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10 High-Octane, Racing and Automotive-Inspired Watches

Watches and motorsport have long been intrinsically linked.

autodromo group b series 2

Cars and watches are a natural fit. Both are traditionally mechanical, and both are products of mindbogglingly complex and precise engineering. Even looking beyond similarities in engineering and design, the watch itself has played an integral role in early motor racing — and these cars have, of course, influenced watch design and functionality in myriad ways.

Early race car drivers wore bulky stopwatches strapped to their wrists to time laps and calculate speeds. Later driving watches had angled dials for easy reading without taking a hand off the wheel. The great chronographs of the 1960s set a high-water mark for design, with bright colors, funky shapes and iconic perforated leather rally straps.

Though today their role in motorsport has become diminished with specialized, ultra-accurate timing systems, there are still watches that capture the scent of exhaust and the sound of engines running wide open on a ribbon of tarmac — a pitch-perfect tribute to this longstanding bond.

Seiko X Giugiaro SCED057

Since 1983, Seiko and Italian design house Italdesign Giugiaro have partnered on a variety of distinct, user-focused timepieces with outside-of-the-box designs. This SCED057 “rider’s” chronograph is just one of their latest. The dial may look like it’s ripped from one of Italdesign’s wedgy, ’80s supercar designs, but the watch is designed for motorcycle riders, with the dial turned 15 degrees clockwise and tilted five degrees towards the rider so that it can be more easily read while astride a bike.

Movement: Seiko 7T12 quartz
Case size: 43mm
Water resistance: 100m

Autodromo Group B Series 2

Autodromo is a quintessential boutique watch brand and an industry leader in making watches that look like dash gauges. The brand’s Group B series is a classic, featuring an integrated bracelet, automatic movement, a striking dial available in different versions and the convincing feel of of the ’80s rally races from which it takes inspiration.

Movement: Miyota 9015 automatic
Case size: 39mm
Water resistance: 50m


Yema Speedgraf

How about some retro racing panache for your wrist in a nicely sized 39mm package? We just can't get enough of the Yema Speedgraf as one of the most affordable, fun and satisfying automatic chronographs you're going to find. Powered by a seldom seen Seiko movement, it's got a domed sapphire crystal and all the little details you'd want — but with a simple execution that makes it feel genuine.

Movement: Seiko NE86 automatic
Case size: 39mm
Water resistance: 50m


Reservoir Supercharged Sport

Many a watchmaker has been inspired by car, airplane and other dashboard gauges, but Reservoir's interpretation is almost literal. Mimicking a the likes of a speedometer, the brand's watches feature a retrograde minute hand (it jumps back to zero when it reaches 60 rather than doing a full rotation around the dial) in combination with the hour (which jumps at the same time) displayed digitally in a window. At the bottom of the dial is a power reserve indicator.

Movement: ETA 2824-2 automatic with Reservoir module
Case size: 43mm
Water resistance: 50m

Raidillon 41-CIC-301

Raidillon is a Belgian-based watch brand named after the infamous sweeping, uphill right-hand corner at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps racetrack. As such, it specializes in motorsport-inspired chronograph watches, both with vintage and modern designs. This particular reference is certainly the latter, with looks penned by Belgian product designer Axel Enthoven. The stark, brushed metallic dial, flat-sided case and knurled crown all look as if they’re plucked from an automotive parts bin in a way that feels dignified rather than cheesy.

Movement: Valjoux 7750 automatic
Case size: 41mm
Water resistance: 100m

Nomos Autobahn Neomatik Datum

Designed with German industrial designer Werner Aisslinger (also a noted car enthusiast), the Autobahn is what happens when Nomos takes a shot at the car gauge-inspired watch dial. The result features a track of lume stretching from eight o’clock to four o’clock, making it appear like an illuminated speedometer. Further, the date function at six o’clock is meant to resemble an odometer, with the window showing three dates at a time.

Movement: Nomos DUW 6101 automatic
Case size: 41mm
Water resistance: 100m


Porsche Design 1919 Chronotimer Sport Chrono

Founded by the designer of the famous Porsche 911 sports car, the whole Porsche Design brand has an obvious automotive connection (though it's a separate entity from the carmaker). Any one of the the brand's watch collections offers something like the feel of Porsche engineering translated for the wrist, but the concept is represented well in the 1919 Chronotimer Sport Chrono. Like nearly all of the brand's watches, it's made in titanium and it's especially fitting with a black coating, as the brand's first watch was also the first to offer a black case.

Movement: Porsche Design WERK 01.100
Case size: 42mm
Water resistance: 100m


TAG Heuer Monaco x Gulf Automatic

This list could very well be littered with Heuer chronographs, as the brand was ubiquitous in the racing scene during the mid 20th century, but the Monaco stands out for a number of reasons. It housed one of the groundbreaking first automatic chronographs of 1969, but it featured other novel and technical elements, as well. Most of all, however, it became associated with actor Steve McQueen, who famously wore it in the 1970 film Le Mans. There are many versions, but this one has a layout like that of the (Caliber 11-powered) originals and the Gulf stripes and logo echo the livery McQueen wore in the movie.

Movement: TAG Heuer Calibre 11 Automatic
Case size: 39mm
Water resistance: 100m


Icon Duesey

And now for something completely different: famed auto restorer Jonathan Ward’s foray into watches. The Duesey is not inspired by the kitted-out off-roaders that made ICON 4×4 famous, but rather by the art deco magnificence of the Duesenberg SJ. The dial is laid out in a rare jump hour configuration — with minutes and hours displayed on rotating discs — meant to resemble the SJ’s “drum style” tachymeter. The windows for the hour and minutes are flanked by a gorgeous piece of polished Onyx stone, and the whole thing is housed in a titanium case.

Movement: ETA 2892 automatic w/ Dubois-Depraz jump hour module
Case size: 42mm
Water resistance: 50m

Rolex Cosmograph Daytona

Rolex’s iconic chronograph is named after the Daytona International Speedway and was seen on many a racer’s wrist, including Hollywood and racing legend Paul Newman. Even today, the watch is given as a trophy to the winners of the grueling 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race. Given a design refresh a couple of years ago, the modern Daytona very closely resembles early iterations of the watch that have made it such a hit with racers and collectors alike.

Movement: Rolex 4130 automatic
Case size: 40mm
Water resistance: 100m


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