Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to reflect new additions and changes for 2016.
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. 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. And though today its 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.
Additional Contribution by James Stacy
For less than the cost of an exotic oil change, the Autodromo Prototipo offers a late-’60s-style racing chronograph to amp up your morning commute, even if you walk to work. The Prototipo features a 42mm-wide steel case in a brushed or PVD black finish, and comes in a number of dial colors that evoke the brash style of prototype racing in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when car paint schemes were equally bright. Despite its retro appeal, the Prototipo uses a modern Seiko-sourced hybrid “Meca-Quartz” VK64 movement. The movement is battery powered, but it combines a mechanical system for the chronograph, allowing the Prototipo to boast a sweeping seconds hand and instant chrono reset.
Tissot T-Race Chronograph
Cars get all the attention when it comes to motorsport-inspired timepieces, but Tissot is one of the few companies partnering up with a two-wheel racing series. The brand has been the official timekeeper of MotoGP since 2002, and to celebrate that they created the T-Race Chronograph in 2004. That inspiration shows in its design — a bezel designed to mimic the brake rotors of a motorcycle, the crown-guard integrated into the date magnifier, giving it the look and feel of a brake caliper. The T-Race continues to be popular to this day, and available with a quartz chronograph movement at a frugal $650 it remains a bargain in the realm of motorsport-inspired watches.
Raidillon Racing Collection
Named after the infamous sweeping, uphill right-hand corner at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps racetrack, Belgian watch brand Raidillon makes both three-hand and chronograph watches with sporty and traditional race-inspired designs. Each watch is a super-limited run of 55 pieces and utilizes either a ETA or Valjoux movement. While many pieces are subtle homages to the mid-century’s heyday in motorsport, Raidillon’s Racing collection in particular invokes the company’s namesake with some timepieces displaying the name of each Spa-Francorchamps corner at every hour or commemorating Phil Hill’s 1961 win at the circuit.
Guiliano Mazzuoli Manometro
“Manometro” means “pressure gauge” in Italian. That’s exactly what this watch looks like — the brass and glass gauges that were (and still are) used to take tire pressures. The Manometro features a gauge-like display and a 45.2mm cylindrical case with integrated lugs and a crown at 10 or 2 o’clock. There are versions offering multiple dial colors and case materials ranging from steel, to titanium and even carbon fiber, all powered by a Swiss ETA 2824 automatic movement.
Omega Speedmaster Racing Co-Axial
Before it became known for its role in space exploration, the Omega Speedmaster was intended as a timepiece for race car drivers, its dial design inspired by the dashboards of Italian cars from the era. To celebrate the Speedy’s racing roots, OMEGA created a “Racing” version that features a black aluminum tachymetric scale on the bezel (the Speedmaster was the first to move the tachy to the bezel from the dial), a 40mm case, and triangular “Clou de Paris” patterns on the subdials, with both a rubber and steel strap.
TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 18
TAG Heuer’s chronographs are closely associated with legendary racers (and the men who played them) like Joe Siffert and Steve McQueen. The Carrera Calibre 18 is a perfect modern take on Heuer’s racing legacy, with vintage styling (including the old Heuer logo), a modern automatic chronograph movement and a perforated tropic-style leather strap. Thanks to the automatic Calibre 18 within, this 39mm 30-minute chronograph can easily manage tracking lap times from either the stands or the driver’s seat.
Chopard Mille Miglia GT XL Power Control
Since 1988, Chopard has been the official timekeeper and partner of the Mille Miglia road rally in Italy. To celebrate the partnership, Chopard has a dedicated line of vintage car-inspired watches, including the likes of the GT XL Power Control, which displays a 46-hour power reserve gauge inspired by the fuel gauge of a vintage Italian racer. Beating inside the 44mm stainless steel case is a 24-jewel automatic movement made in-house in Fleurier, Switzerland.
Halda Race Pilot
The Halda Race Pilot is quite literally two watches in one. Its two modules — one mechanical (and sourced from Zenith, no less) and one full-digital Race Module — mount into a single watch-like frame. The 45mm-wide titanium Race Module boasts not only a chronograph, dual time zones and a perpetual calendar, but also g-force indication, FIA Race countdown timing, a race-tuned alarm and information for 150 racetracks worldwide. Combining track data, timing and information from its sensors, the Race Pilot can calculate information such as average speed and even lap records. Of course, its price means you might just need to lock down a few more corporate sponsors.
IWC Ingenieur Double Chronograph Titanium
IWC created the Ingenieur Double Chronograph Titanium from materials used in the development of Formula 1 cars. (The case is titanium; the screw heads in the bezel, carbon.) Sporting these materials, it invokes the raw mechanical inspiration of an F1 car’s underpinnings and by sporting a “double chronograph” function (which allows the watch to act as a split-lap timer) the Ingenieur Double Chronograph is a dignified take on the Formula 1 watch.
Rolex Cosmograph Daytona
Named after the Daytona International Speedway, the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona is the brand’s iconic chronograph. It’s been produced since 1963 and the watch choice of actor and race car driver Paul Newman, who famously wore his Daytona every day from 1972 until his death in 2008. The watch features the company’s 4130 self-winding chronograph movement, a tachymeter bezel and is available in a variety of metals including 904L stainless steel, pink gold and platinum.