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The sun burns from the sky and the smell of gasoline lingers in the air. The asphalt of the recently completed Panamericana Highway across Mexico has just dried when one of the world’s most dangerous car races begins.
To celebrate the inauguration of the new North-South link and to promote the country for trade and tourism, the Mexican government is organizing a multi-day racing event in collaboration with several automobile associations.
From the Texas border in northern Mexico to El Ocotal on the southern border with Guatemala, nearly 3500 km await the daring drivers. In 9 stages, the drivers and their cars will be pushed to their limits. The route leads over unsecured mountain roads, through dry steppes to the tropical rainforests in the south.
Extreme differences in altitude and temperature, constantly changing surfaces and countless curves will demand everything from man and machine. A hellish ride over 6 days.
Welcome to the “Mexican Road Race” or better known as…
La Carrera Panamericana
Friday morning, 6 o’clock.
The festivities begin at the starting point in Ciudad Juárez on the Rio Grande, with speeches and handshakes. The official start is scheduled for 10 a.m. The 132 participants in the race are ready for the great adventure.
The field of drivers is a colorful mix, from professional racers and amateur drivers to taxi and truck drivers. The first engines roar and all the drivers wait anxiously for the starting signal. Then the time has come, the starting flag is waved and the race begins.
The very first stage is a high-speed drive through the scorching hot desert, which not all participants finish. Helmets and proper seat belts are not yet available, and many racers are convinced that they would be less likely to get out of their cars in the event of an accident if they wore seat belts. There are also few precautions taken on the track to protect drivers and spectators. Cars speed past spectators gathered on the side of the road.
The entire starting field is now on the road. Over the next few days, more and more newspapers and radio stations in Mexico report on the eventful rally, which has already claimed its first fatality. The next stages lead high into the mountains and then to Mexico City. There more than a million spectators are waiting to see the drivers in their cars.
The other sections of the course are accompanied by many breakdowns and accidents. The race has been going on for 5 days now and the starting field has become noticeably smaller. But small dents are no reason to give up a race…
The final stage is scheduled for tomorrow. Until they reach the Guatemalan border, the riders will ride on many rough roads with sharp-edged stones. Those who know the route in advance can take advantage of this, as punctures are inevitable in these conditions.
One of the well-informed drivers is the American McGriff, currently in fourth place. He and his co-driver Elliott spent the evening before the race looking for reinforced heavy-duty tires at local garages and tire dealers in order to cope with the demanding track.
The next morning, the first participants set off. McGriff, with start number 52, starts the last stage with his partner. Thanks to the reinforced tires, the two of them conquered one place after the other, while the other competitors were unwillingly left on the side of the road and were busy putting new tires on their cars. The plan of the two Americans seems to work, the 10-minute gap to the leader is decreasing. Nothing is allowed to go wrong now.
Then, just before the finish line, a heavy blow. McGriff drives too fast into a strong bump, tearing open his oil pan and tank, but manages to cross the finish line with the proverbial last drop of fuel and wins the 1st Carrera Panamericana in his Oldsmobile 88. Of the 132 cars that started, only 52 made it to the finish line.
As the popularity of the race grew, additional classes of cars were added, and an international field quickly formed. Thanks to famous drivers such as Juan Manuel Fangio and Carroll Shelby, the race continues to grow in popularity over the next few years.
Low-flying poultry and men behind bars
In 1952, the third edition of the Carrera Panamericana was held, which was also attended by a German team. Mercedes-Benz sent three teams to Mexico, each with a Mercedes 300 SL. In the run-up to the race, everything from fuel mixtures to carburetor and ignition settings was meticulously planned and tested, partly in the Alps, in order to be prepared for the extremely different altitude, temperature and air conditions in the desert and in the mountains above 3,000 meters (9842 ft).
Karl Kling drives one of the three cars together with his co-pilot Hans Klenk. Suddenly, during one of the stages, there is an unexpected collision. During a fast passage, a vulture crashed head-on into the right side of the Mercedes’ windshield, injuring co-driver Hans Klenk’s face with shards of glass. Despite the cuts and brief drowsiness, both decide to continue driving and eventually finish the stage successfully.
After glass shards and vulture remains had been removed from his face and car, new windows were installed that night and additional metal struts, the “anti-vulture grilles”, were fitted to the cars for safety.
Undaunted, the two continued the race and finally won the 3rd Carrera Panamericana ahead of their teammates in the second 300 SL. They did so in a fabulous time of just under 19 hours and an average speed of 165 kph (102 mph), which is still unbelievable today.
But it wasn’t just the men who enjoyed the race, as there were a few women in the rally as well, which was pretty special when you look back and consider how tough the races were and the era in which it all took place. In the Fifties, women were more likely to be seen at the stove than behind the wheel of a racing car. One of the tough ladies was Jacqueline Evans, an Englishwoman who had achieved some fame as an actress in Mexico. She raced completely alone, without a navigator, and always privately financed.
The effort required to organize such a long and dangerous race was enormous and growing. By the third race in 1952, 65 planes were used to transport people and equipment to the various stages, as well as 3,000 medics and some 40,000 soldiers.
How a Porsche got its name
With the 356s and later with the new 550 Spyder, Porsche also achieved various successes in other car classes at the Carrera Panamericana.
In honor of these successes, Porsche decided to name the most powerful model in each series Carrera. Translated from Spanish, Carrera means nothing more than “race”.
But it was not only the Porsche Carrera that was so named. Later, the old racing successes of the Carrera Panamericana were also remembered, and the Porsche Panamera was named after this background.
The quick end of the race series
Back to the year 1954. Considered one of the toughest races of all time, on average only a third of the participants made it to the finish line. A lack of safety precautions and numerous, often fatal, accidents overshadowed the exciting races.
The tragic incident at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 11, 1955, when a Mercedes flew into the crowd and killed 84 people, caused an international uproar. As a result, the Mexican government canceled the 1955 race and the legendary series was discontinued after only five races.
The goal of publicizing the North-South connection of the Panamericana Highway was achieved. During this short period, 27 people lost their lives in the five races. It was not until 1988 that the race was revived as a vintage car rally and has continued to this day. La Carrera Panamericana continues to enjoy great popularity.
How a watch got its name
To make the connection to the following watch, let’s turn the clock forward a few years and jump across the border to the United States. There, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) organized various rallies where a certain Jack Heuer sat in the passenger seat for marketing purposes to promote the HEUER on-board instruments used there.
The year 1963. We are here at the Sebring International Raceway in Florida. This is where the SCCA keeps time for the “12 Hours of Sebring”. Jack Heuer, 31 years old at the time, sponsored his Heuer chronographs to the SCCA for timekeeping and became the official timekeeper for the race.
At the race track Jack Heuer meets the brothers Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez. Both are famous Mexican racing drivers. They talk enthusiastically about the infamous Carrera Panamericana that took place in the 1950s.
Jack Heuer liked the name “Carrera” so much that he later said:
“The sound of the name alone was elegant and dynamic, easy to pronounce in any language and full of emotion. It was then that I realized that my new chronograph would be a perfect tribute to this legend.” Jack Heuer
He had the name “Heuer Carrera” protected so that it could be used for the wristwatch chronograph he had been developing since the early 1960s. The Heuer Carrera was born.
Thanks to the perfect combination of timekeeping and motorsport, the Carrera became a huge success and is still one of the brand’s most important models today.
In 1962, just before the Carrera, Heuer launched its first wristwatch chronograph: the Autavia. The tradition of naming sports watches was continued in 1968 with the launch of the Heuer Camaro. The Camaro was designed to evoke the American muscle cars that were popular at the time.
The Heuer Monaco with its distinctive design, named after the famous Formula 1 race, was launched a year later in 1969. When Steve McQueen wore this model in the movie “Le Mans”, the Heuer Monaco became enormously popular.
How Heuer became “TAG Heuer”
After this period of success, the well-known quartz crisis hit the valleys of Switzerland and brought a lot of watch manufacturers to their knees. In spite of Jack Heuer’s best efforts, the Heuer company, which had been in existence since 1860, was not spared.
All attempts to save the company were unsuccessful. In 1982, under pressure from the banks, the now 50-year-old Jack Heuer was forced to resign as CEO and sell all of his shares in the company for less than they were worth.
He was the last member of his family to leave the company, which became part of the Piaget Group. Heuer then broke with the watch industry, deeply disappointed.
In 1985, the company was sold to the Luxembourg-based TAG Group (Techniques d’Avant Garde), which created a subsidiary and renamed the brand from Heuer to TAG Heuer.
Another 14 years later, in 1999, TAG Heuer was sold to the French luxury goods group LVMH. Jack Heuer was then invited back by the new boss in 2001, reconciled with the management of the company and was appointed as a consultant and honorary president of TAG Heuer.
Fittingly, the Carrera celebrates its 60th birthday this year (1963–2023), so this presentation is a perfect opportunity. There have been several re-editions of the Heuer Carrera in the past.
The watch presented here is called the TAG Heuer Carrera Caliber 18 Telemeter and saw the light of day in 2015. The model is reminiscent of the Heuer Carrera 30 with Pandadial that was released around 1970.
The watch has a diameter of 39mm, with a lug-to-lug dimension of 47mm, making it suitable for small wrists. The height is 13.6mm, of which a good 3mm is taken up by the sapphire crystal. Overall, however, the watch is flatter to wear than the pure numbers would suggest. Depending on the light, the dial shimmers in a silvery gold color, absolutely gorgeous.
The design is based on the models of the 60s/70s. With the deeper anthracite totalizers and the beautiful “glassbox” sapphire crystal, I think this is very done very well.
The amount of luminescent material is limited, being applied to the hands and two dots at 3 and 6 o’clock. I appreciate that they didn't use any vintage lume.
The perforated rally strap completes the retro look. I think this is a very nice way to remember the old days.
The telemeter complication
As its name suggests, the Heuer Caliber 18 Telemeter is equipped with a rather unusual complication that is not often found on a wristwatch. Loosely translated, telemeter is nothing more than a rangefinder. This function was originally developed to determine the distance of enemy artillery to one’s own position in times of war.
Since light travels faster than sound, the measurement was started with the trigger as soon as the muzzle flashes of the enemy artillery could be seen and stopped when the corresponding cannon thunder was heard.
Then, with a quick glance at the distance scale, you could quickly see how many kilometers away the artillery was. This function was also available on marine chronometers where the scale was in nautical miles.
Of course, you can also use it to measure the distance of a thunderstorm from your position, thanks to lightning and thunder. This is very useful because it allows you to estimate whether the storm is moving toward you or away from you. Just like the old days.
Looking through the glass back of the watch, the melodious name “Caliber 18” cannot hide the fact that this is a normal Sellita SW 300 movement with a Dubois-Dépraz chronograph module, also recognizable by the slightly recessed crown. Of course, a TAG Heuer in-house caliber would have been the icing on the cake for this watch. But it can’t always be a manufacture caliber.
The technical details
- TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 18 Telemeter
- Reference: CAR221A.FC6353
- Movement: Calibre 18 (Sellita SW300 with DD 2232 Chronograph Module)
- Automatic (4 Hz / 28.800 A/h)
- Power reserve: 42 h
- Stop second
- Stainless steel case with anti-reflective sapphire crystal
- Telemeter complication
- Water tightness: 100 m (328 ft)
- Case diameter: 39 mm (1.53 in)
- Case height incl. domed crystal: 13.6 mm (0.53 in)
A great watch with a beautiful retro look, especially the light gold dial with the curved sapphire crystal are a visual treat for me. It gets enough wear time and will definitely stay with me. A very nice change in the watch box.