Driving Watch Guide

Driving & Racing Watches

Men and cars go together like white on rice, ketchup and mustard and husbands and wives. Since the dawn of motorized vehicles, mans fascination with driving has developed into life long passions, pursuits, and for some, careers.

There’s something about the roar of the engine, the smell of the tire hitting the road and that rush of adrenaline as you conquer speeds that fuel you with freedom and relieve your frustrations, leaving the everyday world in your rearview mirror.

Whether your love is race cars, muscle cars or luxury cars, most men have an affinity for anything on wheels. For the men who read my luxury watch column at Gentleman’s Gazette, that passion is carried into the field of horology, and for many, those avocations collide. Somehow watches and motorcars have long been intertwined, with many timepiece designs being influenced by motor trends. Regardless of whether you enjoy a bike on two wheels, a Rolls on four or a Bugatti that leaves them all behind, there is a watch that is designed harmoniously with your car fascinations in mind.

Paul Newman

Paul Newman & the Rolex Daytona

Paul Newman & the Rolex Daytona

For many, the love of watches and cars is attributed to celebrity drivers such as legendary race car driver and actor Paul Newman who famously sported the Rolex Daytona as he stood by his cars and drove them. To this very day, Paul Newman epitomizes cool elegance. The ultimate man’s man, Newman was the type of guy men wanted to be like and women wanted to be with. Of course, most of you know by now that I am not the type of collector who buys a watch simply because a celebrity endorses it. In fact, in most cases, a celebrity or brand endorsement cheapens the watch in my opinion, reducing any respect I may have previously had for it.

Paul Newman is an exception. It’s because of him that the Rolex Daytona is considered one of the most important time pieces in the history of watchmaking and racing. He became synonymous with the brand and so closely affiliated, not for profit, but for a true passion and love for the watch he wore on his wrist. His timeless masculinity created an image that embodied everything Rolex stood for, and of course it could be said the other way around. While Newman and Rolex didn’t invent driving watches, they certainly leant a hand in publicizing them. It is because of this relationship between driver and watch that so many brands have continued to market to the motorsport industries.

Rolex Daytona Paul Newman

Rolex Daytona Paul Newman

Top Picks

If you’re a car lover, here’s the list of watches that might just be right for you.

Classic Car

Classic Car

For the All Around Car Guy

If you watch old episodes of Tool Time and think Tim Allen’s character resembles you, then you’re probably an all around car lover. To you it doesn’t matter if the car is a beat up old chevy or a gleaming red Dusenberg, it’s the art of the build and the power within that makes you love any metal beast on wheels. Chances are you’re happy in that classic Mustang but equally thrilled cruising to the beach in Jaguar. You’ll race a Lamborghini or drool over the simplicity of a Vespa. Cars are cars. Bikes are bikes. You love them all.

If that’s the case, then you’re pretty much a Paul Newman kind of guy. Newman owned a race team, raced cars himself but also marveled over a variety of styles and types from luxury touring sedans to beat up jalopies he could spend hours fixing in his garage.

For this reason, my pick for you is none other than Paul Newman’s beloved Rolex Daytona.

When it comes to Rolex watches, the Daytona is pretty much the pinnacle of the collection. While the Submariner is equally popular, the Daytona is revered by horologists and professional drivers alike. If you read my article on the top sport watches, you’ll remember that the Daytona was my top choice for driving.

It still is.

For the Classic Car Guy

If you’re like me and love historic automobiles, than boy do I have the watch for you. Whether it’s a Jag roadster from the 50′s or a Mercedes from the 20′s, there is nothing more classic than the Heuer Autavia.

Developed originally for use in automobile and aviation dashboards, the Autavia takes it’s name from the first parts of “automobile” and “aviation”. With a huge range of models over the last few decades, it’s easy to find one that suits your personal taste and style.

This is pretty much the godfather of the driving watches and a respected piece in any car loving horologist’s collection.

For the Speedster

If you live life in the fast lane, dream of launching into space simply for the speed and rush of the journey, and plan to buy a McLaren or Bugatti when you win the lottery than the Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti 370 is the pick for you.

Named after the car, this watch takes timekeeping to the next level. Cleverly nicknamed “the fastest watch in the world” it resembles the car in appearance, featuring more than 300 different components that make up the watch. If you own a Bugatti you need to own this watch. End of story.

Jaguar XK140

Jaguar XK140

For the Classic Racer

You’re the guy who lives in upstate New York. You enjoy long drives in your 1956 Jaguar XK140 and picnics in the Hamptons with your girlfriend. You attended the finest schools, pride yourself on being the ultimate prep and wear boatshoes and anchor bracelets like they’re going out of style.

You’re a top down, Rayban’s out, hair in the wind kind of guy who exudes confidence and has no problem passing other cars in an effort to make good time. You pride yourself on living life in the fast lane, but you live life as elegantly as you possibly can. In the summer you drink gin, in the winter brandy and Scotch everywhere in between.

For you, there is no watch more perfect than the Cartier Roadster. From the brand that well invented mens luxury, comes the classically refined Roadster; a watch designed for racing but worn by men who don’t change their own oil.

There really is nothing more elegant in the racing scene than this watch. Sure you could easily say that there are chronographs on the market that are more simplistic and refined, but none that were designed specifically with automobiles in mind.

This is a watch that pairs perfectly with summer beach attire but can also slip seamlessly under a well tailored blazer or sports jacket. It may not go with your business suit but let’s face it, you don’t drive your Jag to work.

Cartier roadster chronograph

Cartier roadster chronograph

For the A-Lister

It’s rather shocking how many celebrities read this column. I suppose luxury watches go hand in hand with new money, but when I interview recording artists, I’m always shocked at how many of them read my watch articles.

If you live in Beverly Hills but prefer luxury over speed, chances are you have a driver. For those who enjoy being in the drivers seat, one of the most popular cars on Rodeo is the Bentley Continental GT. The luxury car that keeps the driver in mind, the GT is really what paved the way for other luxury car manufacturers to move away from the back seat comforts and into the front seat paddle shifters. With the new Rolls Royce Wraith among others, luxury seekers now have options if they want to leave the back of the Maybach and take over the wheel.

For those drivers, there are many watches that can fit the profile, but one that really stands out is the Bentley inspired Breitling Bentley Supersports Chronograph. Made specifically for Bentley Motorcars, Breitling had to take the avionics out of its style and focus on building a watch that had all the bells and whistles pilots love, with the style and elegance sought after by America’s elite who didn’t fly their own planes, but did own them.

Breitling for Bentley Supersport

Breitling for Bentley Supersport

If you’re looking for a watch that pairs with your Bentley and the dealership didn’t give you one as a gift, stop by a Breitling retailer and pick up this Chronograph. It’s one way of saying you own a Bentley without being in the car and wearing the shirts.

For those who don’t actually own a Bentley, consider a different model so you don’t look like Joey from Friends.

Other Watches Worth Their Weight

Tag Heuer Monaco

You know by now my disdain for Tag watches. However, when it comes to driving watches this really is one of the best. Just as Paul Newman made the Rolex Daytona famous, the Monaco is heavily influenced by one of Hollywood’s manliest of men; Steve McQueen.

Another great option for the classically inspired car enthusiast, the Monaco carries a proud racing tradition and is offered on the vintage market in a variety of styles and models. Also, it’s available in many different new versions.

Richard Mille RM 011 Flyback Chronograph

A relatively new name on the block, Richard Mille has quickly gained a reputation for making some of the most intricate and well respected sports watches in the luxury market. The Flyback Chronograph is no exception. For anyone who enjoys the fastest cars on the road but perhaps finds the Bugatti 370 slightly out of their comfort zone, this watch may prove to be a good contender. It’s by no means “classic” but it’s also not as avant-garde as the Fleurier. It’s still ridiculously innovative but somehow a little more cultured in appearance.

Tag Heuer Carrera

Another classic driving timepiece, the Carrera is about as famous as the Daytona. It’s the most well known of Tag’s lineup and of course is named after the car race Carrera Panamericana. It’s not one of my favorite watches but if you’re looking for a fairly entry-level timepiece that suits the sport, this is a tough one to beat, and affordable too.

Blancpain L-Evolution Super Trofeo

This is a really fantastic watch for any car collector with money to burn. This isn’t the watch if you work as a tradesman but spend money on old relics you can fix up, but it is if you’re the self-made millionaire in Sarasota with a seven car garage and a few six figured cars in stock. If you have varied tastes and enjoy everything from a Lamborghini to a Corvette, with an Aston Martin thrown in for good measure, this may be the perfect all-around watch for the all-around car and watch enthusiast.

Chopard’s Superfast Chrono

If you’re the fast-talking sports agent in Hollywood this is your new watch. High priced sales is your thing and making a statement with a bang is what you do best. The Hublot Big Bang Caviar may be a bit much, but when you have a big meeting with a superstar client and want your watch to do the selling, this is the one on your wrist. It’s basically a Texas-sized billboard that advertises your fast paced lifestyle with a bit of gold thrown in so there’s no confusion about just how much you spent on it. With the Chopard name behind it, every woman from London to Tokyo is going to fall in your arms hoping to seal the deal on an engagement ring with that very same name. You drive a fast car, only date supermodels and need a watch that can keep up with you. This is the watch that gets attention so if you’re okay not being the shy guy in the room, this may be your pick. Rev your engine and throw your keys to the valet, you and your watch don’t stop for anything.

Conclusion

Cars and watches have a longstanding and illustrious history together. Most diehard watch collectors have at least one auto-inspired timepiece in their bank. While I often stress that anyone looking to buy a first watch should focus on a dress watch, it goes without saying that there are certain oil junkies who like nice things but will never wear a suit and tie. If your life is motorsports, consider something like the Cartier Roadster or a vintage Daytona as an initial investment piece. When a watch fits your lifestyle like a glove, there is no better feeling than buying it. Especially if you don’t plan on developing a collection.

For those who do have a collection but are looking to add to it, the aforementioned timepieces should provide you with a few options whether it’s your first driving watch or your fifth.

For a first pick, my top choices would be the Cartier Roadster, the Heuer Autavia or the Rolex Daytona. If you happen to own them already, consider something more unique like a Richard Mille flyback or the Chopard. They’ll make an exquisite addition to your collection and you’ll be proud to show them off.

If you race for a living or rely on the chronograph and watch to maintain impeccable time, I highly recommend testing the watch on a regular basis. While a good watch should keep for many years to come, it is still prone to damage and should always be checked before it’s needed. As a journalist, I use a voice recorder for all my interviews. I may own one of the most expensive and reliable recorders on the market, but I always double check to make sure it’s in good working order before I hit record. Since I require it for my job and it would make life difficult if it failed during an interview, I also keep a backup on me just in case. Similarly, never trust your watch to work. Have a backup and expect the unexpected.

17 replies
  1. uta
    uta says:

    I never particularly liked the look of the Rolex Daytona.. However, over the years I have collected a lovely 1967 Omega Seamaster, a 1972 Rolex Master Mariner and a rare Breitling Navitimer 1966. To me they are in a class of their own.

    Reply
    • J.A. Shapira
      J.A. Shapira says:

      Hi Uta,

      You’re not alone in that regard. I as well, have never been an all-out fan of the Daytona, or many of Rolex’s watches for that matter. However, when it comes to motorsports, it’s one timepiece that simply can’t be forgotten and it has truly earned its stripes as the quintessential race car watch. Tell me a little more about your Navitimer. Do you have pictures of it you’d be willing to share?

      Reply
  2. Mark
    Mark says:

    Thanks for the post J.A. However, please review the part about the Tag Heuer Carrera. “It’s the most well known of Tag’s lineup and of course is named after the car itself.”

    No, of course it is named after the Carrera Panamericana speed adventure.

    Mark

    Reply
    • J.A. Shapira
      J.A. Shapira says:

      I am so happy you noticed that Mark. Thank you. I’d love to say I have a good excuse for why I said that, but for some reason I cannot recall why I would ever do such a thing. Yes, you are correct. Jack Heuer named it after the iconic race, not the car. Well said Mark. I appreciate you mentioning it. Also, thank you Raphael, for correcting it. :)

      Best,

      J.A. Shapira

      Reply
  3. Kory D
    Kory D says:

    Finally, you make a joke about having to win the lottery to afford some of these things. Only for most of us, it’s not a joke.

    Reply
  4. Arthur Berberian Filho
    Arthur Berberian Filho says:

    Hi!

    OMEGA have a special editions about racing cars.
    I have a OMEGA Speedmaster 125 years celebration and it’s a very beautiful watch!

    Thanks for the newsletter!
    Arthur

    Reply
    • J.A. Shapira
      J.A. Shapira says:

      Hi Calvin,

      I think the comment that gentleman made where he called his watch a Rolex Marine Master was probably just an accident. I’m quite sure he was referring to the Yachtmaster by Rolex. I assume it was his comment you were referring to?

      Best,

      J.A. Shapira

      Reply
      • Calvin
        Calvin says:

        Hello J.A. Shapira,

        I am referring to Uta’s post, it is impossible for it to be a “Yacht-Master” as the “Yacht-Master” was first introduced in 1992 and it is not a dive watch.

        The only Rolex dive watches available in 1972 were the “Submariner” and the “Sea-Dweller.”

        Best,

        Calvin

        Reply
        • J.A. Shapira
          J.A. Shapira says:

          Good observation. I failed to look at the date. Could very well be an error nevertheless. You’d be shocked to find out how many watches I’m asked for information on and how far off the names are that are used. I suppose if we did get into the technicality we could use the prototypes from 67-69 but the likelihood of owning one of them is almost impossible. Funny story, I was once told by a gentleman his watch was a Rolex Submariner and when he showed it to me it was obviously a Casio. He told me it was a “custom” where Rolex partnered with Casio to create a very rare watch. I immediately walked away. That’s one case of blatant lying. However, I am often asked to consult on watches where people have either inherited them or bought them from an unscrupulous dealer and believe them to be something they aren’t. Way to look at the date though. I didn’t even think of that so good eye!

          Best,

          J.A. Shapira

          Reply

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