All watch brands have a signature watch: the Rolex Submariner, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The Autavia is TAG Heuer’s, a beloved racing watch from the heyday of the Heuer solo brand. The wristwatch began as a clock for cars and planes (Autavia is a portmanteau rendition of automotive and aviation), and by the 1970s it was an essential part of the kit for race car drivers. This was the golden age of Le Mans and Steve McQueen, and Heuer chronographs were lock step in the glory of it all.
Despite all that, a 2003 reissue wasn’t a success. While Monacos from the same era (and their contemporary reissues) continue to go strong on the collector market, the new Autavias were off the market in two years. It may have been the company's choice to adopt a fixed bezel, or that the modern interpretation with squared-off pushers, a new logo, and not-quite-legit Caibre 11 movement just wasn’t special enough. Why own a facsimile when you can get the real thing?
Now you can. An Analog/Shift find caught our eye this week: a circa 1972 Heuer Autavia ref. 73663.
The model is a bit odd because of its Valjoux 7736 manual-winding movement. After the company introduced the world’s first automatic chronograph movement in 1969 (the Calibre 11), the new technology quickly edged out the manual winders. That’s what makes this version all the better for collectors: It's a rarer, more interesting outlier. Curiously, this would have been Heuer’s “budget” option back then, or perhaps a military issue; the accuracy and dependability of the Calibre 11 movement was still being put through its paces.
Aside from the movement, everything is classic Autavia. The model features the new cushion-case design of the era, in steel at a very wearable 42 millimeters. Bevel edges are crisp and brush marks are defined; the crown, fluted pusher, and case back are all original. And yes, that Gay Freres “Beads of Rice” bracelet is still as timelessly swank as the day it was released.
The panda dial comes in “Siffert Colors”—white dial with black registers and bright blue accents—named after Swiss Formula One star Jo Siffert. The condition is superb, with even patination across the luminescent plots. Which is all to say: This is a pretty key find. With racing season in full swing, there’s no time like the present to have it make a reappearance.
The Heuer Autavia ref. 73663 is available from AnalogShift.com for $16,500.