Vintage Value: One Fan´s Collection of Elusive Datsun Watches

Photography by Chris Brewer

Cars and watches just go together. The most celebrated examples of both have ornate details and well-engineered gearing. And timing puts them at a critical intersection. After all, it’s a precision timepiece that confirms the difference between the winner’s circle and a lower step on the podium. 

It isn’t difficult to find a good watch to complement a great car. Everywhere from Fifth Avenue jewelry showrooms to your dealer’s service center has a timepiece that channels a car company. New examples are plentiful, but it’s the older ones that add an extra dimension to this hobby.

Vintage timepieces tell a story. Whether it is a symbol of the auto industry stamped into the dial or a lovely inscription on the back of the case, decades of dealership giveaways, sales gifts and corporate retirements have allowed enthusiasts to wear a piece of automotive history. The search for a vintage watch is also part of the fun, often requiring countless hours of digging through swap meets, flea markets and online auction listings. 

My automotive first love is Datsun. The brand has been a constant companion from the start. My first car was a 1984 Nissan/Datsun 300ZX. My wife and I drove off from our wedding reception in a 1975 Datsun 280Z. My first-born rode home in the back seat of a 1987 Nissan 300ZX 2+2. So, while it feels like the market is just lately waking up to the rising sun, there are two Z-cars in my garage right now.

That’s why I also hunt for Datsun watches. While there are some terrific Nissan timepieces out there, the Datsun nameplate left American dealerships 35 years ago. As a result, anything related to Datsun is quite a rare piece, even if it’s not always true precious metal.

Old England Steering Wheel

The Old England watches of the 1960s and ’70s were a fun novelty. They were available sporting just about any car brand at the center of the steering wheel-shaped metal case. The watch features just a simple, single-jewel movement and a plastic Tropic Sport band. 

These were often sold out of the back of a parts catalog and cost as much as a send-away for a fiberglass kit-car brochure. These watches should not be very valuable, but time has a way of making the mundane precious. 

In 2011, an Old England Datsun wristwatch sold for nearly $1600 at the Bonhams Pebble Beach auction. With a hammer price about one hundred times more than the average, the watch quickly became a hot item.

Today, an Old England Datsun can surpass $100 on eBay for a well-running example. I paid less for mine. It arrived ticking away but sent me 15 minutes into the future every hour. A local watch repair shop got it running properly, and it became the first Datsun watch of my ragtag collection. 

Gruen LCQ

I know the design is not for everyone, but the boxy, oversized case and proudly displayed “DATSUN 1974” bring me back to my childhood. When Gruen introduced the LCQ (liquid crystal quartz), it was the Apple Watch of the mid-1970s: advanced and expensive.

Average wristwatches used a full rotation of the crown to set the time, but this car-themed one acts more like a motorcycle throttle: Twist up to advance the minutes and down for the hours.

Unfortunately, my LCQ arrived DOA and the repair required specialty pieces. A beat-up donor watch played the role of a parts car in bringing this digital Datsun back to life. I think I paid $25 for the watch and $10 for the one that donated the parts. 

Datsun-Branded Automatic

Of my four Datsun watches, this is the one I know the least about. The gold-tone case and oversized crown sit well on the wrist, and in spite of its age and unknown service history, this Datsun runs like the brand’s storied inline-six: smooth and trouble-free. The automatic mechanical movement means that the watch winds itself as you wear it. 

I paid $20 for the watch without a strap. I later added an inexpensive but comfortable blue-and-red silicone band. If anyone knows more about this one, I’m all ears.

Casio Calculator Watch

In the 1980s, you could find Casio’s CA53W-1 calculator watch on the wrist of every suburban dad and cool elementary school kid. It’s the easiest watch in my collection to replace–MSRP on a new one is $24.95–but this particular one will stay in the family forever. 

It developed its patina on the wrist of legendary BRE driver John Morton. He drove the Datsun 240Z to two SCCA national championships in C Production (1970-’71) and the Datsun 510 to two championships in 2.5 Trans-Am (1971-’72). The watch was a gift from John Morton and Sylvia Wilkinson and will likely be passed along to my daughter someday.

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Comments
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wspohn
wspohn SuperDork
1/15/21 11:43 a.m.

Thanks - interesting article, as I collect both cars and vintage watches. One I own is a LeCoultre (a fairly expensive watch) given out by Henry Ford II to their best salesmen and such (today they'd probably hand out Swatches or something).

They removed the "12" at the top of the watch and replaced it with  a Ford emblem and they engraved the back of the watch with who got it, when, and why.

For more info see 

https://www.watchprosite.com/jaeger-lecoultre/ref-9386--3015-the-ford-memovox-versions/2.633041.3969446/

 

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