Watches

This Tag Heuer Celebrates Ferrari's Greatest Comeback

A very special timepiece for Niki Lauda's 1975 F1 championship.

BY Blake Z. Rong | Apr 6, 2016 | News

Wikimedia Commons/Calibre 11

Here was nothing if not at the right place, at the right time. Buoyed by the strength of introducing one of the world's first automatic chronographs (wristwatch-stopwatch hybrids) in 1969—with a partnership from Breitling, and against Seiko and Zenith—TAG Heuer leapt off Steve McQueen's racing suit and thoroughly entrenched itself into Formula One. Mild-mannered Swiss driver Jo Siffert had his own Heuer Autavia, which he pushed like a salesman to his fellow drivers. "If you looked around the Formula One circuit," noted charismatic CEO Jack Heuer, "they all wore a Heuer Chronograph!"

On April 7th, 1971, Heuer paid a visit to Enzo Ferrari. Things must have been tense in Maranello. Ferrari hadn't won a Drivers Championship since John Surtees in 1964. The company was losing money and had to sell 50% of the company to Fiat. Enzo still remained entirely in charge of the ring program, but 1971 was the year he stepped away from the road cars. What's more, on the Le Mans front, Ferrari had just suffered its third year in a row of being trounced by a couple of Americans and a Texan chicken farmer.  

It couldn't have been an easy meeting. But, as Heuer recalled, the ensuing agreement happened immediately: Heuer would sponsor Scuderia Ferrari and become the team's official timekeeper, and Ferrari would place a Heuer logo underneath the windshield of its 312B race car. Heuer would be F1 and F1 would be Heuer. Enzo even signed the deal with his signature violet pen. 

Four years later, Niki Lauda, driving a 312T, ended Ferrari's Driver's Championship drought. 

It was Lauda's "unbelievable year." Heuer, in term celebrated the occasion. The special, brand new watch, carried a very appropriate name: Monza. 

Heuer's watches were all named after exciting things. The Monaco! The Carrera! The Autavia: a combination of the words "autos" and "aviation," two activities favoured by well-off '70s rapscallions demanding the ultimate timing and precision. Those are just the famous ones, but there's also the obscurities: VeronaMontrealJarama. They are no less interesting or exciting. But they are not often found on the wrists of bon vivants currently plodding across air-cooled Porsche rallies somewhere in California, where Heuer stickers are mandatory and therefore period correct. 

The Monza might fit into the latter category. It wasn't a very fancy special edition, nor was it even meant to be pricey. A simple dial, a cheap brass case shaped like a Carrera's, and a simplified Calibre 15 movement (reduced from the flagship Calibre 12). But it had two things going for it: first, it was one of the first watches entirely rendered in PVD. The all-black look, the red and white simplicity, the perfectly asymmetrical sub-dials, the air of sinister intrigue that you'd never imagine a watch could possess—the Monza is the watch version of Frankenstein's mask from Death Race 2000. 

The second thing? It was sold in this slick Heuer helmet

Two generations of the Monza were made from 1976 to 1985. Early models have a small running-seconds counter tucked away in the upper left. Later models switched to the fancier, full-on Calibre 12 movement, and the dial design was balanced out. Compare them, side-by-side, and you'll get the idea. A cool Racing Mate edition came out to celebrate the Japanese racing parts company, which is cool only in the way that obscure branded watches can be.

The Monza name was brought back in 2000 for a Tag Heuer revival—only without the blacked-out PVD finish, barrel-case shape, or historical lineage. So, nothing at all like it.

Fortunately, the recent re-reintroduction of the Monza name at 2016's Baselworld is far more successful.

Lauda not only broke Ferrari's championship drought, but repeated his success with season victories in 1976 and 1977. Ferrari won the Driver's Championship with Jody Scheckter in 1979. It wouldn't win the Driver's Championship again until 2000.

Of course, Heuer's racing cred was by then sufficiently bolstered. If nothing but the original will do, then you can take heart in knowing that good examples pop up on eBay at the low end of the vintage-obsessive price range. You can also take heart in knowing that the precious authenticity we all strive for and fail to find sometimes, that racing lineage you can trace back to Lauda, Ferrari, and all those greats—well, it's present and accounted for.

From: Road & Track via Esquire UK.