One of the greatest things about covering the micro-brand segment of the watch industry is that we get to watch companies grow—usually out of one person’s vision—and every once in a while a handful of these companies emerge from the crucible of the startup market to create something truly groundbreaking. Perhaps the greatest of these success stories belongs to Bradley Price and his brand Autodromo, which is responsible for some of the most stunning, highest quality, automotive-inspired designs on the market. With their latest effort, Autodromo has taken another massive step forward, adding their name and flawless sensibilities to two separate collections inspired by America’s greatest race car, the Ford GT. Working in partnership with the blue oval themselves, Autodromo’s Ford GT chronographs capture the ethos of both the cars that conquered Le Mans in the 1960s and the modern supercar that bears the nameplate into 2017.
First, let us take a look at the big gun in the lineup: the Owner’s Edition Chronograph, a bespoke, limited-edition available only to those who purchase Ford’s awe-inspiring modern GT. This is by far Autodromo’s most ambitious project to date, with a host of world-class features worthy of its companion automobile. The ceramic case is 43mm and boasts a four-piece structure full of sweeping, organic curves. Like all Autodromo pieces before it, the Owner’s Edition is more of an interpretation of the inspiration than a literal translation, and it’s an approach that has served the brand well. There’s enough of the exotic bulges and sweeping lines to capture the spirit of the GT without making the watch look clumsy or foolish.
The outer chassis, comprising the case sides and integrated lugs, is tightly packaged with a dramatic, swooping downturn that moves toward a set of short, hooded lugs. At two and four are wide, rectangular pushers featuring a slotted pattern reminiscent of the GT’s paddle shifters. The deeply toothed crown at three is signed with the GT emblem as well.
This outer structure surrounds both the simple mid-case and one of the highlights of the entire piece: the bezel. This wide, fixed minutes bezel is polished to a mirror sheen and features a dramatic, sloping curve inward towards the dial. The only watch I can think of with something similar is the original Breitling Superocean, and the effect is equally impressive here.
All these elements lead to a multi-layer, all-sapphire dial designed to mimic the depth and “floating” appearance of the GT’s digital gauge cluster. The ultramodern Arabic numerals, pointillized inner ring, hexagonal indices, tachymeter ring, and chronograph sub-dials appear to float on slightly different levels—all above black ceramic latticework. The effect is unparalleled and futuristic as all hell, looking every bit as advanced as the half-million-dollar world beater that spawned it.
Even the hour and minute hands are made of sapphire crystal, with their printed silhouettes hovering above the other layers. The chronograph hands, meanwhile, are relatively minimalist with bases that pick up the hexagonal motif of the hours indices and background latticework. The only text afforded the Owner’s Edition Chronograph is the GT emblem at 12, coupled with a balancing “Automatic Chronograph” script at six. As for the automatic chronograph in question, Autodromo is keeping movement details very close to the chest. So far, all they’ll say is that it’s a Swiss-made, flyback automatic chronograph caliber. Strap-wise, the Owner’s Edition Chronograph has been shown on bespoke black rubber, but details are a bit hazy here, too.
This does bring up one of the Owner’s Edition Chronograph’s main selling points: each watch can be customized to match the customer’s vehicle with a wide variety of color options and a serial number to match their corresponding GT (so the blacked-out version featured above is but one of the many possible iterations). This customization process will be overseen by Ford’s own Ford GT concierge team, and new GT buyers will be able to perfect their car and matching watch at the same time. Pricing details are verboten here—if you have to ask, you probably don’t own a Ford GT (seeing as it has a starting price of $450,000). Pre-orders on the Owner’s Edition begin early next year, so the lucky few will have something to look forward to after the New Year.
“When our discussions with Ford began, it was clear that Raj Nair, Henry Ford, and Chris Svensson all wanted to do something extraordinary . . . and that it would be the greatest challenge and honor of my design career to create . . . two watches that could express the feeling, technology, and history of this amazing car.” – Autodromo’s Bradley Price
For the rest of us watch lovers, Autodromo has taken the basic concepts of the Owner’s Edition Chronograph and created this: the GT Endurance Chronograph. While it may not be the technical marvel that the Owner’s Edition is, the GT Endurance Chronograph is anything but watered down. In fact, I think the idea behind this one is even more clever. Using the Owner’s Edition (which draws inspiration from the current 2017 Ford GT) as a starting point, Autodromo has taken the basic shapes and ideas of that design and extrapolated what the ancestors of that piece would look like in the design language of the late ‘60s. It’s no easy feat to pull off, and what’s left is a surprisingly good companion to the original Ford GT racers of the 1960s. Not to mention, these watches wouldn’t look out of place in the racing chronograph ecosystem of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s; there are notes of classic Heuer here, along with dashes of early Rolex Daytonas and even the short, tapered lugs of the Seiko 6138-3000 “Jumbo.”
The case, brought down to a more vintage-appropriate (and extremely wearable) 40mm, features many of the same beats from its bigger sibling. The continuous, polished bevel coming from the case sides through to the lugs, the shortness of the lugs themselves, and even the four-piece construction are all featured here, but all the pieces feel simpler and more classic. Gone are the space-age ceramics, replaced by good old-fashioned stainless steel. The slotted, paddle shifter-inspired pushers and the aggressive crown have been replaced by simple button pushers and a small pillbox crank. The case surfaces are an interesting mix of polishing and brushing, with combinations of the two differing from one colorway to the next. Around back is a simple, screw-fastened case-back proudly displaying Ford’s blue oval and the GT emblem, with “Endurance Chronograph” in between.
The dial options on display for the GT Endurance Chronograph are some of he most varied I’ve ever seen on a watch, ranging from the clean and restrained (the Le Mans Blue variant) to the wild (the LM 2016, built to celebrate last year’s Ford GT Le Mans class winner). That said, each of these different styles works impressively with the base design—there are no losers in this bunch.
The real standouts, however, are the two Heritage pieces: the Heritage ’66 and Heritage ’67 versions celebrating Ford GT victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 and 1967, respectively. Both incorporate those winners’ racing liveries to stunning effect. The ’66, rendered in PVD black-on-black, highlights the black and silver of Ford’s first Le Mans victor with gold accents (taken from race winners Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon’s gold-painted wheels, no doubt) to stunning effect, while the three o’clock sub-dial becomes a #2 roundel (this is also my only minor gripe with the ’66: the off-center positioning of the number along with the modern font seems to be taken from the current Ford GT Heritage Edition, not the original winning GT40 Mk.II).
Meanwhile, the Heritage ’67 pays tribute to the all-American GT40 Mk.IV that took top honors the following year with a stunning red dial incorporating that car’s white “C-stripe” down the center. Like the Heritage ’66, the ’67’s three o’clock sub-dial is transformed into a number roundel, this time faithfully displaying Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt’s proud #1 designation. It’s a combination that shouldn’t work, but all the elements together are just enough—not literal enough to be garish, but instantly recognizable to those in the know (just like my other automotive-inspired favorite, the Seiko 6138 “John Player Special”).
Inside this handsome exterior is the proven Seiko VK64 meca-quartz used previously by Autodromo in the Prototipo series. In many ways, this is the best of both worlds. There’s still the snap and sweep of a mechanical chronograph, but it’s coupled here with the reliability, affordability, and “set-and-forget” convenience of quartz. The straps for the GT Endurance Chronograph are ribbed, tuck-and-roll leather—an Autodromo specialty. Each dial variant gets a complementary strap in either black, blue, or white, and the whole package is finished with a razor-sharp engraved Autodromo logo pin buckle.
Of course, the GT Endurance Chronograph is a whole lot easier to own than its big brother—pre-orders are available now on Autodromo’s site for $695 for delivery in time for the holidays.These are sure to move quickly, and I know a certain watch journalist who’s pre-ordering his own Heritage ’67 right now.
For more information on the GT Endurance Chronograph, visit Autodromo.