TAG Heuer’s links with motor-sport has provided many an excuse over the years for racing-inspired Chronogragphs. This month alone, TAG Heuer have announced three such watches, all of which were previewed at Basel: the Monaco Twenty-Four and Grey Monaco Vintage have been reviewed before at Calibre 11 and today it’s time to review the new TAG Heuer 300 SLR.
The 300 SLR (Ref. CAR2112) is a tribute to the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR of the 1950s, which had both a glorious and infamous racing career. The high point was the victory of Stirling Moss in both the 1955 Targa Florio and Mille Miglia, but tragic because at the Le Mans 24 hour race later that year, Pierre Levegh clipped a slower car and lost control of his 300 SLR, propelling it into the crowd where 82 spectators- and Levegh- lost their lives. It was the largest number of people ever killed in a motor race and led to Mercedes-Benz leaving the sport for more than 3 decades. That little part of the SLR story didn’t make the press release…
But, despite this mixed background, there is no doubt that the 300 SLR is one of the most famous racing cars of its time, and links this model to the other watches that TAG Heuer has released under the SLR name.
If you were describing the watch over the phone, you might say that the TAG Heuer 300 SLR is just a brown version of the Carrera Calibre 1887 with a Heuer logo. But there are lots of detail changes here that all add up to a watch that not only has a distinctive feel to the Carrera, but for me is far more exciting. Most people who saw the watch at Basel thought it was one of the most interesting models that TAG Heuer had produced in a long time and the strong reaction has led to production numbers almost being doubled to meet demand.
The single most distinctive part of the 300 SLR is its dial. “Brown and Orange” is not a colour combination that sounds that appealing, but somehow it works well. The dial has a fabulous degrade pattern (The color being different at the centre of the dial than at the edges) that changes colour depending on the light- from most angles it’s more of a metallic bronze than a brown.
There are orange highlights on the centre chrono. hand and at each of the hour markers.
There has been some criticism of the lack of markings on the seconds sub-dial at 9 o’clock. While it’s a fair point that you’ll struggle to quickly read the number of seconds elapsed, I like the design because it links the watch back to the design used on the Calibre 15 Heuers of the 1970s and then to the CS2110 Monaco Re-edition of the late 1990s. I also like that the seconds sub-dial doesn’t have a clear border- at a first glance the watch looks to only have two sub-dials.
Finally on the dial, TAG Heuer have fortunately avoided using the Mercedes-Benz logo, even though their name does appear on the Caseback. I have nothing against Mercedes, but I don’t want their logo on my watch. And speaking of branding, TAG Heuer have chosen to use the Heuer logo on the 300 SLR, even though this is not a re-edition. While I love seeing the Heuer logo used on new designs, the choice is a little odd. In the last 5 years the Heuer logo has only been used on two versions of the Monaco- the 40th Anniversary and the Vintage- and this years Silverstone re-edition. The name “TAG Heuer” doesn’t appear anywhere on the watch, again an interesting choice, as usually the Heuer re-editions have some TAG Heuer marking on the caseback. So, perhaps a strange decision that this ends up being a Heuer, but it’s a welcome decision nonetheless.
The pushers are shared with the Carrera 1887 and they’re a great design- similar to those used on the first Heuer Monza Re-edition.
The case itself uses the classic Carrera style in a 41mm stainless steel case, that if anything feels a little larger than 41mm due to the thickness of the case. In the Gallery you can see a photo comparing the thickness to a vintage Silverstone.
The Caseback is quite elaborate and features an engraved image of the Mercedes 300 SLR. While it looks quite good, it doesn’t look as spectacular as the clear caseback on the Carrera 1887. Given the fuss about the new movement, I would have gone with a clear caseback here as well to highlight the Calibre 1887. It’s such a nicely finished and decorated movement that it seems a shame to go and hide it behind steel.
The leather strap is- along with perhaps the strap on the new Monaco Vintage- the finest that TAG Heuer have made. If I owned a +USD100,000 Monaco V4 and compared that strap with this one, I’d feel short-changed. I like a Crocodile strap on a dress watch, but not on a sports watch. This one is comfortable, looks great and complements the rest of the design perfectly.
The brown leather has a textured finish that gives it a vintage feel and is finished with an orange lining. I’m not sure what the lining is made of, but it has a soft, almost rubbery feel. The usual deployment clasp is used, although this time with a Heuer logo and not TAG Heuer.
Comparison to Carrera Calibre 1887
Comparing the 300 SLR to its Carrera cousin is pretty tough, given that the design of the Carrera has already changed once from the March prototype you see below- and it sounds as though there might be another round of small changes to the revised design I naïvely called “Final” back in May.
The interesting thing is that while the Carrera was well received at Basel, there is no doubt that the 300 SLR stole the show, and so TAG Heuer have looked to take some of the design elements of the 300 SLR and apply them to the Carrera- at a minimum, we know that the Carrera has borrowed the clean “no-tachy” bezel of the 300 SLR.
I saw both of these watches at Basel in March and not since, so it was interesting to see them again for this review and judge whether my impression of them had changed. It hasn’t. The 1887 Carrera will be a big hit for TAG Heuer- no doubt. It’s a clean, minimalist and classic design that looks more upmarket than the existing models- but perhaps less sporty.
And that’s where the 300 SLR comes in. Think of it as a GT version of the Carrera- lowered, more aggressive, fancy paint-job and a more polarising design. Pretty hard to dislike a round watch with a plain white dial, but Brown and Orange may not work for everyone….it does for me.
Plenty has been written about the Calibre 1887, the TAG Heuer movement that has its origins in the fine Seiko 6S37 Calibre. TAG Heuer has redesigned almost every part of the movement and manufactures in-house many components for the Calibre as well as assembling the movement in Switzerland. It really is an impressive facility, and if you haven’t read about it, you can catch up on what makes it different here.
Time will tell how the 1887 compares to the venerable Valjoux 7750 that most resembles the 1887. What I can say is that the 1887 Chronograph is very, very smooth when I compare it to the various ETA-based Chronographs that I have. I’d love to see the dial layout in a classic 3, 6, 9 pattern, but for the moment we have 12, 6 and 9- just like the 7750. Most judges would rate the Seiko Calibre ahead of the 7750, so there is no reason the Calibre 1887 won’t prove itself to be a real step-forward for TAG Heuer.
To read more about the Calibre 1887, take a look here.
The 300 SLR takes its inspiration from the “barrel” Heuer Carrera 150.173F of the 1970s- see below for a perfect example from Heuerboy.com.
All of the key design-elements are there: the orange highlights, the brown/ bronze dial and the rifle-scope seconds-hand at 9 o’clock. Even the hour-markers are inspired by those on the Calibre 15 Carrera.
The Carrera 150.173F wasn’t the only Heuer from this era to use this style of dial- take a look at the photo below of a vintage Heuer Silverstone next to the 300 SLR- almost an identical colour dial.
Actually, the 300 SLR dial is much closer in colour to the vintage Silverstone than the Re-edition Silverstone, which has a flat dial without the patterning. While on the subject of the Silverstone, I think that the re-edition would have looked better on the 300 SLR strap- there is a photo in the gallery of the original Silverstone on the strap- not a perfect fit, as the Carrera is 20mm vs. 22mm for the Silverstone, but the colour and look are just right.
The 300 SLR will retail in Switzerland for CHF4,600, compared to CHF3,900 for the Carrera 1887, so a premium of CHF700 for the 300 SLR. The watch will be a limited edition of
3,000 5,000 which is more than almost double the original plan of 1,887 because of popular demand at Basel. I heard stories of at Basel of several Authorised Dealers being simply unable to get the numbers of this watch that they thought they could sell.
I loved the 300 SLR when I saw it in March. Actually, I first saw the watch during a factory tour before Basel, but wasn’t able to photograph it. Even from that glance it looked special and nothing has changed. It may not be very different to the Carrera, but it does have enough detail changes to give it a distinctive, and- in my view- much more special feel. Nothing wrong with the Carrera, but it doesn’t excite me the way that this one does.
Availability? Not sure exactly, but should be in the next couple of months. The watch used for this review is the Basel pre-production model, so its going back to TAG Heuer next week…. It will be a long wait until mine arrives. The sooner the better, as it’s been a long wait since I ordered mine back in March.
Carrera 150.173F: Heuerboy