Speed freaks will appreciate the story behind Baume & Mercier’s Clifton Club Indian model, which pays tribute to Burt Munro, the New Zealander who set—and still holds—the record for the fastest speed reached on an Indian motorcycle, a feat he accomplished in 1967, at age 68, riding across Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Fifty years later, the watchmaker honors Munro’s daring spirit with this limited-edition automatic chronograph.
The name of Nomos Glashütte’s brand new Autobahn model says it all: Designed by celebrated product designer Werner Aisslinger as an ode to speed—and the vintage race cars from the 1960s and ’70s that embodied it—the piece features a concave dial whose edge is curved like the outside lane of a racetrack. Equipped with the new Neomatik date caliber, the 41 mm timepiece, four years in the making, is available in three dial colors: white silver-plated, “sports gray,” and this midnight blue.
Porsche enthusiasts are a lot like other car enthusiasts. They’ve got lingo (“slant nose,” “Moby Dick,” “PDK”), icons (Bruce Canepa) and iconoclasts (Magnus Walker), a pedantic hierarchy (964 Carrera 911 RS trumps 996 911 GT3 RS, but both lose to 911 Carrera 2.7 RS). What makes Porsche enthusiasts unique is the degree of clubbiness, the vaguely secretive vibe. The ferocity of the mystique.
You can see how they got there. At their best, cars from Stuttgart are as involving and gratifying as any on the planet. The brand, as its devotees will remind you, has a long tradition of building innovative racing prototypes, ballsy street-legal sports cars, and exclusive special-edition models that blend the best elements of each. But the rarest Porsches tend to be kept under wraps. The company’s own museum meters out public appearances; private collectors are, understandably, hesitant to run irreplaceable, multimillion-dollar machines at the racetrack.
Held every third year (or thereabouts) since 2001, this vintage racing event is billed as the world’s largest gathering of Porsches. Derek Bell and Bruce Canepa and Magnus Walker are there, along with nearly 60,000 other zealots, letting their freak flag fly. So are the 964 RS, 996 GT3 RS, and 2.7 RS, plus virtually every significant Porsche racing car from the past seven decades, including Le Mans winners, like the 917 and 962.
All told, some 330 cars take to the circuit, the location of which varies depending on the year. Past venues include historic Lime Rock Park, in Connecticut, and Daytona Speedway. Rennsport Reunion VI (September 27-30, 2018) is scheduled to take place at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, in Monterey, California.
To mark the occasion, Porsche Design has created a new timepiece, the Chronotimer Rennsport Reunion VI Limited Edition. It pays homage to event, but also to the original Chronograph I, released in 1972. That piece helped put Porsche Design on the map; the company reportedly sold some 50,000 examples, more than a few of which wound up on the wrists of pro drivers.
Like the Chronograph I, the Chronotimer Rennsport Reunion VI Limited Edition has a distinctive matte-black finish, a nod to the instrument panels in the cockpits of racing cars. The 42mm carbide-coated titanium case is black, as is the dial; the sapphire crystal backing allows for a clear view of the automatic Valjoux movement. It all hangs on a black calfskin strap made from “original Porsche interiors,” replete with red contrast stitching. Each watch features a unique numbered engraving.
Each Rennsport Reunion feels like a rare and special thing, and this new Porsche Design watch aims to capture that sentiment. Accordingly, it’s limited to a scant 70 pieces, distributed only within the U.S. Other car enthusiasts might not see the appeal. But Porsche fanatics? The want for this one will be downright ferocious.
If Malcolm Gladwell did motorsport commentary, he’d likely say Formula E was approaching its tipping point. The four-year-old series—in which purpose-built, all-electric race cars scream around diabolically tight courses often carved from a city’s own streets—has many things breaking in its favor. One, it has lured some of the most prestigious car brands on Earth. Two, it has secured a multiyear title sponsor, ABB, a Swiss builder of robotic systems. Three, it continues to cultivate strong driver talent.
Also, man, have you seen the new car?
Indeed, the 2018/19 season could mark the inflection point at which Formula E graduates from the experimental music tent to the main stage—and not just in audience terms. Once the province of electric-vehicle component suppliers and a few intrepid, early-adopter automakers, the series has since on-boarded the likes of Jaguar, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, with more manufacturers being announced every few months. (That’s to make no mention of the star power; celebrity team owners include Leonardo DiCaprio and Richard Branson.)
With global consensus growing around electrification and battery power as a viable replacement for internal combustion, Formula E can already claim to be the most future-forward motorsport series. Given a few more years to mature, however, and it may legitimately threaten Formula 1—its closest analog, and a decidedly carbon-belching one—as the world’s premier plutocratic spectacle on wheels.
Not only is Formula E coming for Formula 1’s excitement, but also for its yacht slips in Abu Dhabi, magnums of Mumm, and impeccable haircuts. The electric series will even race through the streets of Monaco next year. Consider that a bold statement of intent: Monte Carlo is the crown jewel of the Formula 1 schedule, and Formula E is mounting an electron-fueled heist.
A number of confluences, some expected, others not, have led Formula E to this point. The biggest shock has been the addition of Audi and Porsche, both brands having announced their race entries simultaneously with withdrawals from Le Mans prototype racing. With class victories at 10 of the past 11 runnings of the eponymous 24-hour endurance race in the French countryside, the German manufacturers’ sudden pivots have been viewed by some pundits as tactical—and less charitably, cynical—chess moves.
After all, Volkswagen Group, the corporate parent of Audi and Porsche, was caught in 2015 cheating on diesel-engine emissions tests, leading to billions in fines and a cascade of indictments. Even without that stain, skeptics can deride the involvement of Porsche, Audi, and others in Formula E as tantamount to greenwashing: a way to launder profits derived from gas-guzzling SUVs and sports cars in a virtuous spin cycle.
Even a jaundiced eye can’t help but twinkle, though, when the Gen2 car enters into view. Wholly redesigned for the 2018/19 season kicking off in the fall, the second generation of Formula E’s race car debuted at the Geneva Motor Salon. As a so-called “one-make” race series, Formula E dictates that all teams use this chassis, and the response from insiders and social media gawkers alike has been overwhelmingly positive.
“At first glance, the season five Formula E car looked to our design team like an EV-powered supersonic bird in flight,” says Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan’s senior vice president of global design. The Japanese automaker, another new entrant, hasn’t participated in top-tier racing since its calamitous attempt to run a prototype racer for Le Mans. The car was uncompetitive, and its design was heavily criticized. For Nissan, like Porsche and Audi, the foray into Formula E represents something of a fresh start.
To that end, next season got off to an auspicious beginning, as Albaisa’s “Doppler effect” paint scheme for the Nissan car was met with acclaim. Armchair engineers will note the slippery lines of the chassis underneath, an inheritance from endless wind-tunnel work; design pundits will appreciate the clever use of color, emphasizing the body’s various convex and concave surfaces. Fans will just think it looks damn good. Formula E could always claim it was the most future-forward race series. Now it has a strong claim to being the most beautiful, too.
Q+A: Richard Mille
The visionary watchmaker (and Formula E sponsor) talks about Richard Branson, the future of motorsport, and the possibility of a special-edition timepiece inspired by electric racing.
How did you get involved with Formula E? Were you approached by Jean Todt?
Times change, and Formula E is the future of Formula 1. The category of all-electric cars has taken a radical turn since the beginning of the championship. My friend Jean Todt, president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) climbed aboard, excited by the work of Frenchmen Eric Barbaroux and Pierre Gosselin, creators of the first 100 percent electric single-seater race car. I have known Jean-Paul Driot (owner of the Renault e.dams team) for over 10 years, and I wanted to support him from the very beginning of the adventure. Also, the technological approach meshes perfectly with our own avant-garde philosophy. For someone like me, who loves a challenge, being in on Formula E seemed like an obvious choice. And what I liked about Formula E was the noise! It is unbelievable!
Richard Branson, who sponsors a Formula E team, famously said the series would be more popular than Formula 1 by the year 2020. Do you agree?
I feel that 2020 is perhaps a bit too early. Not due to the teams or the cars, but due to the fact that people and fans need to get used to this new field. I do, however, believe that that day of acceptance will come when the time is right. We are seeing commitment to a green economy because this is the reality we face. Technological advances will do a lot to make the sport ever more popular in the coming years.
Over the past two years, several major automakers with strong motorsport traditions—Jaguar, BMW, Porsche, Mercedes—have started Formula E teams. Which automaker would you like to see join the series?
The engineering of electric racing cars is becoming and more advanced. Within the next two years, Formula E cars will only rely on just one battery per race, instead of two. This means one car instead of two. That is what convinced new automakers to join the Formula E Championship, in fact, you quote some of them!
When designing race-themed timepieces, watchmakers usually draw inspiration from mechanical motifs—gears, camshafts, pistons. Electric race cars don’t have those parts. If you made a Formula E watch, what would it look like?
Formula E car construction is not simple at all! Even electric drive cars have steering systems, wheels, axles and thoughtfully designed bodywork—and that’s to say nothing of the fact that a lot of their materials already being used in Formula 1 construction, with new ones continually in development. Formula 1 and Formula E have strong similarities. There is a real interest in transposing everything we have learned in F1 to the electric universe. After all, they both contain everything related to acceleration, G’s, vibrations, lateral and longitudinal shocks. In short, everything it takes to kill a watch!
In the past, you’ve dedicated pieces in your collection to Sébastien Loeb, Felipe Massa, and Alain Prost. Which current Formula E driver deserves his own Richard Mille timepiece? The various celebrities who embody the (Richard Mille) brand aren’t ambassadors, but rather friends. We work with them because they are outstanding in their professions, and because they are good people. We sign long-term contracts together that go beyond any consideration of results or their careers. We don’t commit lightly, and we’ve built a strong relationship with the Renault e.dams team. This includes drivers Nicolas Prost and Sébastien Buemi, and they actually are wearing Richard Mille watches during each Grand Prix. All in good time, all in good time!
Encased in amber on this page is a collection of parts representing a greater sum, a tool made redundant by progress but reborn as a status symbol, an anachronism that survived as the object of enthusiast lust. Sound familiar? Parallels to the wristwatch aside, we loved the original Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen because of what it represented: an epic and improbable triumph of smart engineering and authentic style.
The backstory is equally as improbable. The first prototypes were commissioned in 1973 by the Shah of Iran, at that time a major Mercedes-Benz shareholder. He asked the company to create an all-new truck, one that could traverse his kingdom’s vast and harsh terrain. The resulting machine, equipped with a stout diesel engine and hardcore four-wheel-drive system, resembled a Jeep that subscribed to Architectural Digest and liked hitting the squat rack. It underwent extensive torture testing in the Arctic Circle and Sahara Desert, only to arrive in early 1979—just after the Shah was deposed.
Not that it mattered. Build by hand at a dedicated facility in Graz, Austria, the new truck’s overall rugged construction, robust mechanicals, and freakish off-road abilities were a revelation. It wasn’t long before the Geländewagen, known colloquially as the “G-wagen,” found its way into military fleets around the globe. Mercedes began offering a street-legal version to civilians across Europe. Sales held steady throughout the 1980s.
Then something funny happened. Which is to say, nothing happened.
Whereas modern cars get styling tweaks after two or three years, and a clean-sheet redesign after seven or eight, the Mercedes saw just one exterior overhaul, in 1990. Even then, it retained the same durable body-on-frame bones, the same upright windscreen, and squared-off profile. When the G-wagen finally arrived at U.S. dealerships, in 2002, it was stuffed with premium features and a complex V-8 engine but still rode on its original steel chassis. Customers lined up to pay six figures for what was essentially a brand-new antique.
They quickly discovered that, as a commuter vehicle, the G-wagen was compromised in nearly every facet. The mega-tall roof, engineered to accommodate a high seating position for scanning rutted dersert topography, became an albatross in parking garages. The soft suspension and slow steering were ideal for off-road handling but sloppier than a soup sandwich on asphalt. The braking performance and fuel economy, about which the less said, the better.
But the design resonated. Rolling around Beverly Hills or South Beach, where a curvaceous, high-tech supercar is all but mandatory, the G-wagen’s brutal angularity and warhorse vibe seemed vaguely rebellious and deeply cool. Mercedes leaned into the silliness, offering customers new levels of conspicuous absurdity—a six-wheel version, an exotic twin-turbo V-12 engine, a special-edition wearing fluorescent yellow paint. Incredibly, the G-wagen, effectively unchanged after nearly four decades in production, hit record sales last year before its all-new replacement was announced.
The cynical take is that we, as a people, are attracted to excess. Maybe that’s true. But the G-wagen’s brand of excess stood for something, even if many of the customers didn’t realize it. Planned obsolescence is a treadmill; newness is a cult. But function and quality, and good design, are forever.
“The G-wagen succeeds because it’s a piece of anti-design design. Of course, there’s something disingenuous about that—it’s a very elaborate, powerful, luxurious vehicle. But it’s ostentatiously boxy, and looks plain in the same way that someone in jeans doesn’t look dressed up. It’s a brilliant piece of reverse snobbery, which is why it took on a whole new life as a luxury vehicle. It appeals to people who want to spend a lot of money and avoid conventional status symbols.”
— Paul Goldberger, architecture critic and Vanity Fair contributing editor