Although I’m a firm believer in the similarities between car enthusiasts and watch enthusiasts and the common mechanical bent that binds us, I’ll be the first to admit that the vast majority of “automotive-inspired” watches are dismal. Most take their inspiration far too literally, painting in broad strokes and placing automotive elements (tachometer markings, racing number roundels, or god forbid an actual steering wheel or disc brake) front and center, rather than allowing them to flavor what should be first and foremost sound and attractive watch design.
The best of these attempts take a singular design concept and stick to just that, without beating the viewer over the head with car imagery. One of the best at this in the current watch market is Autodromo. In recent years, the brand has delivered a string of great automotive pieces from the Prototipo to the sublime Stradale, and they’ve topped all their previous efforts with their latest- the Group B.
The FIA World Rally Championship’s Group B, perhaps more than any other epoch in the history of sport, is a perfect metaphor for its era. High-tech, excessive, 500 horsepower cocaine-fueled insanity on dirt, mud, snow, ice, and just about any other surface on Earth, the Group B class lasted for only four terrifying years from 1982-86 before a horrific incident at that year’s Rally Portugal sent an out of control Ford RS200 into the crowd, injuring 31 and killing three. That, and the subsequent death of championship favorite Henri Toivonen at the Tour de Corse, forced the sport’s governing body to abandon Group B in favor of slower, safer categories. Despite its murderous reputation, the Group B era remains the golden age of rallying for most fans, and the sport would never again reach the heights of performance and innovation it showed during those few short years.
The Autodromo Group B, then, has some incredibly big shoes to fill, and at first glance it doesn’t disappoint. What jumps out at first, naturally, is the dial. According to Autodromo, it’s directly inspired by the tach gauge of Lancia’s legendary 037 Group B car, but unlike so many gauge-style designs it doesn’t come off immediately as being part of a dashboard strapped to your wrist. It’s bold, graphic, and handsome, with large painted indices at every minute punctuated by matching applied batons at every hour mark. This index track is sunken slightly from the level of the inner dial, which other than a small pair of dashboard screws at 3 and 9 is remarkably restrained. The handset is really the only part of the watch that really communicates “gauge”, each corresponding to a different gauge needle style from a traditional needle for the minutes, skeletonized for hours and yellow-tipped for seconds. Even these, however, are attractive and tie the automotive inspiration together admirably without feeling over the top. All elements on the dial are executed in the same strong color (either red, blue, yellow, or white), making the overall design extremely coherent while maintaining at-a-glance readability.
The Group B inspiration continues through the case design, although it’s far less obvious. The three-part 39x50mm case carries the series’ spirit of innovation with a three-part case in titanium and steel, with the bezel and case-back being made of light weight Ti as well as the movement holder; a first for Autodromo. This construction makes it their lightest watch ever at only 52 grams, and incredibly resilient. The integrated-lug, squared-off design itself is simple but attractive, with sharp edges and a modest polished bevel between the top of the case and the side finished with Autodromo’s signature hex bolt crown. At 39mm the size looks to be spot on, especially when coupled to a svelte 9.9mm thickness.
The solid lug design does limit your strap choice, however. The nylon pass-through straps included with the Group B work well with the overall look, available either in gray or dial color, and feature an Autodromo patch sewn to the inside racing harness style. Outside of these, though, the watch would be limited to 20mm single piece or NATO straps.
The movement inside this handsome beast is Miyota’s tried and true 9015. While a departure from the innovative Group B theme, it’s a reliable, affordable choice that we’ve seen proliferate across the industry. The overall package comes in at $925 and is available for pre-sale now at autodromo.com