only did Rivas perform beautifully, but also they were built better than just about anything else on the market. Old Carlo Riva, the fourth-generation and last Riva to run the family business whose history dates back to the mid-19th century, is said to have been obsessive in his pursuit of engineering perfection.
But I would suggest it wasn’t just the way the old Rivas looked, how they were built or the way they performed that earned them their legendry status. There was another important ingredient to the mix. And that was marketing. People need to be told when things are good. And that is precisely what Riva did. In its heyday the yard worked the international markets as well as any other operations in the business, doing the world’s key shows and making as much capital as possible from a growing list of ‘A-list’ celebrities of the day and the-then emerging ‘jet set’. That made Riva what it is.
So on this latest visit I was determined to explore while visiting the operation’s two present facilities whether the modern product can stand proud beside all that has gone before. Well I did and I can.
The Rivas of today have all the traits of past models — strong design, plenty of innovation, and a build quality that’s right up there. And as for the hype, well, the brand has for the past six or seven years been in the hands of this industry’s master showmen, the Ferretti Group’s marketeers.
Now, if you ask me, that all sounds like a classis formula for success!

© Phil Draper