Motopanfilo is an evocative word in Italian used to describe the classic motor cruisers of the 1960s, the predecessors of modern superyachts. Models such as the Benetti Delfino, Tirreno and Gabbiano introduced a timeless style and helped popularize yachting at a time when it was still largely the preserve of film stars and royalty. So, when Benetti decided to create a new product that combined the glamorous charm of its early yachts with the needs of today’s owners, it seemed only natural to call it the Motopanfilo.
“The story started with the idea to recreate or give new life to the motopanfilo, but with a completely modern take,” says Federico Lantero, Benetti’s product marketing and communication director. “We started to identify the design elements that defined the motopanfilo of the Sixties, and capture the creativity of expression that pervaded those times, but also all the features that modern yacht owners aspire to.”
One defining characteristic of classic yachts was the mahogany caprail that ran from bow to stern. Working with exterior designer Francesco Struglia on the 121-foot Motopanfilo 37M, Benetti reinterpreted this signature feature with a “ribbon” of matte bronze framed by rim lighting at night that circles the after bulwark on the main deck and the upper deck overhang.
Other features are very much a consequence of today’s lifestyle afloat. A classic canoe stern may be pretty to the eye, for example, but it doesn’t afford the space and sea-level convenience that modern owners expect. So, Benetti came up with a transom that has soft, chamfered edges and a deployable swim platform for easy access to the sea, but added a clamshell sun awning that recalls an traditional beach canopy.
Then there is the observation deck on top of the sundeck roof—a modern addition with an all-glass bulwark that makes it invisible from water level, so as not to spoil the yacht’s elegant profile.
But it is on the inside that Benetti has taken the retro theme to a new level of sophistication, together with interior design firm Lazzarini Pickering in Rome.
“Benetti insisted the design should not descend into a nostalgic exercise that simply reproduced proposals from the past,” says Carl Pickering. “Instead, it should reinvent the genre by breathing new life into old concepts.”
Both studio principals are trained architects whose formal understanding of 3D space allows them to draw on techniques that create a sense of airiness and volume usually found on much larger yachts.
They introduced the curved, organic-looking beams that extend from the sole and across the ceilings on all three decks. Pickering likens them to the ribs of a whale; in fact, they are covered with a textured, bonelike white lacquer. In between these “ribs” are wall panels that recall the rounded shape of a nautical hatch with a backlit portlight.
The use of teak, a traditional boatbuilding material, is another motif redolent of the past, but the designers have put it to innovative use by cladding not only the sole in teak, but also the ceiling.
The subdued palette of materials and colors continues in the soft furnishings. Lazzarini Pickering chose linens by Loro Piana with expressive names such as Connemara and Papeete, Devondale and Darjeeling, in warm, off-white tones with blue and malachite accents that conjure the nautical style of the 1960s.
When combined with mirrored surfaces and large windows—a feature that was not technically possible on yachts half a century ago—the interior design represents a contemporary, yet functional take on a bygone age. Lazzarini, for example, likens a mobile bar unit the firm designed with teak-slatted sides to the roll-top desks of yesteryear, but with a contemporary onboard purpose.
“I think this is the new idea of luxury, as well,” Pickering says. “If an owner is gazing at the moon at 1 o’clock in the morning, he doesn’t want to have to go and ask a crewmember for a glass of whiskey. He can just help himself.”
There are accommodations for 10 guests, with a master stateroom on the main deck and four en suite staterooms belowdecks. In the lower deck staterooms, the teak paneling and white ribs are reversed to provide a more luminous interior, given the smaller hull windows. Instead of inserting rectangular boxes into into the hull form, the designers had the side walls follow the contours of the hull for visual interest. The ribs across the ceilings help to increase the apparent depth of the staterooms.
It is easy to forget that the fiberglass Motopanfilo 37M is a series model, but Lazzarini Pickering, whose last collaboration with Benetti was the Zen-like interior aboard the 170-foot (52-meter) Sai Ram in 2004, wanted to give the yacht the same aura as their custom projects.
“It’s a semi-custom yacht, but the attention to detail has been matched by the enthusiasm and craftsmanship of the artisans responsible for putting it all together,” Pickering says. “It’s been a very interesting and successful result for us.”
According to Benetti, the displacement hull and twin 1,380-horsepower MAN V-12 engines provide a maximum speed of 16 knots (if upgraded to 1,625 horsepower, the top speed increases to 18 knots). At a cruising speed of 10 knots, the yacht can reportedly cover 3,800 nautical miles.
Revisiting classic design is like attempting a cover version of a classic song: Most attempts either fail to capture the essence of the original or end up as bland reproductions. Not so with the Motopanfilo 37M, which strikes the perfect balance between past and present. This 21st-century homage to Benetti’s heritage is a handsome exception.
LOA: 120ft. 9in. (36.8m)
DRAFT: 6ft. 5in. (1.96m)
GROSS TONNAGE: 297
SPEED (max./cruise): 16/10 knots
NAVAL ARCHITECTURE: Benetti
EXTERIOR DESIGN: Francesco Struglia
INTERIOR DESIGN: Lazzarini & Pickering
For more information: bennettiyachts.it
This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue.