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Baume & Mercier: Speed Demons
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Baume & Mercier: Speed Demons

Friday, 11 August 2017
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Carol Besler
Journalist

“Watches are functional art.”

Carol Besler covers watches and jewelry worldwide.

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4 min read

Baume & Mercier taps Shelby Cobra coupe designer for timepieces collection.

Automotive designer Peter Brock is famous in the world of motor sports for designing the legendary Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, the most iconic car in American motor sport. The former General Motors car designer was tapped by Caroll Shelby in 1964 to help him build a faster race car body. “Caroll’s plan was to take his cars to Europe and race them against Aston Martins and Ferraris,” says Brock, “but they had to go a lot faster. The problem was, if you tried to double the speed by increasing the hp, the drag on the car would increase exponentially, and slow it back down. The only way to go faster was to change the body shape.”

Baume & Mercier, Clifton Club, Shelby Cobra, Miles Brock
Baume & Mercier, Clifton Club, Shelby Cobra, Miles Brock

Brock’s solution was based on what was then a radical theory: that chopping off the back end of the car would substantially reduce drag. His inspiration was a study he’d found on aerodynamics by a Dr. Wunibald Kamm in Germany in the 1930s. He couldn’t read the text, but he understood the drawings, which went against everything car designers at the time thought they knew about airflow. “Everyone thought it wouldn’t work,” he says. “They still believed cars should be designed as they were in the 1930s, in an elegant, tear-drop shape with a long tapered tail, and at very low speeds that worked okay. But that shape was originally designed for zeppelins in the 1920s, which are very long. My premise was that if you chopped off the end of the car to reduce downflow and kept the roof fairly square, it would be more efficient. Doing that made it look heavy, though, so we made the big window on the back and painted the rest in two halves, which lightened the car visually.”

Baume & Mercier, Clifton Club Shelby Cobra, Cobra Daytona, design of 1963

The Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe won its first race, the Le Mans, the first time the 24-hour race had been won by an American car. In 1965 it took victory in the International Manufacturer’s GT Championship, another first for an American car. It went on to become a consistent winner, setting 25 land speed records and establishing a reputation as the fastest GT car in the world. It outperformed by such a wide margin that Brock and Shelby decided to slow the engine to boost fuel economy.

Baume & Mercier Clifton
Baume & Mercier Clifton
“Car guys are watch guys too”

More recently, Brock was called in by watchmaker Baume & Mercier to help design this year’s edition of the Clifton Club Shelby Cobra timepiece, which celebrates the iconic car. Brock – and one of the cars, along with its current owner, who kept a close eye on it – was on hand at the Couture show this year to talk about the car and the watch collection. “I had been designing much larger things, so trying to reduce that down has been very interesting,” he says.

Peter Brock at Shelby American Portrait
Peter Brock at Shelby American Portrait

The whole look for the watch is based on the visual image of the car. The dial is Daytona blue, silver or half blue/half silver to resemble racing stripes (American race car colors are white and blue). The style of the chronograph counters are a nod to the Daytona Coupe’s dashboard. The hour and minute hands recall the steering wheel. The pushers are replicas of the car’s foot pedals. The rotor, seen through the back, resembles the car’s wheel design. There are 1,964 chronograph editions (with ETA Valjoux 7750 Caliber) and 164 flyback chronograph versions (with La Joux-Perret 8147-2 Caliber). The 44mm case is steel or steel and titanium, and is water-resistant to 50 meters. Each comes with a small model of the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe.

“A lot of car guys are watch guys too, and they can recognize this design as the design of the car,” says Brock. “There is no other watch out there that looks like it. You can spot it from across the room.”

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