When it comes to timepieces with a motorsports connection, no brand has a truer and closer association than Heuer. No, not TAG Heuer – Heuer. Despite some very clever branding, TAG doesn’t make watches. They never did. TAG, which is an abbreviation for Technique Avant Garde, is merely a holdings conglomerate that purchased Heuer in 1985 before subsequently selling to the massive luxury conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey) in 1999. But Heuer existed for a long time before any of this came to pass.
Founded in 1860 by Eduourd Heuer, the brand has been producing high-end Swiss timepieces for over 150 years. And in the 1960s and 1970s, they were singularly responsible for some of the most iconic driver and racer’s chronographs of all time. Models such as the Carrera, Pasadena, and Autavia are popular collector’s pieces with legitimate Motorsports history, and can command significant prices today.
However, due to Heuer’s popularity at the time, they were also producing timepieces for a number of other brands and retailers such as Abercrombie and Fitch, Lejour, Zodiac, Sears (under the Tradition name) and Clebar. While these watches are generally much more rare than Heuer-branded timepieces, they are often passed over by collectors looking for the “real thing.” Ultimately, most of these pieces were made top-to-bottom by Heuer and often featured the same movements and in some instances even the same hands, dials, and cases as their on-brand counterparts. In my mind, these points make the so-called “Poor Man’s Heuers” just as desirable as the mainstream models – perhaps even more so. And as the name suggests, the prices on these pieces are excellent, making them a great choice of Motorsports chronograph for someone just starting a collection.
For your consideration, here are a few “Poor Man’s” alternatives to some of Heuer’s most desirable timepieces.
Poor Man’s Heuers: Tradition/Hamilton/Zodiac vs. Heuer Carrera
The Carrera was named for La Carrera Panamericana, the legendary road race across the Mexican Isthmus that ran from 1950-1954. Designed by the grandson of the company’s founder, Jack Heuer, the Carrera was the brand’s first wrist chronograph designed for the specific use of timing Motorsports events. Still in production today, the Carrera is a staple of the brand’s line, and early examples are highly sought after by collectors, commanding prices of $4,000 and up in many cases.
Shown here is a Tradition Stellaris (produced by Heuer in the 1960s for Sears Roebuck) alongside the early reference 7753 Carrera 30S. These models featured the same series of Valjoux 7730 manual winding chronograph movements as the Carrera, and clearly have very similar dials, hands and pushers – all sourced from the same parts bins as the Heuer branded version. Although considerably less common, Tradition chronographs can be had for less than half the price of a comparable Carrera model.
Poor Man’s Heuers: LeJour vs. Heuer Pasadena
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Heuer began producing a series of large automatic chronographs housed in black PVD cases. These timepieces never really hit big with buyers at the time, but are definitely sought-out collector’s pieces today, with aggressive military looks and a modern size. Similar timepieces were manufactured by Heuer for Porsche Design, as well as a number of lesser known brands and retailers.
One brand that sold a differently branded Pasadena was LeJour, now a fully defunct side note of horological history without much going for it. Their version of the Pasadena was, again, fully produced by Heuer and features the same case, Valjoux 7750 movement, markers, hands and dial print as the “real” thing. Because of a promotion with American Express, which put them in the hands of thousands of enthusiasts, LeJour models are fairly abundant today – perhaps even more so than Pasadenas. Prices are often about $1,000 for a decent LeJour example, as opposed to $1500-$2000 for a Pasadena, which are also much harder to find in decent condition.
Poor Man’s Heuers: Zodiac/Clebar vs. Heuer Autavia
The Heuer Autavia is perhaps the most well known vintage chronograph of the Heuer lineup, even if it’s not the most sought after. The name is a blend of Automobile + Aviation, first applied to dash timers in the first half of the 20th Century. In the 1960s, the name was given to a new line of professional-grade wristwatch chronographs, which were produced into the late 1970s. Fitted with a range of movements including the historically important Calibre 11 automatic, the Autavia was the professional racer’s choice, adorning the wrists of legendary racers such as Jo Siffert and Steve McQueen.
An off-brand version of the Autavia was produced for Zodiac and Clebar. It was fitted with the same Valjoux 7734 movement as found in the manual winding Heuer versions. Unlike the LeJour, Zodiac, Hamilton, and Tradition models described above, off-brand Autavias are relatively hard to come by today. When they do pop up, however, they are usually found for around half the price of a Heuer, which can typically run from about $2,500-$4,000 for an automatic version from the 1970s.
For Lots More Information on Poor Man’s Heuers, check out the terrific resources assembled by Jeff Stein at OnTheDash.