The Classic Mahogany Riva Limousines Of Venice
Photography by Ted Gushue
In terms of car photography we’re quite spoiled at Petrolicious. Los Angeles is a non-stop moving feast for the lens. Traveling abroad is much the same, London’s chock full of them, Paris is as well if you know where to look. Germany’s practically built on classic cars, as is most of Italy in the right spots.
But Venice? S.O.L. my friends. Venice is all about aquatic mobility.
Now I’m not talking Gondolas here. Those are reserved for cash rich tourists wielding selfie sticks and Hello Kitty backpacks. Nothing wrong with that to be honest, but not exactly what floats my metaphorical boat. Mercifully Venezia is crawling with the floating works of art that are mahogany limousines.
It would be easy to attribute these wooden masterpieces to the good people at Riva, and undoubtedly a good chunk of them have been produced at their Sarnico Shipyard on Lake Iseo, but the real common factor between all of them is a shape—not a manufacturing label.
The boats are almost universally on the older side, each one having been charmingly and lovingly looked after for decades. Much like at a major airline, the shiniest and sexiest ones are reserved for the most experienced pilots. Venetian canals are not all “grand,” meaning that an unskilled pilot could do some real damage to his boat and others if he’s not careful. I use the masculine form of pilot here largely because I didn’t see a single female behind the wheel of one.
Depending on the engine (some were custom fitted with Lamborghini V12s while others with tuned Cadillac V8s) you’re looking at north of $250,000 for a prime example. Essentially no matter how you shake it, these boats are not cheap. But they are insidiously beautiful.
The coats of varnish it must take to get that level of polish and shine out of their hulls must just be staggering. The creamy green water of Venice acts like a felt pad at Tiffany’s, exaggerating the detail of the mahogany in high definition. The interior of most of them is worthy of a Clooney honeymoon—quilted leather benches, hi-fi sound systems, small refrigerators full of Aperol Spritz ingredients. It’s about as accommodating as you’d imagine for $180/hour.
And that is the ultimate crime of these taxis. In order for the owners to recoup the massive investment and virtually non-stop upkeep they have to charge extortion-level prices to break even. Even the most budget un-concious Venetian traveler would have to look at these numbers and spit out their cocktail, and for anything over an hour I’d say they’re about right.
But for that one hour that you’ve chartered one you’re on cloud nine. You’re George and Amal. You’re Hepburn and Peck. You’re in a Slim Aarons picture book and everything is glistening.
I spent four days tracking down these beautiful creatures with my lens and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the most enjoyable photo-assignment I’ve ever given myself.