Throughout history, Porsche and TAG Heuer have crossed paths on many occasions. This has led to a long and extensive partnership of the two legendary manufacturers, with watches and timekeeping on one end, and high-performance sports and racing cars on the other. Not only do the two brands share history on-track but also off-track, with special edition watches such as the Carrera Chronosprint x Porsche being a very recent example. Celebrating the 75th anniversary of Porsche, as well as the 70th anniversary of the Carrera Panamericana this year, a new collaborative project has just been released, which is inspired by one of the most significant Porsche racing cars in history; the humble Porsche 550 Coupe.
The carrera panamericana
The Carrera Panamericana is simply put one of the most famous yet daunting road-racing events in history. It’s on the same level as the Targa Florio and Mille Miglia in Italy. Competitors have to navigate more than 3,400 kilometres throughout Mexico, basically running from border to border. The event was held on open road, and ran for five years only, starting in 1950 and ending in 1954. The race consisted of a total of 9 timed stages spread across five consecutive days across the country. From the first edition to the very last, it attracted the biggest names in racing from Formula 1, sports car racing, rallying, stock car racing, hill climbing, endurance racing and so on. The inaugural Carrera Panamericana was won by Hershel McGriff and Ray Elliot, racing an Oldsmobile 88. The following years were won by Piero Taruffi and Luigi Chinetti in a Ferrari 212 Inter Vignale (1951), Karl Kling and Hans Klerk in a Mercedes-Benz W194 (1952), Juan Manuel Fangio and Gino Bronzoni in a Lancia D24 Pinin Farina (1953) and Umberto Maglioli in a Ferrari 374 Plus Pinin Farina (1954).
The race met its demise due to safety concerns from the public and government officials following a number of fatal incidents throughout the first few years. Adolfo Ruiz Cortines, president of Mexico at the time, announced the primary goal of the Carrera Panamericana to promote the newly built public highway that was raced on, was completed. During the five years the race ran, 27 people were killed, which is one of the highest mortality rates of any racing event in history. Nowadays the event has been revived into a classic speed rally, similar to the Mille Miglia. The name of the Carrera Panamericana lives on though, through the marketing genius of both TAG Heuer and Porsche. Jack Heuer famously named the brand’s iconic Carrera collection after the race. Porsche on the other hand first used the name on a car in 1955, celebrating a class win with the Porsche 550 in the 1953 edition of the event. To this day, the name Carrera is still very much alive, both in cars and in watches.
The humble Porsche 550 Coupe
The Porsche 550 was the very first dedicated race car, developed from scratch. Motorsports have always been at the heart of Porsche but the brand’s racing aspirations started with road-car-based conversions instead of building a pure race car. It was built between 1953 and 1956 and a total of 90 cars were made, with either a two-door coupe or two-door spyder body. It quickly gained a reputation for being a very dominant racing car in the sub-1.5 litre class, as it was small, very lightweight and thus extremely nimble. Relying on a 1.498cc four-cylinder engine, the car weighed only 550 kilos, hence the name.
The 550, either in Spyder or Coupe form, was raced the world over and piloted by some of the most famous names in racing. During its debut year, the humble little car managed to clinch (class) victories at the Nürburgring Eifel Race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Carrera Panamericana. It continued to win regularly and even managed to come in first overall in the 1956 edition of the Targa Florio against much more powerful cars such as the Maserati 300S, Ferrari 860 Monza and Mercedes-Benz 300SL. After the Porsche factory team already moved on to its replacement, the 718, privateer teams kept racing the 550 and continued to compete for wins, cementing its racing legacy.
But there’s also a dark side to the Porsche 550, through no fault of its own. It is after all the car Hollywood actor, speed demon and racing driver James Dean was killed in. He crashed his 550 Spyder, nicknamed the “Little Bastard” on September 30th 1955 near Cholame, California. Regardless of this very sad chapter in the car’s history, it is one of the most iconic Porsche racing cars ever made, and the inspiration for plenty of replica cars. Original cars can fetch as much as USD 5 million at auction, depending on condition and racing legacy.
Two special 718 Cayman GT4 RS cars
In what is a celebratory year for both Porsche and TAG Heuer, the two brands have once again collaborated on something very cool. While we’ve already seen several very race-inspired watches in the past couple of years, this time around we’re taking a look at a rather unique car. It’s built to mark multiple occasions as on one hand, Porsche is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the two teams who entered the 1953 Carrera Panamericana with the 550, and TAG Heuer is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Carrera this year. This double celebration culminates in two special editions of the 718 Cayman GT4 RS.
The GT4 RS is the epitome of Porsche’s more compact mid-engined sportscar, the 718 Cayman. The design of the TAG Heuer x Porsche – Legends of Panamericana, as the project is officially called, is inspired by the 550 Coupe that competed in the gruelling road race 70 years ago. The resemblance is quite obvious if you look at both the new and old car side by side, and that’s without the similarly styled racing livery.
Both cars have a compact frame with a curvaceous profile with only one thing in mind; performance and agility. To enhance this performance and agility, the 718 Cayman GT4 RS is fitted with advanced aero and a very potent 500-horsepower flat-six derived from the engine in the 911 GT3. This gives it a zero-to-100kph time of less than 3.5 seconds and a top speed of 315kph. Quite the little firecracker, right?
Two cars are built, one carrying starting number 152 and the other carrying number 154 in commemoration of the Porsche 550 Spyders that raced the Carrera Panamericana in 1953. One of the cars will be driven by Patrick Dempsey, actor and racing driver as well as TAG Heuer brand ambassador, at this year’s revival edition of the Carrera Panamericana.
Following the event this very car, with number 152 on the side and roof, will be auctioned off in early 2024 with proceeds going to charity. The car with the number 154 was on display in the TAG Heuer Heritage Experience exhibition during last weekend’s Rennsport Reunion 7 at Laguna Seca but it’s unknown what will happen to it afterwards.
To set the two cars apart from the ‘regular’ GT4 RS, apart from the obvious racing livery, are custom elements on both the exterior and interior of the cars. This includes the TAG Heuer logo on the front, which is applied to Le Mans Silver Metallic, a special paint that was made in collaboration with Porsche France, the AOC (the Le Mans organisers) and Porsche AG. The cars also have a Pegasus logo on either the front-left wing or rear-left wheel arch, reminding us of the Mobil Oil sponsoring the 550 Coupes ran in the 1953 race.
On the inside, the interior receives special trim details including Guards Red leather seats, tri-colour stitching on the steering wheel and special embroidery work on the headrests. The most notable element is the pair of racing timers by TAG Heuer mounted promptly on the centre console, but this is only installed on the number 154 car. This is a nod to the original Heuer Rally Master with an 8-day Master-Time clock and a Monte Carlo chronograph.
This post first appeared on Monochrome Watches - An online magazine dedicated to fine watches.