What’s on a Racer’s Wrist? Looking at 5 Racing Heuer Watches
When it comes to racing timepieces, there’s no brand as influential in the world of motorsports as Heuer. During the Formula 1 sponsorship breakout in the 1960s, Heuer got into the world of motorsports and it remained there to this day. Heuer was a sponsor for various championship-winning teams and an official timekeeper of Formula 1
Throughout the decades, Heuer and TAG Heuer brands have been omnipresent at the races, with their respective logos stamped on trackside banners and famous liveries. The strong racing connection was courtesy of Jack Heuer, the brand’s prolific chairman. Himself a devout racing fan, Heuer personally campaigned timekeeping devices of all sorts wherever there were cars racing.
As a result of his efforts that started in the late 1950s, many rally cars were equipped with dashboard-mounted rally timers from the Auto-Rallye, Monte Carlo, Master Time and Super Autavia lines, whereas drivers themselves started wearing Heuer chronographs on their wrists to measure their lap times in real time. Icons of the glamorous 1960s and 1970s racing scene like Jo Siffert, Mario Andretti, Jochen Rindt, Ronnie Peterson, Carroll Shelby and many more were seen wearing Heuer timepieces, but not all their watches rank the same in the collector community.
With Ronnie Peterson’s unique solid 18k gold Carrera 1158 CHN being in a league of its own, devout collectors recognize watches worn by Rindt, Andretti, Siffert and McQueen as four most coveted racing Heuer chronographs, all colloquially named after motorsport legends wearing them in their prime. To keep the expanded selection more interesting, we’ve added two collector watches on an affordable side of the price spectrum, both with very close ties to two more legendary drivers. Without further ado, let’s dive into the world of racing aces and their iconic Heuer watches.
1. Jochen Rindt – Autavia 2446
The Rindt Autavia 2446 is a chronograph with a reverse panda layout, featuring a black dial and three subdials on the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions and it’s powered by the hand wound Valjoux Caliber 72. Its 38mm steel case features straight lugs and a rotating bezel marked with hour indexes.
Throughout his career, Jochen Rindt was seen wearing this watch on numerous occasions both on and off the track, whereas his wife Nina, a 1960s fashion icon in her own right, prefered the panda dial Universal Genève Tri-Compax. Jochen Rindt tragically lost his life at Monza in 1970, winning the world title posthumously.
Given his and Nina’s iconic status, the Autavia 2446 became a collector classic among racing fans and it is still among the most coveted Heuers of the era.
2. Mario Andretti – Autavia 3646
The Andretti Autavia bears a 3646 reference and it’s powered by Valjoux Caliber 92. Just like the Rindt Autavia, the Andretti Autavia is a reverse panda chronograph with a black dial with a similar type of case, but unlike the Rindt, it has two white subdials at 3 and 9 o’clock positions. The 39 mm case features a rotating bezel indicating either hours or minutes, depending on the execution.
Mario Andretti became more closely connected with Heuer when he was awarded two Autavia 3646 watches for posting the fastest qualifying laps at the Indianapolis 500 in 1966 and 1967 respectively.
These watches were adorned with the Motor Age logo and Andretti wore them throughout the years, but apart from the sponsorship stamp on the dial, they didn’t differ from the regular reference 3646. Later on during his career, Andretti wore other Heuer timepieces on his wrist, but as the first one, the 3646 is the one normally associated with the Italo-American ace.
3. Jo Siffert – Autavia 1163T
Siffert’s signature watch was a panda dial Autavia 1163T, a revolutionary automatic chronograph and one of the most collectible Heuers today. The 1163T is powered by the self-winding Caliber 11 inside a 42 mm cushion-shaped steel case and it features a rotating tachymeter bezel and two subdials at 3 and 9 o’clock position with the 6 o’clock date window, a typical layout for all watches housing the Caliber 11.
Another famous Caliber 11 feature is the crown on the left side of the case, indicating a caliber that doesn’t have to be hand wound.
Swiss racing legend Jo Siffert was a close friend of Jack Heuer and the first face of Heuer in the racing community. In the era when Formula 1 had just opened its doors to big sponsors, Jack Heuer signed Siffert to promote the timepieces to the people of Formula 1, from team officials to racers themselves.
The close-knit community soon embraced Heuer on a larger scale, leading to the brand’s big breakthrough in the racing world. To celebrate the life and achievements of the late Formula One legend, the Siffert Autavia was reissued several times, but in the collectors’ world, nothing beats the original.
4. Steve McQueen – Monaco 1133B
First seen as an oddity within the Calibre 11 range, the square-cased Monaco rose to stardom thanks to Steve McQueen and his racing epic Le Mans. The Monaco Steve McQueen made famous was a reference 1133B, a 40 mm steel case chronograph with a deep blue dial, two square-shaped white subdials at 3 and 9 o’clock position and a date window at the 6 o’clock position.
In the movie, the King of Cool wore a Monaco as Michael Delaney, becoming a Heuer ambassador even though he was personally a Rolex person. Despite being an enthusiastic, almost professional racer, McQueen was introduced to Heuer by none other than Jo Siffert during his research for the role of Michael Delaney, and thanks to his pick, this legendary chronograph became a signature TAG Heuer product even today, more than half a century since first introduced in 1969.
The Monaco 1133 McQueen personally wore during Le Mans’ filming was sold in late 2020 for $2.2 million, making it the most expensive Heuer watch ever publicly sold.
5. Ayrton Senna – TAG Heuer S/EL S25.706C
By the mid-1980s, Formula One was on its way to become a multi-billion dollar international industry and Heuer evolved into TAG Heuer in 1985. The world of watches changed too: quartz and digital watches became way more reliable and potent. That shift resulted in TAG Heuer pushing the boundaries of chronographs further with the quirky S/EL line, an evolutionary step towards the Link product line we know today.
With Ron Dennis being closely involved with both McLaren and TAG Heuer, the most logical move was to sign Ayrton Senna as a brand ambassador when he moved to McLaren Honda in 1988. During that period, Senna wore several TAG Heuer watches at the time, but personally preferred a cream-dialed, quartz ETA 251.251-powered S25.706C, the flagship watch from the S/EL line.
If one’s able to get over the unusual 38mm case and bracelet design and a mix of matte steel and shiny gold-plated details, the S25.706C is a rewarding analog-digital professional chronograph with a long list of complications, the most important being 1/100th of a second chronograph. In the end, despite the unorthodox organic shapes, the Senna connection makes it quite a cool timepiece.
6. Jacky Ickx – Easy Rider
Last but not least, the Easy Rider was a cost conscious alternative to Heuer chronographs and it was kicked off in 1971 to fight off Japanese watches that took over the market. In true 1970s fashion, the Easy Rider had a 39 mm elliptical UFO-shaped monobloc case with hidden lugs. The lightweight fiberglass resin case was either naked or chrome plated and it housed a hand wound pin-lever caliber 8420.
The Easy Rider was never branded Heuer and some references were released under the Leonidas brand. The most famous ones are wearing Ickx’s name and hand signature and they came in cool helmet-shaped boxes for added cool effect.
To maintain the image and reputation in the hardest times for the Swiss watch industry and make the entry level Heuer more desirable, the company signed Jacky Ickx as the promoter. At the time, Ickx was young, beautiful and he had an aura that was supposed to play a major role in this line’s success. That eventually didn’t happen, but the Easy Rider still stands as a piece of Heuer’s trackside history even though it missed being named one.