The word hippopotamus is an elision of two words from ancient greek. It translates literally as “river horse.”
Just imagine the comedic opportunities had it been Enzo Ferrari who had asked for his engines to be put into one of Carlo Riva’s Aquaramas in 1963 rather than Ferruccio Lamborghini. In case you’re wondering, “tauropotamus” is a river bull.
The Aquarama was Riva’s crowning glory after a decade of glamour and sophistication. The name came from its wraparound windscreen, reminiscent of the then-new and cutting edge Cinerama theatrical experience.
A craft consisting of sleek lines and geologic amounts of varnish, the Aquarama was the aristocratic playboy of European and American waterways, transporting film stars and others seeking a special boating experience up and down the coasts, canals, and shores that were still sighing breaths of relief after a long and immense war. The end of rationing was in sight. The 1960s had arrived.
The Riva drew in a suitably starry clientele that included the likes of Prince Rainier of Monaco and Peter Sellers, and when Ferruccio Lamborghini commissioned his Aquarama in 1968, he decided to give hull no. 278 his own stamp by way of twin Lamborghini 4.0L V12s from the Espada roadcar—and though no longer with these motors, it is to this day the fastest Aquarama ever built. He wanted it on the water by August of that year, so the builders got underway, filling the order in just three months’ time. However, the original V12s from the period were not ideal: a lack of torque resisted the boat’s attempts at planing, and the whole setup did not ever really run correctly in this initial form.
Regardless of such limitations, Lamborghini kept his special Aquarama until 1989 before selling it. The new owner worried about the size of the bills for future repairs on the unique engines, and he ended up replacing the V12s with the standard GM-based Aquarama V8 units, giving the dual Italian mills to the Lamborghini museum.
In 2002 that owner passed away, and the boat was forgotten for a time. Even Carlo Riva, may he rest in peace, didn’t know where it was. In 2010, the Riva was discovered under a tarpaulin in a yard outside a residence in Punta, Italy. Dutch collector Adriaan de Vries was alerted, and a sale was arranged.
The resultant restoration project took three years. Work was undertaken at Riva-World in Uithoorn in the Netherlands, with Sandro Zani in charge of the staggering amount work required to get the boat into the shape it’s in now. Frequent visits to Italy ensured that every last detail was as close to original as possible, though the restored motors have been set up to exceed the limitations of the original units, and this Aquarama is now skimming lakes like it was supposed to all along. Even Carlo Riva gave it the double thumbs up.
For Sandro Zani, the fact that they did not have the original engines meant these aforementioned trips to Italy were much-needed, and cooperation from the Ferruccio Lamborghini museum was crucial in getting the boat’s namesake back in the engine bay. According to some sources, this modern stay of cooperation almost didn’t come to fruition – the museum was keen to buy the Riva themselves. Fortunately, sense prevailed.
Zani imported a pair of 4.0-liter V12s from the Lamborghini Espada, with one unit from the US, and one from Germany, and he was given permission to dismantle one of the original engines housed at the museum to ensure fidelity to the set-up in 1963. Help also came from Lino Morosini, who had been head of Riva’s engine department and had worked on the original Lamborghini project, and this in addition to Carobu Engineering’s help in punching out the new setup’s motors to 5.5-liters and coaxing from them the necessary low-down thrust to alleviate the original issues that the boat had in the 1960s. With this combined effort they were able to adapt the engines to rotate in opposite directions to each other to guarantee a smooth and straight path toward its upper-40-knot top speeds. The motors had their rev ranges reduced from 7,000 RPM limiters to a more marine-friendly 6,600 to keep the hot-headed motors from losing their tempers and overheating.
In 2013, the fully restored Lamborghini-powered Riva Aquarama was put through its paces by Mr. Riva himself in its birthplace in Lake Iseo. The converted Lamborghini 4.0 V12s – both equipped with six twin carburetors to kick out hundreds of horsepower each – leave Aquaramas with original V8s in its wake.
And that’s how you restore a tauropotamus.