Wittnauer “Ford Total Performance Team” - Ref. 49-260

 Photo by the author

Model: Silhouette D
Ref.: 49-260
Issued: 1963
Case: 14k gold filled with snap-on bezel
Crystal: Acrylic, low profile
Bracelet: OEM leather straps with signed gold buckle
Movement: Cal. 10M (Peseux 7000), 17 jewels, Gilt

This wristwatch is a hand-wound 1963 Wittnauer presented in period to James Hylton by the Ford Motor Company’s racing program known then as Ford Total Performance Team. Engraved on the back with FORD DIVISION TOTAL PERFORMANCE TEAM 1963, and on the dial with the recipient’s name, this wristwatch includes its original box and papers, signed straps and buckle, and is in 100% original condition.

A small number of individualized Wittnauer wristwatches were presented to members of Ford-supported motorsports teams in series including NASCAR, drag racing, endurance and sports car racing, in recognition of their efforts in 1963-1964 to design and campaign Ford (eg, Galaxie, Falcon, GT-40, Shelby Cobra) racing cars worldwide. Having been previously focused on safety rather than performance, Henry Ford II lifted an internal competition ban and committed FoMoCo to become a force in motorsports after his famous failed bid to acquire Ferrari. It is not known how many such watches were produced and presented, but other known recipients include driver Graham Hill and Ford GT-40 program manager Al Dowd. Leonard Wood (of the Wood Brothers NASCAR racing team) received a similar watch in 1964.

James Hylton was a crew chief in NASCAR during the late 1950s and early 1960s, before becoming a privateer driver. He supported hall-of-fame drivers Rex White and Ned Jarrett and won two NASCAR championships as a crew chief (1960, 1964) before driving to the 1966 NASCAR Rookie of the Year award, finishing the season second to champion David Pearson. He formed his own race team in 1968 and continued driving Winston Cup races until 1982, although he came very close to qualifying for the 2007 Daytona 500, at which point he would have been the oldest racer to compete, at age 72. His final race was October 2013 in the ARCA series; he finished 18th. Hylton had an astonishing 50% record of top-10 finishes (301 of 602 races) in NASCAR’s top flight. Mr. Hylton died in a highway accident, en route home from a race weekend, in April of 2018, aged 83. In 2020 I purchased the watch from a member of Mr. Hylton's family to whom it had been given after his death.

This uncommon ultra-thin watch is Wittnauer reference 49-260 and features a 14k gold filled Ross case, hand-winding 17-jewel Swiss movement (Wittnauer caliber Cal. 10M), and measures 33mm in diameter with a thickness of only 6mm. The condition is nearly un-worn, with the only visible defects being a minor blemish or two on the original low-profile acrylic crystal, and wear and curvature to the leather straps resulting from decades of storage. The original box includes a removable display platform, and contains the original descriptive tag and warranty pamphlet. All components of this package are signed, authentic Wittnauer, including box, papers, dial, case, movement and crown.

The watch is winding and running, and is very clean but its service history is unknown. The lack of jeweler’s marks inside the case suggests that before being opened for examination and these photos, it has not been touched since leaving the factory. The 10M movement is a very thin 17-jewel hand-wound caliber (base Peseux 7000) featuring engraved details on plates and bridges with a copper finish.

Accompanying this watch is a 2-page period Ford Total Performance advertisement extolling the brand’s achievements in racing during the 1963 season (stock cars, sports cars, rallying, etc.), and expounding upon its offerings for the 1964 model year.

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Text and images © C. Bradley Jacobs, WatchCarefully.com