Earlier this year Baume & Mercier announced two limited edition chronographs to commemorate a new partnership with legendary racecar manufacturer, Shelby American, Inc. When you think about Baume & Mercier car partnerships aren’t what comes to mind, but such partnerships are common in the watch world, so perhaps in that sense it is unsurprising.
Founded by racing driver Carroll Shelby, Shelby-American Inc created one of the most famous and recognisable sports cars, the Shelby AC Cobra.
Let’s start with a bit of history.
In September 1961 Carroll Shelby wrote to AC Cars in Surrey, England, asking if they would build him a car modified to accept a V8 engine. AC agreed, provided a suitable engine could be found. After some failed attempts he ended up with Ford, who offered a newly developed engine. In January 1962 AC Cars fitted the prototype chassis with a 260 ci Ford V8 for testing. The chassis was moved to L.A. in February, and Shelby and his team started road-testing it before putting it into production.
AC exported completed cars (sans engine and gearbox) to Shelby in L.A., where they had engines and gearboxes added. The first 75 Cobra Mk1 models had the same engine as the prototype. The remaining 51 Mk1 were fitted with the For 289cu in (4.7L) V8 and from there, the company grew, with different chassis and engine combinations used. However, with only 1,003 Cobras produced in the three years until its end in 1965, kit versions have become immensely popular in their own right, and Sydney owners formed part of its local launch.
Carroll Shelby’s success reached its pinnacle in 1965 when his cars won Division 3 (Over 2000cc) at the FIA Championship’s International Championship for GT Manufacturers, with Ferrari beaten into second place. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Championship win, Shelby are building fifty Shelby Cobra 427s, and Baume & Mercier are partnering with them by creating some matching watches.
In late June 2015 Baume & Mercier Australia officially launched these two new models in Sydney, and I was invited to see them ‘in the metal’.
The Baume & Mercier Cobra collection consists of 44mm sized steel and red gold chronographs based on their Capeland model. The differences between the two Shelby models lie in the case metal, movement, and the dial design.
The stainless steel version is in a limited production of 1,965 (self-explanatory) and the red gold, in a numbered limitation of 98 pieces in tribute to Carroll Shelby’s Cobra racing number.
Firstly, the stainless steel version.
The dial is dark blue with a sunburst finish, and has two attractively discreet racing stripes in a slightly lighter blue (they were impossible to capture in the lighting conditions on the day I took thes photos) that are a reference to the Cobra’s stripes, as opposed to the car’s white stripes. The hour and minute hands reference steering wheel spokes and there is a laser-cut cobra, the Shelby logo, on the seconds hand. The chronograph sub-dials are a contrasting silver, and designed to look like dashboard gauges.
Inside is a La Joux-Perret caliber 8120 with a 42-hour power reserve and perlage finishing on the main plate and bridges. The La Joux-Perret 8120 is a modified 7750.
For the red gold version, the dial is markedly different, with the chronograph sub-dials left blue. Apart from the metal, the hands are the same as for the stainless steel version.
Movement-wise, the ‘flyback’ on the dial is the giveaway for the red gold version. It uses the La Joux-Perret 8147-2, an automatic movement that is also based on the ever-reliable 7750, but highly modified to incorporate a flyback function, which is visible through the laser-engraved case back with the collection name and the late Carroll Shelby’s signature. Unlike the other model, this one only features two sub-dials – a small seconds at 9 o’clock and a 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock.
My favourite of the two? The stainless steel purely on design/ colour grounds.
For those interested, at the 2015 North American International Auto Show a 3D-printed 1965 Shelby Cobra was on display. Here is a short video of its construction.
Both models come in a box with an miniature of the 427 Cobra. For those who get the red gold model, you will also receive an attractive large hardback book detailing the full history of the Cobra. There were two red gold pieces allocated for Australia. On the night of the Sydney launch at Watches of Switzerland, one was sold to someone with a Cobra. A fitting new home.