A High Wire Act – How To Re-Wire A Classic 1959 Riva Ariston In 5 Minutes, 37 Seconds

It’s not every day we get the opportunity to see a classic Riva Ariston in person. But when the opportunity presents itself, we can’t help but stop and take the time to truly appreciate these outstanding wooden boats for their quality, craftsmanship and innovative design.

However, to truly appreciate a Riva, it often helps to see how they were designed and built from the inside out. A perfect example of this is the electrical wiring, safely linking the engine, instruments, and lighting all together from the dash board. From the outside, we can see the traditional instruments and switches on the dash. But what’s behind the dash of a classic Riva is another story.

Over the last year we have been following the remarkable restoration of a 1959 Riva Ariston which is being completed by fellow Woody Boater Don Ayers in Oklahoma. Last week Don gave us a rare, behind the scenes look at just how these boats were originally wired, just like they were at the production facility in Italy over 50 years ago… Along with a very cool time lapse video of the re-wiring project, condensed into a five minute, thirty-seven second YouTube video.

As you will see, Don enjoys the challenges of restoring classic wooden boats to their original, period correct condition – as well as doing the endless research and as much of the actual work himself, which is inspirational…

A High Wire Act!
by Don Ayers

When people think of a Riva boat it’s usually about chrome and lots of beautiful mahogany – but wait, there is also that little part that makes everything work, the wiring. As with most things Riva, those Italians took the wiring to a new level as well. One cannot help but be impressed if you ever get a chance to look under the dash of just about any vintage Riva. There you find an almost art-like presentation in all its color of form and function.

My project 1959 Riva Ariston started out like so many have, by me thinking I would be able to save this and reuse that. Ultimately, and you know we all have experienced it, you find yourself having to replace just about everything. When it came time to start the wiring I had to face the music.

The biggest hurdle was overcoming the fear and intimidation that slaps you in the face, especially when you don’t have much electrical engineering skills or knowledge. What appeared to be good, original wire turned out to be corroded 50+ year old junk. “No way can I take the boat to this level of restoration and then have trouble or worse yet and have a fire on my hands”, I repeat to myself.

This Is Where It All Started - Looks Like A Mess

Once I made the decision to replace the wiring, all the battle was on! OK, I’ve got a lot of original stuff to copy here this should be easy, right? Wrong!!! Step one, find out what the wire specifications were. A great deal of time was spent determining exactly what it all was and sourcing new wire. Quickly I found that was a very tall order. Most of the wire was not US gauge size and spec, surprise surprise.

Thanks to the folks at Rhode Island Wire company (www.riwire.com) much was able to be crossed referenced to their current stock and with many being an almost dead match for color. Also, Rhode Island Wire carries the stock without any script printed on the sheath so it looks period correct. Thirteen different sizes and colors were had to be sources. Rhode Island Wire was able to get me most out of stock but three types had to be custom made. So, I needed thirty feet of this and that and I ended up having to make a 500’ roll to get it! But that’s what you do sometimes right, “Matt the Zipper”!!!

A Total Of Thirteen Different Sizes And Colors Of Wire Were Required

Next was the horrifying reality that all these different color and size of wire had their own matching plastic tubes, good Lord how am I going to do that? It would be just too easy if you could buy all the right size tubing and color but Nooooo! So you do the next best thing, you buy the available black stuff and hand paint it all in the right color with special paint for plastic. As you might guess that took a little time to do but in the end it really worked great and I was really patting myself of the back even though I had not put a single wire in the boat yet.

All The Colored Tube To Spec Out For The Project As Well

Here’s part of the new wire order from Rhode Island Wire…

Along with the full rolls of special custom made two-conductor wire that we had made for the project – A Lifetime Supply!

And below, all the colored tubes individually painted and ready to be installed in the boat.

An unknown amount of hours later I was finally out of excuses and was faced with starting. Did I mention that with all these special colored wires and tube that are a zillion different sizes of these little plastic wire holders????

All The Different Size Plastic Wire Holders!!

With all my crap in the boat, I decided to start by making the looms and run everything to the back of the boat first. A wise choice as it really helped with the confidence.

Hmmmm, “how do I get the wire through a long length of tube by myself”? Well, let’s put it this way, you have to be very clever and do it alone because the sailor-like language that came out of my mouth would turn any observer’s face red, but I digress.

The main engine loom ready to install… This was at least a two blister job, feeding all that wire through 18 feet of tubing!

The original switches were removed, disassembeled and indiviually stored…

And each switch was then inspected and carefully rebuilt…

All the switch cases replated and ready to be reassembeled then reinstalled.

The original dash and wire was used as a template for duplication…

Another look at the completed dash and wiring – Just like it was in 1959.

Ah, success is mine as I finish all the runs to the stern and even power on the engine room lights for fun, “Carlo, you thought of everything including lighting the engine room!” Did I mention having to buy the original replacement light for $50 each??? ZIPPER!!!!!!!

Let There Be Light !!!

OK with all the easy stuff done it’s put up or shut up time, on to the back of the dash. Since I had just bought a new video camera I thought it would be fun to make one of those time lapse movies so I set it to take one frame every ten seconds. (You can see the cool YouTube video below)

Overall I really have no idea how many hours it took to do everything involved with the wiring of the boat. I do know that I have at least 50 hours under the dash. But do we really care? Not a bit because for most of us those hours are pure vacation time away from the day job and the stressors of life. I really loved every moment of it and am proud to have taken it on. Clearly anyone can do this or any boat restoration work if they put their mind to it. I hope I have inspired a few to take on their project and enjoy the time spent.

Ciao – Don Ayers

Thanks Don for sharing this great story with us here at Woody Boater, we are looking forward to the next chapter in the restoration project as you round the bases and head for home. To learn more about Don’s amazing 1959 Riva Ariston restoration project, and all things Riva – Check out the Riva Forum by clicking here. – Texx

Here’s the great time lapse YouTube video of the wiring project that Don made which is fun to watch…

[youtube width=”440″ height=”344″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIdn5uKYc2A[/youtube]

8 replies
  1. chad
    chad says:

    Awesome attention to detail. Love the video.

    Don, did you really eat that much Cool Whip?

  2. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    This is right up there with the fellow relaunching the 66 footer!

    I think you guys must crave doing that work in the same way I just love “going boating”….different strokes!

    Workmanship on that Riva project is over the top. Congrats and thanks for the update, pics and vids.

    John in Va.

  3. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Wow, there is a lot of wiring in that boat! Great job Don, you would be welcome to come rewire one of my boats anytime!

  4. Jack Schneiberg
    Jack Schneiberg says:

    What an awesome challenge and well met. Beautiful job. Need I say “art” in it’s most mechanical form?

    My problem with wiring is that I always get all done and then find 2 wires in front of other wires they are supposed to be in back of. Of course, this necessitates removing half the job to re-route things.

    Guess I need to eat more Cool Whip?

  5. brian t
    brian t says:

    If the original Riva had dash wiring that looked like the dash as it is now (which looks great) Carlo must have sourced out the wiring to a few German workers.

    Italians are known to be great at many things, but wiring is NOT one of them.

  6. Rich Marschner
    Rich Marschner says:

    Don, that’s a fascinating story. For me, it recalls my days in the late ’50s, building Dynakits and Knightkits and other assorted stereo components for people in my neighborhood…but all I had to do was follow the step-by-step instructions…which somebody inconveniently forgot to include with your boat!

    What a project…can’t wait to see the end result.

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