Ferruccio Lamborghini always did things with style. The tractor manufacturer-come-supercar magnate rewrote the book on jaw-droppingly beautiful cars that had absolutely bonkers performance, so it would only be fitting for him to commission Riva to build him one of their Aquarama speedboats – one of the most stylish, most desirable watercraft of the 1960s.
Riva built their flagship model, the Aquarama, from 1962-1996 and with hull lengths between 8.02m and 8.78 metres, all cloaked in rich mahogany and dripping in varnish to give the timber a stunning finish.
As they were Riva’s top of the pops model all Aquaramas featured twin American V8 engines, with between 185hp-400hp per-engine depending on the order specs. This allowed them to hold 45-50 knots in open water, which was really humming in the 1960s.
But Lamborghini did something different when he ordered his in 1968. Ferruccio optioned it with two 4.0-litre V12 engines of his own design.
These engines (from Lamborghini’s new Espada grand tourer) were good for between 320hp and 350hp each, meant this Aquarama would be one of the fastest pleasurecrafts in Europe.
However, their lack of torque compared to Riva’s traditional pushrod V8s meant the boat wouldn’t get onto plane, so Lamborghini removed them and had new units engineered specifically for the boat with one engine set-up to spin in the opposite direction to counter the effects of “prop wash” where the boat wants to rotate in the same direction as the propeller.
Ferruccio and the Lamborghini family owned the boat until 1989, when it was sold and the new owner gave the V12s back to the Lamborghini museum. And then the boat disappeared.
It was discovered in 2010, sitting in a boat yard in Putna, Italy, covered by a tarpaulin. The years hadn’t been kind to the delicate timber work, and it was in exceptionally poor condition.
Dutch Riva collector Adriaan de Vries bought the remains and sent it to Sandro Zani’s Riva-World in the Netherlands for a full rebuild. This was completed over a three year period, with the body repaired and re-lacquered, the interior retrimmed and rewired.
The biggest problem, however, was that the two now-vintage V12 engines were owned by the Lamborghini Museum, and they weren’t prepared to sell them to Adriaan.
Riva-World bought two V12 engines from Espadas – one in the USA, and one in Germany – and re-engineer them to suit the marine use, like Lamborghini did with the 2nd generation powerplants.
Sandro from Riva-World was also granted permission from the Lamborghini Museum to come and inspect the one surviving original motor from the boat they had. This allowed him to replicate many of the unique features required to reverse the engine’s rotation, as well as set it up for marine duties.
He then had Carobu Engineering rebuild the core motors, modifying them extensively to suit their new life away from tarmac and terra firma.
Carobu Engineering had to take heady, rev-happy and horsepower-rich V12 supercar engines and turn them into low- and mid-range torque-laden marine motors. This meant they needed to increase the engines’ bore and stroke.
Using custom-machined billet crankshafts they increased stroke from 68mm to 80mm, with 24 custom pistons installed to suit the enlarged cylinder bore. The engines’ deck heights were lifted 9mm to push each engine’s capacity from 4.0-litres to 5.5-litres.
One problem that created was it changed the measurements for timing chains, camshaft specifications, timing cover attachments, and much more. Thankfully, the New Mexico-based company was able to overcome all these challenges, and the rebuilt engines (with six dual-throat Weber carburettors) have proven to be exactly what the boat needed.
Decreasing the RPM ceiling from 7000rpm to 6600rpm helps keep the Italian stallions cool when travelling at their 40-knot top speeds, while they also put much work into reversing one engine so both engines would balance each other out.
The boat’s restoration took three years in the end, being completed in time for Lamborghini’s 50th anniversary (seen below with a 350GT, the first model of car that Lamborghini produced). The photos of the restored boat show just how beautiful a machine it is, with striking sweeping lines and gentle curves offset by the rich finish of the timber and subtle splashes of colour.
It is easy to see how the Riva Aquarama became the standard bearer for timber speedboats of the late 20th Century, and with the stampeding Lamborghini V12s under the rear deck it only enhances the sophistication of the package.
All photos courtesy of Petrolicious / Riva / Maurice Volmeyer
G'day guys, my name is Iain but most people know me as "Marv", mainly because it is easier than explaining why my parents spelled "Ian" with two i's. I'm a journalist from Sydney, Australia who loves cars, dogs, making "things" and spinning yarns. The real thrill for me, however, is the story behind the object or person. I have a background in automotive journalism across vehicles new and old, stock, modified, and hand-built, and I love the whole process of making magazines. I am also a fan of diving into history and discovering the amazing things humans have done in the past. This blog will tell the tales of rad people who make cool stuff.