A trip through Italy with a fitting tribute to a racing hero...
Traditionally, British policemen always used to like to say to speeding motorists: “who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?” Over in America, it was exactly the same thing with the nation’s numerous state troopers, only substituting the name “Mario Andretti” for Moss. Andretti – as we’ll find out later – was simply synonymous with cars and driving in America. He won everything there was to win, and spearheaded a racing dynasty that still continues now. But as well as cars, he’s closely associated with watches – and he’s even appeared on HODINKEE Talking Watches to talk about his impressive collection.
Andretti’s original Yema Rallye
He’s got a lot of very nice watches. But perhaps the most personal of them is the Yema Rallye Andretti, which he wore when he won the Indy 500 in 1969. To be precise, it was actually Wesley’s Rallye back then: at the time, Yema made watches for other companies to put their name to, but the unique design was of course Yema’s own. Mario actually bought and paid for this watch with his own money – unlike the many others, he was gifted or won subsequently. In Mario’s own words: “I love wristwatches almost as much as I love racing. I bought the Rallye in the 1960s because I thought it was really cool. At the time, it was state-of-the-art and right on the cutting edge of modern. I got many compliments on it so I wore it often. I actually wore it daily for the entire month of May 1969 in preparation for the Indianapolis 500 – for practice, qualifying and during the race itself. It certainly became sentimental after I won that race, just like the helmet I wore that day and the fire suit. And the race car that carried me across the finish line ended up in the Smithsonian Museum. All of these things became part of a day that changed my life.”
That’s quite some tribute. The question is, can it be successfully recreated?
The Rallye lives again: in two versionsWith this great bit of relatively unknown history to their name, it was no surprise that Yema decided to reissue this watch recently, in a limited edition of 1969 examples. There’s now the Yema rather than Wesley’s name on the dial, but apart from that it’s very similar to the original, although the newer watch has a date window and a few extra design details to celebrate its illustrious heritage. Alongside that, there’s also a quartz version, powered by a Seiko VK64 mechanical quartz movement, which is the one that we have here, accompanying me on a memorable trip to Italy. Both are pretty much as seen in 1969, with the mecha quartz being an equally faithful (and more financially accessible) tribute to the original. Here's a great video from Worn and Wound that tells the story:
Whether you go for the re-issue or the mecha quartz, not that much has changed. The hard part will be getting hold of them, so here are some other ones to choose from as well.
What it does
The Rallye Mario Andretti Mechanical-Quartz Special Edition pays tribute to this remarkable story.
You get a 39-millimetre stainless steel case, double-domed mineral crystal, date window, black tachymeter bezel, 60-minute chronograph and 24-hour indicator: all the hallmarks of a classic motorsport watch in other words (complete with the contemporary touch of carbon fibre on the dial surface).
The Seiko mechanical quartz hybrid movement, as the name suggests, is a combination of a quartz and mechanical movement, giving you a quartz watch that behaves in the same way as a mechanical watch would – sweeping smoothly around the dial. Many would call it the best of both worlds. There’s a central chronograph with seconds, a 60-minute counter, and a 24-hour hand: plus a date window at six o’clock. The watch is 13 millimetres thick, and also features a souvenir case back with Mario Andretti’s signature and the elaborate Yema logo. It’s also water resistant to 100 metres.
Why this watch is special
To understand the watch, first, you have to understand the man. Mario Andretti was born in 1940 in Montona, Istria, in what was then Italy (it’s now Motovun in Croatia). By 1955 the Andretti family had emigrated to the United States, where Mario found fame and fortune by racing and winning in nearly all the categories of American racing out there, including the epic Indy 500.
But as well as the United States – which had given so much to the Andretti family over the years – Mario was looking at Europe, where he had already raced in 1966 with a Ford GT40 at Le Mans. Specifically, his Italian roots drew him to Ferrari. By the late 1960s he was a regular in Formula 1, and it was Enzo Ferrari himself – impressed by Mario’s performances – who decided to put him in one of the red cars for 1971. It was a dream start: Andretti made his Ferrari debut in South Africa, taking the win as well as the lap record. It was the start of a lifelong love affair.
A global superstar
Although he truly loved Ferrari, Mario could never be a full-time Ferrari driver. Drive for Ferrari, as Niki Lauda once pointed out, and you have to sell your soul as well as your services. And Mario just had too much on, too many ties with America, and too many other interests to deliver that sort of exclusive commitment to one manufacturer. Nonetheless, he won the Formula 1 world title with Lotus in 1978 and then went on to race in America right into the 2000s. He always had a watch on his wrist, even when he was driving.
Formula 1 technical guru Adrian Newey was working in America in the late 1980s as Mario’s engineer and remembers: “I was on the pit lane watching Mario closely, who had just got going again after a long break. Then I saw from a distance that his rear wing appeared to be moving; I tried to warn him but I knew he was going to crash. I was listening intently from the pit lane: the engine was at maximum revs, then, suddenly, silence. I found a car and a couple of mechanics and headed out onto the track. When we got to the scene of the accident, there were bits scattered everywhere. The car was half-wrecked and Mario was standing next to it, intently staring at his wrist. I asked him what the matter was and he said: “Goddamn! My watch has stopped...”
It probably wasn’t the Yema on that occasion, but Mario is clearly a watch man through and through.
A trip to Italy
Having admired Mario and Ferrari for many years, I couldn't think of a more fitting watch to take on a trip to Italy: specifically to Maranello, the home of Ferrari. The Andretti Rallye came on a mesh bracelet, which set off the unusual colours and details of the watch perfectly. That’s not actually the strap that Mario seemed to wear most often himself: he was regularly photographed wearing a black leather rally strap with large perforations.
But the advantage of the mesh soon became apparent as it was a watch that seemingly moulded itself to your wrist, to the extent that most of the time you would forget it was there: a desirable attribute when travelling long distances (or indeed, trying to win the Indy 500).
But despite being light on the wrist, it was a watch that you kept on coming back to, just to look at. It's fair to say that there’s no other watch out there quite like it, which is of course what first attracted Mario to this model all those years ago. With the two unusually-shaped (yet symmetrical) sub dials plus the pair of distinctive red racing stripes on the left of the face, it’s not a conventionally beautiful watch – which perhaps isn't surprising as it’s meant to ape a car’s dashboard; rarely an object of art.
Part of the aesthetic beauty comes from the tachymetre, which in theory allows you to calculate speed and distance. And while it’s extremely unlikely that anybody actually still does this, the design screams automotive heritage. It’s evident that there’s been so much attention to detail lavished on this watch within a relatively contained budget, which has become a Yema speciality. That’s just one of the reasons why this watch is such a pleasure to wear, making it the perfect companion for a trip to Maranello.
But why – when Mario has been associated with so many different places and wins around the world –does Maranello stand out in particular? To find the answer to that question, you need to go back to 1982.
Tragedy and triumph
In 1982, Ferrari was hit by a series of tragedies. In May, their beloved Canadian driver Gilles Villeneuve lost his life in the build-up to the Belgian Grand Prix. Three months later, a sickening accident in the wet in Germany shattered the legs of his team mate Didier Pironi. For Monza, Ferrari’s home race, Enzo Ferrari got on the phone to his American friend. The local squad desperately needed a good news story in the build-up to the Italian Grand Prix. Mario arrived by plane from the United States, landing at Milan Malpensa airport early on the Monday before the race. He drove to Maranello for a seat fitting and did a few laps of Ferrari’s famous test track: Fiorano. At a local restaurant, he tucked into tortellini, salami, and two glasses of red wine. Then he was back in the car and set the fastest-ever lap of Fiorano in the afternoon. On Tuesday morning he borrowed a powerful motorbike from a friend and took the scenic route to Monza with his wife, enjoying a day off to absorb the beautiful Italian countryside.
He arrived in Monza refreshed and relaxed, duly passed his medical, and then stuck the car on pole position on Saturday. The crowd went wild. The actual race didn’t go so well due to technical problems but it really didn’t matter. Another chapter of Andretti motorsport history had already been written.
Back to Maranello
So it felt somewhat special to be making the same journey to Maranello that Mario had made nearly 40 years earlier (albeit from England rather than America) – and no doubt a few times before then as well. Mario was always a favoured son at Maranello – which is why Enzo Ferrari had called him in their time of need – so there was a sense of bringing this watch home.
The area around Maranello is well-known for gastronomy, and a visit to the town isn’t complete without a trip to the celebrated Montana restaurant: a shrine to all Ferrari drivers – and pasta-eaters. Sitting down to lunch close to Enzo Ferrari’s favourite table, the Yema drew plenty of admiring glances. Incredible how a watch that was born to race feels equally comfortable on dining duties.
What a man, what a story, what a trip.
Replacement watch strap for the Yema Andretti Watch
The Yema Andretti edition comes fitted to a metal Milanese mesh-style bracelet. This look really hits home the purposeful side of the piece, however, with a few different strap options, we can really transform this watch. Let's take a look at some options.
Radstock Racing Style Genuine Leather Watch Strap in Vintage BrownThere are a few different straps that pair well with this watch: first and foremost the Radstock Racing strap, which reflects the automotive heritage of the Andretti watch perfectly, especially in vintage black.
ZULUDIVER Padded Tropical Rubber Watch Strap
Alternatively, for a different look, we have the ZULUDIVER Padded Tropical strap, which gives the Andretti a more contemporary twist, with a strap that’s very easy to care for and more than capable of shrugging off scratches.
Dulas Vintage Genuine Leather in Light Brown
Finally, how about the Dulas Vintage Leather strap? This gives a classy and timeless look with its origins in the 1950s, adding the benefit of being quick-release. It gives the Andretti a more formal look for indoor occasions as well.In conclusion, this is a watch that truly stands out from the crowd, that’s so practical and comfortable to wear. Driving back from Maranello, there’s a useful lume, which Mario might even have made use of if he ever took his watch to Le Mans (a race that he took part in nine times and won once, in 1995).