Here’s a fun fact about the Heuer Autavia in 1972: it wasn’t initially a good seller. But its slow acceleration to popularity – no thanks in part to a timely sales promotion with Viceroy cigarettes – does little to diminish the fact that it was, and still is, one of the best-looking automatic chronographs ever made. And after a pair of early Autavia reissues in 2016 and 2017, TAG Heuer‘s heritage collection has finally tapped into the Viceroy inspiration with the Heuer Heritage Calibre Heuer 02, a special re-edition of that sporty 1972 classic.
As a portmanteau of “automotive” and “aviation,” the Autavia first appeared in 1933 as a dashboard-mounted clock and stopwatch for race cars, boats, and aircraft. It wouldn’t take form as a wristwatch until nearly 30 years later in 1961 when Jack Heuer introduced the first Autavia watch with the signature rotating bezel – a first for Heuer at the time. As mentioned, TAG Heuer’s heritage line has already revisited versions of those earliest Autavias, first with the Calibre Heuer 02 (reviewed here by Ariel), then with later with a limited-edition variant built to celebrate Jack Heuer’s 85th birthday. But both of those editions are paying homage to manually-wound chronographs in the Autavia archive. This watch is the first time we’re seeing a re-edition of an automatic version – the first of which appeared in 1969 equipped with the new Cal. 11 movement.
As the story goes, there were two key automatic Heuer Autavias from the early seventies, and Heuer collectors know them both quite well. Crown on the left, pushers on the right. A stainless steel tonneau-shaped case with a black dial and twin bi-compax white registers, completed by a framed date aperture at 6:00. One special version could be purchased at a considerable discount through Viceroy, by mailing in the boxtop from a carton of the brand’s cigarettes. This special variant embellished the standard 1163 a bit, adding red inserts and red triangle tips to both the brushed steel hour and minute hands. The Viceroy edition also came fitted with a tachometer bezel, rather than the more desirable and functional 60-minute/12-hour bezel. Everything else between the two versions – case, Cal. 11 movement, applied dial markers, etc. was otherwise the same.
TAG Heuer seems to be leaning into the sportier partnership variant for this reissue (without going so far as to actually say it’s the “Viceroy,” likely for trademark or branding reasons), but with a few light updates – namely with the bezel, which is a bidirectional 12-hour aluminum bezel with oversized numerals, differing a bit from the original which overlaid both 12-hour and 60-minute scales on the same bezel. It’s an odd choice to use a different bezel than the source material, given that the minute/hour variant has already been reproduced in the Jack Heuer edition. But it’s likely a deliberate one – ensuring the new Viceroy is more ‘inspired by’ than a direct reissue of the original.
It also borrows the same chunky case silhouette as the other Autavia re-issues that we’ve already seen, measuring 42mm wide and around 17mm thick. Inside beats the Heuer Calibre 02, an automatic column wheel chronograph with 75 hours of power and a 4Hz beat rate. Since it’s just a twin-register design, the running seconds counter at 6:00 has been omitted, while preserving the 30 minute and 12-hour counters at 3 and 9:00, respectively. The silver-framed date window at 6:00 persists here – and for once, its presence helps balance out the dial, preserving the integrity of the original.
Purchases of the watch will include a neat book called Inside Track, by Phil Hill – the only American-born race car driver to ever win the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship, which he did in 1961. Published in 2017, the book is something of a goldmine for car culture fans, exhibiting an intimate look into Hill’s illustrious career as both as a driver, and a photographer who personally documented the inner circle of the golden era of motorsport.
The Heuer Heritage Autavia Calibre 02 Re-Edition is being called a “special re-edition,” and while there’s no official word on whether or not it’s officially limited, we do know that you won’t need to burn through a carton of cigarettes to be eligible to purchase it for the price of $5,800. Head over to tagheuer.com for more information on the availability of this release.