Back in the early Sixties Ferruccio Lamborghini was the owner of some of the most successful companies in Italy, money was not an issue and he indulged himself with some of the thoroughbred super cars on the market at that moment, makes like Ferrari and Jaguar were no strangers in his garage until he decided he could do a better job and founded Automobili Lamborghini SpA in 1963 his first production car would be the beautiful 350GT followed by a 400GT evolution in 1966 that received a 4-Liter V12 engine a true work of art developed by Bizzarrini.
Probably one of the most important milestones in the history of Lamborghini was the introduction of the Miura in 1966 a race car that could be enjoyed on the open road orders started pouring in and the Lamborghini names become a household name among car enthusiasts business was booming and Ferruccio was making more money than ever so he started looking in some other toys and if you have any interest in boats you are bound to know about Riva.
In the spring of 1968 Ferruccio Lamborghini visited the shores of Lago d’Iseo where the boatyard of Cantieri Riva was located in those days (and even today) a Riva was a famous speedboat, an icon that has reached mythical proportions today everybody on the ‘who’s who’ list of jet setters wants to own a Riva with the Aquamara still being the ultimate high speed toy on the water.
Normally a Riva Aquamara is powered by two large V8 engines sourced from General Motors massive cast iron units that push a Riva to speeds up to 40 knots (75 Km/h or 46 Mph) but Ferruccio Lamborghini had a different idea for ‘his’ Riva this was a hand built Italian speedboat so the obvious choice would be to install Italian engines instead Detroit Muscle. Ferruccio signed the order form for his Riva to be built using two massive V12 engines he would deliver himself and have prepared for use inside a boat over a period of three months the Riva boatyard works on hull number 278 to be delivered to Ferruccio Lamborghini by the summer of 1968.
Ferruccio not only had two of his V12 engines installed on this Riva Aquamara on the stern of his custom made speedboat he had a stylish ‘Lamborghini’ script installed, naturally turning the ignition key and pressing the two starter buttons (one for each engine) would have this boat howl like a bull the sound was totally different from the standard V8 powered Riva and the added power (350hp from each engine) would propel hull number 278, the Lamborghini Riva to a top speed of 48 knots on the water (90 Km/h or 55 Mph) making this the fastest Riva speedboat in the world back in the Sixties, and today, 45 year later it still is!
The photos with this article show this unique Lamborghini powered Riva Aquamara after a painstakingly detailed restoration that took Sandro Zani and his team from world renowned Riva World in Uithoorn, the Netherlands over two years to complete from start to finish but it hasn’t been easy right from the start. In fact Ferruccio Lamborghini held onto his personal Riva for about 20 years he sold it in 1989, four years before he passed away.
The new owner decided the two Lamborghini engines needed too much maintenance he had them replaced by original V8 units to avoid high bills further down the line fortunately the V12 engines were taken back to the Lamborghini museum, they weren’t lost unlike the Riva itself.
The new owner passed away in 2002 and the heirs didn’t have too much interest in this amazing piece of history the Lamborghini Riva got lost from view every speedboat enthusiast heard about its existence, but not even Carlo Riva himself knew where hull number 278 was located for years.
During the summer of 2010 a very exciting Riva collector called Sandro Zani with the news he was in fact eye to eye with the one and only Lamborghini Riva boat located underneath a tarp on a small construction site near Punta, Italy. The asking price was high, but being a one of a kind Riva it was worth it even with the rotten and damaged wooden hull all the brass and upholstery was still authentic the original bill of sales signed by Ferruccio Lamborghini was found inside the boat it took a lot of time and effort to make the current Italian owners from Bologna part with this boat in the end the Dutch owner was able to obtain it and had it shipped to Uithoorn at once.
When the Lamborghini Riva arrived in the Netherlands it was stored for several months while the owner decided on the restoration in the end he decided to get it completely ‘back to original’ specs, including the installation of two Lamborghini V12 engines. In fact the original engines Ferruccio had installed in this Riva were located in the museum in Dosso but they weren’t for sale in fact the museum also wanted to buy this Riva so having the owner that ‘stole’ it right from under their noses asking to buy the original engines from them didn’t go down too good.
They agreed to help out with the restoration after the new owner offered a perfect scale model of the Lamborghin Riva to be built for the museum Fabio Lamborghini (curator of the museum in Dosso, note this isn’t the factory museum in Sant’Agata) turned out to be a massive help during the restoration. The team at Riva World in the Netherlands managed to buy a V12 engine in the United States but had to customize it to be used on the Riva with the help of Fabio Lamborghini they were able to photograph, measure and duplicate parts on the special engines Ferruccio had installed in the Sixties.
They even talked to Carlo Riva during the restoration he remembered Ferruccio ordered the boat in May 1968 and insisted he could take it out on the water by August 1968, the highly skilled workers at the Riva boatyard had to work night and day to get hull 278 finished in time.
Keep in mind this was the one and only Lamborghini powered Riva ever made, so a lot of parts had to be made from scratch back in 1968 and it had some issues at first all of them had been sorted out by Lamborghini engineers working together with Lino Morosini, head of the engine department at Riva back then. The Lamborghini engines didn’t use the regular cooling system from the V8 engines with water taken from outside the boat being dumped back after usage instead the V12 units had a closed system and these Raging Bulls needed a lot of cooling naturally.
One of the original V12 engines ended up in the family museum in Dosso, Italy the second one was turned back into a road unit the special ‘Riva’ parts taken from this latter one were in fact still found in storage but they couldn’t be used, instead Riva World was able to ‘borrow’ these special parts to have them rebuilt in the Netherlands as it would turn out building these parts from scratch wasn’t the biggest challenge finding two identical 4-Liter V12 engines would be the hardest part.
One engine was found in the United States while the second unit got sourced from Germany now it was time to have them both turned into marine engines instead of road car engines (they were Islero engines at first) Carubo Engineering in the US managed to do just that with the help of none other than Bob Wallace. Both bore and stroke were enlarged to have the V12 engines deliver power at a lower rpm which also required the venerable Weber carburetors to be recalibrated. The entire cooling system, transmission and even the engine struts where built by Sandro.
Originally these V12 engines were rated at 7,000rpm way too much for marine use, today both engines deliver 350 hp each between a mere 700 and 6,600 rpm (compare this to the original V8 output of 220 hp each and you know this Riva is quick) keep in mind this was very impressive back in 1968 I’m sure Ferruccio had a smile on his face being behind the steering wheel of ‘his’ Riva.
During the painstakingly in depth restoration at Riva World the damaged wood of this boat was replaced, filed down, sanded down stained using Pasto Morgan before applying lacquer with a brush the Lamborghini Riva boasts no less than 24 layers of lacquer mind you.
Not only the exterior is perfect today, the interior received the same attention to detail the gauges on the dashboard are original Riva World took them apart completely, screw by screw, to have them restored to original looks. All the chrome, levers even the steering wheel was restored instead of replaced this Riva is as close to original as can be.
As a final detail the beautiful Lamborghini V12 engines received several coats of blue paint a typical shade on a Riva Aquamara while the hand built cooling pipes and open exhaust (made from copper) were chromed. One additional hurdle needed to be overcome during the restoration being positioned side by side the starboard engine had to ‘turn’ in the opposite direction inside this wasn’t such a problem, but the auxiliaries were a different story still the highly skilled engineers at Riva World managed to put it all together and returned this unique Riva to it’s former glory.
Pushing the power lever to the limit will make both V12 engines howl to the extreme the sound is thundering and very addictive everybody around you on the water will notice you and take a second look when you are having fun in this super speedboat the 1968 Riva Aquarama Lamborghini once again proudly shows its name at the stern there is no mistake this is THE Ferruccio Lamborghini owned Riva Aquamara hull number 278 an important piece of personal history.