Lifting the lid on a mint condition 1971 Heuer ‘McQueen’ Monaco...
If there’s a Holy Grail when it comes to motorsport watches – and there surely is – it has to be this one.
What you’re looking at right here is a stunning 1971 Heuer Monaco in blue: known as the ‘Steve McQueen’ because it’s what the actor wore in the celebrated film ‘Le Mans’, when he played fictional Porsche driver Michael Delaney. ‘Le Mans’, directed by Lee Katzin, was also released in 1971 – which is what makes this particular watch so special, as it’s exactly what Steve McQueen had, in every detail.
The Monaco has been re-released by TAG Heuer on numerous occasions in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours ever since. This year alone there were a few limited editions announced; a red one to mark the Monaco Grand Prix Historique and even more recently another with a titanium case, to celebrate the return of the Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Thanks to the famous film though, it’s ironic that the Monaco will forever be much more closely associated with the Le Mans 24-hour race than with the Monaco Grand Prix.
You can also get a green one, a black one, and one with the blue and orange stripes of iconic oil sponsor Gulf, which commemorates the heyday of Le Mans. There’s even a quartz version as well. The myth of the Monaco has been plundered mercilessly: to great commercial success.
But there will only ever be one model of the original McQueen watch, and this is it, sourced of course by Jonathan Scatchard at Vintage Heuer. ‘Condition’ is certainly the right word in this context, as this is probably the best condition Monaco that Jonathan has ever seen. There’s even still the hangtag attached, not to mention the original sticker that was once on the case back.
Crucially, there’s also the original Heuer box: an extremely rare commodity as those boxes at the time weren’t really designed to be kept, being made only of relatively flimsy cardboard proudly sporting the Heuer logo.
And that fact alone tells us more or less everything we need to know about how Heuer was regarded back then: there was never expected to be any sort of second-hand market for these watches, nor the feeling that they would become prized collectors’ items in future.
This was particularly the case for the avant-garde Monaco, which was somewhat unloved at the time. But looking back at it through the lens of history, it’s easy to underestimate just how outlandish it appeared in its day, with its severe square case and chunky prominence on the wrist. What looks trendy and classic right now just looked plain odd back then; a bit like wearing a triangular watch. Who on earth would be brave enough to wear it?
And that’s why Jack Heuer quietly dropped the Monaco in the early 1970s, effectively replacing it with the more rounded Silverstone, before being rediscovered and feted by TAG Heuer many years later where it became a Tag Heuer Monaco. History, like motor races, goes around in circles.
Heuer’s history in motorsport has of course been well-documented, and it was clear from the very beginning that McQueen – an avid student of four-wheeled competition history – wanted to wear a Heuer, as that’s what one of his heroes, Swiss driver Jo Siffert, had worn.
Both McQueen and Katzin were determined to be authentic with their ‘Le Mans’ film, which is why McQueen wanted the complete look of Siffert, including the vintage white overalls, and Katzin used real footage that was shot live from a camera car in the 1970 race. There were rumours that McQueen actually drove that car for some stints during the race, but these were never verified: although we’d like to think that they were true.
However, one notable departure from reality is that Siffert generally wore an Autavia or Carrera. It’s unclear why the Monaco was selected as a star of Le Mans instead, but one reason might be because they wanted the watch to stand out. And it certainly did.
These days, finding a Monaco in this condition is a tough ask – certainly as complete as this one. As a result, this particular example would be worth around £25,000. It’s even got its original bracelet: unusual, as they were notoriously fragile and frequently replaced. All the indications are that this watch was rarely worn – if at all.
So as a motorsport time capsule, it’s quite something. But leaving aside all that, it’s now just an icon of sheer cool. A bit like Steve McQueen himself.
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