Bellini Nautica and the charm of vintage Riva boats: a long-time partnership

A truly unique, private collection of vintage Riva boats and an amazing restoring department. Some miles from Lake Iseo, at Bellini Nautica.

“In the last three years we have restored an average of twelve vintage Riva boats per year. Still, we are not at our full potential, only getting close. There were also moments when we had a waiting list”. Battista Bellini talks to us. 30 years old, grandson of Battista and son of Romano, he inherited from his dad and grandfather the passion for boats and for mahogany Rivas. When at 16, in 1980, Romano bought the first Riva Sebino and started the beautiful private collection that today is housed on the upper floor of the Cortefranca offices, close to Bellini Nautica headquarters in Clusane – southern shore of lake Iseo.

Bellini Nautica is the re-birth place of vintage Riva boats

The boats belonging to Bellini Nautica collection are 24, embracing all the history of Riva in terms of wooden crafts. There’s the first three-point racer used by Carlo Riva for the Pavia-Venice race, then the first launches, up to Aquarama Special, the last mahogany Riva built until 1986. The collection can be visited upon request and can be the location for exclusive events.

But we want to explore and see what happens on the first floor, where these beautiful boats are restored. Nowadays a vintage Riva can be worth up to 400-500 thousand euros for an Aquarama down to over 100 thousand for an Ariston. Still, you can find some classified boats at a price in the (low) tens of thousands. That’s because, as for cars, you have to take into consideration the overall conditions.
“We deem ourselves among the most qualified restorers of vintage Riva boats – explains Battista Bellini. “My father started collecting them at 16 and knows them down to the tiniest nut and bolt. He shared his know-how with our craftsmen and, with some trouble, we’ve been able to hire young apprentices. This is one of the major limits: findingskilledworkforce.
Restoring a wooden boat is quite complex, and even more so in the case of a vintage Riva. For a comprehensive restore you have to reckon 12 months of work”.

But how does all this process start?

“Quite frequently the customer asks us to find him the right boat. Some times he did the purchase, or he has long owned it, and wants to get back to the former beauty -says Martina Bellini .
“We own some finished boats, it’s on the customer to decide whether they want to restore another one according to their taste or buy a perfect one. Its may seem weird, but it’s possible to customize your vintage Riva by picking the preferred hue of wood, and go for a lighter varnish, or a darker one, or a reddish one. It all depends on the level of restore: if it’s a thorough one, requiring to work on the hull, sides and deck, the customization choices increase”.

“This is part of an old debate on the originality of the boat – adds Battista Bellini. But let’s keep in mind that a boat, especially a wooden, is not like a car that feature the same metal sheets as time goes by. Several times it is necessary to carry out radical operations to ensure that the boat gets back to the pristine – and above all, safe – state.

We usually keep the frame of the hull and replace the mahogany panels with new ones that we personally select, one by one, choosing them according to the grain and the absence of knots, then we let them age for about five years in our warehouses before we use them. It all depends on the conditions of the hull: the level of intervention takes place in total transparency and synergy with the owner, who is always informed of the possible choices. In the end it’s them who decide anything, before we even start the work”.

“The same goes for the on board features – continues Battista Bellini. “The electrical system is usually totally rebuilt, but we overhaul the original parts. The upholstery is rebuilt according to the specifications of the time, almost all the times in the original color, although sometimes it happens that the customer requires the typical Riva turquoise instead of the lobster orange, or another shade originally used on that very hull. Another delicate phase is the painting: according to the contract it would require 22 layers, but with the new “green” paints we get to 35, in order to reach the desired result. Then the boat goes into our furnace before the final polishing. As for the metal parts, we chrome-plate them again, and we always try and keep the original ones as sometimes, and this is the case of the bow nose, the boat’s hull number is repeated”.

Finally there’s engines and transmissions: here come Carlo “Charly” Marini and his son Luca, wizards of the American V8s from which the Riva Crusader Thermo Elettron were derived: units that in different powersteps powered virtually all the vintage Riva boats. Definitely some thirsty units, but don’t even try and replace them with more modern engines: that would be a crime!

“Some older models, especially the first series of Florida and Ariston, are equipped with Chris Craft six-inline engines – explains Battista Bellini. “This is also important in the quotation of the boat, because their value is certainly lower than a V8-powered hull and this has a considerable impact on the final value of the boat: to a point where restoring the boat could be not worth it if it’s in very bad shape”.

If you are truly interested in the topic, please keep in mind that it’s not a walk in the park. The advice is to avoid shortcuts, the world is filled with pseudo-restorers (especially on Italian lakes). So it’s better to rely only on professionals, or to go for a fiberglass daycruiser: the latter is certainly less charming that a mahogany boat, but it will be less of a bet. Still, if you are going fo a vintage Riva, Bellini Nautica is the choice. For me, it definitely is.

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