Sport watches and motorsport - flashback

By: Steve Nally , Photography by: Ellen Dewar & Steve Nally

Presented by

tim schenken tim schenken

When motorsport and sports watches first met Tim Schenken was there

From Unique Cars #320, Jan/Feb 2011 (all prices quoted as at 2011)

For 38 years, Tim Schenken has worn one of the rarest watches in the world – an original Heuer Carerra Date chronograph. Only 150 were ever made and while it’s not the most expensive watch ever produced (despite being easily the priciest Heuer in the early ’70s), it’s provenance makes it very valuable today. For Schenken, it is an 18-carat gold time capsule of memories from the most vital period in his life. These days he is the Director of Racing for the Confederation of Australian Motorsport and his responsibilities include clerk of course for the Australian Grand Prix and race director of V8 Supercars.

But in the late-60s, he was forging a successful racing career culminating in becoming a factory Ferrari sportscar driver in Europe.


Schenken started racing in an Austin A30 and after winning the 1964 Australian Hillclimb Championship, he left for Europe in ’65 and three years later won the first British Formula Ford Championship and Formula 3 championships in the same year – still the only driver to have done so. He won 48 out of 68 races contested that year, including 12 Formula Ford races in a row.

In 1969, he joined the Brabham F3 team, racing in F1 supports. In 1970, he graduated to F2 with Brabham then had his first F1 starts with Frank Williams’ fledgling team before replacing the retiring Jack Brabham and scoring a third in the 1971 Austrian Grand Prix. In all, Schenken had 33 F1 starts, including stints with Surtees, ISO and Trojan.

tim-schenken-watch-engraving.jpgThe inscribed Heuer Carrera Date presented to Tim Schenken by Jack Heuer when Schenken was a factory Ferrari driver

In that era it was common for F1 drivers to race in other categories as well and at the end of ’71, Ferrari approached Schenken to join its sportscar program and race a 3.0-litre, flat-12 312PB with Ronnie Petersen, Jackie Ickx, Mario Andretti, Brian Redman and Clay Regazzoni. The 312PB, with its de-tuned F1 engine, was unbeatable in 1972.

"We [Ferrari] won everything, we won the World Championship for Makes hands-down," Schenken recalls with a smile. Schenken, with Petersen, had his share of the spoils too that year, winning the Buenos Aires and Nurburgring 1000kms and scoring seconds in the Daytona 6-Hour, Sebring 12-Hour, Watkins Glen 6-Hour and Brands Hatch 1000km. And this is when Heuer comes into the picture.

Heuer had developed the world’s first automatic chronograph in 1969 and in the early ’60s, Jack Heuer, the great grandson of the company founder, began using racing to promote his company. In 1971, Heuer formed a technical partnership with Ferrari.

"Heuer provided timing systems. Before that people used split-hand stop watches," Schenken reminisces.

"Heuer had a system with about 12 buttons on a panel that could be assigned to particular cars, and as that car went past, you just pressed the button to get individual lap times to 100th of a second. Stopwatches could only time to a fifth of a second."


The luxury Heuer Carrera Date was first released in 1966 and named after the Carrera Panamerica road race in South America. Jack Heuer presented every factory Ferrari driver from 1971-79 with a Carrera Date. It was reportedly his favourite watch and he had an emotional attachment to it because it was worn by drivers such as Petersen, who did not survive the era.

"I don’t remember the circumstances of receiving the watch, but Jack personally presented one to each of the six Ferrari sportscar drivers and they all have the same inscription," Schenken says.

"It’s only in the last 10-15 years that people comment about the watch, but I’ve worn that watch every day since 1972 – it hasn’t been put in a drawer.

Collecting watches wasn’t a big thing back then and I can’t remember what watch I wore before it.

"This watch has never missed a beat and it’s very rarely serviced," Schenken says proudly. "We have both survived and I guess the watch will outlive me – my son has his eye on it. But I’ve had a pretty good life." Some would say Schenken’s had the time of his life...


Few people know the Australian watch market better than Eric van der Griend, the founder of importer Swiss Time and luxury retailer Watches of Switzerland, and he can almost point to a moment in time when motorsport and watches aligned to become what is now a billion dollar business. Average purchases at Watches of Switzerland run to $4500-5000.

Van der Griend started Swiss Time in 1989 importing TAG Heuer, which had begun sponsoring the McLaren Formula One team after TAG (Techniques Avant Garde) owner, Mansour Ojeh, bought the famous Swiss Heuer company.

tag-heuer-carrera-chronograph.jpgTag Heuer Carrera Chronograph. Automatic, steel case, tachymetre, 41mm, water resistant to 50m. (RRP $3995, 2011)

"TAG Heuer really got going in about 1984 when the sports watch phenomenon was just starting," van der Griend says. "They captured a good position in the market because they focused on one segment [motorsport]. TAG really pioneered sponsorship branding with watches.

"TAG was well established in Japan when Ayrton Senna was at McLaren and 80 percent of our business was duty-free to Japanese tourists. TAG Heuer hasn’t been official F1 timer for years but people still think they are and TAG still uses McLaren drivers in advertising."

Van der Griend is no longer the TAG Heuer importer but it is still his biggest selling brand in an elite catalogue that also includes Oris (he’s the agent), Breitling, Cartier, Ebel, IWC, Jaeger leCoultre, Longines, Omega, Audemars Piguet and Panerai. Everything old is new again when it comes to watches, he says.

tag-heuer-monaco.jpgTag Heuer Monaco. Stainless steel, 39mm, mechanical self-winding automatic chronograph. (RRP $6250, 2011)

"The TAG Carrera has been a mainstay for the last five years but TAG is also re-editioning old stuff – everyone is – like the [’60s] Monaco and tweaking them up. It comes back to how long you’ve been established. Vacheron Constantine have been around since 1755, Heuer since 1860 and IWC since 1848."

Today, watches are as much about fashion as they are function and van der Griend says sizes have increased as buyers wanted to flaunt their style more.

"When I started in 1980, it was all about the thinnest watch, like the Concord Delirium, which was 1.8mm thick, and they were all quartz watches. But by the late ‘80s it was all about size.

"There are two sides to the industry: the authenticity, watch-making ability and heritage side – people like to know brands have been around for a while – and the fashion side. It also comes back to dial colours and size of cases.

"We’ve got an Oris Diver’s that is 51mm in diameter. But 41-42mm seems to be a good size for a round gents watch. A lot of Omega Seamasters are now 45.5mm and that’s certainly a good size and Panerai’s best seller is 44mm. Then there’s the thickness. A chronograph almost has two watch modules, so the case is thicker."

The Australian market has really matured, van der Griend says, and there is now a boom in collector watches.

tag-heuer-grand-carrera.jpgTag Heuer Grand Carrera. Certified chronometer, 43mm, brushed steel, water resistant to 100m. (RRP $7500, 2011)

"There’s a lot more sophistication in Australia now in terms of men and watches. They’re looking for little complications on the dial, like a power reserve indicator, or GMT hand.

"Panerai has a nice linear power reserve indicator – it’s boys’ toys stuff.

"Originally guys were interested in the look, but now they’re more interested in the movement as well. We sell a lot of Omega and many start their collection with the Omega Speedmaster ‘moon’ watch." And the next big thing?

"Who knows?" van der Griend shrugs. "A guy asked me how we sell watches when people have phones with watches. Watches are a male accessory now. There’s not much men can spend money on to accessorise themselves apart from a car or a nice suit." Or a great watch.

jaeger-lecoultre.jpgJaeger Lecoultre Aston Martin VOX2 DBS. Stainless steel, open-worked dial, water resistant to 50m. (RRP $20,300, 2011)


PATEK PHILLIPE – "It’s known as the collector’s watch because of their limited production. Even their current stuff is very well sought after locally."

PANERAI – "A great [old] brand that has been developed in the last 15 years – they are very collectable. Panerai only makes 1000 of each model a year. It keeps demand high."

IWC – "A great brand from their classic pilot watch to the Grand Complication. It has a chronograph, perpetual movement and repeater, which is pretty special. Unfortunately, it’s quite expensive."

ROLEX – "The Daytona, which was worn by Paul Newman in the film Winning, set Rolex up in terms of desirability for men. The Submariner is also a classic."

ORIS – "A really good mechanical watch that doesn’t cost $6-8000 dollars. They do a really good dive watch and the Williams Formula One watch."

oris-williams-f1-team.jpgOris Williams F1 Team stainless steel chronograph, 45mm, automatic, water resistant to 100m. (RRP $2895, 2011)


Watch companies have aligned themselves with race teams and major events for decades, using the high-tech arena of motorsport to promote the precision of their intricate timepieces. Manufacturers like Heuer and Longines supplied early but accurate split-timing systems enabling teams to track more than one car down to hundredths of a second – replacing old-fashioned stopwatches.   That led to team and driver sponsorships, highlighting the workmanship of an artisan trade. Watches, particularly those with built-in chronographs (stopwatches) – like racing drivers wore – became cool and the general public began to take notice.

Today, most Formula One teams have an association with a watch manufacturer. McLaren-Mercedes is affiliated with TAG-Heuer, Williams-Cosworth with Oris, Renault with TW Steel, Red Bull-Renault with Casio, Sauber-Ferrari with Certina, Mercedes F1 with Graham London, Virgin-Cosworth with Armin Strom, and Hublot is the official watch manufacturer of F1.

chopard-mille-miglia.jpgChopard Mille Miglia celebrates the famous Italian road race. (RRP $9510, 2011)

Longines, official F1 time keeper in the ’70s and ’80s, also sponsored Ferrari, as did Heuer before it was taken over by TAG.

Any racing driver worth his salt has a watch deal but the two drivers who really kicked off the craze were actually actors. Steve McQueen wore a Heuer Monaco in his 1971 film, Le Mans, and Paul Newman, who became interested in racing after starring in the 1969 flick, Winning, wore a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. Both watches became synonymous with the actors and TAG-Heuer reissued the Monaco some 30 years later.

Even F1 czar Bernie Eccelestone – complete with black eye – recently got into the act, advertising Hublot watches after he was mugged and his Hublot was stolen!

breitling.jpgBreitling has a long association with Bentley; the Bentley Motors T (RRP $11,980, 2011)

Prestige car manufacturers have also forged partnerships with watch companies and there are branded clocks in luxury cars and watch companies offering ranges dedicated to cars, including Breitling (Bentley), Tudor (Porsche), Girard Perregaux (Ferrari), Jaeger LeCoultre (Aston Martin), TW Steel (Spyker) and Parmigiani (Bugatti).

Racetracks and races celebrated by the watch maestros include the Le Mans and Daytona 24 Hours (Rolex), the Mille Miglia (Chopard), Monza (TAG-Heuer), Carrera Panamerica (TAG-Heuer) and the Sebring 12 Hours (Alpina).

There are more luxury watch makers than you could poke an hourglass at, as a quick trawl through a specialist watch magazine will confirm, and what you strap on your wrist is only limited by your budget.


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