Heuer’s vintage Carrera and Autavia lines have many devotees, but the Camaro seems to have slipped past many collectors. Why?
Additional reporting by Christa Chance
Heuer chronographs from the Golden Era (considered by many to be roughly 1963-1969) have seen a tremendous increase in attention by collectors in the past several years, and values on the most popular models have seen substantial increases to match. Many in the collecting community feel as if this increase in popularity was long overdue, whereas others remain skeptical about the “importance” of Heuer wristwatches when compared with other marques, maintaining reservations about their staying power. Regardless, there’s no question that the chronographs produced by Heuer during these years are undeniably cool, with a myriad of case styles, exotic dial executions, and mechanical movements adding to their charm.
CAMARO REF. 9220NT
Many Noir (N) dials have faded to a beautiful chocolate patina over time, as evidenced on this two-register model with tachymeter ring. Note the 45-minute counter, indicating power comes from the Valjoux 92.
CAMARO REF. 7743 T
Noir Silver dial executions many be the most common, but the oversized dials are brilliant in sunlight, making them a collector favorite. This model features a 30-minute counter, indicating power comes from the Valjous 7733.
CAMARO REF. 7743 NY
While three-register variants are perhaps most popular, the symmetry of a two-register execution is undeniably attractive, particularly with the deeply dished subsidiary registers.
CAMARO REF. 7220 T
Considered an "exotic" dial configuration, the 7220 T is instantly recognizable for its grey-on-silver triple-register panda configuration and grey outer tachymeter ring. Pictured here is the highly desirable Gay Frères double-grain "Beads of Rice" bracelet with correct style HLA endlinks.
Not every model of vintage Heuer chronograph has received equal affection, though: The Camaro takes the prize for being the most unloved Heuer.
Much has been written about the history of the Heuer (Pre-TAG) company, so we’ll skip the deep dive and simplify a bit. For this purpose, we can break the history of the brand into four time periods: Early Era, Golden Era, Automatic Era and TAG era. Early will refer to anything that came before the Carrera, which was launched in 1963 and began the era of “named” models.
Prior to the Carrera, all Heuer wristwatches could only be identified by reference number. Golden Era refers to the era of named models — again, starting with the Carrera, and ending with the introduction of the Chronomatic/Caliber 11 models in 1969. The Automatic Era picks up with these models in 1969 and goes through to the TAG buyout in 1985.
Launched in 1968, the Camaro was born at the tail-end of the Golden Era, and in many ways brought together the best features of the 1960s with a subtle foreshadowing of things to come.
And of course the term "TAG era" refers to everything produced since.
CAMERO REF. 7743 N
For the racing enthusiast, a lack of a tachymeter ring might seem like an oversight, but the clean dial of the 7743 further highlights the simple beauty of the Camaro's design.
CAMARO REF. 73463 NT
Another unmissable "exotic" dial variant of the Camaro, the Ref. 73463 NT features a triple-register configuration with luminescent tachymeter ring and contrasting hands. Also clearly visible here is the brilliant deep factory brushing on the top of the case.
CAMARO REF. 73443 T DATO
Like their Carrera cousins, Camaro Dato models are very rare and highly sought after — even if values haven't seen similar increases. It utilizes a Valjoux 7732 or 7734, and the symmetry of its two-register layout is enhanced by the placement of a date function at 6 o'clock.
CAMARO REF. 73343 T
Certainly one of the less commonly seen models, the 73343 T stands out for its "exotic" coloration and grey-on-silver dial layout.
Again, this is an oversimplification, and there are exceptions everywhere. For example, Heuer’s history goes back to 1860, and the manufacture of manual-winding chronographs did continue past 1969, but in dramatically reduced quantities. However, by categorizing the history of the brand in this way, it is easier to analyze the effects that the increase in watches made in a certain era (in this case, the Golden Era) have had in popularity and value in contrast to the others.
Additionally, it helps to explain the Camaro’s position in the pantheon of Heuer chronographs.
The Golden Era, as defined here, saw the introduction of two very important models in the Heuer catalogue: the aforementioned Carrera and the Autavia. The latter was in fact a re-purposed name from the era of dashboard timers, and is a combination of the words automotive and aviation – the two intended uses for the timer. Models such as the Reference 2446C found their way to the wrists of some of the world’s greatest auto racers, such as Jochen Rindt.
CAMARO REF. 73345 CHT
Black-on-gold panda dials became more common in the 1970s, and this late-production Camaro with second execution hands is perhaps the most "futuristic" of the bunch.
BENRUS "POOR MAN'S CAMARO"
Contract manufacturing was an important part of Heuer's business in the 1960s, and repackaging some of its own models for other brands resulted in some very cool "poor Man's" chronographs.
CAMARO REF. 73345 T
Gold-plated watches are often sneered at by purists, but there's no denying this design is downright beautiful. This example shows a crisp silver tachymeter dial against the gold-plated case; it houses a Valjoux 7733 movement.
CAMARO REF. 73345 NT
A stunning chocolate two-register dial, late execution hands and a flawless case properly illustrate why gold-plated Camaros are not to be sneered at.
As for the Carrera, one cannot discuss it without mentioning the man who designed it: Jack Heuer. Though Jack Heuer had a hand in designing the wrist worn Autavia, the Carrera was the first watch that Jack designed completely, soup to nuts. The incorporation of a steel tension ring, meant to secure the crystal to the case, added a new element of legibility to the dial, making the Carrera one of the most unique watches on the market.
Upon the introduction of the self-winding Calibre 11 or Chronomatic movement, Heuer entered the Automatic Era. The manufacture rolled out the new movement in pre-established lines like the Autavia and the Carrera, housing the movements in larger-cushion cases due to its ponderous size. Models like the Monaco, with its distinctive square-cushion case, launched the manufacture into a new age of aesthetics.
This was further carried through the TAG Era, after Heuer was acquired by Techniques d’Avant Garde in 1985. This era was marked by TAG Heuer’s transition into the luxury market, which was further solidified when TAG Heuer was absorbed by luxury conglomerate LVMH in 1999. However, in recent years the brand has returned to its roots with reissues of the Autavia, including one designed by Jack Heuer himself.
Which leads us back to the Camaro.
CAMARO REF. 7843 SN DATO
Camaros with panda dials (SN) are, like period Carreras, generally reagarded as the top of the heap. Values of Camaro SNs are head and shoulders above other configurations, and Dato models such as this are about as rare as they come.
CAMARO REF. 7743 NS
The inverse-panda (NS) two-register dial configuration is another rarely seen model. Fitted with a non-tachymeter dial and contrasting white subsidiary registers, the 7443 NS is one of the most iconic Camaro models ever produced.
CAMARO REF. 7220 T "MEISTER'
An uncommon find: a Ref. 7220 T with signature from German retailer Meister
CAMARO REF. 7220 NS
The exotic-dial 7220 NS features a silver-on-grey dial configuration with red central chronograph hand. Power comes from the inimitable Valjoux 72.
Launched in 1968, the Camaro was born at the tail-end of the Golden Era, and in many ways brought together the best features of the 1960s with a subtle foreshadowing of things to come. With its slim design, large, legible dials and manual-wind movements, the Camaro was in many ways the ultimate expression of the brand’s ‘60s design language. Its squared case shape, however, left some buyers cold, which led to short sales. Interestingly, the larger (and more square!) Monaco, introduced a year later was a tremendous success, and remains at the top of many collector’s wish lists today.
Heuer intended the Camaro — named after an American muscle car — to be its key into the American market. But with a short production run, it is often forgotten. While Heuer chose to bring the Carrera and the Autavia into the Automatic Era, the Camaro was discontinued in 1972. However, during this short time, Heuer released the Camaro in a multitude of executions that can be confusing to newcomers of this intriguing chronograph.
CAMARO REF. 7220 NT
Powered by the Valjoux 72, Ref. 7220 models were available in Silver (S) and Noir (N) dials with and without tachymeter rings. This example shows the latter.
CAMARO REF. 7220 T
An absolute classic, the 7220 T (or ST), with stunning sunburst silver dial.
CAMARO REF. 7220 SN 3-REG PANDA
Few things get collectors' pulses racing like a triple-register panda dial, and the 7220 SN is no exception. Orders of magnitude rarer than any Rolex Daytona produced at the time, the 7220 SN is grail material.
CAMARO REF. 9220 T
This silver-tachymeter dial Camaro 45 is powered by the Valjoux 92 and beautifullly illustrates the subtle variations that make collecting Camaros so rewarding.
As a basis, ALL Heuer Camaros share the same case design; a 37mm softly-cushioned case with brush finishing on the top and polishing on the sides. Most Camaros were finished in steel, while others were electroplated with gold. A very small number were also produced in solid 18k gold. Movements were always manual-winding chronograph units supplied by Valjoux.
BAYLOR "POOR MAN'S CAMARO"
This unusual Baylor (the house brand of timepieces for Zales jewelers) borrows a Camaro case and Valjoux 7734 movement from Heuer and adds an exotic "surfboard" dial with date function at 6 o'clock. Exceedingly cool and totally obscure.
BAYLOR "POOR MAN'S CAMARO"
Baylor featured contract-manufactured watches from a variety of sources, but these Camaro-based models are vertainly our favorites. This rare variant features an inverse panda dial and Landeron 187 movement with date-window placement at 12 o'clock.
Camaros were produced with a variety of dial configurations that add a tremendous amount of appeal to collectors today. To simplify, Camaros could be had in two-register, three-register, or two register + date versions, with or without tachymeter (T) markings printed on the outer ring of the dial. Most versions were produced with silver (S) or black dials (N), with panda (SN) and reverse panda (SN) variants being the least common. “Exotic” dials were also produced in a variety of configurations with and without date. These exotic versions often used contrasting hands, and some also featured luminescent printing on the dials.
As Heuer was also regularly providing contract manufacturing services during the 1960s, a number of “Poor Man’s” Camaros were also produced during this time, using the same basic case design but with a variety of different dial configurations, movements and brandings.
Our affection for these little beauties cannot be overstated!
Photos c. Atom Moore