Hands-On With The Zero West TT-58: British Automotive History For The Wrist
Zero West has a penchant for basing its collection on historic British moments. Specifically, the brand focuses on remarkable events that took place geographically near Zero West’s studio in Emsworth, UK. The South Coast of England has played host to many naval and airborne activities, but the TT-58 represents the Tourist Trophy sports car race at Goodwood motor circuit in 1958. I had the chance to spend some time with the now sold-out 58-piece limited edition TT-58. And with the recent British Grand Prix and Goodwood Festival of Speed occurring in July 2023, I felt it was an excellent time to reflect on my hands-on experience.
First, it’s important to note that Zero West is not the official timekeeper of the Festival of Speed 2023. I’ve been attending the festival over the last 20 years, and the role of timekeeper changes frequently. This year, Roger Dubuis is responsible for timing the cars up the famous hill climb. But Goodwood is much more than the hill climb, which, for the rest of the year, is simply a service road that passes Goodwood House — the Grade 1-listed residence of the Duke of Richmond. Goodwood is also home to the Motor Circuit on the estate. It’s this track that the TT-58 pays homage to and, more precisely, the 1958 race won by the Aston Martin DBR1.
A time and a place
Racing during the mid-century came with a high degree of risk. Motor racing is still fraught with danger today, as the tracks remind us of “Warning, motor sport can be dangerous” signs. Fatalities can still occur, as seen with the sad passing of Dutch driver Dilano van ‘t Hoff during the Formula Europe race in Spa, Belgium. As tragic as each severe accident can be, thankfully, fatalities have been far more infrequent since the millennium due to vehicle, track, and personal safety improvements. Not that safety wasn’t a priority in the early days, but knowledge, technology, and procedures couldn’t keep up with the pace of car performance developments. I mention safety as three years before the 1958 Tourist Trophy race at Goodwood; the race was curtailed. The postponement was down to the death of three drivers in 1955 at the Dundrod track in Northern Ireland.
The triple fatality followed mere months from the most devastating loss of life at any motorsports event in the 1955 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A horrific crash resulted in the tragedy of 83 spectators and one driver succumbing to their injuries. The two-year hiatus allowed for improved safety parameters for the 1958 Tourist Trophy event at Goodwood. While the race was not free from incidents, all drivers escaped major accidents. The legendary British duo Sir Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks won the endurance race in the iconic Aston Martin DBR1. Aston Martin achieved a 1-2-3 finish to dominate the podium, all within a second of each other. Among the silver and bronze places, drivers include American car tuner Carroll Shelby and Australian three-time F1 world champion Jack Brabham, demonstrating the event’s prestige by the caliber of drivers.
Zero West TT-58
Zero West’s TT-58 honors the DBR1’s emphatic display with a monochrome Union Jack and chequered flag on the dial in place of 6 o’clock. While Moss and Brooks raced the number-seven car, the familiar oversized car number print is at 12 o’clock. Beneath the flags are the coordinates for the Goodwood track and the date of the 1958 race. Including these details is Zero West’s signature, whose name is derived from the prime meridian that runs through the Greenwich Royal Observatory (written as 0.00° W). The white skeletonized hands have drilled elements with sweeping arrow-shaped central seconds hands.
Using multi-axis machines to construct the case from aerospace-grade stainless steel creates the complex shapes and angles that stretch across Zero West’s collection. Once the machine does the precision milling, Zero West hand finishes the surfaces and edges. In the case of the TT-58, the round body and bezel are brushed, with the lugs and strap connection in polished 316L stainless steel. Domed crystals and black dials habitually add too much glare, but Zero West smartly applies AR coating to the underside of the scratch-resistant sapphire crystal. Yet it’s the case back, usually hidden when on the wrist, that is the real star.
A piece of history
While the dial details reference the 1958 race, the case back is the gourmet experience. Like Bremont infusing heritage materials from the creations that inspired the watch, the Zero West TT-58 includes offcuts of the drive shaft from the winning 1958 Aston Martin DBR1/chassis 2. This car won the Tourist Trophy and went on to win the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans, driven by Carroll Shelby, elevating the vehicle to legendary status. Given the significant importance of the car, it seems a shame to strip parts for use elsewhere. But you must understand that with sports cars, especially endurance racers, multiple components are duplicated to swap out before and during an event.
The drive shaft component has been under the same ownership as the Aston Martin DBR1 since the ’80s. Not wishing to alter the appearance of the drive shaft assembly, Zero West uses electrical discharge machining (EDM) to wire cut and remove the central shaft’s steel core. Zero West then finely cuts 22mm-diameter slices for the case back display. Working with vintage components, let alone parts from historic race cars, is challenging. Often, it’s a one-shot deal since there is no way to replicate the authenticity of the materials. Each slice is then hand finished, waxed, and bonded into a machine-turned aluminum disk ready for mounting. Sealing to the case back is a custom reverse sapphire crystal printing to showcase automotive artistry. Running the case back periphery are more feats of the race, such as the 88.324mph average speed and a total time of 4hrs 01:17mins.
The 44mm-diameter steel case may seem daunting on the wrist, but the surprisingly regular 49.6mm lug-to-lug pin spacing keeps it wearable. The space between the spring bars is crucial as this is where the 22mm-wide black leather strap begins to contort to the wrist. Also assisting with wearability is the 14.1mm case thickness, which doesn’t feel too hefty and is in proportion with the case diameter. The dial is clear to read, but the minute track is absent between the 5 and 7 o’clock markers to represent an instrument cluster. While a cool design, it does mean that setting time accurately between 25 and 35 minutes past the hour will be a guessing game. Powering the TT-58 is the ETA 2824-2, a familiar workhorse with its 28,800vph frequency and 38-hour power reserve.
The prominent leather strap takes time to break in, but Zero West offers a range of alternative straps. I especially enjoy the embossed rubber straps and would choose the British Racing Green to match the Aston Martin DBR1. The TT-58 has a pleasant wearing experience but doesn’t feel like a daily watch. I’d be more inclined to bring it to a track day or air show and revel in its historical connotations. The watch is sold out but cost £2,750 at the time. While this edition may be spoken for, similar models marking other moments are available with more to come. Stay on the lookout on the Zero West Instagram page as multiple new additions get exclusive announcements on the platform.
If you’re in the South of England, the Zero West studio in Emsworth is well worth a look. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a few times and always enjoy the new décor and furniture on display. That includes the Merlin-engine coffee table. It’s also nice to try out the watches in person and sample the extensive strap options. Zero West will also be Redbar South East × Best of British event in Brighton on Saturday, September 16th, 2023. Also attending is anOrdain, Christopher Ward, Elliott Brown, Farer, Fears, Helicon, Isotope, Schofield, Studio Underd0g, Vertex, and William Wood. Check with your local RedBar chapter for further details on how to attend. You can also read more on the Zero West TT-58 via the website here.