13 May 2016

Autodromo – the microbrand with huge horsepower


Cars and watches, watches and cars. For no obvious reason where you find a love of one you will inevitably find a love of the other; the petrol-head who has no interest in the timepiece on your wrist has not yet been born.

Whatever the reason for this marriage of passions it has done nothing but grow stronger in recent years. You can’t open a car magazine without finding endless adverts for watches, and vice versa.

Watch companies rarely miss a trick and they have been mining this particular marketing seam relentlessly for decades – TAG-Heuer with F1, Monaco and the Targa Florio, Chopard with the Mille Miglia, Bremont and Jaguar, and lots more besides.

But almost no watchmaker has overtly set out, from day one, to produce its entire output solely off the back of its love of motor racing. The exception is Autodromo, based in Brooklyn, New York, which we’re going to look at today. Any watch company whose tagline is “Instruments for Motoring” is being crystal clear about its ethos.

Here’s the headline news for those of you new to Autodromo, which has rapidly become one of the most influential of the many microbrands out there – they’re really not expensive in watch terms at all, but through a combination of great design and, for want of a better word, cool, they’ve become kind of without price. To put it another way, I’ve seen them on the wrists of people driving everything from Fiat Pandas to Ferrari 512 BBs.

That Autodromo boss Bradley Price is a huge petrol-head (Alfas, particularly, as it happens) is obvious from the most cursory glance at any of his watches, but that he’s also a designer by trade is pretty clear too thanks to the fact that every piece which comes out of Brooklyn knocks the design challenge straight out of the park.

All Autodromos have one foot in one of the golden eras of motorsport – most noticeably the 60s and 70s but also in the 80s (when rallying was at its most fire-spitting and insane – of which more in a moment).

But whilst many contain generic traces of the eras they “represent” some are so specific as to be inspired by an individual driver and/or car.


The Brian Redman/Jo Siffert Porsche 908/2, Nurburgring, 1969

This “Prototipo” chronograph is my second Autodromo, in this case a limited edition dedicated to 60s/70s racing legend Brian Redman. In no time it has become my go-to watch, coming out of the watch box ahead of pieces costing many times as much.


The Redman, front and back

The standard Prototipo (£505 in the UK) is a glorious thing, with a Panda dial oozing 60s cool and razor-sharp design but the Redman (£620 in steel, £950 in gold plate) has a third register and brings a racing-inspired main index and colours across the watch taken from Redman’s Porsche 908 in which he scored one of his most famous victories, at the Nurburgring in 1969 (the back of the watch bears an engraved image of the infamous German circuit and a “Brian Redman 1969” inscription). Both come in at 42mm and are water resistant to 50m.

Inside sits Seiko’s Meca-Quartz VK63 hybrid movement (as an aside, it is beyond me why meca-quartz movements aren’t more used; anyone?). Redman was limited to 500 pieces (100 with gold-plated cases, 400 in steel, like mine). There’s also an Autodromo tribute to legendary British driver Vic Elford, one of the most accidentally cool men ever to sit in a racing car, if you can still find one.

It wears like a dream, not least on the standard rally strap it comes with in its beautiful presentation box. In fact whilst we’re on boxes, few things come better presented than an Autodromo: the boxes, packing, manuals, stickers and extras all follow the design brief of the watch in terms of materials, feel, fonts and imagery.

That’s obvious when you get to the Group B, released last year and priced at £690 in the UK. A tribute to the lunacy of the rally cars of the 1980s which bore the same name it exudes such fabulous Eightiesness that you expect Jean Michel Jarre to start playing when you open the numbered aluminium box. When you do you’ll be greeted with a booklet bearing the spec drawings of a Lancia Group B rally car (Bradley Price actually borrowed one to help with design inspiration), the rev counter of which is echoed in the Group B’s dial.


The Group B – a tribute to the maddest rally cars of all time


Always lovely touches – An Autodromo “Group B” box

One of the beauties of Autodromo designs is the subtlety of the connections between the watch and the cars it pays tribute to. Given that Group B rally cars were prototypes, using space-age (for the 80s) materials , the mix of steel frame and titanium “capsule” which makes up the superstructure of the watch, surrounding a Miyota 9015 automatic movement, is a lovely touch.

Included are two single piece straps, the two colours depending on which watch colour you go for, and the race inspiration here is obvious too with the “Autodromo” legend patched on to the inner straps like the name of a race harness manufacturer.

The little American company also offers the 42mm Veloce in PVD, essentially a delightful 1960s rev-counter on your wrist, driven by a Ronda quartz engine. I’m not sure a cooler £300 watch exists.


Veloce in PVD

There will be more news from Price’s Brooklyn base in the next couple of weeks, specifically a new limited edition which ought to create as much fuss as all Autodromo’s new releases do (no mean achievement for such a small company).

My understanding is that there are very limited numbers of some of the models left, so if the most petrol-powered of watches has sparked your interest have a look at what’s available in the UK here.

Autodromo’s own website is here.

James Clark is a communications consultant and journalist.