Anniversaries are devices used by the watch industry to celebrate classic models. Yet, is there any sense in marking the 55th anniversary of the Carrera, so soon after TAG Heuer made such a grand time of this model’s 50th year? The answer can be found in the very historical lineage being commemorated by the Carrera-related activities below: during the past five years, the collectability of all vintage Heuers (anything pre-1985 is pre-TAG) has skyrocketed into the value sector that contains classic Omegas, if not quite Rolex territory. Yes, we now live in a world where certain Carreras can command £25,000 or more.

A Day at The Museum

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the Carrera, is to visit the company’s museum. It is, as they say, “small but perfectly formed”. The display is in a single large room with the air of a planetarium: dark, with illuminated spots and a clever system of displaying the brand’s history that has the fun element of an attraction at Disney World.

TAG Heuer Carrera 55 Anniversary
TAG Heuer Carrera 55 Anniversary

You walk around showcases that have the timepieces grouped by eras. A nifty touch is the system used for close examination of each watch while it is in situ. On top of each horizontal glass case is a massive magnifier, looking a bit like a Rolex “Cyclops”, that you simply slide over the watch you wish to examine. The exhibition starts with the earliest pocket watches, focuses on chronographs throughout, and has themed areas to cover genres, such as Formula 1 or motorsport-related models, as well as the evolution of specific models, such as the Monaco or Autavia.

Carrera, 1965
Carrera, 1965
Carrera, 1965
Carrera, 1965
Carrera, 1965
Carrera, 1965

Of course, there are items that stop you in your tracks, including a plethora of actual pieces owned by motor-racing legends. Steve McQueen, and one of the actual Monacos from the film Le Mans, have a fascinating display of their own, and the thought of standing mere inches away from one of the five most famous wristwatches of all-time is humbling. (You figure out the other four, starting with a certain watch owned by another racing-mad Hollywood legend…)

Memories – if you’re an old fart – come flooding back, like the colourful plastic-strapped “economy model” TAG Heuer Formula 1 watches of 1986, which I think were the first to wear the TAG Heuer logo. I recall that they sold for around £100, and had the same funky, mix ’n’ match appeal of the less-expensive Swatches of the day. It’s refreshing to see a spread in assorted colours, recalling a time when TAG Heuer was making entry-level quartz models. And realising how times change.

There are gold commemorative models, prototypes, stopwatches, chronographs from between the two world wars, presentation watches and ultra-rare limited editions to ogle. And whichever model you might favour, be it a Silverstone or Autavia or Monza or Modena, it has its section in the museum.

Carrera, 1970
Carrera, 1970
Carrera, 1970
Carrera, 1970

Appreciating the sense of occasion, I wore my own 1964 Heuer Carrera, an early two sub-dial example of the model that I willingly handed over to one of the watchmakers from the company’s restoration department to identify. I cannot begin to describe the joy when he came back to me, his loupe still in position, to tell me it was 100-per-cent correct, “but a little dry”. Given its factory approval, a full service is on the cards – which it certainly deserves.

Carrera, 1964
Carrera, 1964

On The Road

Racing fans know that the collection takes its name from the famous week-long Carrera Panamericana road race held in Mexico during the 1950s, one of the most gruelling competitions in the history of the sport, believed by some drivers to be the most dangerous of them all. The short-lived border-to-border race was fought with sedans and sports cars on open roads in Mexico, a challenge reminiscent of the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio in Italy.

Carrera Panamericana road race
Carrera Panamericana road race

It ran for only five consecutive years, 1950-1954, and was cancelled after the tragedy of the 1955 Le Mans race when French driver Pierre Bouillin was killed along with 83 spectators after a crash resulted in large pieces of debris flying into the crowd. Like other historic races that had run their courses, so to speak, it was revived in 1988 as an annual rally for pre-1955 collectors’ vehicles. With a model that honours the race, TAG Heuer was the natural choice as both a partner and the competition’s Official Timekeeper.

From the outset, the first Heuer Carrera chronograph of 1963 was aimed at drivers, who appreciated it immediately because, for the first time, the ring securing the dial on the case featured a seconds scale. Lucid and easy to read, the watch was an exemplar of ergonomics and clarity. A prominent, ridged crown enabled daily winding by a driver’s gloved hand, the push-buttons were easy to access, and the dial’s minimalism still allowed for clear indices and sub-divisions in the watch’s recessed counters.

Carrera, 1963
Carrera, 1963

By 1969, the world’s watchmakers had access to automatic chronographs, Heuer being a key player in the race to be the first to manufacture such a movement. Its Calibre 11 soon found its way into the Carrera. At the same time, under the aegis of Jack Heuer, the company became the first watch brand to sponsor Formula 1; the museum’s display of some of the actual drivers’ watches attests to this, with a number of the drivers serving as ambassadors by wearing a Heuer Carrera chronograph.

Self-winding Carrera, 1969
Self-winding Carrera, 1969

Lucky For Some

Which brings us to the TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 02. To mark the anniversary in style, a single offering would not be enough, so the watch will be available in 13 variants, including combinations of steel, carbon, ceramic or gold cases and case elements, with metal, rubber, leather or ceramic bracelets or straps. Also part of the new Carrera family is a 45mm version with GMT function. The models have a mighty legacy to uphold.

TAG Heuer Carrera 55 Anniversary

To create a Carrera for the 55th Anniversary, TAG graced the Carrera Heuer 02 automatic chronographs with modular cases and bezels with tachymeter scales. The classic 3-6-9 counter layout from 1963 has been retained, with chronograph minutes and hours at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock respectively, real-time small seconds at 6 o’clock and date window at 4:30. Legibility remains a priority, so luminescent baton hands and indices have been included.

TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 02
TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 02

Through the skeleton dial and sapphire caseback, one can appreciate the new movement. The Heuer 02 calibre is an automatic manufacture chronograph, developed and produced by TAG Heuer. It contains 168 components, including the elements prized highly by enthusiasts: a column wheel and a vertical clutch. The movement oscillates at a frequency of 4Hz and has a generous 80-hour power reserve from a single barrel.

TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 02
TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 02

If this has whetted your appetite, or increased your interest in the Carrera, and you’re unlikely to be visiting the factory museum, take heart in one other key element of the anniversary festivities. TAG Heuer has issued a special-edition book called Ahead of Its Time that recounts the highlights of the Carrera saga, identifying the models that created the legend while telling the story from its birth in 1963. The tome is available in the brand’s boutiques, and can be ordered from tagheuer.com.