If you've read some of my other reviews, you probably know that I love racing watches, modern and especially vintage. The thing about a good racing watch is that in addition to looking cool, it's also a tool watch used for timing races. Sure, no one is using a tachymeter scale in 2021, but when was the last time you used the helium escape valve on your dive watch?
A racing watch is a different thing from a car watch, however. A racing watch is a chronograph with great legibility, and durable construction. A car watch sometimes isn't even a chronograph, but typically features styling cues taken from a car. Perhaps it has a fake redline from a rev counter across the dial, tire treads on the strap, and the winding rotor looks like a steering wheel. Car watches are difficult to execute well, and often the result is a mishmash of tired styling cues with some racing stripes slapped on.
Well buckle up your 6 point harnesses, because I bought a car watch anyway. It can't time laps, nor does it seem particularly able to withstand the vibrations and impacts of an open cockpit. I did, however, think that it looked cool enough to buy a pre-owned one. It's the Autodromo Group B Series 2. My favorite of a number of automotive-inspired watches from the popular microbrand.
The Autodromo Group B
The Group B is the least obviously "car—ish" watch in the brand's lineup. Other than a minute hand that resembles a needle from a car dial, it would be easy to mistake this for just another Genta-esque integrated bracelet sports watch (I swear, I'll stop reviewing them soon). That is exactly what drew me to it. It offers a subtle hint to those in the know that I'm obsessed with cars, but it's also just an attractive watch to wear on days when I'm not doing pit stops at the Indy 500.
Actually, the name Group B refers not to open wheel racing, but to the class of cars raced during what many would call the glory days of World Rally. The class was cancelled at the end of 1986 because the cars were becoming too fast and dangerous. Knowing this, you can see where the dial gets its inspiration.
Variants of the watch have been produced in bright 80s colors. Despite this being the most tame white version, you can still see some inspiration from a 1980s instrument panel, without it screaming in your face.
It is immediately apparently that significant design effort went in to developing this watch. For example, and bezel and caseback are made of titanium, with a steel case sandwiched in between and held together with 6 screws. The darker titanium reduces weight and gives a subtle contrast between the two metals (I'm sure that not making the whole thing from titanium also helped to keep the cost down).
The sapphire crystal protrudes above the notched bezel with a chamfered edge. This gives it a jewel-like look, and reflects the subtle numerals displayed on the chapter ring at certain angles. Another subtle car nod is the black circle applied to the underside of said crystal. I think this is a really cool detail, and it hides the area where the hands are mounted, cleaning up the look.
Wearing the Group B
The Group B measures a comfortable 39mm wide, although it looks a bit larger due to it's large dial and crystal. At 9mm thick, it is also a thin watch, but the brand managed to make it appear even thinner. The multi-piece case construction with an ultra-thin caseband are to be thanked for that. At around 50mm lug to lug, it is a tall watch, but the lugs taper down so sharply that it won't visually overpower even small wrists.
Earlier versions of the Group B featured a spring bar-less design. This meant that only single-pass straps could be installed, like the brightly-colored straps styled after racing seatbelts that those versions came with.
This being a Series 2 Group B, has the same look, but with open (and drilled) lugs. This allows any kind of strap to be installed, but also allowed Autodromo to develop the really cool bracelet that you see in the photos.
Completely flat and straight links reflect light nicely, and articulate via hidden cutouts on the underside. The top surfaces have vertical brushing, and polished chamfers matching the edges of the case. A significant taper down to 18mm and hidden butterfly clasp finish it off.
The bracelet is the perfect pair to the watch, and really completes the look. My only complaint is that there is not a micro-adjust or any half links provided. The links are fairly small, but I find my wrist size is still between links, forcing me to wear it slightly looser than I would like. Luckily, the watch is so thin and lightweight that it doesn't flop around.
The dial and hand combination of the Group B is both my favorite and least favorite aspect of the watch. Very subtle black polished "screws" at the center of the dial give another nod to the automotive theme. The center of the dial is raised, and has a sunburst pattern that can only be seen in bright light. Hour markers are also slightly raised, which another fun thing that is only noticed when paying close attention.
The method of displaying hours, minutes and seconds also looks extremely cool. Again, without screaming that this is a car watch, the long minute hand with heavy counter balance evokes thoughts of a tachometer. Then a small, skeletonized hour hand avoids being too distracting. A mostly black with an orange tip stick at the center displays running seconds in as inconspicuous a method possible.
The other fun surprise is that all of the white markings including the Group B text are lumed. The result is that the watch looks really cool at night, a look that will be familiar to anyone who has owned a 1990s VW. The application of lume is not the brightest, but it is legible in most conditions. I expect that the lume is weaker in the other colored versions of the watch, so its another reason that I'm glad I went with white.
Unfortunately the result of all of this coolness is that legibility stuffers. I'm getting used to it, but it requires slightly more focus to figure out the time compared to other watches. The hands can be difficult to differentiate, especially when they overlap, and the hour markers can be difficult to distinguish from the minutes at a quick glance. That being said, this isn't a watch that I plan to wear every day. Like having a fun car in the garage for occasional use, these types of quirks can make ownership more interesting.
The Group B features a Miyota 9015 movement. While this movement can be found in less expensive watches, I feel it was a good choice for the Group B. It is a thin movement, which I'm sure helped to reduce the overall thickness of the case, and should be robust. Because the case is well-balanced, the "Miyota wobble" is also less noticeable.
I would have given bonus points if Autodromo had speced the 9039 non-date version of the same movement (i.e. Mitch Mason) to avoid the extra phantom crown position, but it shouldn't affect daily use.
If you focus only on the spec sheet, similarly equipped watches from other microbrands can be purchased for significantly less than the $975 Group B. What they don't offer, however is the design and construction of the this watch. The Autodromo Group B is fun to wear, and even more fun to look at. In a hobby that often takes itself too seriously, it's refreshing to see a watch that is fun and unique, with just enough of a nod to the automotive culture that I love.
What are your thoughts on the Autodromo Group B? Do you think it is a successful attempt at a car-theme watch? Is there another that you prefer more? We'd love to hear it in the comments.
Name: Autodromo Group B (Series 2 Automatic White)
Reference Number: BP-005
Dimensions: 39mm diameter, 50mm lug-to-lug, 9mm thick, 20mm lug width
Movement: Miyota 9015
Water Resistance: 50m
Bezel: Titanium, fixed
Strap/Bracelet: Stainless steel, integrated with butterfly clasp