ugg mens boots sale uk the Heuer Autavia and the story of the world’s first chronograph
Recently, we featured a watch, a nice watch, in the Sept. 16 print issue of Autoweek as part of our coverage of Ron Howard’s “Rush.” We mentioned that it was a Heuer Autavia and that it was from the 1970s, but like most things that fit in a blurb, the story behind it is far more compelling. Because like Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona and Steve McQueen’s Heuer Monaco you know, that other Heuer 1960s Formula One driver Jo Siffert joins the unusual gang of race car drivers forever intertwined with a wristwatch.
1968 was a big year for both Heuer and Siffert. It was the year that Heuer, working with Breitling, introduced the world’s first automatic chronograph, the culmination of a fierce battle against Seiko and Zenith that began almost a decade earlier. And it was the year that Siffert won two endurance races for Porsche, in the 907, while also securing a victory at his first Formula One race: the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, deemed “the last genuine privateer victory in F1.”
“Seppi,” as he was known, was both a modest man and a natural salesman. “Siffert wouldn’t let me go home until he sold me a Porsche 911,” recalled Jack Heuer, the company’s president. As the story goes, Siffert would persuade his fellow drivers to buy Heuer watches even while on the grid, waiting for the race to start. He had wound his way across racing in the hardscrabble way many of us might be familiar with: He took odd jobs; he fixed his own cars and motorcycles; he lived on the road and slept under the stars. “They spent the nights in the cheapest hotels, very often in a farmhouse,” says one account. “Instead of having regular meals, Siffert and his small team tried to deaden their hunger by smoking some cigarettes.”
How romantic! How utterly deserving from the mild mannered driver from Switzerland who was so good at pushing Heuers (as well as the occasional Porsche) that by the start of the 1970s, almost everyone involved in F1 ended up with a Heuer of some sort. Jack Heuer, understandably, was delighted.
“Jo, as you may know from his background, was a very poor guy and he was a born ‘wheeler and dealer,'” said Heuer. “And he would always have a collection of watches, and he would place them with all of his friends on the circuit, and we didn’t mind of course because it was in public. And so if you looked around the Formula One circuit, they all wore a Heuer Chronograph!”
The “Autavia” name was a reflection of its racing and aviation qualities, resurrecting a name last used for dashboard timers. Siffert’s white dialed wristwatch was far and away the rarest Autavia hell, if you smoked Viceroy cigarettes and clipped out a coupon, you could buy yourself a red and black model on the cheap. The movement itself was called “Chronomatic,” a sufficiently futuristic name. Everything was automatic back then, announced with suggestions of a joyous and optimistic future. Datomatic! Gyromatic! Kingmatic! Powermatic!
Jo Siffert Heuer Autavia Caliber 11 Chronomatic:The Chronomatic Caliber 11 movement that changed the world. Of watches, anyway. Photo credit: On The Dash
The watch lent to us for Autoweek’s recent “Rush” photoshoot came from the personal collection of James Lamdin, the urbane, Porsche 912 driving founder of watch broker analog/shift. Upon hearing our cries for help, he airmailed us his personal Autavia Reference from New York City, braving time, distance and Postal Service alike. Lamdin founded analog/shift a year ago, stemming from a passion for watches he discovered 10 years ago when his grandfather died.
“We were very close, but he was tight lipped about the past,” said Lamdin. “He served in the war and did some incredible things about his life, and he didn’t talk about it too much. When he passed, he left behind a collection of nice things.
“It was a near overnight transformation for me. I went from wearing sneakers, cargo shorts and wearing a quartz watch, to caring about nice shoes and better fitting clothes and a vintage watch. It was in honor of my grandfather.”
Lamdin bought his Siffert Autavia from a friend who, for one reason or another, owed him a favor.
“I stole mine,” he said. “Mine is the manual winding, 3 register Siffert dial. The thing about my watch is that it’s more rare than the ‘more desirable’ Caliber 11 Automatic. Mine is considerably more rare. If you talk to a watch nerd, if you want a real accurate chronograph, you want a manual wind.”
Siffert himself wore a Chronomatic Caliber 11, which are few and far between. It used the world’s first automatic chronograph movement developed jointly by Heuer and Breitling a watch that was announced with eager fanfare on March 3, 1969, followed literally minutes later by the repair of the world’s first automatic chronograph movement.
Jo Siffert Heuer Autavia:Jo Siffert, shown here looking cooler than you and I combined. Photo credit: Jo Siffert: Live Fast Die Young
Jo Siffert died on the very track that brought him glory: In 1971, at Brands Hatch, his BRM P160 caught on fire, Siffert unable to escape. It was later ruled that he died from smoke inhalation, that the fire extinguishers at Hawthorn Bend didn’t work, and that the track workers just couldn’t reach him in time. “Fire takes away any reason, any common sense,” Mario Andretti once said. More than 50,000 people attended his funeral in his hometown of Fribourg, Switzerland. Sweeping safety regulations, including better fire suits and on board fire extinguishers, followed.
These days, one can find a Siffert Autavia for not too much (Chronomatics will run a bit more). Jerry Seinfeld did. And while the cost of a 1970s historic Heuer might cause Porsche 911 3.2 owners to blanche, a Viceroy Autavia from the same period can be had for far less. analog/shift has one, in fact.
Compare that to the average price of a genuine Newman Daytona one recently set a record for Rolex Daytona prices when it sold for approximately $500,000 or the cost of a Tag Heuer McQueen Monaco, and a reissue at that. The genuine item will cost a fair bit more than both. It may be a bit silly to suggest that Siffert’s memory lives on through a mere timepiece. But an instrument of precision, designed to perform under extenuating circumstances, and one whose meticulous accuracy and complex function is so vital to the sport, makes for an appropriate tribute to a F1 legend.
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