No boat owner can bear the sight of a blemish on their pride and joy. Everything needs to be spick and span. So, as we arrive at Westeinderplassen (a complex of lakes just south of Amsterdam), I’m not surprised to find Sandro Zani diligently brushing the morning dew off his bright-yellow Riva.
Zani and his company Riva World have been active in the luxury-boat sector for 20 years. From Monaco to Dubai and from Tokyo to Miami, the 49-year-old Dutchman travels the world overseeing the purchase and sale of Rivas. Zani has Italian roots—his sons are named Enzo and Tazio—which helps him get in contact with the right people. In 2013, for example, he made headlines worldwide after discovering and restoring the unique Riva Aquarama once owned by Ferruccio Lamborghini, who outfitted it with a pair of his own 4-liter V12s.
Fast-forward seven years, and Zani is tending to another unique Riva, which he launched in the water especially for us. At ten meters in length and sporting an extravagant design, it truly is a sight to behold. But wait, don’t those side strakes look awfully familiar? You’re not mistaken: This is one of the rare examples built in the late 1980s in collaboration with Ferrari.
This Riva 32 is the waterborne equivalent of the Testarossa. It was a joint pro-ject between Gino Gervasoni, executive director at Cantieri Riva, and the great Enzo Ferrari himself. Besides uniting two high-end brands, it was a good elementary exercise for the engineering department in Maranello, Ferrari’s home base.
At that time, all Ferraris were designed by Pininfarina. However, keen to investigate how it could play an enhanced role in the design process, Ferrari assembled a team that specialized in the then rapidly evolving technology of computer-aided design (CAD). This was the beginning of Maranello’s in-house design department, which introduced its first complete model, the LaFerrari, in 2013. With Flavio Manzoni at the helm, what is now called Centro Stile has designed every single model since.
Meanwhile, near the dock a pitch-black Testarossa is unloaded. This model, which adorned many a car fanatic’s bedroom in poster or scale-model form, has long enjoyed an iconic status due in part to Miami Vice. For those readers who haven’t seen it, this television series was inspired by the drug war that gripped the famous Florida city some three and a half decades ago. Rather than a vice squad arriving on the scene in a rubber dinghy or a run-of-the-mill police car, however, undercover detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, dressed in the peak of ’80s fashion and accompanied by the synthesizer of Jan Hammer, chased the baddies in serious style: first in a (replica) black Daytona Spyder, then in a (real) white Testarossa. When it came to waterborne pursuit, the police pairing preferred a Wellcraft Scarab—but if they’d had access to a Riva 32, it would definitely have been their vessel of choice.
KUDELSTAART MARINA, the location of our photo shoot, may be more placid than Port Miami, but it’s a beautiful setting for an encounter between the Riva Ferrari 32 and the car it was modelled after. In addition to the straked air inlets on the side, the slats on the rear of the Riva are an unmistakable nod to the Testarossa.
The polyester powerboat features prominent Ferrari badging, while the carbon-fiber spoiler, made in Maranello’s racing department and mounted overhead, completes the sleek look. Zani doesn’t know whether it improves the Riva’s aerodynamics, but offers an anecdote: “Michele Alboreto, who drove Formula 1 for Ferrari at the time, once said he could use it to dry his swimwear!”
What the Riva specialist does know is that this yellow specimen is unique. “A total of 37 Riva Ferraris have been built, nine of them in a second, improved series,” he explains. “A platform with electric stairs—a useful feature for swimmers—was added at the back. But a more important element was the deck, which improved the boat’s stability. It was a huge help, as the boat was a bit shaky at sea. That’s what you get when you limit your sailing trials to the calm Lake Iseo, just around the corner from the factory. Anyway, of those nine, only one was yellow—this one.
“The underside was made by Riva, and the upper part the vessel is entirely Ferrari’s design,” Zani continues. “The original plan was to include Ferrari-designed propulsion, but they decided to play it safe, since converting an engine to marine specifications is an extremely complex process. You have to consider a totally different cooling system, adjust the bore and stroke, and make sure one engine turns clockwise and the other counter-clockwise.”
Instead, the Riva Ferrari was fitted with a twin set of reliable BPM Vulcano V8s (which at least were made in Verona, Italy). Each of the all-aluminum 90-degree V8s displaces 7,982 cc and produces 395 hp, nicely propelling the four-ton powerboat to a top speed of 54 knots. That’s a whopping 100 km/h (62 mph), which in nautical terms is comparable with the 290 km/h that the 390-hp Testarossa can theoretically achieve.
However, you’d need to muster up the courage to do so: Where a modern supercar can be controlled with just one hand on the steering wheel, it was a very different story 30 years ago. Despite its advanced aerodynamic design for the era, the Testarossa’s stability at higher speeds is light years away from that of a modern F8 Tributo. Add to that the muscles you need to control the clutch, gearbox, and steering, the lack of electronic driving aids, and the far-from-ideal sitting position, and it was—and still is—a mean feat to push this Ferrari to its limits.
It must have been quite a challenge on the streets of Miami, too, as even a cautious drive around the proverbial Amsterdam block, coaxing a brief roar from the hoarse 12-cylinder engine, puts us to the test. Although a modern hot hatch would be unfazed by the 5.3 seconds it takes the Testarossa to reach 100 km/h, the experience is sensational. The Ferrari vibrates, shakes, and roars; I can feel the car in every part of my body. It’s like taming a wild animal.
Speaking of sensational: When Sandro Zani fires up the two Vulcanos, you’re in for a very loud treat. The eight double-barrel Webers hungrily suck in air and gasoline, and when the two throttles—one for each engine—are pushed a little further forward, even the concrete bunkers of Fort Kudelstaart, located alongside the marina, begin to shake on their foundations.
Zani keeps a close eye on his Riva’s instrumentation. The cluster of clocks, displaying many design similarities with the car, was clearly inspired by the Testarossa as well. Once the engines are at operating temperature, we release the mooring lines and calmly head out of the marina and onto the lakes. But just like its four-wheeled equivalent, this one’s feisty.
“It wants more than a relaxing cruise,” says Zani, smirking. “I’ve had to adjust the idle speed. It would’ve been too fast even before pushing the throttle. And like a Testarossa, it’s not as maneuverable at lower speeds.”
Once on the lakes, we slowly but surely push the throttle forward. Zani plays with the levers that operate two flaps under the water surface, noting, “It’ll take us a while to get up to speed, but once we start planing, you’re in for the ride of your life.”
He isn’t kidding. I can feel the bow rise out the water, after which the Riva starts gliding over the water’s surface like a smooth, skimming stone. The boat’s acceleration increases aggressively as we approach 80 km/h, accompanied by a deafening roar from the 16-strong choir in the stern. It literally makes my hair stand on end—what a feeling!
Unfortunately for the neighbors, the whole spectacle causes quite a din, and a patrol boat on the other side of the lake quickly makes its way over to us. The police let us off the hook after explaining that we’re not allowed to go faster than 12 knots (22 km/h). Still, it was an amazing experience to feel like Crockett and Tubbs for even a few minutes. Put Hammer’s theme tune on and let the credits roll.