This one’s a bit of an oddball, really. Almost completely forgotten and overlooked by both parties, the Tissot Lotus F1 represents a time when both Tissot and Team Lotus were far from what enthusiasts would call their “classic era”, but at the same time both were trying out new and revolutionary technologies. Getting right to brass tacks, it’s a digital watch dating from 1980, right at the heart of the digital revolution, and it’s a fascinating example of a technology that we as enthusiasts often leave by the wayside.
It’s a cornucopia of complications, including a chronograph, countdown timer, two alarms, two agendas (a date memorizing function), a second time zone, an hour signal, and a calendar. All of this comes courtesy of a Caliber 1640 Quartz movement, shared with the contemporary Omega Sensorquartz. This is, of course, leaving out the two most interesting features. The first is the touch-sensitive pad under the display, marked “F1”, which swaps between functions, sets time, and performs a variety of other roles, which was the first of its kind on any watch. The second was the other name on the face- Lotus.
As mentioned in a previous part of this series, Lotus is one of the most legendary names in Formula 1, but by 1980, they’d fallen a bit from grace. After Mario Andretti’s championship-winning 1978 season behind the wheel of the iconic Lotus 79, the team dropped the iconic John Player Special sponsorship from the cars in favor of a partnership with both Martini and Rossi liquors, and Tissot. Lotus also decided to take the concepts developed for the 79 even further, creating the ground-effect monster Lotus 80.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, a car using the ground-effect principle essentially shapes the entire body like an aerodynamic wing, creating huge amounts of downforce- and therefore grip- at speed. However, the car proved too reliant on ground effect, becoming almost undriveable at low speed and in less than perfect track conditions. Andretti managed one third place finish in Spain, but after two retirements in subsequent races at Monaco and Dijon-Prenois in France, the team decided to axe the car and spent the rest of the season in older Lotus 79s.
For 1980, Lotus reacted to the failures of the 80 with the perhaps too-conservative 81, which addressed the sensitivity issues of the previous chassis without any real innovation, and spent the season wallowing in the midfield with the exception of one second-place finish by Elio de Angelis at Interlagos in Brazil. The team had one more season with the revolutionary but flawed twin-chassis carbon fiber Lotus 88 (never qualifying for a race, forcing them back to the uncompetitive 81) before returning to John Player Special, and their winning ways, in 1982.
The watch, then, like the contemporary Lotus racers it shares its name with, is revolutionary in concept but a bit of a failure in practice. Not for any lack of function or aesthetics, but it’s almost impossible to find information on, and very few ever come up for sale. Digital watches, however, have their own retro cool, and this one is a fine example that isn’t the usual gold Casio.
It’s a definite product of the early 80s, however, and it’s angular, vaguely octagonal motif isn’t for everyone. It’s not without it’s fair share of cool touches, though, such as the “F1”-emblazoned touch pad, and the 36mmx40mm size makes it very wearable on a day-to-day basis. All in all, true F1 fans and watch history aficionados alike can appreciate the pedigree of this Tissot, and it’s a piece that can also easily go under the radar for those not in the know. Finding one to buy, however, is a more tricky proposition, and those that do come up hover around the $600-$1000 range.
by Sean Lorentzen