McQueen, Racing and Watches: A Brief History of a Powerful Legacy

In the Summer of 1970, Steve McQueen was looking for a new watch. The King of Cool was in Le Mans, France shooting the upcoming movie Le Mans  where he would play top formula one driver, Micheal Delaney. It was pretty well known among directors, actors, and those that worked with him that McQueen was meticulous with regard to his character's wardrobe. As a renowned fashion icon in his private life,  McQueen truly lived the mantra "clothes make the man". He considered the wardrobe a key conduit to fully connecting with a character and in turn, creating a more powerful experience for the audience . To do this, he needed to duplicate the zeitgeist of the drivers of the time.  And most drivers were wearing watches. So, it was with plenty of forethought that the right watch would be quintessential to fleshing out the Delaney character.
PHOTO: (courtesy TAG Heuer)
During filming, McQueen became close to Formula 1 driver Jo Siffert who was also acting as McQueen's stunt double. McQueen had the film's wardrobe department recreate and exact replica of Siffert's driving suit. But there was one problem: As McQueen, Siffert and film property master, John Nunley were looking for the right watch to pair with the suit, the story goes, McQueen was initially drawn to an Omega. Nunley reminded McQueen that his driving suit featured a large Heuer logo patch and the Omega would therefore make an inauthentic match. McQueen wholeheartedly agreed and that clearly left the only the Hueur's. But which one? Jack Heuer had sent several Heuer's to the Le Mans set and ever the iconoclast, McQueen settled on one of the most unusual of the bunch: The square-shaped, Heuer Monaco chronograph that had made its debut in 1969. The rest, as they say, is watch and racing history. 
PHOTO: (courtesy TAG Heuer)
Over time, the famous Heuer watch worn by McQueen has become the embodiment of a mystique blending a magical hodgepodge of celebrity, racers, consumers and watches that conjures the romance of racing, unbridled adventure, raw masculine energy and the possibility of living a life less ordinary. And this mystique has never let go.
But the legacy that McQueen and the Heuer Monaco cemented was already off to an auspicious start that made perfect sense from the beginning. To be sure,   one need look no further than one of the world's most famous racing destinations: Daytona Beach, Florida. In 1902, as racers began flocking to test their trade on the stretch of beach just off Florida's east coast, it was Sir Malcolm Campbell who broke the land speed record four times. And he did it each time with a Rolex Oyster on his wrist. With powerful foresight, Rolex capitalized on this pairing of racer and watch with the Rolex Daytona, one of the most iconic racing watches ever made.
A Perfect Pairing
So why does this marriage of watches and auto racing work so well? The very nature of a race is based on the tracking of time and in fact, pocket watches were used to track time in the horse drawn carriage races of the late 19th century. Watches have also long been associated with lifestyles that are beyond the reach of the average person, so to be able to be a part of that lofty ambiance has always been part of what makes watches such coveted items . Watches sell the sizzle, way more than they sell the steak. But more importantly, it about the machines themselves, the inner workings and components of both car and watch that have so many superlative parallels: precision, timelessness, craftmanship, the beautiful movement of mechanical engines,  and plenty of complimentary lingo to assuage gearheads and horologists alike.
Then, of course, there is business and sponsorship. Watches provide a way for a driver to make a practical fashion statement while still wearing the necessary protective gear in the original extreme sport, where lives can be lost with a wrong turn of the wheel. Unlike most other sponsored products, watches can actually be worn while driving without interfering in a driver's performance, no matter the magnitude of the race, so they are actually a perfect driver's accessory.  Most sponsors or products simply can't boast this kind of accessibility.  Sponsors (like Rolex) saw this as a perfect placement opportunity from the very beginnings of auto racing, thus having a top driver wear your watch meant brand recognition, emotional connection with your target market and of course, sales. 
Austin Is a Racing Town
So, as Formula One drives through our hometown of Austin at the Circuit of the Americas this November, the celebration of this symbiotic pairing has never been stronger. Tag Hueur has a released Limited Editions of the Monaco and Carrera and Rolex is still making the Daytona more than 50 years after its debut.  Indeed, watchmakers the world over from microbrands to the largest companies are, at this very moment, searching for inspiration in designing their next racing piece.   So, in this spirit, as watchmakers and designers, we at DuFrane celebrate the history of this unique and perfect pairing of watch and car, as we too contemplate our next DuFrane model.
Austin was chosen as a racing destination for it's vibrant culture, affable inhabitants, mostly temperate weather and emerging culinary scene: An ideal environment for race fans and touring driving teams to create lasting memories and legacy. Since it opened in 2012,  the crowds coming to the races at the Circuit of the Americas have grown steadily each year. Austin is now a bonafide racing town and since all of our watches, both figuratively and literally represent Austin's ethos, perhaps we at DuFrane will design a racing watch that combines the storied history of racing and watches with Austin's newfound racing status that we might create our own powerful legacy where road meets wrist and the emotive power of this pairing will shine well into the future. Stay tuned.