We don’t usually write about watches around here, but if an exception to the rule exists, it’s this: A Heuer Monaco worn by Steve McQueen during the production of Le Mans is going to auction on December 12. The Monaco rose to fame following the release of Le Mans, where it garnered dozens of minutes of screen time strapped to McQueen’s wrist. The watch and its funky square case featured prominently on advertising material for the film. It became attached to McQueen’s brand of cool and to that golden age of racing.
McQueen gifted this particular watch (one of just six Monacos procured by the film’s production department) to Haig Alltounian at the conclusion of filming Le Mans. Alltounian served as chief mechanic on the film, an important role, given exotic prototype racers like Porsche’s 917 regularly reached triple-digit speeds on set (one stunt driver even crashed and lost a leg during filming). When McQueen handed over the watch, Alltounian recalls him saying, “Thank you for keeping me alive all these months.” Alltounian says he originally turned down the gift, but McQueen had already engraved the watch’s caseback “To Haig Le Mans 1970.”
While McQueen’s story is well known, Alltounian’s is similarly fascinating. An acolyte for life, the SoCal native began amateur racing with his own 1959 Porsche RSK Spyder. When his racing funds ran short, he found employment, hired by Shelby American to assemble their 289 Cobra on the factory line. Just two weeks later, Alltounian landed his dream job wrenching in Shelby’s racing division. Years later, Alltounian joined Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers. He worked there from 1965 through 1968.
Alltounian was assigned as Denny Hulme’s race mechanic for the 1968 Indy 500. The pair remained longtime friends, and Alltounian supposedly placed a recommendation that landed Hulme a job on Bruce McLaren’s Formula 1 team.
Later, Alltounian worked for John Von Neumann’s Competition Motors racing team, serving as chief mechanic for drivers including Ken Miles and Richie Ginther. In 1970, McQueen’s production company asked Alltounian if he’d act as chief mechanic on the film and help get McQueen back up to speed in racing beforehand. The pair competed in the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring, securing second place in a Porsche 908/02. Not bad for a warmup.
So, while a wristwatch is just a wristwatch at the end of the day, they do bear witness to some incredible stories. This watch, strapped to McQueen’s wrist on a 200-mph run down Le Mans’s Mulsanne, then given to Alltounian later that same day, tells a better story than most.
Phillips will auction off the watch on December 12, 2020, as part of its Racing Pulse event.
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