Tag Heuer Carrera

Legendary Watches: TAG Heuer Carrera

by Matthew Boston

The Carrera Name

“Scared to death!” exclaimed Bud Sennett, “you only have to blow a tyre to fall 4000ft” he commented after completing a section of the most dangerous endurance race in the world: the Carrera Panamericana race. Held from 1950 to 1954 this infamous 3000 mile race across Mexico was stopped in 1955 after it had claimed 27 lives.

Official Route for the IV Panamerican Road Race

Official Route for the IV Panamerican Road Race

After hearing tales of this race from ill-fated racing driver Pedro Rodriguez at the 12 Hours of Sebring, Jack Heuer, official timekeeper of the event was inspired to name a watch after it. “Just the sound of the name itself – elegant, dynamic, easily pronounced in all languages and charged with emotion. I knew then that my new chronograph was the perfect tribute to this legend.”

So just as Porsche secured the name for use in its car, he registered the name for use in a watch. Now all he needed was a product to go with it..

Design & Development

Cars and watches have a lot in common: wheels , gears, levers, cams… both are complex highly developed machines like few other items in daily life. The connection with the automobile for TAG Heuer has a long ancestry stretching back to the first dashboard chronograph the “Time of Trip” in 1911, designed to address specific needs of racers and rallyists.

With an unparallelled motorsports heritage it could be said that the Carerra model captures the spirit of the TAG Heuer brand best because it was their first Chronograph wristwatch inspired by motor racing and designed by Jack Heuer specifically for professional drivers and fans of sports cars. “Carrera” also means “race,” so it was perfect for the brand DNA. So how did this “race” watch come about?

Panamericam Race

Panamericam Race

In 1963, with sales slow in the US, 31-year-old Jack Heuer, the great-grandson of the company founder neededsomething that would revive company fortunes. So the man behind some of the most revolutionary developments in the field of sports timing , focused on the specific needs of professional racing drivers.

An amateur racing enthusiast himself he also took part at times and knew exactly what he wanted: a large easy to read dial – so it could be read with a quick glance, a case both waterproof and shock-resistant . Since dust, vibration and shock are typical companions of motor racing it needed to be strong enough to endure the most intense road use and still remain precise.

He established great friendships with champions such as Jo Siffert, Ronnie Peterson, Emerson Fittipaldi, Denis Hulme, Niki Lauda and many other drivers of those years and they helped give him a better understanding of what was needed for a watch designed for motor racing drivers.

Panamerican Race

Panamerican Race

However he not only drew inspiration from Motorsport for his design. Having not long finished his University degree he was very much interested in modern architects like Charles Eames and Oscar Niemeyer and also groundbreaking ideas from sixties modernism such the designs of Finish industrial designer Eero Saarinen as well as Pop Art aesthetics.

“I was excited by the new forms, materials and techniques just then coming into play. We were after something that took advantage of these, that was just as new and audacious, but at the same time sober, simple and motorsports-driven, stripped of all ornamentation, classic and timeless.” Jack Heuer.

The Carrera also draws its design from the timeless codes that prevail in motorsport such as the black and white counters found in vintage dashboards or the perforated leather gloves worn by Juan-Manuel Fangio and his contemporaries. Inspired by the instrument panel of a racing car, where legibility and clarity was paramount. According to Heuer he wanted a design “sober, simple and motorsports-driven, stripped of all ornamentation, classic and timeless.”

He wanted a very clean dial and with that in mind came up with an innovative solution to help achieve this. At the time Sapphire crystals hadnt been invented yet so a plastic one was used, these tended to be porous and to improve waterproofing someone had invented a ‘tension ring’ placed around the dial. Jack Heuer decided to add the 1/5 second scale to this in order to keep the dial clean and easy to read, it was an industry first and a signature of the Carrera design.

‘I’m really proud of that,’ he says. ‘Using the tension ring to carry the markings around the dial meant we could create a watch that was easy to read and had a really clean dial. Nobody had done this before – now everybody has it.’

Heuer Carrera Launch

Launched in 1963 the first Carrera chronograph was the distinct Panda edition in black and white featuring the tachometer. For the best drivers in Europe and the United States, it was the watch to have and became one of the most collectible chronograph watches.

Heuer Carrera 1963

Heuer Carrera 1963

This first edition, regarded today as having the classic Carrera style , was only manufactured from 1963 to 1969. It was 36mm in diameter with a minimalistic clean dial featuring sunken registers, and its modern design was hailed as groundbreaking and gave us the Carrera look we are so familiar with today.

In the early years, depending on the edition, it was fitted with a Valjoux 72 movement with three counters (with Incabloc double anti-shock system) a Valjoux 92 with two counters and rarely a Landeron 189 – without column wheel – with only 45-minute counter at 9 o’clock and the date on the other side, without the small seconds.

Heuer Carrea Vintage

Heuer Carrea Vintage

In 1971 Heuer’s relationship with Ferrari began and in exchange for the advertising Heuer not only provided the timing equipment but gave each driver a Solid Gold Carrera 1158 with their name and blood type engraved on the back.

The third generation Carrera are also known as “Barrel” case Carrera’s, because of the burly case design. These had either a Calibre 12 or Calibre 15 movement, and were a big design shift from the styling of the earlier refined cases.

Heuer Carrera - Third Generation Barrel Case

Heuer Carrera – Third Generation Barrel Case

The Carrera peaked in the mid-1970s, when both Generation 2 and 3 Carrera’s were on sale at the same time, available with both automatic and manual-wind movements. However at the end of the 70’s production of Heuer’s mechanical movements ceased as they became victims of the price war with quartz.

For the first time with the fourth generation a Carrera with a conventional 3-hand display instead of chronograph was introduced. In the mid eighties a fifth generation appeared using the famous Lemania 5100 movement (by this point Nouvelle Lemania had becomes a part owner of Heuer) and this lasted a short period until Heuer became TAG Heuer and the new company went in a different direction and the Carrera became a relic of the past. But of course the Carrera did rise again in 1996, when the original Carrera was relaunched with enormous success, “TAG Heuer was the first to simply reproduce a historical model and make it saleable. Now everybody in the industry is doing this.” states Jack Heuer about the relaunch.

TAG Heuer Carrera: 50th Anniversary Edition

Jack Heuer (2013) - Wearing TAG Heuer Carrera

Jack Heuer (2013) – Wearing TAG Heuer Carrera

To celebrate 50 years of the Carrera as well as Jack Heuer’s 80th birthday two special editions were launched earlier this year, one vintage-inspired and the other more avant-garde.

The first, the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 1887 Chronograph Jack Heuer Edition, was designed by Jack himself with a 45-mm case, and produced in a limited edition of 3,000 pieces. Jack helped design the second too; the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 17 Jack Heuer 80 Years Edition, this draws its inspiration from the groundbreaking Mikrogirder. Both editions are inspired by the original 1963 Carrera.

TAG Heuer Carrera - 50th Anniversary Edition

TAG Heuer Carrera – 50th Anniversary Edition

The TAG Heuer Carrera is a very important watch which has helped popularize wristwatch chronographs and its design has inspired a thousand imitations. The Carrera vintage watches are highly sought after by collectors, especially the rare gold model, a favorite of Heuer itself!

More resources about the TAG Heuer Carrera on DreamChrono, WikipediaOfficial TAG Heuer Website.

    Author Bio

    Articles by Matthew Boston


    Matthew Boston has worked in the computer graphics industry for 17 years in various parts of the world, currently residing back home in the UK. His interest in watches was first piqued as a youngster when he was fascinated by a Seiko digital watch he received. He's also founder of UniqueWatchGuide which is dedicated to sharing the news about timepieces that are unusual, unconventional and more often than not unobtainable.