Some watches are known by one name, with no need for the preceding brand as a qualifier. The Speedmaster, the Submariner, the Royal Oak – all timepieces that need no introduction. The Carrera is another of these. First launched in 1963, its elegantly sporty aesthetic has made it one of TAG Heuer’s most recognisable, and experimented with, designs.
Not many CEOs would name their new watch after a deadly border-to-border sedan rally race, but that’s exactly what Jack Heuer did. First raced in 1950 to commemorate the opening of the north-south Mexican section of the Pan-American Highway, the Carrera Panamericana was considered one of the deadliest races of any type in the world. Drivers regularly died, spectators mown down and killed by out-of-control cars, and it was mercifully cancelled in the wake of the Le Mans disaster in 1955.
Jack knew about this race, he’d even created a 404 series watch commemorating the 1953 edition, but it was a meeting with the legendary Rodriguez brothers – Pedro and Ricardo, Mexico’s first F1 stars – at the 1962 12 Hours of Sebring, where Heuer was timekeeper, that piqued his interest again. On his return to Switzerland, he registered the word ‘Carrera’ as a trademark and started work on the watch.
A year later saw the launch of the Heuer Carrera 2447. It was a steel bracelet sports watch with a 36mm case. The dial was simple to highlight the chronograph function, which was then powered by a Valjoux 72. It bore more than a passing resemblance to the recently launched Daytona because Singer had provided the dials for both the models, but no one seemed to mind, and it was an overnight success.
The Revolutionary Calibre 11
The next milestone in the Carrera’s life came in 1969 when it became one of the designs from the Heuer collection to house the revolutionary Calibre 11 – the first-ever automatic chronograph developed by a consortium comprising Büren, Dubois Dépraz, Tag Heuer and Breitling.
In a rather cruel twist of fate, 1969 was also the year Japanese watchmaker Seiko launched the Astron; the watch that was to kickstart the Quartz Crisis, which was the death knell for the Carrera. Unable to survive in a digital era, it was discontinued in 1984, just before Jack made the decision to sell his company to an investment group, which included Piaget and Nouvelle Lemania, who subsequently sold it to Techniques d’Avant Garde (TAG).
The newly formed TAG Heuer struggled for a while, trying to assert its new identity informed by a focus on the lower-priced models such as the Formula 1 with little interest in watchmaking excellence. By the 1990s, retro was back in fashion and TAG Heuer went in search of a design that would remind buyers of Heuer’s horological prowess and on which the company could revive its reputation. They chose the Carrera.
Since then, it has been turned into a three-hander, used a case for the world’s first 1/100th mechanical chronograph, and been given a tourbillon with a revolutionary carbon-composite hairspring. It’s come a long way from its motorsport roots, but Jack was always about innovation, so no doubt he’d approve.
Top 5 TAG Heuer Carreras You Can Buy Today
There have been some truly iconic and collectible TAG Heuer Carreras over the years, but good luck getting your hands on some of the most sought-after versions, which regularly fetch huge sums at auction. However, there are still some superb models available on the new and second-hand watch market, which you can still buy today. Here are five of our favourites.
1964 Heuer Carrera Re-edition (CS3111)
As the name suggests, this is the faithful re-edition of Jack’s original 1964 model. The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that the Carrera first launched in 1963, this error occurred because the company made a mistake; one which was only rectified after earlier archive materials were found.
It’s beautiful in its simplicity: the plain black dial, the vintage Heuer logo, the 36mm case… nothing was messed with. It is also powered by a Lemania movement, one of the last of this brand of calibre to be sold outside of the Swatch Group. Everything about it illustrates perfectly why some watch designs just don’t need to be altered. Ever.
Carrera Jack Heuer 1887 Bullhead (CAR2C11.FC6327)
TAG Heuer kicked off the Carrera’s 50th birthday celebrations with this stunner. It’s a combination of the bullhead case – so named because the crown and pushers are now at 12 o’clock – of 2012’s Mikrogirder 2000, a concept watch that could time to 5/10,000th of a second, and the colour palette of the Carrera launched to celebrate Jack’s 80th birthday.
The 1887 movement has been rotated so it is no longer a 6, 9, 12 dial layout but the traditional 3, 6, 9, while the bottom half of the case sits flush to the base and the top protrudes slightly evoking the style of dashboard clocks.
At 45mm it is not for the delicate of wrist, but it’s a bold interpretation of the Carrera that cleverly riffs on its automotive associations without labouring the connection.
Carrera Twin Time (WBN201A.BA0640)
Launched at the end of 2021, with a ‘Blade Runner meets Drive’ campaign featuring Ryan Gosling, this revamping of the Three Hands collection, from the early 2000s, is most definitely the Carrera for the 21st century. There has been a move towards designs that have the ruggedness of a tool watch but the elegance to be seen out on the town, and this timepiece embodies that aesthetic tension beautifully.
The 41mm case has presence, but its gleaming stainless steel and glossy blue dial add up to something more sophisticated than your average steel sports watch. Even the dual time-zone hand has been kept slimline, so it doesn’t disrupt the simplicity of the dial. It’s the Carrera that should be on every wish list.
Carrera Connected (SBG8A11.BA0646)
This will probably be a slightly controversial inclusion to this list but like it or loathe it, you have to be impressed by it. TAG Heuer is arguably the only watch brand to really make the leap into luxury smartwatch territory successfully.
Launched just seven months after Apple and a collaboration between TAG Heuer and Google, its main selling point was that, unlike the Apple Watch, this looked like a timepiece. Since then, it has gone modular, improved the ‘watch’ part by upgrading to a ceramic bezel, screwed-down caseback and push buttons and crown, and even teamed up with Super Mario.
It may not be to everyone’s liking but given that the brand’s slogan is ‘Swiss Avant Garde since 1860’, it seems an appropriate addition to TAG Heuer’s Carrera catalogue.
Carrera Drive Timer (WAR2A80.FC6337)
This is the most un-Carrera-like timepiece to bear the name. There’s no chronograph counters or tachymeter scales, the numerals are unusually bold for this collection, and the dial appears to have only a date.
Launched in 2014, this watch has a witty nod to those purists who think that this design has no business sporting an external bezel. The second crown at 10 o’clock is there to manipulate the internal 60-minute rotating bezel. Align the red triangle with the minute hand and you’ll be able to see exactly how long it takes you to get to the shops.