Take a 50-year drive down automotive memory lane with some modern classics, the brochures that helped sell them and some iconic watches.
I was having a sort out and discovered a few boxes of car brochures that I’d accumulated over the last five decades. The brochures evoked all kinds of memories – from vehicles I’ve owned to those I’ve dreamed about. And some I was smart enough to realise would have historical interest. Now, throw in some watches that reflect the mood of those decades. The result is a walk down automotive memory lane through those brochures. So, remember the late 1960s – or imagine what it was like – as we explore the brochure collection…
Named after the location of the classic Monégasque Grand Prix, the square-cased Heuer Monaco, with its automatic Calibre 11 ‘Chronomatic’ movement, was launched in 1969. A year later, during filming of Le Mans, the Monaco found itself on the wrist of one Steve McQueen and horological history was made.
Ferrari’s GTB4 Daytona
A year earlier, Ferrari had debuted its Pininfarina-styled GTB4 at the Paris Salon. Referencing Ferrari’s 1-2-3 victory at 1967’s Daytona 24-Hours race, the GTB4 Berlinetta gained the Daytona nickname, a sobriquet that stuck. In fact, though never an official Ferrari name, the car became better known under this moniker. In a period brochure, UK importer Maranello Concessionaires even refers to the car as such. Contrast that with 1969's official Produzione Ferrari SPA brochure which only refers to ‘GTB4’.
Not long into the decade, as Rod Stewart topped the UK charts with ‘Maggie May’, 1971 saw Rolex launch their Explorer II. The long-awaited timepiece succeeded the legendary Rolex Explorers famously worn by Everest conqueror Sir Edmund Hillary and James Bond creator, Ian Fleming. Rummaging through my brochure collection, there’s just one book from the 1970s – albeit for a car with special meaning for Geckota's founder and MD, Jon Quinn, who once owned an example.
All change for Porsche
A slightly dog-eared Porsche brochure from the mid-1970s presents the Harm Lagaay-designed Porsche 924, which sold from 1976 to 1988. The 924 was intended to replace the mid-engined 914 as Porsche’s entry-level model. With its front-engine and rear-wheel drive configuration it was a milestone for the Zuffenhausen marque.
The collection includes many more brochures from the 1980s. In the UK, it was a decade of unbridled affluence, of yuppies, financial deregulation and Big Bang in the City of London. It was also the time of Swatch Group’s spectacular response to the watch industry quartz crisis of the 1970s and early 1980s.
Renaissance in Swiss Watchmaking
Nicolas Hayek’s cheap and cheerful Swatch may have been largely plastic, but it’s strongly symbolic of this decade’s renaissance in Swiss watchmaking. And a striking counterpoint to the astronomically-priced sports cars of the time. Cars like Porsche’s 911 and Ferrari’s Testarossa. The machines that came to epitomise the motoring taste of the City’s new Masters of the Universe.
As the 1980s arrived, I lived in Northern Ireland, where another now-iconic – and infamous – car was turning heads. The Giorgetto Giugiaro-designed DMC Delorean, with its stainless-steel panels and gull-wing doors was a regular sight near our home close to the ill-fated factory on Belfast's outskirts.
The ram-raider’s favourite
Later in the decade, now living in Bristol, Ford’s Sierra RS Cosworth, ‘the ram-raider’s favourite’, imprinted itself on my memory of the time. I can even recall theft of these ridiculously fast, capacious cars figuring prominently in my one and only spell of jury service.
To end my 1980s retrospective, I’ve chosen 1989’s Renault Alpine GTA, a supposed 911-killer that continued the lineage of the Monte-Carlo Rally winning Alpine A110 and the later Alpine A310.
With cancellation of the A710 ‘Berlinette 2’ project in the mid-1990s, it would be nearly 30 years until Alpine relaunched the brand with the spectacular new A110.
Of course, in 1989 Mazda launched the MX-5, its now legendary ‘Japanese-built British sports car’. We’ll return to the MX-5 later for its thirtieth-anniversary celebrations. But first, with the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, Gulf War I and dissolution of the USSR, let’s enter the 1990s…
Horologically, this was a time when mechanical watchmakers who’d survived the quartz crisis were rebuilding their fortunes. They did so by re-positioning their watches as luxury goods packed with solid engineering, classic design and rich heritage. A good example? How about the Omega Seamaster 300m sported by Pierce Brosnan as James Bond 007 in 1995’s GoldenEye?
The beginning of Bond’s Omega years
It was the watch that started the relationship between Omega and Bond that continues to this day. And, yes, I’ll be featuring an Aston Martin brochure, but you must read on for that…
GoldenEye begins with a breathtaking bungee jump from Switzerland’s 220m-high Contra Dam. That, and Omega’s Swiss domicile, leads perfectly to the Swiss-market brochure for another of my 1990s classics. It’s the Toyota Hilux pickup I once owned. They’re arguably one of the classic pickup trucks. I used one as my daily (non-commercial) driver long before SUVs became cool and on-trend.
Another modern classic that passed through my hands was Honda’s fourth-generation Prelude, made between 1991 and 1996. With its distinctive ‘teardrop’ profile I recall that this version of the ‘Lude, was acclaimed as one of the best-made cars Honda had ever made – great fun, distinctive and still rattle-free at 120,000 miles. I loved that car…
More modern classics from the 1990s
The nineties gave us several other cars that have since gained modern-classic status: Ford’s Probe from 1994; the MGF; and the supercar-killing Toyota Supra A80 manufactured from 1993 to 2002.
Now for three more historically significant vehicles that appeared in force during the decade. They’re the original Mercedes-Benz A-Class (don’t mention ‘moose tests’), the New VW Beetle and Toyota’s pioneering Prius. The latter, of course, the world’s first mass-produced hybrid vehicle. Over 20 years later, the Prius is well on its way towards 10m worldwide sales.
With the turn of the Millennium, we saw neither crashing computers nor plummeting airliners, but that Britain’s iconic Mini had been reborn under German ownership. It’s gone from strength to strength – and kept growing in size – ever since.
Breitling, Bentley and the new Continental
From a horological perspective, the 2000s saw Breitling first partner with Bentley. An early result result was the dashboard clock for the new Bentley Continental GT and the convertible GTC. That was in 2003, the year Speed 8 Bentleys came first and second at Le Mans. Over a decade later, the partnership continued strongly with top versions of 2016’s Bentley Bentayga having a Breitling Mulliner Tourbillon clock. Reputedly, this was the costliest dashboard clock ever fitted to a car. At around £150,000 ($234,000), it cost more than the base Bentayga!
Moving from dashboard to wrist, you can now buy a nice pre-owned Breitling Bentley Motors A25362 with 48.8mm steel case and 100m water resistance for under four grand. It’s the perfect automotive-themed watch to sum up this decade, especially if you love Bentleys.
Anyone for a Maserati?
Rummaging further into my collection from this time, two more brochures depict the drop dead gorgeous Maserati Coupé and quirky Vauxhall VX220 two-seater. The latter, known as the Opel Speedster in Europe, was designed and built by Lotus.
Earlier, I promised something for Aston Martin fans. So here’s the Aston Martin DB9 that first appeared at the 2003 Frankfurt Auto Show. Interestingly, and despite the connection between James Bond and Aston Martin, the DB9 never appeared in a Bond film. However, to celebrate the long relationship, Aston Martin created a limited-edition DB9 GT Bond Edition in 2015 to coincide with the release of Spectre.
Car brochures sure have changed in 50 years
As we enter the final decade of our review period, it’s interesting to note the great differences between brochures from the start and finish of the half-century. The earliest were produced way before digital technology. And it shows, not least in how cutaway illustrations evolve from hand-rendered artwork to digitally reproduced CAD images over the period. Meanwhile, the sheer quality of printed publications – if you can get one in an age of PDF downloads – and their often-sophisticated slipcase packaging has also changed enormously.
Modern technology means that the quality and sophistication of brochures for even modestly-priced family saloons are now streets ahead of even those Ferrari supercar brochures from the late 1960s. That was a time when you could buy a new 365GTB4 Daytona for £9586.06 (£156,477.71 at 2019 prices)! Depending on condition, these Scaglietti-bodied classics now sell for upwards of £500k. Indeed, in 2017 a unique aluminium-bodied Daytona ‘barn find’ sold for €1,807,000 (£1558,456/$2,018,148) at public auction.
2010 – the ‘twenty-tens’
My first brochure choice from the twenty-tens is again inspired by a car I’ve owned. It’s the Škoda Yeti (codenamed Typ 5L) that the Czech manufacturer premiered in Geneva in 2009. A landmark in Škoda’s history, their first crossover, the Yeti quickly gained a cult following for its practicality and handling. And its looks too, including the pre-facelift cars’ friendly ‘face’ and ‘eyes’. That was before later versions fell into line with personality-killing corporate design guidelines.
The Škoda Yeti: Clarkson agrees with me
Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson loved the Yeti too. He described it as ‘a remarkable car’ before finding Sienna Miller in the glovebox and allowing a Robinson R22 helicopter to land on its roof while speeding down a runway!
And so to our concluding vehicles. Earlier, I mentioned the pioneering, if rather prosaic, Toyota Prius. Nearly 20 years later, Lexus launched their tasty LC500 coupé and its LC500h hybrid version. Cars like this clearly show how two decades have seen hybrid cars become seriously fun as well as practical.
Mazda’s MX-5 at 30
To bring my – admittedly subjective – review of 50 years’ cars and brochures up to date, I’ve chosen Mazda’s MX-5. Originally launched in 1989, the MX-5 has become a true cult hero and celebrated its thirtieth anniversary in 2019. It’s the car the original Lotus Elan really should have been. Forget comments about being a woman’s or hairdresser’s car. They usually come from people who haven’t driven an MX-5! Now I own one, I’ve realised what a daft comment it is. And why, from the original NA with its pop-up lights, to the latest 30th Anniversary Edition ND, the MX-5 so deserves the praise it’s attracted over three decades.
So what about a timepiece for 2019 and our final decade? How about something to wear in an MX-5 on a sunny 'top-down' day with ‘twisties’ ahead? In my book, it’s hard to imagine a better watch than Zenith’s celebratory El Primero 50 Years from Baselworld 2019.
Wow! Where have those 50 years, all the cars we owned, and all those fascinating car brochures gone?
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