Speed and Spray Magazine Reports From The New Riva Boat Plant


February 1956 Edition of Speed and Spray Magazine – Courtesy Boatsport.org

Today we are traveling to beautiful Lake D’Iseo, Italy with writer Michele Vernola. It’s 1956 and Michele has made her way to the Riva boat factory to do a story for Speed and Spray – The International Magazine of Powerboating.

The name Riva was still relatively new to many boaters in America by the mid 1950’s (the first Riva Tritone shipped to the USA was “Perlita Too” in 1953), and Michele’s story and experience visiting the now famous factory is great to read. Woody Boater contributor Cobourg Kid originally found the February 1956 issue of Speed and Spray on the great website Boatsport.org earlier this year, and sent us a link to the story.

We thought it would make for some fun winter content and serve as a reminder of how we once shared information about the world of wooden boating back in the day. To make the story easier to read today, we copied the text & captions exactly as it was written in the magazine and enlarged the black & white photos from the original 58 year old scanned magazine, so they may appear a bit grainy – but they are still fun to see. – Texx

Riva 1 - Copy

The Riva Docks is considered one of the most modern plants in the country. – Michele Vernola (Photo courtesy Speed and Spray / boatsport.org)

Italy… …Riva Docks
Re-printed from Speed and Spray Magazine – February 1956

FIVE YEARS AGO Mr. Carlo Riva, Jr., had a brilliant idea, as it has been showed, to take over the plant from his father, who was already too old to stay still behind the desk. But the reason why the old man kept his important job much longer than he supposed to, was that he didn’t trust his son Carlo very much as a capable man to run his own business like he did for all his life.

Though Mr. Riva senior was wrong about that, because his son proved to be at the height of the situation despite any bad consideration that his father and many other people had about him.

In fact Mr. Carlo, as first thing, built a brand new plant on the east shore of the Lake D’Iseo, which is located near the city of Brescia, (Italy) where the famous Mille Miglia (automobile) road race is organized since 1927.

The second step was the exclusiveness that Mr. Riva Jr. got from Chris-Craft in Italy, which then gave a new face to the old name of Rivas, who before that time where more or less like the other Italian boat-builders, I main small shops on artisan scale, but always they produced excellent hulls for any purpose: sports, race and tourism.

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Riva uses American manufactured Chris-Craft engines exclusively in all his hulls. – Michele Vernola (Photo courtesy Speed and Spray / boatsport.org)

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“Sebino” is the name of the zone where Riva Docks are located. This particular hull is called the “Sebino.” Note the type of jig the hull is being assembled in. – Michele Vernola (Photo courtesy Speed and Spray / boatsport.org)

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At left, the “Tritone” model is being constructed, this is one of the larger models. The “Sebino” model is seen further back in the shop. Note the orderliness and the excellent overhead lighting. – Michele Vernola (Photo courtesy Speed and Spray / boatsport.org)

But since the new plant is on, the Riva docks suspended any activity about the race-hulls and started to work seriously just on one type: the Cruiser, which is built in many different sizes; small, medium and large. Which thing make Riva Docks one of the best of it’s kind in the whole of Europe and as mass production it can even compete with some makes of the United States of America.

This year, for instance, they built one hundred already, in order to please all the calls from all over the world, which confirms not only what has been said above, but the excellency of the job itself.

When last summer Mr. and Mrs. Paul Sawyer and I visited the Riva Docks, Mr. Carlo Riva personally took us around the whole plant with his great pleasure while Erminie and Paul (Sawyer) were so surprised to see the precision, the cleanliness and the beauty of the Riva works.

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These mechanics are skilled craftsmen. – Michele Vernola (Photo courtesy Speed and Spray / boatsport.org)

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Mr. Riva feels that the most satisfactory wood he can use in his hulls is Honduras mahogany. – Michele Vernola (Photo courtesy Speed and Spray / boatsport.org)

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During Paul Sawyer’s visit to the Riva plant he wanted to honor Mario Verga, world’s champion who lost his life last year in front of the Riva plant while attempting to break the world’s record. Paul threw flowers, a crown tied with an American flag, on the spot where the accident took place. Paul is seated in front, Ezio Selva, Italian inboard champion on right, and Mr. Sestini, President of the boat club. Mrs. Sawyer (Erminie) is at the extreme right. – Michele Vernola (Photo courtesy Speed and Spray / boatsport.org)

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Ready to go! Note the twin screw installation. – Michele Vernola (Photo courtesy Speed and Spray / boatsport.org)

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This medium-sized outboard hull called “Scoiattolo” is being launched for testing. Note the American outboard motor. – Michele Vernola (Photo courtesy Speed and Spray / boatsport.org)

The plant is equipped with the most modern wood-machinery, the wood used is Honduras mahogany, so the varnish and paint also, while the engine, the board instruments, the transmission shaft and propeller made with monel-metal are from U.S.A. – All these things together with the skillful work of the Italian artists made Riva Docks famous all over the world.

Michele Vernola – Speed and Spray Magazine

Special thanks to our friend Ed Hatch at Boatsport.org for giving us permission to re-publish this story from Speed and Spray Magazine. Ed has done an outstanding job with this website, which has a has a ton of interesting information on classic boat racing. – Texx

Mario Verga & LAURA 3 – Fast Facts

Mario Verga from Milan, Italy was the owner of a silk factory in the Como lake area of Italy and was a very famous and winning pilot of the top hydroplanes classes in Europe. He also raced in the USA in 1953, setting impressive speeds.

Verga and his competitors speeds prompted the Italian Motornautical Federation to offer a prize to whichever Italian could break the unlimited record which stood at that time to Stanley St Clair Sayres of Seattle, who in July 1952 had taken his ironically named Slo-Mo-Shun-IV to 178.497 mph. The Federation offered a handsome five million lire, stipulating that the hull, engine and fuel, like the driver, had to be of Italian origin. At today’s exchange rate it may not seem much, but more than 60 years ago it was a sound incentive, and there were three men prepared to accept the challenge: Achille Castoldi, Selva and Verga. – David Tremayne, Lesliefield.com

Laura 3

The LAURA 3 was built during the winter 1953/54, started the testing sessions during July & August. – Photo & Text courtesy Vintage Hydroplanes.com

In an attempt to break the speed record, Mario Verga chose an experimental boat named LAURA 3, a Timossi three-point hydroplane from Italy.

Powered by twin-Type-159 Alfa-Romeo engines, Laura 3’s combined power plants displaced only 1500 cubic centimeters but were supercharged and together developed 800 horsepower. The 29-foot 10-inch hull with an 8-foot 6-inch beam weighed a mere 2094 pounds, was driven by World Champion Mario Verga.


Laura 3 (Circa 1954) – Photo courtesy Vintage Hydroplanes.com

LAURA 3 had been purposely made to break the world water straight-away speed record of the SLO MO SHUN (178.497 MPH).


Laura 3 (Circa 1954) – Photo courtesy Vintage Hydroplanes.com

In 1954, on Italy’s Lake of Sarnico, Verga was shooting for Slo-mo-shun IV’s world straightaway record of 178.497. LAURA 3 reached an officially clocked 186.6 when the hull reared, plunged free of the water, and vanished in a cloud of spray. It looked to observers that Verga’s craft had been picked up and vengefully smashed to kindling by some unseen hand. A diver later recovered both the battered hull and the late driving star’s body.


Mario Verga piloting Laura 3 on the day to break the world record, October 1954 at Sarnico (Lake of Iseo) in front of the RIVA factory. During the first official attempt at the straight-away pass the boat went airborne into a loop killing Mario Verga. – Photo courtesy Vintage Hydroplanes.com

To learn more about World Champion hydroplane racer Mario Verga – Check out David Tremayne’s story titled The Glorious Obsession Of Mario Verga on www.lesliefield.com

Thanks to Vintagehydroplanes.com for todays photos of LAURA 3, Click Here to see more.


13 replies
  1. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Wait a minute…WINTER CONTENT? It is only December first, we are supposed to have three more weeks until we need our winter coats and snow brushes.

  2. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    Oh, to own a Riva one day! Maybe I can find one in a barn somewhere. I’ll keep looking.

    Just like reading two stories in one.

    Thanks Texx!

  3. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    Having had several Alfa Romeo’s and worked for an Italian born artist/graduate of the Florence Academy of Art I’m in love with all things italian. Was not familiar with Mario Verga and this tragedy however. Great story.
    Was it Carlo who introduced the laminated production sections to Riva by laying up mahogany veneers for topsides and bottoms port and starboard in production molds/jigs for constructing and “restoring” Rivas?

  4. Jimmuh
    Jimmuh says:

    Great stuff! Thanks Texx.
    Yes, floyd r turbo, Carlo applied the first “armored lamination” in 1956 on the hull bottoms (no plywood here ;-). By 1957 decks were being done this way, and in 1958 the hullsides became armored laminate. The old air over hydraulic molds and presses are still hanging in the rafters of the fabrication building.

  5. Alex
    Alex says:

    Texx, nice throwback.

    Btw, I looked into that Riva outboard. About 150 made postwar I gather. The model ‘Scoiattolo’ means “squirrel” in Italian. Sounds a tad more upscale than the Riva Squirrel. Wonder what Italian things we think of as exotic are not so much in translation. For instance, Countach apparently translates loosely into “holy sh__!”

  6. Texx
    Texx says:

    Laura 3 had some amazing and innovative design features. Here’s a shot of her hanging from the hoist.(vintagehydroplanes.com photo)

    Bodywork was made by the coach works STELLA of Como (body worker of the famous TIMOSSI boat also engined FERRARI and MASERATI).

  7. Cobourg Kid
    Cobourg Kid says:

    Thanks for this Texx; it’s great to see substantial stories in WB Also kudos to Matt for the fantastic header yesterday, that photo shopped version of the Riva plant in blue was otherworldly !

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