STORIES What’s In a Name... An Epiphany at Sebring

6 min

Nick Trott Director at, and former editor of evo and Motor Sport magazines

In 1962 Jack Heuer took a trip from his office in New York City to Highlands County, Florida. His destination was Sebring Raceway on the site of the Hendricks Army Airfield, a training base for B-17 pilots during the second world war. Like many former airfields in the US and Europe, the base had been converted into a playground for racing drivers.

Jack was the young CEO of the family watchmaking firm and had received an invitation from The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) to attend the Sebring 12-Hour Florida International Grand Prix of Endurance for the Alitalia Cup, to give the event its full title. He had loaned the organisers a dozen Heuer pocket chronographs to use as official timing equipment and, as a motor racing enthusiast, needed no convincing to accept the invitation. 

This Grand Prix of Endurance was packed with star drivers including Stirling Moss, Graham Hill, Bruce McLaren, Roger Penske and Dan Gurney – all determined to pin a prestigious race victory to their name. Further down the grid, another motorsports fan was present, albeit as a driver: one Steve McQueen. And the racing cars? To be competitive in the early 60s you needed something Italian, red and powerful – although that concept was being challenged by another brand…

Grand Prix Race, Sebring, Florida, December 1959 - photo by Dave Friedman

Little did Jack know before he embarked for Sebring that his attendance would be pivotal for the Heuer watchmaking firm. Motor racing in the 1960s was impossibly glamorous and undeniably dangerous, but it had yet to be adopted by big sponsors and advertising budgets. For car manufacturers, it was an intense proving ground for engineering solutions rather than a global advertising platform, and few outside of the automotive business recognised its extraordinary but latent marketing potential.

Jack did. As he walked around in the dust and humidity of this unique racing venue in central Florida, he was experiencing something akin to catalysis – a mixture of elements forging together as one. Occupying his thoughts was the positioning of a new Heuer chronograph – one that as yet was unnamed – and his company’s growing reputation for precision and accuracy. 

But something was missing. These components needed to be forged around one addressable market – one which was simultaneously dynamic, competitive and rich (both financially and narratively). It was, quite literally, right before his eyes.

“What impressed me most of all at Sebring was the mix of professional road racing pilots, amateur gentlemen drivers and spectators [who] seemed to be rather well-to-do members of the SCCA and other racing organisations.

« It dawned on me there and then that this group of motor racing enthusiasts was a natural target client group for Heuer. »

Jack Heuer TAG Heuer Honorary Chairman

But that wasn’t the only epiphany Jack experienced at Sebring in 1962. As a motor racing fan, he was at home in the racing paddocks and could speak comfortably and knowledgeably with those present. He soon found himself in conversation with the parents of the Mexican racing driver brothers Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez, who told a tale of a race in their homeland that was so dangerous that it had been banned. The parents told Jack Heuer of their relief that their young boys had been born too late to compete in the event. 

The motor race they described to an enraptured Jack was the Carrera Panamericana – a brutal long-distance test of human and mechanical endurance on mostly unpaved public roads in Mexico. 

Umberto Maglioli, winner of the fifth and final Carrera Panamericana, in a Ferrari 375 Plus

Carrera? Carrera!

That was it. That would be the name of the new Heuer chronograph. On his return to Switzerland Jack Heuer rushed to register the name ‘Heuer Carrera’, and as the company’s majority shareholder took the bold but ultimately decisive call that the next watch he would create would be called Carrera.

« I loved not only its sexy name but also its multiple meanings, which include road, race, course and career. All very much Heuer territory! »

Jack Heuer TAG Heuer Honorary Chairman

But there’s a twist to this tale. At that Sebring race in 1962 a small, highly efficient and beautiful little racing machine resplendent in silver challenged the might of the red cars all the way to the finish in a battle that was to prove to be a portent of things to come. A Porsche 718 RS 60 sports car with an exquisitely designed small-capacity engine finished on the podium, despite a number of perceived on-paper disadvantages – it had a four-cylinder motor whereas its rivals had thumping 12 cylinders. This little car was proving to be a thorn in the side of the established competitors and had even won the Sebring race outright in 1960.  

The small four-cylinder, four-camshaft engine in this giant-killing Porsche 718 RS 60 is now considered one of the most extraordinary examples for precision engineering ever made. Indeed, the ‘four-cam’ is often referred to as ‘Swiss watch-like’ in relation to its detail manufacture. 

The Porsche mechanics who worked on it had another name for it: ‘Carrera’ – for it was on the Carrera Panamericana race where the engine evolved and engineered to perfection just a few years earlier. The name resonated at Porsche, just as it did with Jack Heuer, and it would later become a legend inscribed on a dozen subsequent model designation Porsches.

It is fitting then, that nearly six decades after the word ‘Carrera’ became synonymous with precision engineering in both automotive and watchmaking circles that it should for the first time be united with the words ‘TAG Heuer’ and ‘Porsche’ on a new range of chronographs.

1964 Heuer Carrera 45 Chronograph Ref: 3647

Nick Trott Director at, and former editor of evo and Motor Sport magazines