The Barn Find Riva

May 1st, 2012 by James Ferris

PERLITA TOO was found late in 1989 in the Sacramento Delta in northern California, where she had been stored in the darkness of a makeshift container since the mid 1970’s. The discovery was made while James was cataloging the inventory of a well-known California classic boat collector, Alan Furth.  Struck by the classic lines of a Riva, James arranged to purchase the boat, even before confirming the condition or completeness. Only later, after beginning his research, did he uncover the remarkable story of Perlita Too, the first Riva speedboat to come to the USA!

FAST FORWARD 17 years, and life finally prompted James to make a long overdue decision. Just over a year ago (2007), James was diagnosed with an aggressive form of non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL).

After James’ first chemotherapy treatments, while he was still in hospital, I asked him – “if your time is limited, what would you like to accomplish….”, and high on his list was ….”to do an over the top restoration on Perlita.”

DECISION MADE, the particulars were quickly established. Over the years we had talked to restorers in the US and Europe. We decided to work with Chris Casparis and SeaSonic Boats in Canada because we knew his mastery of wood, as well as his passion for Riva. In September of last year, Chris collected Perlita from Lopez Island and transported her to the new SeaSonic shop on the shore of Lake Kelowna.

Similarly, because the massive Scripps V12 motor is such an important part of Perlita’s unique heritage, after much research and discussion, we selected Jim McNeilly of McNeilly’s Marine Service in Seattle, WA to perform the restoration of the motor, based on his experience and meticulous attention to detail (and it didn’t hurt that he has won a few “Best Engine” awards too!).

FOR MANY YEARS, we have researched Perlita’s history, discovering some wonderful stories. Of course, our search early on led us to Lago Iseo in Italy where, in the early 1990’s, we were fortunate to meet Mr. Carlo Riva who gave us much valuable information, as only the original builder can! One must also acknowledge Mr. Piero Gibellini whose volumes “Carlo, the Legend, Riva,the Myth” and whose personal assistance have been enlightening and invaluable in determining the authenticity of Perlita, as we have begun to disassemble the boat and catalog the details.

AS THE RESTORATION BEGAN, we asked Chris to meet with Mr. Riva and Mr. Gibellini to confirm some additional points.

Carlo writes about his meeting in the current issue of vivariva, the Riva Historical Society publication.

“…But Tritone has another record; it was the first Riva sold to the USA. The quality and design of the boat conquered Hollywood, where the newspaper headlines were: “Riva Tritone draws everyones attention.” It was number 3, “Perlita Too”, bought by Los Angeles movie producer Roland Reed who, after 11 years, wrote me a letter expressing his complete satisfaction with “that Italian speedbboat” still navigating safely.

After 58 years the mythic “Perlita Too” is still talked about. With my greatest surprise, in January of this year, The RHS president Piero Gibellini came to my office with a young Canadian restorer, Chris Casparis, the owner of SeaSonic Boat Company, whom the owner of “Perlita Too” has entrusted with the restoration of his jewel. Unbelievable! He came to Sarnico with a series of photos of particulars of the boat and a huge list of questions, because he wants to be sure to make a perfect restoration, as near as possible to the original characteristics of this historic boat.

Oh, I forgot! On November 1st, 1953, I drove a Tritone with Scripps engine on the Lake Iseo, and had the priceless satisfaction to make “le record mondial de vitesse, runabouts international I”, the world record for speed, at 76,156 km/h, as attested by the certificate released by the “Bureau Union Internationale Motonautique”, which I keep in  a frame in my office….”

Our story has happy endings. Perlita will be restored to her original magnificence, and James’ prognosis is excellent; he expects to be around for many years of boating enjoyment with Perlita Too.

WE WILL HAVE MORE INFORMATION in the months ahead as the restoration progresses, as well as stories about Perlita’s early days. Check back for updates as the project continues.

Caroline Di Diego (CASUDI)
Partner in Life, and Partner in Perlita Too
June 2008

This is a replay of the original 2008 newsletter publication THE BARN FIND RIVA  and to see the complete story in pictures check out our recently added Pinterest board.

Today is YEAR five from the date James was diagnosed with Lymphoma and Perlita Too will be completely done in the next few days. Yes, really done and time to CELEBRATE on two counts.


3 Responses to “The Barn Find Riva”

  1. Brian Driggs Says:

    Congratulations, James!
    Congratulations, Casudi!
    Congratulations, Perlita Too!

    This is fantastic news. So excited. Can’t wait to see video of the three of you sailing in Italy, where Perlita Too was born. Such a wonderful journey of passion and belief. It’s like a gem, with each facet bringing newfound inspiration.

    Keep going fast with class and pressing on regardless. :)

  2. Jim Blake Says:

    What a wonderful journey. Truly where dreams are born.

  3. Reg Down Says:

    From the first time I met James in 2009 at Lake Dora, when he explained in great detail the Perlita Too restoration project, I knew then and there this was going to be something special.

    Then later that same year, as I walked the docks at the Lake Tahoe Concours with James and Caroline, I began to appreciate James and Caroline’s knowledge and passion for the wooden boat hobby. Then I discovered their passion for exotic cars, vintage motorsports and all things cool – and we have never looked back.

    Following the long and often exhaustive restoration of Perlita Too has been an amazing journey for me as an interested spectator. I can say without reservation, that the Riva Tritones reincarnation over the last few years is unlike any other wooden boat restoration project I have ever experienced – as a relative newcomer to the hobby.

    It has also inspired me to learn more about the Riva marque, their elegant, timeless beauty and considerable history over the last 60 years.

    Congratulations James and Caroline – You did it!