Zenith Optic2000 Tour 2016 07
Cars & motorsport

It’s a grand Tour for Zenith

The brand behind the legendary El Primero has embraced the classic car scene as official timer of the historic Tour Auto - and more.

By Simon de Burton

Wherever you find a high-end classic car event, the chances are you'll also find a luxury watch brand. Chopard backs the Mille Miglia, Richard Mille sponsors the Le Mans Classic, Rolex is the official timer of the Goodwood Revival and Oris is the main supporter of the Rally Classico in Mallorca - to name but a few.

Tour Optic 2000 Zenith 2016 Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Tour Edition

But the oldest of them all is the legendary Tour Auto (officially the 'Tour Auto Optic 2000') which can trace its roots all the way back to 1899 when it was known simply as the 'Tour de France,' a cross-country race that started and finished in Paris and comprised of a seven-stage route that took eight days to complete.

Save for a break during the war years, the 'TDF' prevailed in more or less its original format until 1986 (by when it was part of the European Rally Championship) before being revived in 1992 as a timed reliability trial for pre-1974 classic cars with five days of road driving interspersed with all-out racing on a series of circuits and hillclimb courses.

Tour Optic 2000 Zenith 2016 Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Tour Edition

The brainchild of leading event organiser Patrick Peter, the present-day Tour Auto is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular, challenging and glamorous rallies on the classic motorsport calendar, with more than 200 cars starting from Paris and ending up in the south of France, this year's finish being in Cannes.

Tour Optic 2000 Zenith 2016 Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Tour Edition

To achieve success in the Tour Auto, competitors need four things: a quick and reliable car, plenty of stamina, decent navigational skills  - and impeccable timing. Which (along with the obvious synergy between classics and mechanical watches) is what attracted Zenith to become its official timekeeper last year, taking over from Hublot which carried out the role in 2014.

Thanks to Zenith CEO Aldo Magada being a long-time classic car fan, the brand has lately immersed itself in the automobile world, forming partnerships with the Sports Car Vintage Racing Association, HERO (the Historic Endurance Rallying Organisation), former F1 star Erik Comas and , most recently, the global Distinguished Gentleman's Ride motorcycle event.

Tour Optic 2000 Zenith 2016 Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Tour Edition

The Tour Auto is, however, probably Zenith's most high-profile motoring alliance - and it has decided to mark it by producing a different limited edition watch for each event.

This year's is  based on the popular Chronomaster 1969 Open and features a red, white and blue stripe running through the dial to match the fabric strap, while the sapphire case back carries the  'Tour Auto' logo. The watch, which will be made in an edition of 500, is powered by the famed 'El Primero' 4061 chronometer movement which, as most Watchonista readers will know, beats at 36,000 vibrations per hour to make it one of the most accurate mechanical watches on the market.

Tour Optic 2000 Zenith 2016 The Jaguar Type E 3.8L from 1964 was driven by  Daniel Spadini

It's a great looking chronograph, and fits perfectly behind the wheel of a classic car - as Watchonista discovered when we were kindly invited to take part in regular competitor Daniel Spadini's superb, 1964 Series 1 Jaguar E-Type which was entered under Zenith colours.

The weather was glorious, the car ran like a dream and Mr Spadini drove it with finesse - our only regret being that we could only take part for one of the five days. But there's always next year, when Zenith will certainly be back.

Tour Optic 2000 Zenith 2016 Tour Optic 2000 Zenith 2016, Alexander Friedman with Daniel Spadini

And, hopefully, so will we...

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