Motor Sports Watches – An Introduction

Steve McQueen - the patron saint of motor sports watches

The automobile or automobile racing-inspired chronograph has become a cliché. TAG Heuer has built its entire business around motor sports watches. Other brands and microbrands – ranging from blandly interesting to frankly horrible – have arrived on the scene dedicated to making the “perfect” motoring-inspired timepiece. What’s up with that? More questions . . .

Watches and motor sports are closely linked, but are these watches actually nice to wear? Are they useful for more than just a symbol or signifier?

I wondered the same thing. I wondered it so hard that I decided to put my own likes, dislikes, prejudices and MONEY on the line. Over the next few months I’ll be reviewing a series of auto- and motor sport-inspired watches and chronographs. I’ll buy them, wear them and rate them. Who better than me?

TAG Heuer motor sports watches are their thing

My relationship with auto-and racing-inspired chronographs has been an intense on-again/off-again love affair. I owned vintage Carreras, Autavias, Monzas and Pasadenas long before they were objects of obsession. I had not one but three nearly mint Autavia Viceroys back when you could buy them for (close to) cigarette money.

I’ve had more than my share of modern Monacos, Tudor Heritage Chronographs, Racing Speedies and even a couple of those elusive Rolex Daytonas. And don’t even get me started on the vintage Seiko Speedtimers…

Seiko Speedtimer

If an addiction is something that you have no problem quitting as long as it’s next week, call me a motoring-inspired watch addict. I’ve bought all of these lovely watches, sold them and then went right back a few weeks or a few months later.

I can only explain myself by saying that auto-inspired watches are like fast cars and fast women. I’ve indulged in all three. They all tend to create absolutely wonderful memories that makes one lose sight of the often tedious, expensive and occasionally heartbreaking day-to-day.

Rolex Daytona - the most coveted of motor sports watches

Why did I sell that beautiful 911S? Why did I delete Angie’s number? Why did I let go of that mint Omega Chronostop?

The 911S leaked oil and needed the carbs rebuilt. Angie moved to Vegas to “find her true self.” But the watches…well, they’re harder to explain.

The watch wounds are mostly self-inflicted. Either they were appreciating in value too quickly to wear without fear of damage, or their status as icons never matched the reality of actually wearing one.

The insane value inflation and the anxiety it triggered is the worst. Who wants to strap on a watch to wash the fun car and head out for an aggressive drive only to feel like you might crack the Faberge’ egg on your wrist? Not me.

But, much like love and marriage, I am willing to get hurt again. And again, and again and again. Watch this space and this byline over the coming months for reviews of motor sports-inspired watches both old and new. Will I find love again? Time will tell…so to speak.

2 comments

  1. I hope this will explain the original intended use, as I honestly don’t understand it. The purpose of dive watches in surviving with underwater pressures and monitoring oxygen consumption is obvious, but what a racing watch does that a speedometer and a stopwatch on the dash won’t is beyond me. The old Gruen driver’s watch, meant to be worn with the case on the front side of the wrist near the thumb so as to be visible without moving the hand from the steering wheel makes sense to me, but that’s about it.

    I have brief exposure to pilot calculations, but I fail to make the connection between leisurely flight computations and a high speed track scenario. As one that has only used timing complications to clock humdrum activities, any background on the previous necessity of such things would be of interest.

    1. Oscar, we couldn’t agree more. Racing was certainly different (and slower) in the 1950’s and 60’s, so perhaps they were actually used as stop watches in the cockpit during a race. Now there is simply no way. The speeds and the g-forces are so high and there’s no way that a driver is taking a hand off the wheel to operate chrono pushers during a race. We’ll dig into it and comment on their actual use along the way.

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