What watch did Mario Andretti wear?

Part of the fun of collecting vintage watches is to research them. Get to know their story. Perhaps find a famous person who owned it before you did. We all heard of the Jim Clark Gallet MultiChron 12, the Jo Siffert Heuer Autavia or staying with the same brand and model the Jochen Rindt Autavia. You perhaps know that there is another famous Rindt, Nina the wife of the late racecar driver. She wore a Compax Universal Geneve, which the watch community nicknamed the Nina Rindt UG.

There are however lesser know brands or drivers. You might remember that a few months ago I already did an article on the connection between racing and the Omega Speedmaster. You can read it here. We can say that we have covered most of these models in the past on Fratello Watches.

Mario Andretti’s Watch

However there was one other interesting watch. One that maybe isn’t as well-known as the previously mentioned ones. I’m talking about the Yema Rallye Andretti, worn by no other than great Italian-American car racing legend: Mario Andretti. Michael Stockton wrote a #TBT about it a little while ago, which you can read here. A few weeks ago a Yema Mario Andretti found its way to me and I started to do some research on it. Everyone considers the watch to be a Yema, but as friend-of-the-show Rene pointed out, it can also be a LeJour.

Mario Andrretti is based in the US and Yema was selling his watches under the brand name LeJour there. This was a common thing to do for manufacturers at the time. While the Yema and the LeJour models are technically identical, it bugged me that I did not know the full story.

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Interview with Mario Andretti

Through his management agency I got in touch with Mario Andretti. They offered me the opportunity to do an interview with him so I can ask about the watch. What a great gesture. Therefore I talked with some watch friends and colleagues and assembled a few questions. On top of my list was the issue with the Yema Rallye.

Mario Andretti

Mario Andretti in his iconic photo wearing something that looks to be a Yema/LeJour Rallye (photo credit: OnTheDash.com)

The watch is neither a Yema nor a Le Jour

My first question, and the biggest mystery, was in connection with the Yema. I asked Mr. Andretti if he wore the watch as part of an endorsement deal with the watch company or was it something he bought or got privately? Was also interested if the watch was actually a Yema or a LeJour? I was not ready for the answer he gave me. According to him “The watch is neither a Yema nor a Le Jour. It’s a Wesley’s Rallye. I got it privately; it was not part of an endorsement deal.” There you have it. The case is finally solved of this mystery and I guarantee it is not what anybody expected.

Mario Andretti

Mario Andretti wearing his Wesley’s Rally – a photo I was sent to prove that he still has the watch after many years (photo credit: Sports Management Network)

Heuer Autavia

I was curious to learn about his other “signature” model, the Heuer Autavia Andretti 3646, third execution. According to a thread on Jeff Stein’s wonderful resource page and forum Chronocentric the watch might have a Motor/Age logo. This logo was of a magazine and was printed onto watches awarded to drivers and mechanics every year. You can read the full story, here. Unfortunately Mario Andretti could not remember where and how he got the watch. So it is safe to assume that, since he was also awarded the SCCA Trans Am “Driver of the year award” he was gifted the Heuer Autavia there.

Mario Andretti

Wearing his Heuer Autavia “Andretti” (photo credit: Chronocentric.com)

Using the chrono to time other cars

I also wanted to know if Mr. Andretti wore the watches only as an accessory or did he actually use any of the features, like the chronograph or the tachymeter bezel? He told me “The only feature I generally used was the chronograph to time other cars. It was very convenient.”

Mario Andretti

A rare image of Mario Andretti and Colin Chapman, with the Rallye on the wrist (photo credit: Chronocentric.com)

“I love watches”

During his career Mario Andretti was wearing many different watches. Aside from the Heuer Autavia and the Wesley’s, he also sported an Orfina Porsche Design and even a Heuer Carrera 1168. Do you still have any of the watches you wore in the 60’s and 70’s in your collection? – I asked him, to which he answered ‘’I saved all of them”. Just imagine the watch collection he must have built over the years. It has to be impressive to say the least.

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It was time to finish my interview but I had one last question to Mario Andretti. Is there any brand nowadays that you like and often wear?

Mario Andretti’s answer was: “I don’t have any particular favorites. I love watches and might wear one for a week and then switch to a different one. It all depends on what I am doing or where I am going.”

 Mario Andretti

I feel lucky that I had the pleasure of interviewing Mario Andretti as it allowed us to solve a small watch puzzle. It also also gave us the opportunity to get a glimpse of his watch wearing habit and his collection. I would like to say thank you to Mario Andretti for answering my questions. To Ms. Patty Reid of Sports Management Network for her help in making this happen. One day I hopefully will be able to meet Mario Andretti to talk about car racing, watches and perhaps to see his wonderful collection.

Balázs Ferenczi

Balázs joined Fratello Watches in 2014 and he has been a fan of watches as long as he can remember. His passion for watches really took off in 2007 when he purchased his first fine Swiss timepiece. From 2007 up to recently, he was also an active and involved member of a number of on-line watch communities. Balázs has a weak spot for vintage Omega watches and vintage watches in general.