Review: TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Anniversary
I don’t know about you but I absolutely love sushi. Describe it and it sounds rubbish: some cold fish slices on a lump of rice squeezed half-to-death by an overworked chef. But put some in your mouth and all your pre-conceived ideas of what it should be disappear. It’s clean, it’s flavourful, it’s refreshingly simple—and so is the TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Anniversary.
When it comes to racy drivers watches, the conversation is usually dominated by Omega’s Speedmaster and Rolex’s Daytona, two very popular watches and deservingly so. The Carrera from TAG Heuer is hardly an unknown, but I do think its credibility sits lower in the company of those others than it should. Sure, it didn’t go to the moon, but then neither did the Cosmograph, and not for want of trying.
No, the Carrera was a pure racers’ watch, with no delusions of grandeur. Not that a Heuer has never been to space; John Glenn, famously the first American to orbit Earth, just so happened to be wearing the first Swiss watch worn in space, a Heuer stopwatch mounted in a wearable wrist strap. Where Rolex asked to go to space, TAG Heuer was invited.
But this isn’t about rockets to the moon, this is about tyres on tarmac. Founder Edouard Heuer soon found fame as a watchmaker after founding the business in 1860, notably patenting an improvement to the oscillating pinion that allowed a chronograph to be started and stopped without hesitation. A small win that made big waves.
Skip ahead to 1911, when people started ditching horses for cars and airships, and Heuer spied an opportunity, and the Time of Trip dash timer was born. And you know what humans are like: if it moves, people will race them, and so the Time of Trip soon found itself in use timing rally stages in the first road races.
Where things really kicked off was when Jack Heuer took over the company. Now, Jack loved his motorsport. Friends with the likes of Enzo Ferrari, Jo Siffert and the Rodríguez brothers, Jack didn’t just see motorsport as an industry he could market to—he lived it. You could find him in the F1 paddock bartering with drivers to wear his watches and sell them on. He even secured the first non-automotive sponsorship deal in F1.
It was while at the 12 Hours of Sebring talking to Pedro Rodríguez that Jack heard about a gruelling Mexican road-race called the Carrera Panamericana. He was to supply the timing equipment for that race, but there was something about the name that stuck with him. Carrera. It certainly helped that motorsport legend Porsche had also been using the name since 1955. It was likely Jack’s relationship with Porsche driver Siffert that smoothed the whole thing over.
In fact, so intertwined with Porsche and motorsport is TAG Heuer that that’s how it got the “TAG” part of the name. It’s the same TAG—Techniques d’Avant Garde—that jointly developed the 1984 McLaren MP4/2 engine with Porsche that purchased Heuer and branded it TAG Heuer.
And so, in 1963, the Heuer Carrera was born. Truth be told, by that time, the look was a little outdated. Rolex and Omega had moved to bold design choices like large, contrasting dials and bezel-mounted tachymeter scales—and the Carrera couldn’t really compete. That didn’t stop it being a success however, at least in Jack’s eyes—perhaps for the same reasons this 160th Anniversary edition is so good today.
Old-fashioned, outdated and uncompetitive, hardly the three key ingredients for a race-winning watch, but nevertheless things have changed a little since 1963. Today, like its equivalent did back then, the 160 Years Anniversary Carrera looks of a different generation to its competitors—and even to the flagship Carrera models in the line—but this watch hasn’t been built with the Jo Sifferts and Pedro Rodríguez of today in mind. I could definitely imagine Charles LeClerc wearing one of these, but TAG Heuer is thinking more of you than him.
What I wonder is perhaps the success of the Carrera in 1963 was because it was old-fashioned, familiar and traditional. The Speedmaster and Cosmograph were lunking great things by comparison to this smaller, more elegant form factor. It’s a different era today but I don’t think that part of it at least has changed.
You get a svelte 39mm case on a leather strap and not bracelet, fitted with a boxy sapphire crystal that hugs a cosy-looking dial for a thickness of 14.28mm. The crown and pushers peek out from the side, free of crown guards or anything new-fangled like that. A skinny 19mm strap doesn’t overburden the deceptively subtle wearability.
Back when the Carrera was initially launched, black or silver were your colour choices, but what makes this limited edition of 1,000 extra special and extra poppin’ is the 70s-inspired Montreal dial colouration. The 70s was an era where people realised they could add colour to things—sometimes too much colour—and Heuer was no exception. For the 160 Years Anniversary edition, the addition of yellow, blue and red to the opaline dial adds a little extra personality. Without it perhaps the watch is just a little too simple.
What really tips the watch over the edge into excellence is the movement. Older watches would’ve been powered by good old ETA, even older by Valjoux—and perhaps more recently with the contentious calibre 1887. This is the more recent calibre 02, a derivative of the 02T tourbillon chronograph that pushed TAG Heuer into affordable complicated for the first time. It’s a proper column wheel chronograph for positive pusher action, gets 80 hours of power reserve at a stable 28,800 vph beat and its pleasant finish is sealed to 100m.
If there was anything to complain about, it would be the choice of strap, which seems at odds with the sporting nature of the watch—but that’s easily changed. The $6,750 price is also quite bold, although resale is surprisingly strong for a watch like this. But if you’re looking for a bit of 60s nostalgia that really is simply refreshing, it’s going to be hard to find something better.
It’s easy to dismiss TAG Heuer as being an entry-level beginner brand for those just getting into Swiss watches, but to do so would only serve to miss the opportunity on truly excellent watches like this one. Some people think sushi is nothing more than cat food for cats with IBS, but the reality is that what you get, when done right, is simply out of this world. It’s easy to make something shout when you throw every flavour at it—I think the TAG Heuer 160 Years Anniversary can earn your attention with just a few carefully chosen ingredients.
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