The Wristwatches And Race Cars Of Till Bechtolsheimer, A Gentleman Driver
Somewhere on the scale between regular Joes and the immortal talents of professional race car drivers is the gentleman driver. Straddling two worlds, they balance 9-to-5s with weekends competing at the track. We sat down with gentleman driver Till Bechtolsheimer to pick his brain and pore over his collection of watches and race cars.
Motorsport is one of the few arenas in the world where professionals, amateurs, and everyone in between can compete in the same space. However, competing and being competitive are two entirely different things. To fight for wins and podiums you still need supreme talent behind the wheel.
The gentleman driver is a racer categorized as “in-between.” Not quite a professional, but not exactly an amateur. While some self-described gentleman drivers have more money than talent, and struggle at the sharper end of the grid, there are others like Bechtolsheimer who regularly competes in vintage racing and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA).
Interview With Till Bechtolsheimer
Naturally, we sat down with the British-born part-time race car driver to talk about racing, and, of course, the watch collection that he’s acquired along the way.
Bryan Campbell: Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get into motorsport?
Till Bechtolsheimer: I started go-karting when I was a kid. I was desperate to get a proper racing kart. My dad made a deal with me that he’d get me a go-kart if I agreed to stay away from motorcycles. At 10 years old I was happy to take that deal.
In high school, I was looking to do some racing on a really low budget so I got a MINI Cooper and did some RallyCross. After that, I went off to work and didn’t race for a few years. Eventually, I moved to Chicago and wanted to get back into racing - do it for some fun. I was really into vintage cars at the time so I picked up an old Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint, started racing that, and have been racing ever since.
BC: Vintage racing is a fairly broad category. What sort of vintage racing have you done and why did you gravitate toward that era?
TB: What I’ve enjoyed the most is ‘50s sports car racing. The ‘50s sports cars, for me, are the most beautiful cars ever made. My Allard J2 is a bit of the ugly duckling, but all of the cars around me on the grid are just f**king stunning. I have the best seat in the house, surrounded by Jaguar C-Types and D-Types, Maserati 250Ss, and all these amazingly sculpted cars.
The performance is great as well. People forget the D-Types were doing north of 190 mph on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans in the mid ’50s and they’re not going much quicker than that today. It’s real performance, real racing, but with these stunning cars.
Till’s 5 Race Car Garage
Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint
I always loved Alfa Giulia Sprints. They’re great looking cars. It was an affordable, entry-level car, and it’s so much fun to drive - you’re always sideways in that thing. You have to drive it like a lunatic to make it go fast. It’s a good way to cut your teeth in vintage racing.
I bought the Allard trying to step up into the next level of vintage racing. It was a ticket into ‘50s sportscar racing. I was looking for a car that was eligible for some of the big events I wanted to do, including the Monaco Historique Grand Prix, Mille Miglia, and Le Mans Classic, which it raced at in period.
I always heard good things about Chevron B8s, and one quietly came up for sale by the Bamfords who have a huge collection. It was their car they sponsored in 1968, to do the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Spa 1000, and a bunch of the big endurance races. It’s actually the only Chevron B8 that ever ran at Le Mans. So I gave them a call and got the deal done.
It’s the best car I’ve ever driven. You can get a four-wheel drift going in almost every corner, but you have a lot more grip than the earlier cars. It’s got a 2.0-liter BMW engine that just screams and it’s such a perfectly balanced car.
The Buick was sort of at Le Mans. Tojeiro built two cars for the 1962 Le Mans season for the Ecurie Ecosse team. The team’s transporter had an accident on the way to the track, and both cars got damaged. When they showed up at Le Mans they only had enough time to fix one: the sister car to mine. So my car went to Le Mans but never actually started the race.
The following season it was fixed and driven by a young Jackie Stewart, who apparently said it was the worst car he ever drove. But he and his brother raced it for a season or two, so it did a ton of racing and still has Stewart’s name on it. We rebuilt it but kept everything original, down to the wiring, and now it’s a stunning car to drive. Two years ago, at the Silverstone Classic, I put it on pole.
1936 Talbot-Lago T150-C
The oldest is probably my prized possession: a Talbot-Lago T150-C. It’s one of four ever made and built in 1936 as one of the factory team cars to do Le Mans and all the big races - Targa Florio, Mille Miglia - and did 20-plus Grand Prix as well. It actually ran Le Mans four times, in ‘37, ‘38, ‘39, and ‘49. It was also driven by [Pierre] Levegh in ‘38 or ‘39, who later became infamous for the 1955 Le Mans crash. And it’s plated, so it can be driven on the road.
Till’s Top 5 Watches
2017 Patek Phillipe Pilot Travel Time
I’ve always loved the idea of Patek Phillipe. I think the craftsmanship is unrivaled and when you actually wear one it feels like one of the most high-quality watches you can own. But I never saw one that I actually wanted to wear. They’re too elegant for my taste. So when they brought out the Pilot Travel Time with a more sporty look, I thought, this is my chance to get a Patek.
2012 IWC Portugieser Perpetual Calendar
As a kid, I always wanted a moon phase watch. I was fascinated by them and I think this is one of the most stunning watches. It’s pretty amazing to have the moon phase, the date, day of the week, month, and obviously time, all operating from a single dial. I wore this watch every day for almost eight years.
1950’s Breitling Navitimer
I bought this at the Vintage Spa 6 Hours. There's a German vintage watch dealer that comes up every year and I saw this old Navitimer and thought it’s such a great looking watch. I’ve got really small wrists, and watches back in the ‘50s were just made smaller. So it’s got that chunky Breitling look but in a ‘50s style and scale, with a slightly faded face.
1940s(?) B.H. Plymouth & Devonport
I don’t know much about this one, but apparently it’s an old submarine stopwatch. It’s a wind-up watch with a three-second face, which to me, is a really bizarre thing.
It’s not very practical, but every now and then I like to bring it out at an IMSA race when we’re sitting on the pit wall. Everyone has the live telemetry, all this data, and I just pull out this old stopwatch and click it as my teammate goes by and everyone looks at me like I’m a complete idiot.
Chopard Grand Prix de Monaco Historique 2016 Race Edition
I got this when I earned a podium at the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique in the Allard J2. For most of the race I was right behind the leading Jaguar C-Type with a Cooper-Jaguar behind me. Five laps to the end, I saw smoke starting to pour out of my engine and watched the temperature gauge go higher and higher. Normally, I would have pulled over and called it a day, but I was running in second place at Monaco so I decided to keep going.
On the last lap, I blew a head gasket, the Cooper behind me was able to get by, but I was able to make it the rest of the lap and keep third. The car died on the cool-down lap, so I had to park it and jog back to the famous Monaco Podium with all the spectators hanging out of their balconies applauding me on my way. I felt like a real hero, it was awesome!
(Cars images by Till Bechtolsheimer, timepiece photography by Watchonista)