Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Cafe Racer Spirit

Johnny McElherron discusses the Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Cafe Racer Spirit, a chronograph featuring the iconic El Primero movement, sporting a distressed appearance and celebrating the ‘Café Racer’ bikers movement of 1920s England.

This detailed review of the Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Cafe Racer Spirit includes live images, specification details and pricing.

Image for watch review - Zenith El-Primero

Amid the classic splendour and technically bewildering offerings on show throughout the huge halls of the Baselworld expo in 2016, one of my own favourite surprises was the super-cool Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Cafe Racer Spirit.

According to Zenith, this retro styled bruiser, bursting with character, references the Café Racer bikers movement of 1920s England. However, my mind conjures thoughts of the heady days of the late 1940s and 50s, when hundreds of young, former RAF fighter pilots turned garagistes would tour the country’s empty motorways on their noisy stripped-down Triumphs, Nortons and BSAs. This was an era when it was de rigueur to hang out at service cafés in leather attire.

The Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Cafe Racer Spirit is a superb tribute to that Café Racer culture, delivering much presence and personality that differentiates it from many other timepieces.

Encased in a round 45mm stainless steel case, the Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Cafe Racer Spirit has been put through an ageing process, fading its torso to a dark brooding silvery grey, resulting in a distinctive weathered appearance. This is a relatively large timepiece and, with its old-school aviator-style dial layout, perfectly unites both pilot and café racer themes.

Big, plump Arabic numerals

Beneath the sapphire crystal the colour of the grainy slate-grey dial appears to fade towards its centre and around the subdials, again suggesting the patina of age. Big, plump Arabic numerals are combined with gorgeous vintage aviator style hands, delivering exceptional readability. Courtesy of the generous application of beige SuperLumiNova, the hands and hour markers evince a rich ivory tone in daylight, transforming into a vivid green glow in low-light conditions.

Image for watch review - Zenith El-Primero

A delicate minute track, located around the edge of the dial, is punctuated with tiny orange numerals positioned every fifth minute. This little detail adds a perfect pinch of seasoning to what is a very attractive colour combination, complementing the rusty-orange ‘Pilot’ motif near the centre of the dial.

Small constant seconds are displayed on a recessed subdial at the 9 o’clock position, with the chronograph’s 30-minute register positioned opposite at 3 o’clock. This bi-compax dial arrangement is full of vintage ‘flieger’ character and never appears cluttered.

The crown is huge, beautiful and aged to look worn

The crown is huge, beautiful and aged to look worn. Deep notches cut into the onion shape crown provide a sure grip and enhance the look of the crown. Indeed, it looks fabulous. Either side of this prominent feature, the chronograph start/stop and reset buttons are elongated with a tactile ridged upper surface and feel solid under the thumb.

Image for watch review - Zenith El-Primero

Soldered lugs extend beyond the curvature of the case before bending downwards where they join with the strap, always maintaining a gap between strap and case.

Image for watch review - Zenith El-Primero

Underneath, the polished titanium caseback is inscribed with the legend Café Racer Spirit. It is emblazoned with the engraved image of a speeding vintage racing motorbike, its rider tucked down and leaning on his machine to go ever faster. Behind him, the vintage Zenith logo is period correct.


The wonderful El Primero Calibre 4069 automatic

However, it’s inside and out of sight where Zenith play the winning card that only this company can. The Swiss watch brand, based in Le Locle, is the creator of the most legendary and revered production chronograph movement in history, the El Primero. This classic watch deserved no less than a wonderful movement and the El Primero Calibre 4069 automatic fulfils this remit. Its balance wheel oscillates furiously at 36,000 vph for 50 hours on a full wind.

It’s all set off with the moss-green oily nubuck leather strap, which is rubber-backed to extend the life expectancy of the otherwise supple leather. A robust titanium tang buckle secures the watch in position, providing a comfortable fit with the wrist.

The Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Cafe Racer Spirit positively purrs

I can hardly be accused of disguising the fact that I have a thing for this watch. At 45mm x 14.25mm, it is certainly no shrinking violet, but neither is it too big. In any case, the lug design is clever, dropping off sharply, making the watch fit snugly and proving light when worn. Its weathered steel, the simplicity of the dial readings, the vintage design elements – especially that massive crown, and the cool strap are all appealing.

The real-life cafe racer motorcycle was low-slung, noisy and clunky, however, the fabulous Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Cafe Racer Spirit positively purrs thanks to its super-smooth El Primero movement.

Technical specification

  • Model: Zenith Heritage Pilot Ton-Up Cafe Racer Spirit
  • Reference: 11.2430.4069/21.C773
  • Case: Aged stainless steel; diameter 45mm; height 14.25mm; water resistant to 10 bar (100 metres); sapphire crystal to front and solid caseback.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; chronograph
  • Movement: El Primero 4069; self-winding movement; frequency 36,600 vph (5Hz); power reserve min. 50 hours
  • Strap: Green oily nubuck leather strap supplied with titanium pin buckle
  • Price: £5,600.00 (RRP as at 10.8.2016)

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