WHEELS TO WHEEL
10th November 2021
Together at last! TAG Heuer of Carrera chronograph fame and Porsche of Carrera 911 fame finally tie the knot, in a horological car-llaboration running deeper and faster than most. Words by Alex Doak.
here’s good reason why the stopwatch-equipped ‘chronograph’ remains the most relentlessly popular ‘evo’ in watch form. Quite simply, it’s a sports cars for the wrist, pushing precisely the same buttons as that cheeky coupé, calling you from the forecourt come bonus time.
Think about it: an engine – the movement – suspended within a purpose-built chassis – the case – engineered and tuned to Top Trumps-worthy tolerances for max power and performance. Your discerning taste, secret Boy’s Own geekery, and the need, the need for speed: all revving away beneath your cuff, even when the Cayman remains in the garage and commuterville beckons.
Regardless of chronograph status, the fact even the simplest automatics have see-through casebacks is down to the same reason Ferrari’s mid-mounted V8s and Lamborghini’s V10s are proudly visible just behind the cockpit – pure, tyre-kicking “growl” factor.
From Roger Dubuis to Richard Mille, via Chopard and IWC, the smell of petrol permeates the otherwise fragrant valleys of watchmaking’s heartland. Especially around Watch City, aka La Chaux-de-Fonds: the highest city in Europe; a gridded, Art Nouveau Who’s Who of watchmaking; more importantly, home to the pitlane’s horological firestarter, TAG Heuer.
More than 50 years ago, a self-admittedly damp-behind-the-ears Jack Heuer saw that the time was ripe for capitalising on the genre’s high-octane drama, not least its rakish protagonists. Since 1933, the family firm’s ‘Autavia’ dash clock had combined the words ‘automobile’ and ‘aviation’ as a byword for cockpit precision, rivalling even Breitling’s own line in onboard instrumentation. Come the autumn of 1961, as Jack recalls in his rollicking memoirs, The Times of My Life, ‘Autavia’ was revived as an all-new wristworn chronograph, fitted with a turning bezel for the very first time.
“WHAT IMPRESSED ME MOST OF ALL AT SEBRING WAS THE MIX OF PROFESSIONAL ROAD RACING PILOTS, AMATEUR GENTLEMEN DRIVERS AND SPECTATORS… ”
The driver’s chronograph duly coined, something was still missing…
“In January 1962 I was invited by the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) to attend the 12 Hours Race at Sebring in Florida,” Monsieur Heuer recalls with nostalgic brio. “I had lent the organisers of the race a dozen Heuer pocket chronographs with split-second displays for the official timing of the event.
“What impressed me most of all at Sebring was the mix of professional road racing pilots, amateur gentlemen drivers and spectators… People like the German Jochen Rindt and the young Rodriguez brothers, Pedro and Ricardo, from Mexico for whom the Ferrari importer in New York had prepared a racing car. But there were also some important amateur gentlemen drivers including […] the actor Paul Newman from Hollywood.
“It dawned on me there and then that this group of motor racing enthusiasts was a natural target client group for Heuer…”
With this at the back of his mind, Jack recounts a particularly affecting conversation with the parents of the Rodriguez brothers in the Ferrari pit that weekend.
“They told me that they were lucky that their boys were so young – Pedro was then 21 and Ricardo 19. Because if they had been born a few years earlier they would certainly have participated in the dangerous [road] race across Mexico known as the ‘Carrera Panamericana’. At the time it was considered to be the most dangerous sports car race in the world and over a period of five years had claimed over 30 victims…
“It was [then] that I’d first heard the Spanish word ‘carrera’. I loved not only its sexy sound but also its multiple meanings, which include road, race, course and career. All very much Heuer territory! So as soon as I got back to Switzerland I rushed to register the name under “Heuer Carrera’.”
Just one year later, a legend was born. A chronograph of course, the new Carrera’s no-nonsense legibility earned instant endorsement from motorsport royalty, aided in large part by a design far suaver than the Autavia, which that could sashay effortlessly from cockpit to casino.
Wearers included every Ferrari F1 driver of the Seventies, thanks to Heuer’s groundbreaking sponsorship of the Prancing Horse. Jo Siffert even forged his own side-hustle off the back of ambassador status, leading to superfan Steve McQueen opting for a blue-dialled Heuer Monaco as Michael Delaney in 1971’s Le Mans (another legend born, needless to say).
‘Carrera’, though, wasn’t a label limited to just car races and car watches…
Having won the Panamericana in 1954, a certain carmaker from Stuttgart dubbed its iconic ‘911’ coupé of 1964 ‘Carrera’ in tribute – a nomenclature that, bar the semi-convertible Targa model (itself named after a Sicilian road race) continues proudly today. Considering this namesake connection, let alone the fact McQueen drove a 917 in Le Mans, it’s a wonder it’s taken until now for TAG Heuer and Porsche to become official bedfellows.
They’ve come close in the past, fuelling pedigree to 2021’s partnership. Heuer was sold in the mid-Eighties to Middle Eastern-owned Techniques d’Avant Gardes (the current brand’s ‘TAG’ prefix), which with Porsche developed the turbo engine that helped McLaren win three consecutive F1 world titles from 1984–86. In 1999, the relationship grew even stronger – from the Porsche Carrera Cup and Supercup competitions, followed by the Endurance World Championship. As a founding partner of the Formula E championship in 2014, TAG Heuer helped raise the profile of thrilling single-seat electric race cars, Porsches among them.
Now in 2021, their confessed ‘beautiful friendship’ has become a holistic official brand partnership, celebrated by the special-edition timepiece you see here – a Carrera Chronograph, naturally. Upholstered, contrast-stitch leather strap, asphalt-textured dial, racy tachymetre bezel in gleaming black ceramic, all at the wheel of the co-branded 99X Electric car, vying for Formula E dominance this year, as well as the 911 RSRs racing in the LM GTE Pro class, tipped for podiums aplenty in the FIA World Endurace Championshuip.
As TAG Heuer’s infectiously youthful CEO, Frédéric Arnault proclaimed proudly at February’s launch: “It was worth the wait!”
The latest Huracán is ‘evo’ to the extreme, and the same goes for its suitably sinister horological co-pilot.
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