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The Rolex Daytona (Le Mans or Cosmograph)

By Michael Deage-Pandeli of SKJ Watches.

The Rolex Daytona today is synonymous with motor racing but how did that come about? In this article I will try to tell an abbreviated version of this story.

It begins back in the 1930s and Sir Malcolm Campbell and his record-breaking speed runs. Rolex liked the lifestyle he represented so signed him up as a Rolex ambassador. Sir Malcolm was used in Rolex advertising and he wore a Rolex Oyster watch on his record-breaking speed runs on Daytona Beach, in Florida.

Another person who promoted a link between motor racing and Rolex albeit inadvertently was Junior Johnson an American racing driver, who won the 1963 Daytona 500 race, and was photographed wearing a Rolex Zephyr Oyster Perpetual.

Rolex saw America as opposed to Europe as the market for its sports watches. So the  new Chronograph launched in 1963 called the Cosmograph or the Le Mans (Ref 6239) had a name change in 1965 to Daytona after the location for the speed runs of the 1930s, and the race, which Rolex had started sponsoring in 1964. This watch differed from other chronographs on the market at the time by having an outer tachymeter bezel with markers engraved into the bezel, it also had contrasting subsidiary dials.

 In 1965 when it got the Daytona name it was given a screw down crown and Oyster case, shortly later the Ref 6240 was issued with screw crown and pushers. This made it a very robust watch and waterproof. The watch used the Valjoux 72 manually wound movement a known quality movement of the time. The automatic version featuring the variation of the Zenith El-Primero movement did not arrive until 1988.  

Most early Daytona’s were made for the American market but they were slow sellers barely selling more than 500 a year. It was Rolex’s worst selling watch, you could get a healthy discount on the $220 price, as the agents were keen to move them on. This remained the case until 1972 when for some reason the fact that Paul Newman was photographed wearing an exotic dial Rolex Daytona that a demand built up first from Italy and then around the world. It is not true that Paul Newman wore a Daytona in the 1969 film Winning, but he did own Rolexes at the time, it was when he started racing himself that his wife bought him a Daytona, but not the model that he has become associated with. Rolex publicity department latched onto the Paul Newman and motor racing link and created an advertising campaign around this plus sponsored the publishing of books about Paul Newman that perpetuated the link.

So back to today the so called Paul Newman Daytona is the most desirable and valuable Daytona but by no means the rarest or most historically important, that accolade I would think would go to an original Mk1 Daytona with Le Mans or Cosmograph on the dial, closely followed by the first actual Daytona of 1965. I will not go into values for this watch as so many small details dictate the price. But suffice to say there are no cheap Daytona’s, and if buying do your research to make sure you are getting what you are paying for. 

Historic Motor Racing Magazine: 30th Jul 2015 13:36:00

 

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