Review: Zenith El Primero Classic Car

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Zenith’s contribution to the watch world has been remarkable by any measure. For starters, it was the first manufacture to create an automatic integrated column wheel movement, fondly known as the El Primero. More recently, its increasing staple of well-priced and attractive watches with reliable in house movements makes Zenith one of our favourite brands. We hope it stays this way and refrains from returning to its tacky past under the infamous Thierry Nataf. It pains us however, to see the strange names in some of its 2016 collection like the Heritage Pilot Cafe Racer and now this El Primero Classic Car. We like the watches. But we sincerely hope that the brand stays away from awkward marketing and continues to focus on making good watches.



The Zenith El Primero Classic Car.


What we like about the watch

The Zenith El Primero Classic Car is a good looking watch. Undoubtedly some may say that it looks fashionable, with a negative slant, but we find that the watch is designed in a tasteful way. It still draws on important elements of its heritage, the DNA of the El Primero still within. For instance, the rectangle tip lume marker on the seconds hand alludes to the vintage A386, the overlapping subdials, the tricolour, are features iconic of the El Primero chronograph. Several modern models of the tricolour had been released and the Zenith El Primero Classic Car is a good twist of the original design.



The watch is fit with an anthracite dial with a “Brushed Engine” pattern and 3 colored counters.


An interesting dial

On closer look, you may realise that the dial has a pattern that resembles the cotes-de-geneve lines usually found on movement plate finishing. That is in fact what appears to be correct, with the familiar wave line patterns on the anthracite dial. That said, Zenith calls the design a “Brushed engine” pattern, although we have yet to seen an engine with this pattern. Stories and associations aside, the dial in and of itself works very well with the contrasting coloured subdials and it is though simple to achieve, very novel.



A race watch with the legendary El Primero chronograph movement at its heart.


The El Primero movement

The watch uses the automatic El Primero 400B, a high beat movement with 50 hours power reserve. It is adequately finished for its price and is a bullet proof movement. Breaking away from this third person narrative for a moment, I have to say as a collector of Zenith watches, the El Primero has never failed me. The accuracy of the movement is top-notch and the performance of the chronograph complication is possibly one of the best in the market today. We had briefly mentioned in the latest Audemars Piguet article about the potential woes of having a new movement, but the El Primero has been around for more than half a century, and all this while being improved and upgraded, truly a tested and proven movement. Perhaps familiar to some, the El Primero movement was also used by Rolex to power its modern Daytona chronographs, a big stamp of approval for Zenith.



The tricolour dial is paired with striped colour pushers, notice the seconds hand which takes cue from the original El Primero chronograph.



42 mm on the wrist, a suitable size for a modern chronograph.


Concluding thoughts

We like the watch. It is well sized, at 42 mm and has a great movement with a novel dial interpretation. The watch’s association with classic cars with a perforated strap is also visually pleasing. It is a good blend of classic and sports, suitable for the young watch lover or a trendy seasoned collector. Safe to say, the timepiece is very versatile and can fit any situation with just a simple strap change, for example to a black alligator strap. Our only qualms with this piece as with the Pilot Cafe Racer, is a case of identity crisis. (Marketeers please look at this sincere feedback.) Is it a Pilot’s watch or a biker’s watch? Is this a El Primero or a classic car? It’s really strange to be both.

The watch is priced at US$6700, more details of the watch can be found here.


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