Time to Drive: 5 Watches with Motorsport History to Get Your Heart Racing

Time to Drive: 5 Watches with Motorsport History to Get Your Heart Racing

From the Paul Newman “Zenith” Daytona to the storied Heuer Carrera, these watches set the pace on and off the tarmac.
From the Paul Newman “Zenith” Daytona to the storied Heuer Carrera, these watches set the pace on and off the tarmac.

I t didn’t take long, after the first cars were invented, for us to start racing them. In fact, the first car race was held in England on 30 August 1867 at 4:30 in the morning. Isaac Watt Boulton won the 8-mile race by almost 3 seconds – and we know that because it was timed. Ever since these earliest days, mechanical watches and cars have remained inextricably linked, and innovations in one field have extended into the other.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important milestones in the marriage between high-performance racing and horology.

Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona Ref. 16520

Paul Newman was awarded this Rolex Daytona Ref. 16520 in 1995 after winning his GT1 class at Daytona24 at age 70. (Photo Courtesy Joanne Woodward & Paul Newman Family)

Rolex Daytona. 24 Hours of Daytona. Paul Newman. Three things that have a massive impact on the world of watches, cars and collecting, all of which collide in this “Zenith” Daytona – its moniker referring to early references powered by Zenith’s storied El Primero movement, the first mechanical chronograph.

The Daytona gets its very name from the famed Florida racetrack that opened in the 1950s, and Rolex has been the title sponsor of 24 Hours of Daytona since 1992. Since then, winners of this grueling race have been awarded a special presentation Rolex Daytona, which is engraved on the back with the race’s logo and, usually, the winner’s name, position and year.

As both an actor and racer, Paul Newman needs no introduction. In 1995, at the age of 70, he won his GT1 class at the Daytona24, setting a world record for the oldest man to do so that still stands to this day. This reference 16520 was presented to him by Rolex and is inscribed on the back: “Paul Newman, Rolex Motorsport Man of the Year.” Coming to auction directly from the Newman family, this trophy Daytona will certainly be a trophy for whomever takes it home in June.

The Omega Speedmaster Ref. 2915-2

The Speedmaster Ref. 2915-2, introduced in 1957, was marketed toward racing drivers as designed “For Men Who Reckon Time in Seconds.” (Photo via 1957 Omega Ad)

Wait, isn’t the Speedmaster the watch that went to the moon? Yes! Known today as the “Moonwatch,” the Speedmaster was originally designed for racing drivers – and this model, the reference 2915, was the one that started it all. The original advertisement in 1957 testified to its accuracy and performance with the slogan: “For Men Who Reckon Time in Seconds.”

The ref. 2915 was the first watch to put the tachymeter scale on the outside of the bezel. Prior to that, watches printed the scale on the dial, an inefficient use of space. Moving the meter outside allowed for much faster and more accurate readings of speed over distance, making the Speedmaster immensely popular at the highest levels of rally, endurance and Formula 1 racing throughout its early years and even to this very day.

The watch was so accurate and precise that NASA made it standard issue for US astronauts.


The Rolex Daytona Ref. 6241 “John Player Special”

This rare “JPS” Rolex Daytona pays tribute to one of the most iconic colorways in racing: the black-and-gold livery of John Player & Sons’ Lotus F1 Team. (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)

The “JPS” is a solid-gold, Paul Newman-dial Daytona. So why is it called a John Player Special? What does the John Player & Sons tobacco company have to do with watches? The answer: motorsport!

At the dawn of the 1970s – a second golden age for Formula 1 – John Player & Sons sponsored the Lotus F1 Team, a partnership that saw Colin Chapman’s revered race cars painted in striking black-and-gold and the drivers decked in matching livery. By then, Daytona was already a household name, making it a natural accessory for the most prestigious racing series in the world.

It’s thought that fewer than 300 examples of the JPS Daytona were made, but this reference 6241 is incredibly special due to its rare, 14k yellow gold made for the US market. It comes to Sotheby’s from its original owner, who opted back in 1968 to purchase the watch on a leather strap instead of a matching bracelet. Still fitted to its period 14k gold Rolex buckle, the JPS Daytona is truly one of the rarest Daytona models ever produced – and certainly one of the most striking.

The Heuer Carrera Ref. 3647N

The first Carrera Panamericana in 1950 spanned 6 days and 2,100 miles of Mexico’s most grueling roads. In 1963 Jack Heuer designed a tribute to the one-of-a-kind event. (Photo by Bernard Cahier/Getty Images)

Racing fans are surely not strangers to the Heuer brand, a cornerstone of the sport in both real-world and on-screen scenarios for over 60 years. Heuer watches have been worn by legendary racers from Jochen Rindt and Jo Siffert to Mario Andretti and even Steve McQueen. Names like Monaco, Silverstone, Camaro and Monza have all graced the dials of Heuer models.

The most iconic of these many icons is the Heuer Carrera. Created by Jack Heuer himself and named after the Carrera Panamericana endurance race in Mexico, the model celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. With its clean, mid-century lines, it presents an open and easy-to-read dial layout.

This reference 3647 is a rare “N” model, which stands for noir and denotes a black dial. One of the original models to debut in 1963, the 3647 is the two-register version of the Carrera and has a very balanced dial. At home on a period Corfam leather strap and with matching Heuer buckle, this 60-year-old watch looks as timeless as ever and remains up for duty at the racetrack.

The Jaeger LeCoultre & Aston Martin AMVOX2 Chronograph

Jaeger LeCoultre is no slouch at sport, producing this technically innovative chronograph – worn here by Adrián Fernández, Aston Team Works Driver – that pays homage to the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish.

Regularly known as “the watchmakers’ watchmaker,” the venerable maison Jaeger LeCoultre is no stranger to technical innovation. However it’s not one we often associate with motorsports and racing. Here we have a great meeting of minds between JLC and Aston Martin. For a period of time, the two companies had an exceptional partnership that combined their mastery of the beautiful with technical excellence.

The AMVOX2 is one star to rise from that relationship. You may not know it, but this is a chronograph – one without buttons and with discreet sub registers. In lieu of pushers, JLC developed a pressure-sensitive crystal: pushing the crystal at the top starts and stops the chronograph, and a push at the bottom causes it to reset.

Utilizing the same materials as Aston Martin’s flagship V12 Vanquish of the period (including the same leather for the strap), this chronograph pushes the boundaries of both style and speed.

Luxury Week

About the Author

More from Sotheby's

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

arrow Created with Sketch. Back To Top