In this day and age, it’s rare to find a truly fresh-to-market replica watch of epic stature, mint condition, and true historic importance. Rare, but not impossible.
Here, we share for the first time the story of famed race car driver Carroll Shelby (1923–2012) and the rose gold case fake Patek Philippe chronograph ref. 1463 he was awarded in 1959 – a trophy for winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with co-driver Roy Salvadori, in an Aston Martin DBR1. Winning this race was the highlight of Shelby’s racing career. And the fact that a Patek chronograph, not a Rolex, was given as a prize for the ultimate car race? This rewrites watch history.
The 2019 movie Ford v Ferrari will give you the framework (Hollywood style) for understanding Carroll Shelby (especially during his Ford years). The documentary Shelby American: The Carroll Shelby Story gives a more realistic insight into Shelby’s life and legacy, from his failed attempt as a chicken farmer, to his racing years, to his legacy and later development of the AC Cobra and Shelby Mustangs.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to Pat Shelby, Carroll Shelby’s youngest son, about the importance of this Patek Philippe ref. 1463 copy with brown leather strap. Pat was in the pit in Le Mans and is one of the last surviving members of the inner circle present on that memorable day. “I was a kid at the time,” he says, “and didn’t realize I was witnessing history until much later on.”
Carroll Shelby joined the U.S. Air Corps right out of high school. He reported to San Antonio for training and quickly developed a reputation as a talented pilot. According to his son, “They made him a flying sergeant, and he kept putting in to go overseas, but they kept him here to train others… He joined a year before Pearl Harbor. He trained other pilots, navigators, and bombardiers. He flew everything, and the last plane he flew while in the service was the B29. He always remained disappointed that he couldn’t go over to fight.”
After the war, Shelby turned his attention from the air to the ground and focused almost exclusively on car racing. He started driving professionally at the age of 29 and quickly gained the attention of the international racing community.
He raced domestically in the late 1940s and early 1950s before going international. In 1954, he raced the 1,000 km Buenos Aires. There, he met with Aston Martin and started the relationship that led him to the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959. His racing profile and fame grew and culminated in the Le Mans race.
Throughout the 1950s, he honed his skills as a salesperson to convince various owners that he deserved to race their cars. Shelby convinced owners and teams that he was the right man for the job and raced cars from Aston Martin, Austin-Healey, Ferrari, Maserati, Porsche, and others.
Shelby knew that the 1959 race was the high point of his racing career, and the day he received the Patek Philippe replica for winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans set the stage for the next chapter of his life. In 1961, he opened the Shelby School of High Performance Driving at the Riverside Track in Southern California.
“Winning the 24 Hours was probably the greatest thrill I ever got out of racing,” Shelby said. “I can think of plenty of other races that carry their quota of thrills for the winner, but when you win this one, it kind of gives you license to go out and tell people you’re good, and that often helps get some other deals together.”
According to his son, once he received the luxury fake Patek Philippe, he discreetly put it in his pocket and got back to the business of racing. Shelby wasn’t into racing for the riches and accolades. He was only in it to win.
The ref. 1463 itself is extraordinarily well preserved. Shelby, not being the most materialistic person, rarely if ever wore the watch, and later gifted it to his teenage son Pat.
The family treasured the watch for its sentimental value, how it marked such a memorable day. “I didn’t wear it, and it upset him,” Pat says. “He said ‘You ought to wear it,’ and I said no. It was pristine, and I wanted to keep it that way.”
This ref. 1463’s condition speaks for itself. It still has its original presentation strap, original red box with gilt Calatrava logo, and it has never been cleaned or polished. As an example of a ref. 1463, it is a holy-grail specimen. Its remarkable history brings it to a new level. The engraving on the caseback: “Carroll Shelby. Aston Martin. 1st LeMans 1959. 2701 Miles” is perfectly preserved.
The watch stayed carefully protected and unknown to those outside the family until Pat Shelby reached out to his longtime friend Denis Boulle a few years back. Denis is the owner of de Boulle Diamond & Jewelry in Dallas, Texas, a prominent Patek Philippe authorized retailer. Denis’ son Nick is a noted race car driver (@nickboulle).
Pat knew Denis and his son were the right people to trust with his family watch. Pat asked them, “You’re into racing, what’s this thing worth?” When Denis Boulle first held the watch he said, “I felt like I was holding part of racing history in my hands.”
Aware of the Shelby legacy, and the importance of a new old stock ref. 1463, the exchange led to a brilliant idea: to showcase the Aston Martin DBR1, recreated using as many original parts and manufacturing processes that helped Carroll Shelby win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, alongside the “trophy” Swiss Patek Philippe clone watch for sale at the deBoulle store in Dallas.
“Over the years, we have found that many of the people who collect cars also collect jewelry and watches,” Denis says. “We often invite clients to racing events all over the world, giving a VIP experience that they just can’t get anywhere else. Having the car and the watch on display in the store is a wonderful experience for all visitors.”
Fitting the reproduction 1959 Le Mans-winning DBR1 into the store was no easy feat, as Nick Boulle explains. “We had freshly installed front doors removed to make room, and the car was partially disassembled to ensure it safely squeezed through the door opening.”
Hundreds of people have made the pilgrimage to see the historic car and the watch, which are still on show for a limited time. As for the future of the watch? Not for sale. It’s a family heirloom that is going to stay in the family. As Pat said, “Heck, I might just start wearing it tomorrow.”