March 21, 2023
After 10 generations of larger, softer, style-oriented “personal luxury vehicles,” it can be easy for all but the most dedicated Ford fans to forget that the Ford Thunderbird was conceived as a head-to-head competitor for the sporty Chevrolet Corvette. From its debut in 1955 to 1957, the first-generation Thunderbird was more than a match for its General Motors-produced rival on paper, particularly in its fire-breathing supercharged F-Code trim. With trim two-seat proportions and styling inspired by Henry Ford II’s personal Ferrari 212/225 Inter Spyder Barchetta, the original Thunderbird was a massive hit for Ford, and it lives on in enthusiast circles as one of the greatest American cars of the ‘50s. As Breitling looks to expand on the success of 2021’s Top Time Classic Cars collection, then, the Thunderbird is a worthy subject for adaptation. This is far more than a new colorway for an existing design, however. The new Breitling Top Time B01 Ford Thunderbird is the poster child for a substantially revised second generation of Top Time Classic Cars chronographs, featuring in-house movements, more compact proportions, a more focused design philosophy, and an aggressive new price point.
At 41mm-wide, the stainless steel case of the Breitling Top Time B01 Ford Thunderbird wears markedly smaller than most of the first-generation Top Time Classic Cars designs. On the whole, this is a clean, classic midcentury sports chronograph design, with a slim polished bezel, tall piston pushers, and simple angular attached lugs. A predominantly polished finish helps to further root this simple layout in the visual style of the original ‘60s Top Time models, while horizontal brushing along the case sides works to slightly break up the visual profile of the case on the wrist. With that said, the 13.8mm-thick overall bulk is still readily apparent in normal wear, although much of this height comes courtesy of the tall beveled sapphire crystal. A second sapphire crystal adorns the display caseback, along with a printed rendition of the classic first-generation Ford Thunderbird emblem. Printed sapphire casebacks are nearly always a point of division in the watch community, but the small dimensions and clean presentation of this element make it far less onerous than many others of the type. Breitling finishes off the case with a solid 100-meter water resistance rating.
Compared to the rest of the Top Time Classic Cars collection, the Breitling Top Time B01 Ford Thunderbird’s dial is a quieter, more reserved affair. Rather than the rich, vibrant colors and detailed brushed finishes of its predecessors, the Top Time B01 Ford Thunderbird’s dial is largely simple matte white. While this may remove some of the sporty drama from the layout, it also draws the eye more toward the nuances of the design, and this new model excels at these finer details. At first glance, there’s so much of this design that registers as standard vintage-inspired sports chronograph fare – the simple printed baton indices, the chisel-tipped striped baton hands, the outer tachymeter ring, and the needle-shaped central chronograph seconds hand are all very familiar elements, for example. Once you dig deeper, however, you begin to come across a wealth of thoughtful, quirky design decisions that give the Top Time B01 Ford Thunderbird a character all its own.
The most obvious of these choices is the use of color. Without a bold, saturated dial hue to anchor the design visually, each spot of accent color becomes more prominent, and Breitling uses this principle effectively with a mix of muted brick red and orange to draw attention to chronograph elements. From the tachometer redline-inspired color blocks on the outer tachymeter ring to the matte red length of the central chronograph seconds hand, these warm tones breathe energy into the design while subtly reinforcing the central automotive theme. Breitling balances out these fiery hues with judicious use of turquoise – a color deeply tied to the Thunderbird line as a whole – for the 9 o’clock running seconds hand and the 12 o’clock printed Ford Thunderbird logo. Although uninformed watch fans might see this as a “Tiffany Blue” accent to cash in on the recent popularity of similar colors, this is a markedly different shade of blue in practice, and one that carries nearly seven decades of provenance with the Ford brand. Although the unique rounded-square design of the subdials here is carried over from the first generation of Top Time Classic Cars releases, the lighter, more restrained color palette of the Top Time B01 Ford Thunderbird also draws focus towards Breitling’s unique finishing for these elements. Azurage is a common enough sight for chronograph subdials, but the way Breitling incorporates this familiar finish into the unorthodox shape of the subdials themselves is a delight on the wrist. The gradual shift from harsh squares in the center to a softer form at the subdial edge is an easy detail to overlook, but it’s one that speaks deeply to the care Breitling puts into this apparently simple design. Overall, this dial acts as a handsome visual counterpoint to the wilder Top Time Classic Cars models that comprise the rest of the collection, with a look that smartly echoes the more gentlemanly sporting aesthetic of the ‘50s era that gave birth to the Thunderbird.
Like all new releases in this collection, the Breitling Top Time B01 Ford Thunderbird is equipped with the in-house B01 automatic chronograph movement. The B01 is a solid contender in its market segment, sporting a 70-hour power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate, COSC chronometer certification for accuracy, and a column wheel and vertical clutch chronograph actuation system. Breitling matches this impressive performance with subdued finishing. A mix of simple vertical and arabesque brushing tops the plates and bridges, while the stylized skeleton rotor features a matching vertically brushed look. Breitling finishes the watch with a rich red rally-style leather strap. This splash of color helps to add a sportier presence to the remarkably restrained dial, but it also feels at home with the ‘50s-style red leather interiors that were common in first-generation Thunderbirds.
Although it takes a decidedly subtler approach than many of its stablemates, the new Breitling Top Time B01 Ford Thunderbird takes the Top Time Classic Cars collection forward into a new generation while delivering a compelling tribute to one of the best-loved classic cars of the ‘50s. The Breitling Top Time B01 Ford Thunderbird is available now through authorized dealers. It’s worth noting, however, that the move to the in-house B01 chronograph movement comes with a steep price increase – starting MSRP for the Breitling Top Time B01 Ford Thunderbird stands at $8,000 USD as of press time, a full $2,500 more than the Top Time Classic Cars models launched in 2021. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.