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Riviera’s evolution at work – our history from 1986 to 1990

Edition 8 - 2020, Riviera History

Riviera’s evolution at work – our history from 1986 to 1990


In the second of our series of articles looking back over 40 extraordinary years of Riviera, we chart the waters from 1986 to 1990. Just five years after the very first Riviera entered the water in Sydney in 1981, the team, now settled in a purpose-built factory on Queensland’s Gold Coast, could look back on extraordinary success.

They had built and launched more than 200 boats across seven models, from 30 to 52 feet, had exported boats to the United States and to Europe. Now they were focussed on a replacement for the foundation Riviera 38 flybridge.

The Riviera 38 Mark II was a powerful example of evolution at work. The Gold Coast boat builders took advantage of new technologies to constantly improve the original Mark I. Then, in 1986, they undertook a total redesign to take the marque to a new level of sophistication and visual appeal.

The Riviera 38 Mk II – a powerful example of evolution at work that was rewarded with a Boat of the Year award in 1987.

The Mark II was instantly discernible from her predecessor by the sheer, sweeping in a graceful arc from the bow to the aft end of the coach house. The flybridge was extended, with a lower profile and a hardtop. Inside, the refinement continued.

Embracing the new look

The accolades were immediate as luxury boating enthusiasts embraced the new look. The industry, too, acknowledged the new model as Australia’s Boating Industry Association crowned her Boat of the Year in 1987.

The Riviera 38 Mark II would go on to even greater success than her predecessor, remaining in production for seven years and achieving sales of 93 boats, more than any model before her.


The future looked particularly rosy.

The music of 1986 might have been as bright as the future seemed for the Riviera team, from John Farnham’s “You’re The Voice” to Diana Ross’s “Chain Reaction”. Yet, in this short five years, the world would be plunged into turmoil and Riviera would launch just a further three new models, the 27, 35 and 3300 flybridge.

In January of that year the US Space Shuttle Challenger exploded just over a minute after take-off, killing all seven astronauts instantly. Worse was to come in April when a nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in the Ukraine exploded, becoming what many consider the worst nuclear disaster in the world.

Undaunted by international events, Riviera launched two models in 1987, the 27 – the smallest boat Riviera would ever build – and the 35. Both would remain in production for six years, the 35 being particularly successful.

A reviewer described the Riviera 27 as “among the finest small cruisers I have tested”.

The 27 was a single cabin model that managed to include an entertainer saloon and galley as well as V-berth accommodation accompanied by an enclosed bathroom. She was powered by a single Volvo petrol or diesel engine attached to a stern drive.    

The 35 was, of course, a close relation to the 38 Mark II with just as much amenity; two cabins, a well equipped galley and comfortable dinette, giving away very little to her larger sister. She was powered by twin Cummins or Volvo diesel engines and shaft drives. 

The 27 achieved sales of 34 over six years while Riviera built 126 of the highly popular 35s over the same period.

Then the world came to a shuddering halt. October 19, 1987, is known as “Black Monday” when stock markets went into freefall. The US Dow Jones lost 23 per cent of its value in one day. The Australian markets suffered a similar fate and would go on to lose more than 40 per cent in value over the following two weeks. It was not an economic problem but a series of smaller events, mainly technical. But it would trigger the end for many of Australia’s best-known entrepreneurs including Alan Bond and Christopher Skase.

The Riviera 35 Open Flybridge was an ideal family cruiser – spacious, warm and welcoming.

Another milestone in 1988

Not surprisingly, Riviera did not launch a single new model during 1988 although the company recorded sales of 63 boats in the year, the second-best performance in its seven-year history.

The following year was a different matter. The Riviera 3300 was launched heralding a new era in styling and sophistication for the marque. Offered as single or twin cabin, she was instantly successful and went on to achieve 192 sales over 11 years in production.

Riviera achieved sales of more than 100 boats in a single year in 1989, thanks mainly to the 35 that recorded 62 sales, more than any Riviera model in a single year to this day.

People across the world remember 1989 as being one of enormous upheaval as students crowded into Tiananmen Square in Beijing to demand democratic change only to be crushed by the military. Then the Soviet Union began to unravel and the Berlin Wall came down.


After that the planet – and Riviera – needed time to breathe. The company continued to achieve strong sales even though it introduced no new model in 1990.

In that year American fast-food chains strode into Moscow and into China. Companies and individuals could connect to the internet for the first time and Tim Berners-Lee developed the first web server that would go on to give birth to the World Wide Web. Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Boris Yeltsin was elected President of the new Russia.

The world may have begun its recovery from the 1987 crash. But Australia was heading for rocks again in the “recession we had to have” and Riviera for the worst year of sales it would ever record.


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