Review: Autodromo Ford GT Endurance Chronograph Collection

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Watch collecting, on some level, is a game of compromises. Every collector has their own dream timepiece, even if it’s an abstract concept, and while some watches get very close indeed, they rarely ever completely match the ideal vision in your head. The Autodromo Ford GT Endurance Chronograph, for me at least, is that rare dream watch made real.

A 40mm, design-focused racing chronograph with a bona fide link to the greatest nameplate in American racing history is an incredible idea on paper—one that ticks all the enthusiast boxes in one neat, little package. That said, flying this close to the sun is a dangerous game. If the fine details aren’t correct, the whole package could be a major setback to future brand growth. With all that in mind, how does the Ford GT Endurance Chronograph stack up? Let’s examine those finer details for ourselves.


Author’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, this is a watch I purchased, at release, for my own collection. I have done my best to remain objective and omit any personal bias in this review for the sake of accurately portraying the timepiece to prospective buyers.


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$695

Review: Autodromo Ford GT Endurance Chronograph Collection

Case
Stainless Steel/ Optional PVD
Movement
Seiko VK64 Meca-Quartz Hybrid
Dial
Red/White, Blue/White, Blue/Red/White, Black/Silver, Blue
Lume
Yes
Lens
Box Sapphire
Strap
Leather
Water Resistance
50 meters
Dimensions
40mm x 44mm
Thickness
11.4mm
Lug Width
20mm
Crown
Push/pull
Warranty
2 years
Price
$695

Case

While the dial work of the Ford GT Endurance Chronograph immediately stands out, it’s the case work that really steals the show on careful inspection. Much of this has to do with the backstory of the GT’s development: the Endurance Chronograph is only one arm of a two-part joint project between Ford and Autodromo, the other being the ultra-exclusive (as in, buy our half-million dollar supercar before we consider letting you buy this watch, exclusive) GT Owner’s  Chronograph.

The Owner’s Edition was conceived first as a cutting-edge companion to the modern high-tech Ford GT supercar, with a ceramic case and advanced geometry. The Endurance Chronograph came along later in development as a mass-market companion to the Owner’s watch, drawing inspiration from the world-conquering Ford GT40 endurance racers of the late ‘60s.

This left Autodromo with a real design conundrum. While the current Ford GT references and updates the look of the GT40s of the past, for the Endurance Chronograph they had to work backwards, taking an ultramodern case design and “back-dating” it, imagining what those shapes would have looked like in the design language and the materials of the 1960s.

The ideas behind the case are interesting enough, but the execution really lets this adaptation stand on its own two feet. From straight on, the case is deceptively simple: short, angled lugs with a wide, steel bezel. It’s from an angle, however, that the complexity comes through. That wide polished tachymeter bezel is sloped inward, forming a bowl for the dial and creating a truly unique profile. The only other watch I can think of with this bezel style is the original Breitling Superocean, and despite being an entirely different style of watch it works brilliantly here. The theme of unusual angles continues through the lugs, which look almost Omega-style twisted at first glance. There’s none of Omega’s flowing organic curve here, however. Instead of a twist, the top sides of the lugs are sharply angled inwards, creating a cleaner and more mechanical look. What’s more, the inner edges of these lugs feature perfect vertical brushing in a space that should be impossible to brush.

This, along with the polished chamfered edge running right underneath the bezel, are the only major visual clues to the Ford GT Endurance Chronograph’s impressive case construction. Instead of the typical two-piece, Autodromo has designed a four-piece case here: bezel, inner case, outer case, and lugs, and case back, all screwed together. By producing in so many pieces, every case surface receives equal finishing, resulting in a case that punches far above its price range. What’s more, Autodromo’s back-dating alchemy seems to have worked here—the look is completely believable as a late-‘60s design and it fits in neatly with other watches of the era without feeling derivative in the slightest.

Lastly, the case back is a simple screw-fastened affair, but it wears the Ford “Blue Oval” proudly alongside the Endurance Chronograph badging. It’s simple, clean co-branding done right.

Dial

If the case is where the Ford GT Endurance Chronograph whispers excellence, the dial is where the design is allowed to shout. There are five different designs on offer here ranging from mild to wild, each celebrating a different aspect of the Ford GT’s incredible history.

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Heritage 67
Ford Racing Stripes
Le Mans 2016
Heritage 66
Le Mans Blue

My personal favorite is the Heritage 67, a bolder look commemorating the only all-American victory (American chassis, engine, drivers, and team) in the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, courtesy of 1967’s Ford GT40 Mark IV. The bright red main dial is circled by a black and white 1/5-second chapter ring, further compressing the watch on the wrist while adding a surrounding highlight. The bigger highlight, obviously, is the Mark IV’s trademark C-stripe. Running from 12 to six and taking up two hours of width on the dial, it is a bold graphical statement that indelibly ties the Endurance Chronograph to the high water mark of American racing history.The sub-dials at three and nine are slightly recessed, offering some visual depth to an otherwise very slim package. The 60-minute counter, in matching red, also features a checkered flag style register and subtle snailing for added light play. Across the way at three o’clock is a 24-hour hand, with a index-free sub-dial based on the Mark IV’s proud #1 number roundel. It’s a bold visual marker that immediately sets the Heritage 67 apart at a glance, but I can’t help but think it  would be more impressive as a running seconds or even a chronograph-hours register. Of course, that has more to do with the movement manufacturer than with Autodromo, and finding a chronograph movement with those specs could have seriously elevated the price of the watch.

The rest of the elements are suitably old-school, with applied squares of luminous paint for indices and simple polished baton hands with a central lume stripe (which, not at all coincidentally, form little polished Ford Racing double stripes). A subtle touch, but one that gives a deeper subconscious feeling of connection to the design beyond the big elements at play.

The other dial variants offer a surprisingly wide range of aesthetics, from the more upscale, daily-wear blue of the Le Mans Blue, to the sinister-yet-sporty Heritage 66. The Ford Racing Stripe dial offers a solid aesthetic middle ground between the two while offering some deep racing heritage of its own, while the Le Mans 2016’s bold splashes of color distill the bright and complex racing livery of the current Ford GT Le Mans challenger into a streamlined package.

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Movement

The movement of the Ford GT Endurance Chronograph may be a point of contention for some purists. While it’s true that the watch uses a quartz power plant, this isn’t just a straightforward quartz chronograph. The GT uses Seiko’s VK64 meca-quartz hybrid movement, which has performed admirably in several micro-brand releases these past few years.

It’s a movement that in some ways offers the best of both worlds: you get quartz simplicity, durability, and value with the look and feel of a mechanical chronograph. It’s got a mechanical sweep and the crisp, shift-lever mechanical feel one gets from a traditional chronograph. It even resets like a mechanical. And then there’s the thickness question. If Autodromo had gone with, say, a 7750 in here instead of the VK64, the big, traditional movement would have bloated the sleek lines of this beautiful case. While a mechanical would certainly be nice, the VK64 is a very respectable choice at this price point.

Straps and Wearability

Like all of Autodromo’s previous releases, the Ford GT Endurance Chronograph chooses to offer one strap and do it well. The strap in question is supple Italian leather, color matched to the dial variant and featuring a ribbed tuck-and-roll pattern reminiscent of the seats in the current Ford GT supercar.

The 40mm case wears surprisingly smaller than you might think it would. Show here on a seven-inch wrist.

For the Heritage 67, that translates to a high-visibility white leather that I wasn’t initially sold on. As time went on, however, I came to appreciate the boldness of it and the way it picked up on the white of the stripes.

The buckle deserves special mention, featuring a razor-sharp applied Autodromo logo that’s among the nicest I’ve seen at this or any price.

Of course, the watch would be a great candidate for a rally strap, either big or small hole, or perhaps something in suede to add to the neo-vintage feel at play here. I could even see a beads of rice bracelet working well here, playing off the ‘60s design ethos.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the Autodromo Ford GT Endurance Chronograph is a Babe Ruth of a watch. By partnering with Ford Motor Company and trying to capture the legendary ethos of the GT, Bradley Price and the rest of the team at Autodromo stepped up to the plate and pointed straight at the left field nosebleeds. It’s a huge risk, but when the pitch was thrown they absolutely blasted it.

It’s not totally perfect: $695 is more than you would pay for your average quartz watch (that said, there’s nothing “average” about this collection), and most of the designs probably aren’t for everybody, but it’s hard not to think of the Ford GT Endurance Chronograph as a watershed moment for the brand. That’s not to belittle Autodromo’s other releases, but I get the feeling when we look back on the brand decades from now, this is the watch the community will be thinking of. Autodromo

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Hailing from Redondo Beach, California, Sean’s passion for design and all things mechanical started at birth. Having grown up at race tracks, hot rod shops and car shows, he brings old-school motoring style and a lifestyle bent to his mostly vintage watch collection. He is also the Feature Editor and Videographer for Speed Revolutions.
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