Long Term Watch Review: The Heuer Autavia "Viceroy" (1163V) - Feel Like a 70s Racer!
If you're like me, part of the appeal of this ridiculous watch collecting hobby is imagining yourself using these watches in the extreme environments for which they were designed.
In reality, you're checking your Navitimer from seat 2B on a Delta flight into Milwaukee (where is that club soda anyway?). In your mind, however, you're using the slide rule to calculate if you'll have enough fuel to make it out of enemy territory.
Or maybe you're sitting in a meeting imagining the helium release valve on your Rolex Sea Dweller popping open after diving into...heck, I still don't know how a helium release valve works, but it sure is cool to have on your watch!
For me, it's racing, and the 1970s were the pinnacle. The engines were getting ever more powerful, and the engineers were just starting to figure out how to make some serious downforce. Safety equipment was definitely not keeping pace with the technology to make the cars faster. These were real men!
A racing chronograph from this era strapped to my wrist means that rather than timing my Hot Pocket, I'm using the tachymeter to calculate if I'm going to end up on pole or not.
Note to the Reader
This article is not intended to be definitive buying guide for the Viceroy, as much more qualified people have already done that (for example Calibre11 and OnTheDash). My intention is to give a picture of the purchase and ownership experience of my particular watch.
I will include many informative links as we go along, as well as affiliate links to eBay and Amazon that will allow you to check prices and see watches that are available. Also, I'd love to answer any questions that I'm able in the comments.
I have been told by a few experts that my watch is all-original, but I don't actually know its history. Please do your own research if using this watch as a reference.
most of the straps in the photos can be purchased on this website! Any support is appreciated to help me keep writing more watch content!
I've you've followed racing from this era, you're probably seen cars with Heuer logos, and you're probably familiar with the Steve McQueen movie "Le Mans." If not, let's just say that Heuer was the brand most associated with racing. Many of the Heuer chronographs from this era are nicknamed after the driver that wore them, such as the "Siffert", the "Andretti", and of course the famous "McQueen" blue Monaco.
You may have also wondered why you've seen TAG logos separately on cars. This is because before the mid-1980s, TAG and Heuer were separate companies. For more info, the TAG Heuer website has a brief history.
The Autavia 1163V "Viceroy"
So why did I choose to purchase an Autavia? The Autvia's styling still captures that 70s racing feeling, but in my opinion, it fits in the best with modern, casual clothing.
Its 42 mm width is contemporary, and I can wear it on a daily basis. If I had a smaller Carrera, or a funky Monaco, I would only want to wear it on special occasions. Since obtaining it, I typically wear my Autavia two to three days out of a given week.
Finally, I settled specifically on the 1163V "Viceroy" for a number of reasons:
-I wanted a Calibre 11 or Calibre 12 watch with the crown on the left.
-I preferred the boxed acrylic crystal and slimmer case of the 1163 over the 11630.
-The reverse panda dial with red accents looks fantastic!
-I loved the history of the Viceroy promotion*, and thought it would be fun to specifically find a Viceroy (bonus: it ended up being a good talking point at watch meets).
-In a rare case, the model that I wanted was one of the more affordable versions, probably because so many were sold through the promotion. If this watch had the white and blue "Siffert" dial, it would have been at least 3 times the price.
-Because I wanted a racing watch, I also specifically looked for one with a Tachy bezel, versus the "MH" diving bezel.
*You can learn more about the Viceroy promotion in this fantastic article that Hodinkee put together. In short summary, both brands were experiencing slow sales. Viceroy customers could get an Autiva for $88 plus a few cigarette cartons, vs. $200 at a Heuer dealer.
Acquiring the Watch
It was a number of years between the time that I had decided I wanted a Viceroy, and the time that I actually owned one. I spent countless hours learning about the watches and browsing sale ads and eBay listings. I also watched the prices continue to creep up. When my wife and I found out that we were having a baby, I decided that if I didn't buy one now, I might never do it!
Since we were going into saving mode to prepare for the baby, I put together a plan to fund the Viceroy by selling 6 other watches from my collection. This included a very rare Seiko SLQ021 (with real F1 gear) which had been through a lot of life events with me, and my Perrelet Seacraft GMT.
Once I had the funds available, I started searching in earnest! I quickly learned that Viceroys are not hard to find (eBay affiliate link). What is hard to find, is a Viceroy at a reasonable price with all of the original parts and finish. Many of them have been polished to a round shape like a rock that has been sitting in a river. I came across countless watches with questionable crowns, missing pushers, the wrong hands, or crystals that were flush to the case. Some even had the wrong movement installed. I think because they were much less expensive than the non-Viceroy models, many of them lived rough lives.
Finally, I posted a WTB ad, and quickly received a reply! The "seller" (there is a reason for the quotes) had a completely mint condition Viceroy that he had just purchased from a very reputable source! The price was above my budget, but after discussing with my wife, she convinced me to buy it! I quickly emailed the seller and offered his asking price. He replied and told me that he had gotten cold feet, the watch was no longer for sale!
The search went on for a few months. Lots of watches came along that were either too expensive, had some wrong details, or sold before I could make an offer. One day, I received an eBay notification of a Viceroy that had been listed as Buy it Now or Best Offer. The photos were not great, but it seemed to be original, and even included the very rare "beads of rice" bracelet! The photo of the movement revealed that it had the correct Calibre 12. It was described as having coming from an estate sale, and very little detail was given.
I decided to take a gamble and made an offer that was fair, but low enough to account for the extra risk. The buyer quickly accepted! If you've ever bought a watch online, you know that this is exactly the moment that fear and regret quick in. Had I made a huge mistake? Either way, the deal was done, and I waited (im)patiently for it to arrive.
Receiving the Watch
When it finally showed up, the watch looked better than the photos!
It had obviously been worn, but a little bit of wear was perfect, as this would allow me to wear it without guilt. The crystal had some small pits and scratches, but it had that lovely original boxed shape! The rare bezel insert had some small scratches, but appeared to be the correct original part. The edges of the case were sharp, and (unlike most that I saw), the case retained the original radial brushing. I nervously posted photos on a vintage chronograph forum, and the members confirmed that everything looked original. They told me that the serial number dated it to late 1973 or early 1974.
Shortly after strapping the watch on, I encountered my first problem to shatter my joy! A few hours into wearing the watch, I looked down and a piece of the (original) lume had fallen off and was floating around inside the case! This sealed the deal, and since the service history was unknown, I searched for someone that could service it and re-attach the lume. Most places were backed up for many months, but I finally found a watchmaker that could service it quickly for an additional fee. The total cost for the service, attaching lume and polishing the crystal ended up being about $600. Not cheap, but worth it for the piece of mind of having a movement ready to go for years.
Note, you might notice in the photos that recently another piece of lume has recently come loose.
Wearing the Viceroy
After a few weeks, I received the watch back from service. Since it does not have a running seconds hand, I checked the accuracy by running the chronograph. It was keeping within a few seconds per day!
I immediately strapped it on my wrist. I've had it for almost three years now, and I wear it at least a few times per week.
In many ways it wear similarly to a modern watch, but it definitely has a different feel to it, especially on the bracelet.
You are constantly aware of how the plastic crystal protrudes from the watch. It looks fantastic, but I find myself taking more care than with my watches with sapphire. I did scratch it once, and it was easily polished out with a quick application of Polywatch (Amazon affiliate link) and a microfiber towel.
Pushers and Crown
The chronograph pushers do not feel as tight as a modern watch, but with fresh gaskets after the service, they are still smooth and crisp to push.
A correct Autavia has the crown signed with a Heuer logo. I love having the crown on the left (I have read this was a necessity to package the Chronomatic or Cal 11/12 chronograph module on top of the movement).
It is a bit of a pain to set the time if you are right handed, but it gives the watch such a unique look and symmetry. The crown also has a ridged surface that makes it easy to grip.
Even if it has a few scratches, I'm glad to have found a watch with the original finish intact. The radial brushing catches the light well, and the crisp lines and polished sides make the watch pop in the sunlight.
The case has a barrel shape with integrated lugs (lug width is 20mm). All of the edges feature sharp cuts. the case of the 1163 models is notched out to help the chronograph pushers not stick out too far. Because the crown is on the left, there is no worry of it digging into the wrist (even if you wore it on your right hand, it would be fine, as the watch sits off the wrist due to the thick case-back).
Because it has a chronograph module, the watch is fairly thick at about 15mm. The sides of the case are only about 6mm thick. The case-back protrudes from the case, and the crystal adds 1 to 2mm, so it hides its thickness visually on the wrist.
It will fit under looser cuffs, but it's not a watch that I'd wear to a formal occasion anyway.
Dial and Hands
The matte black dial of the Viceroy has minimal text, and two recessed chronograph subdials. Interestingly, the Autavia model name is above the Heuer logo. Below the hands is "Automatic Chronograph," the single word "Swiss" (rather than today's "Swiss Made," and the date. The date wheel is recessed below the dial, but the dial has a trim piece that fills in the gap and integrates the date very well.
The earliest Autavias advertised the new Chronomatic movement on the dial (arguably the first chronograph movement with automatic winding). There were also early versions before the Viceroy or pre-Viceroy that lost the Chronomatic text. These models had only four numbers on the chronograph hour counter, and had different hands and markers. I prefer the uniqueness of the Viceroy dial, and I love its hands with red centers and red triangle tips.
One of my favorite things about the Calibre 11 and 12 watches is the perfect symmetry of the dial (and case). No running-seconds means that all hands point straight up when you are not timing something. The dial has symmetric text down the center, and a date perfectly lined up at 6. On top of that, the left side crown offsets the visual weight of the chronograph pushers on the right.
The bezel rotates on this watch, which is strange for a tachy bezel. I believe the reason is that other models had a "Minutes Hours" (MH) bezel which could be used for timing, and Heuer just used a different insert on the Tachy (T) watches.
Even thought it was freed up in service, the bidirectional rotation of the bezel on my watch is quite stiff. This is fine with me as I don't have any reason to rotate it. I use the chronograph if I need to time anything.
The bezel insert on my watch had a few small scratches, but is not visually faded, or completely missing the paint at the edges like many used Autavias.
Bracelet (and straps)
I will admit, I hated the bracelet at first. I was glad to have it though, because they are rare and valuable. I immediately removed it and put the watch on a rally strap.
Then I read this article, and decided to give the bracelet another shot. Boy was I wrong! The watch looks so cool on it, and it is extremely flexible and comfortable!
I just need to take a bit more care because my watch has the "economy" bracelet, and the clasp does not have a flip lock (or a Heuer logo) like the Gay Frères version would have had.
Because of Autavia's a mixture of AUTomotive, and AVIation looks (plus they fact that some versions were used as divers and military watches), it also looks great on a wide variety of straps. A rally strap is a great choice to go for a racing look.
As mentioned, my watch had the later Calibre 12 movement. It doesn't have the cool factor of the original Calibre 11, but the 12 has a number of improvements which should make it more reliable.
It has also recently had its 50th anniversary!
It does not have a quickset date, but the date can be advanced by moving the hour hand back and forth a few hours before midnight rather than rotating all the way around. Still tedious, but it saves a little bit of time.
I haven't done a scientific test, but it does not seem like the automatic winding is as efficient as a modern watch like a Seiko. In other words, if I am not very active during the day, it won't run for as long when I take it off. It does start right up with a quick shake though (you have to hold it to your ear to tell though because of the lack of running-seconds). When fully wound, the power reserve is about 42 hours. Some more specs can be found here.
The Autavia was exactly what I wanted it to be, and I feel so cool wearing it! If you're looking for an authentic vintage racing watch, Heuer is the brand to look at, and the Autavia Viceroy is a great watch if you plan to wear it regularly.
They are not cheap, but they are significantly less expensive than many other Heuer chronographs from the period, including most non-Viceroy Autavias. And let's not even talk about the cost of other period racing watches (eBay affiliate link).
Hopefully this article was helpful to give you a picture of what its like to own one (or many) of these watches. If you are looking to buy one, my recommendation is to buy from a trusted source. Also spend some time reading the articles linked here to become an expert on what a correct Viceroy should look like. It will pay off, and you'll get years of enjoyment out of the watch!
...for the smaller budget.
Do you love the look and charm of the Viceroy, but don't have that big of a budget? Goodspeed Watches offer their Sonoma chronograph, which was clearly developed with a 70s Heuer style in mind. It's available with quartz, but my recommendation is to spend a little extra for the Seagull mechanical chronograph movement, and upgrade to the beads of rice bracelet. You'll get the enjoyment of winding the watch and feeling the snap of the pushers, plus the mechanical adds a sapphire crystal, all for under $300.
...for someone who wants modern reliability and materials.
In 2017, TAG Heuer started producing (and recently cancelled) a new chronograph version of the Autavia with the Heuer 02 movement. They also currently produce a three hand model called the Isograph (affiliate link).
There was even a special edition (ref. # CBE2118) called the 1972 Re-edition which features the Viceroy dial and hands! It even eschews the running seconds sub-dial to keep the original look. This would be my choice if I didn't already have the original.
I hope this article was helpful! Do you have a watch that takes you to a more exciting place when you wear it? Let us know in the comments!