50 years of Tag Carrera
Half a century ago, one of the ultimate driving watches was born. Here's its story
Posted: 28 Oct 2013
In 1953, Antonio Stagnoli's Ferrari suffered a blow out at 165mph and crashed, killing the co-driver instantly and fatally injuring Stagnoli. Six spectators were killed an hour later, in a separate incident. Two days after that, another Italian driver, Felice Bonetto (The Pirate) told the press he would "be driving until I die". When his Lancia hit a huge ditch barely an hour later, his words became swiftly prophetic. His friend, the great Piero Taruffi, who had won the event in 1951, found Bonetto, his neck broken. He had no choice but to leave him where he was and continue his own race, which would be won that year by Fangio. In 1954, Ferrari driver Umberto Maglioli managed to average 138mph over one of the stages; a year later, in the wake of the 1955 tragedy at Le Mansin which a driver and 83 spectators were killed, and 120 people injured, the Carrera Panamericana was cancelled.
That the name lives on is partly down to Porsche, of course, but also Jack Heuer, who had twigged onto the PR value of supplying his watches to the US racing scene, and thrilled to the tales he was told. "I first heard about the Carrera from Pedro Rodriguez at the 12 Hours of Sebring," he recalls. "The officials were members of SCCA [Sports Car Club of America], voluntary guys, and I supplied them with their timing equipment." Heuer was working furiously on developing the world's first self-winding chronograph at the time, and needed a suitable platform to promote its efforts (the Calibre 11 automatic chronograph would arrive in 1969). "We were too small to go full-blast with big advertising worldwide," Heuer recalls, "so I said maybe we should try PR."