Zenith High-octane vintager
If cars and watches are supposed to be men's preferred toys, classic cars and vintage or retro-inspired watches are a grown man's favourite toys. For those, Zenith has issued two El Primero timepieces full of flair.
In 2009, Zenith decided to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its celebrated El Primero chronograph with several re-editions of the original – and then coined the perfect nomenclature to baptize the series: New Vintage 1969. Coincidence or not, the neo-retro movement has been a defining trend in watchmaking since then and the Le Locle-based manufacture is among the brands that have better surfed the vintage wave in the present decade.
This year at Baselworld, Zenith went as far as having a traditional barber (‘Bullfrog’, already a legend in Italy!) in its booth on Hall 1.0 and provide a limousine service with classic cars via Uber, besides promoting The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride around town. Adequately, two of the star timepieces in the 2016 collection had to have a retro feel: the Heritage Pilot Café Racer was inspired by the Café Racer bikers’ movement from the 1920s and seems to inaugurate a new path for the brand towards the motorcycle culture, whereas the El Primero 36’000 VpH Classic Cars reinforces Zenith’s recent liaison with the vintage racing scene – more particularly with Tour Auto and Peter Auto events, like the one held in Jarama a couple of weeks ago.
“We do not want to just be a sponsor, but a real partner. Collaborating from the inside, sharing passion. Passion regarding mechanics, timeless beauty, history. Passion also for competition, escape and travel”, tells me Aldo Magada, Zenith’s CEO; “Passion is all about emotions and emotions are the tipping point of strong relationships. The connection with us is easy. We are official timekeeper of Tour Auto and Peter Auto events around Europe. We will be involved worldwide in around 50 classic car events and races globally as we love to share our passion with as many people as possible”.
At Jarama, some 10’000 aficionados invaded the legendary Spanish racetrack to marvel at some of the most significant racing machines from the golden era of motorsports (1960s & 1970s) and follow the various races staged over the weekend. I was proudly amongst them, wearing on my wrist an almost-vintage El Primero ‘Class 4’ from 1997; too bad I wasn’t competing on a De Tomaso Pantera or a Chevron B16 – but at least managed to test drive Zenith’s latest offerings associated with retro racing: the already mentioned Classic Cars that I had previously seen at Baselworld and the brand new second iteration of the Chronomaster 1969 Tour Auto.
“The El Primero 36’000 VpH Classic Cars pays tribute to the prestigious world of classic cars in which precision, reliability and endurance are expressed through sophisticated designs exuding timeless elegance”, comments Aldo Magada. “And, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Tour Auto Optic 2000 for which Zenith serves as official timekeeper, we are presenting a new exclusive series of 500 El Primero chronographs dedicated to the classic car rally raced on French soil. The El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Tour Auto Edition is a beast roaring at a speed of 36’000 vibrations per hour and flaunting the precision of the legendary El Primero movement. From April 18th to 24th, 240 contestants will be winding their way through the most beautiful regions of France, testing their mettle on closed roads and circuits dotted along the five legs of the race and we are delighted to take part in it”.
"Bumper to bumper: which speed demon takes your fancy?"
Both chronographs share the same source of inspiration, but feature quite different aesthetics. The Classic Cars boasts a 42mm brushed case fitted with an anthracite tricompax dial featuring a vertical ‘Brushed Engine’ pattern that includes counters in the three iconic colors (anthracite, blue and light grey), plus tachymeter scale, red central sweep-seconds hand and luminescent facetted hands and hour-markers. A rubber-lined perforated chestnut brown calfskin strap provides the final retro touch.
The El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Tour Auto Edition has a similar 42mm case but provides another kind of vintage spirit, mainly based on the so-called Racing Stripes that graced so many legendary racing machines between the 1950s and the 1970s. Last year’s edition had a blue ring and a silver tachymeter scale around the silver dial plus a blue perforated calf strap extending the ‘Tricolor’ stripe pattern. The 2016 edition has a grey center and the same typical Zenith open-heart dial, but surrounded by a white ring and a matching grey tachymeter scale – dressed on a fabric strap stamped with the inevitable patriotic Racing Stripes.
The verdict? Both are speed demons racing at the same 36’000 VpH, but one would clearly be my first choice. Even though I’m a big fan of Racing Stripes, the Classic Cars felt more appropriate in the Jarama pit boxes and gave me a stronger sense of nostalgia – yet, Aldo Magada wouldn’t use that word: “Vintage is not about nostalgia, it’s about ‘things’ which keep the value through the time”. Or, in the case of the participating cars in Jarama or any of the Tour Auto events, high-octane ‘things’ that multiply their value through time.
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