GRR

The Story Behind TAG Heuer's Legendary Monza

07th June 2016
Ben Oliver

The Heuer Monza doesn’t have the Ferrari logo on the dial. But it could. The original Monza was released in 1976 to celebrate the high point of one of the most genuine and mutually beneficial relationships between a watchmaker and a Formula 1 team. Heuer helped Ferrari overturn a decade-long run of bad form to take the Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Championships in 1975. The Monza was commissioned to mark the moment, and went on sale early the following year.

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Now, on its fortieth anniversary, TAG Heuer has revived the Monza name and its instantly recognizable design. Perhaps it’s good that the original didn’t include the Ferrari badge, because you don’t have to be tifosi to wear one. Any fan of motorsport or great watches will appreciate the story behind the Monza.

Jack Heuer is the Enzo Ferrari of watches. He took charge of the family business in 1962 aged just 30. Heuer made some great watches on his watch, including some of the greatest chronographs ever produced. Most had a motorsport inspiration, from the perfect restraint of his original Carrera in 1963, to the revolutionary square-cased, self-winding Monaco in '69.

But the impact he had on motorsport was just as significant. Today every big-name F1 driver signs a big-money watch sponsorship deal. But Jack struck the very first, with Jo Siffert back in 1968. Its terms show just how far the F1 world has changed, and just how good Jack was at guerilla marketing.

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“I simply allowed him to buy our watches at wholesale,” Jack told me when I met him at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. “He sold them to everyone else in the paddock, and so within a year, in every ecurie, everyone from the mechanic to the head of the team was wearing a Heuer chronograph."

When he was filming Le Mans, Steve McQueen wanted to copy Siffert's look, down to the watch and the Heuer logo on the overalls, so Jack smuggled a box of watches from Switzerland into France. McQueen just pulled out the iconic, square-cased Monaco, and one of the world’s greatest product placements happened for free.

Heuer had credibility with the drivers. It had been making dash-mounted chronographs for racing cars since 1911. Jack was an electrical engineer by education and led the development of the firm's first electronic sports timing equipment. From 1971, Heuer became Ferrari's timing partner, first installing a timing system for Le Mans because Enzo was convinced the French were cheating him.

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When Enzo refused to pay for the system, Jack asked to have the Heuer badge on the front of every car instead. "Then the Old Man said 'you must also help me pay the drivers, they are so expensive now'. So I said every driver will wear a Heuer patch, and he'll get a gold watch engraved with his blood group, and we'll pay 25,000 Swiss francs into a Swiss account for them.

“And it was the best marketing coup I made in my life. The effect, you wouldn't believe it. Whether they were first, second or last, Ferrari were always in the press. And if you work with Ferrari you must be good, right? So our image went up. Then it became chic to wear the badge, so we made hundreds of them and all the gentlemen drivers like Paul Newman wore them and we never paid them a penny.

"He was a difficult bird, but a clever bird and I got along quite well with him," Jack says of Enzo. "We always went across the road and had lunch in Cavallino. We would drink Lambrusco and he would be in a good mood and tell the dirtiest stories I ever heard. First, I would deal with his son, Piero Lardi, as he was called then. Then we went in the old man's room to sign the deal, and he always managed to squeeze something else out."

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In 1972 Jack installed a transponder system at the newly-built Fiorano test track which would allow Ferrari to analyze the performance of its cars in greater detail than any other team. Soon, a Heuer team led by the legendary Jean Campiche went with the Scuderia to every race so they would have better data than the organizers. Better data – and a much better car in the 312T – helped return Ferrari to the drivers' and constructors championships in '75 after an 11-year absence.

Niki Lauda’s third place at the Italian Grand Prix on September 7, 1975 secured his World Championship and inspired the Monza watch, named after the fast and fearsome circuit where the race was held. It was Ferrari’s first title since John Surtees’ in 1964. Ferrari’s Clay Regazzoni won the race, and Ferrari took the ’75 Constructor’s title too. Both cars had the Heuer logo on the nose.

TAG revived the Monza name once before, in 2000, with a design that harked back to one of the firm’s beautiful 1930s chronographs. The 2016 version unites influences from all three. The case design echoes that used in the 1930s and 2000 versions, but almost everything else refers to the now-iconic 1976 watch. The case is black and the crown and pushers are in contrasting stainless steel. It has a twin-register chronograph, now powered by TAG’s Calibre 17 movement. The outer scale features a pulsometer and a tachymeter, both very useful to racing drivers of the 1970s, and today. Even the strap matches the look of the original, but today it’s finished in high-grade calfskin, rather than the ‘tropic rubber’ of the original.

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At a time when TAG Heuer is exploring new design directions with watches like the Carrera-Heuer 01, it’s good to see it celebrating its legendary design history. Watch aficionados find chronographs like this with real design and motorsport significance very hard to resist. And you don’t need to be a Ferrari fan to want one, or wear one.

  • Monza

  • Jack Heuer

  • TAG Heuer

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