When I think of a classic Benetti motoryacht, what springs to mind is something similar to Gladiatore, a recent delivery from the Italian builder that I was aboard in Miami. Like many recent Benetti yachts, this 120-foot trideck motoryacht features styling by Stefano Righini. She’s modern without being avant-garde and current without resorting to fads. She’s built well and solidly, with first-rate systems and equipment. That’s what makes a classic, but Gladiatore is a classic in another sense of the word too. She springs from the line of semicustom Classic models that began in 1998 with the 115-foot Stella Fiera, Benetti’s first composite yacht.
Benetti has been building ships and boats in Viareggio, Italy, since Lorenzo Benetti founded the yard in 1873. In the early years, the yard specialized in commercial ships, built of wood. When Lorenzo’s sons Emilio and Gino took over in 1914, they began building oceangoing ships and yachts. It wasn’t until 1963 that the yard began to build in steel. It went on to deliver a number of notable yachts, perhaps the best known among them being Nabila. Built for Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi in 1980, the 281-foot superyacht eventually was acquired by real estate mogul Donald Trump in 1988 and renamed Trump Princess. Later sold to a Saudi prince, she cruises today as Kingdom 5KR.
Benetti was acquired by Paolo Vitelli in 1985 and merged with his production company to form Azimut Benetti. The group now covers every facet of the boating market, from the smallest family cruiser to the largest megayacht, and it does so without the individual divisions stepping on each other’s toes.
Benetti’s continued success was not without its challenges. The old yard on the harbor was bursting at the seams when production of the Classic series gathered steam, and it was clear that something had to be done. In 2000, Azimut Benetti acquired space at Lusben, an idle shipyard at the foot of Via Michele Coppino, just a few hundred feet away from Benetti’s yard. The company refurbished part of it for Azimut, part for Benetti and part for a marina. This provided temporary relief, but as its semicustom composite yacht family continued to grow, so too did its space requirements. Add to that the dual complications of building steel superyachts alongside composite yachts and then delivering them through a channel that was becoming increasingly restrictive as the custom yachts got larger, and it was apparent that something further must be done.