July 1963: Steve McQueen smiles. His beautiful wife Neile wraps her arms around his waist as the two of them speed along on his Triumph Bonneville. The couple is captured by a Life photographer for the cover of the magazine. The motorcycling moment is emblematic.
Before the decade is done, McQueen has committed himself and his entire personal fortune to a movie project so ambitious that Hollywood thinks he has gone mad. But Le Mans, his film of the legendary 24-hour race, proves to be perhaps the finest movie ever made on the subject.
The story goes that McQueen, obsessed with authenticity in his portrayal of the race and his character, driver Michael Delaney, turned to his friend, Grand Prix champion Jo Siffert.
Siffert, an ambassador for the renowned Swiss watchmaker Heuer, lent McQueen his white racing suit, to which was added a Chronograph Heuer crest (TAG-Techniques d’Avant Garde-didn’t come to the name until 1985).
McQueen wore the then-new Monaco Calibre 11 automatic chronograph for the filming, and this led the watch to being dubbed the McQueen Monaco.
Thus, are icons made. Fast forward to 2010.
Triumph Motorcycles, in collaboration with the watchmaker, is inspired to create a one-off Steve McQueen tribute Bonneville in TAG Heuer-branded livery.
Painted to evoke the same Gulf orange and blue color scheme as the Porsche 917 McQueen piloted down the Mulsanne Straight, this Bonnie might have earned a place in the actor’s stable.
The relationship between the motorcycles and the man is based on McQueen’s love for Triumphs. Not only did he ride them for his own pleasure, he included the bikes in his films, the most famous being 1963’s The Great Escape, whose barb-wire jumping scene showcased the skills of stunt man Bud Ekins.
The adrenalin carried over to McQueen and Ekins competing on Triumphs at the 1964 International Six Day Trial in Europe.
The Triumph Company honors McQueen, and its association with the actor’s estate, by offering vintage-styled McQueen-branded apparel. It saw the collaboration with TAG Heuer as a natural one.
Neil Morley (Triumph’s Head of Brand Communications) says: "We are delighted to play our part in this exciting project. The Triumph Bonneville and TAG Heuer Monaco are both timeless masterpieces, celebrating their respective 50th and 40th anniversaries this year."
The pedigree of the TAG Heuer Triumph Bonneville custom was established at its unveiling at the Paris Motor Show by Lewis Hamilton, the 2008 Formula One world champion and TAG Heuer brand ambassador. The bike then went on tour, making its way to watch shows and TAG Heuer retailers throughout the European Community.
Perhaps the best known of all Triumph models, the Bonneville has its origins in the recognition of Johnny Allen’s land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
From its introduction in 1959, the Bonneville captured the fancy of enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic and persists in its popularity. Updated to incorporate the firm’s most current technology, its classic look resonates with those who value understated esthetic.
The TAG Heuer one-off will, no doubt, also generate desire among those who covet its aura; but for now, Triumph has not announced any plans to make it available for sale.
In the meantime, the Monaco continues its successful 40-year run as one of the timepieces that consolidate the Swiss-based watchmaker’s position at the front of the grid. The Heuer name is itself an icon to those who follow the best of the best in sport.
As far back as the 1920s, when Heuer was the official timekeeper for the Olympic Games, to the Indianapolis 500 and countless competitions in-between, precision has been the watches’ hallmark. The demands of accuracy to within 1/10,000th of a second speak for themselves.
In celebration of the Monaco, the company has made an Anniversary Edition, available in a limited quantity of 1000. The caseback, signed by TAG Heuer honorary chairman Jack Heuer, is engraved "in tribute to Steve McQueen."
The chronograph is delivered in a special box; a dark blue alligator strap, and punched calfskin strap which resembles the original, are included.
The concurrent announcement of the firm’s new watch museum, located in its eco-friendly Swiss headquarters, is as dramatic as a McQueen movie…
"Like our timepieces, it seeks to be innovative and this museum has been designed to house the first ever 360-degree conic movie screen in the world. Managed by a battery of 12 computers processing over one million images an hour, it creates a dynamic presentation of the unique TAG Heuer watchmaking saga that has lasted almost a century-and-a-half."
If McQueen were looking for contemporary racing material to slake his cinematic appetite, he might have seen himself incarnating the rebellious Kimi Räikkönen.
The Finnish-born Formula One Grand Prix Champion, having conquered one world, now rockets around rally circuits with the same irreverence and competitive focus that characterized his sojourn in the GP paddock.
TAG Heuer’s Speedway sunglasses, created in consultation with Räikkönen, convey an appropriate sense of style founded in technical excellence. Räikkönen, being a committed motorcyclist as well, knows the importance of precision equipment.
The sunglasses sport such features as a lightweight titanium alloy frame, shock-resistant polycarbonate lenses with anti-reflective and anti-scratch coatings, plus super-adherent elastomer ear-tips.
As the vagaries of existence challenge us, a few constants remain-one being the satisfaction of enjoying a ride on one’s motorbike. The McQueen Monaco and the TAG Heuer Bonneville remind us of a maxim attributed to the famous actor…
"Every time I start thinking the world is all bad, then I start seeing people out there having a good time on motorcycles. It makes me take another look."