Some people have the savvy entrepreneur gene. Others don't.
I am among the latter. Scott Ales is king of the former.
But as soon as Ales, the former Eustis mayor, saw her serial number, he knew he had something rare — and he suspected she'd be worth a small fortune.
Never mind that those around him were certain that he was about to squander some serious cash on 28 feet of potential termite habitat.
How could Ales have known that five years later, after restoration in the Netherlands, the Riva would sell at a Kissimmee auction for $775,000, an apparent world record for a boat of its size?
He didn't. He was just being Scott, taking a chance on what his instinct told him would pay off. From the day he bought it for a price he won't disclose, Ales was asking $1.5 million for the boat.
"People who saw it loved it. They said, 'It's cool and all…' But I had no buy-in on the price from anybody. They were saying, 'What a jerk. He's asking too much.'
"After a while, I thought, 'Maybe I am whacked,' " Ales said. "I'm just applying principles from another market that should apply here."
Piecing it back together
The other market was cars. Ales is a car man. Buyers were paying millions for exotic cars from the 1960s with high-power engines like the Riva's. And the boat came with the added attraction of history and panache.
"How can this not be the same if you parked them next to one another?" he said.
Job No 1, however, was to piece the Riva back together.
It started with the hull, No. 125 in a series of 203 Super Aquaramas built between 1963 and 1971 by Riva.
She holds the distinction of being the highest-powered one ever built — two 400-hp Chevrolet engines were modified for marine use by her original buyer, Cal Connell, flamboyant operator of a Cadillac dealership in Louisville, Ky., who raced both boats and cars.
When Connell sold the boat, he removed the custom engines he'd installed, so the hunt was on for two similar ones.
The restoration job went to a firm called Riva World in the Netherlands. The owner restores Riva boats. Ales doesn't want to say what that cost him, either. However, he said that the restoration would run about $320,000 today.
A character known as "Big Block Bruce" in Ohio found two Chevrolet engines manufactured within a week of each other in July 1966, and those went into the boat. The company that manufactured the vinyl located the original dies for vinyl used on the Rivas, and they retooled some machines to make vinyl for this project — with exactly the correct grain. So the boat has coverings that match the originals.
$850K takes it
Entrepreneur's labor of love has new home
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