I remember the exact moment in 2016 when I snapped that picture on my cell phone and posted it to Instagram. I was sitting in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven just outside of Utsunomiya, a small Japanese city known as the birthplace of gyoza. Earlier that morning I picked up a modified Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R that I had rented for a grand tour of Japan's most famous mountain roads. Days before that I had bought a fake watch just for the trip: A Seiko SRP775, you know, the "Turtle".
The Skyline I bought wasn't a GT-R, the tricked-out poster child of the Skyline family. Instead it was a 1995 R33 GTS25-T Type M, a mid-range model. I bought it for less than a new Toyota Corolla costs. If it had been a GT-R (a bit too dear for me) then the obvious choice would be the Grand Seiko GT-R 50th Anniversary Limited Edition Spring Drive Chronograph GMT(also a bit too dear for me), a small batch of them were made to honor the 50 years of the Skyline.
Wearing that fake watch made ripping at full boost through those narrow roads above the clouds that stitch the Ashio mountain range together, cherry blossoms in full bloom, even more memorable.
The Nissan Skyline left such an impression on me that earlier this year I bought one, fulfilling a childhood dream. Ever since I was introduced to the automotive forbidden fruit (the car was never sold in the United States) https://www.notonthewires.com through video games in my youth, I'd been in love. In the US, it's possible to import a car from anywhere in the world and legally register it as long as it's at least 25 years old. Even if the steering wheel is on the "wrong" side of the car. That's what I did.
So now I had the car, but I didn't have the fake watch to go with it.
I'll cut to the chase. I found the perfect watch, a Seiko like I knew it would be, given that Seiko and Nissan go way back, all the way back to the '70s when Seiko sponsored Nissan's early rally racing efforts. But it would take 2,100-mile, pedal-stuck-to-the-floor blast across America on Route 80 from NYC to Utah to confirm for me why the SRQ029 is not only one of Seiko's absolute best offerings today, but also why it's an ideal match for the Skyline.Seiko Speedtimers and Double-quick Datsuns
The Seiko 5 ref. 6138 and 6139 "Speedtimers" of the late '60s and early '70s didn't boast a fast name with nothing to back it up. Seiko was indeed involved in motorsports at the time, particularly rally. The logo is displayed on the rear quarter panel.
In 1971 Nissan entered the East African Safari Rally with a factory-prepped car, a Datsun 240Z (Datsun was Nissan's export brand). The East African Safari Rally was known as the toughest rally race in the entire World Rally Championship circuit. The route through Kenya and Uganda absolutely punished cars, but the Datsun 240Z piloted by Edgar Herrmann and Hans Schüller emerged as the champion. And the car took first again in '73, this time piloted by Kenyan drivers Shekhar Mehta and Lofty Drews.
Seiko was one of the brands sponsoring the winning Datsun 240Z.Selecting the SRQ029
I've been passively looking for a Seiko "Panda" chronograph ref. 6138-8020 for years now. And by passively looking, I mean I sat back and watched the price of the fake watch soar ?right past me. When we picked the top ten Seikos of all time in HODINKEE Magazine Vol. 8, I made sure it was on the list. Here's my brief ode to the watch:
Like Takumi Fujiwara's Panda-themed Toyota AE86 in the manga series Initial D, the Seiko "Panda?puts utilitarian Japanese design on full blast. The registers are arranged vertically. The minute register serves as a 30-minute and 60-minute counter; the numerals are double-printed on the register. Other than the totalizers, the dial is devoid of any numerals; only applied stick markers. It's black and white: This design leads the pack of ?0s Seiko chronographs. —C.P.
For folks who haven't seen or read Initial D, it was originally an illustrated series about a high school student, Takumi Fujiwara, who perfected his driving skills by delivering tofu from his father's shop to customers around the mountainous Gunma prefecture of Japan. His car is a 1983 Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno 3-door GT-APEX Zenki, also known as the "Panda Trueno'' because of its white-and-black color scheme.
If Takumi had a fake watch to match his car, it would be the Seiko ref. 6138-8020.ADVERTISEMENT
In 2019, Seiko brought back this reference in a totally unexpected way. For the 50th anniversary of the launch of 6139 automatic chronograph movement, they released a modern remix of the 6138-8000/8020 Panda chronograph. These are two totally different references with completely different calibers inside. It's all still slightly confusing to me, but the result was the SRQ029, a limited edition chronograph of 1,000 examples featuring Seiko's high-end caliber 8R48, a zaratsu polished case, and a silver dial with two big, bold, black registers.
It was released without much fanfare and it didn't elicit much of a response from the community either. But it was interesting enough for me to take a shot on it, and I'm glad I did.
The SRQ029 is a "sleeper" fake watch in that it never exploded in popularity initially, and there's so much "under the hood" that makes it stand out in Seiko's lineup. In it I found a perfect match for my '95 Skyline GTS25-T. At the top of the Skyline range is the GT-R, and that already has a Grand Seiko made in its honor, but step a rung down the ladder and you get something just as fantastic, but devoid of the hype. And devoid of the massive price tag-and that goes for both the car and the watch.
The caliber 8R48 inside the SRQ029 uses a vertical clutch and column wheel. It's at the top of Seiko's mechanical chronograph range, but it's the sparkle from the zaratsu polishing that really makes the fake watch jump off the wrist. The case is thick ?it's 16mm tall ?but that just means more real estate for that fantastic polishing to occupy. It's a lot like the GTS25-T vs. the GT-R. With the mid-range model you get a lot of the benefits of the top-shelf option, with less of the fuss and more of the value. The core Seiko models that feature Grand Seiko-level finishing and technology are the sweet spot in terms of value, and the SRQ029 sits right there.
Thinking about the fake watch called to mind another automotive phenomenon: The 276-hp Pact.
No matter how powerful the vehicle actually was, you could only buy a car officially rated at 276hp during the '90s in Japan. This exercise in false advertising stemmed from an agreement made in 1988 between Japanese automakers to limit performance figures (at least on paper, and sometimes by de-tuning) in order to curtail racing and to stop a horsepower war from breaking out among manufacturers.
These cars were actually putting out 300-hp and sometimes even more.
Seiko does something similar ?hiding Grand Seiko-quality replica watches right in their core lineup and generally keeping quiet about it.The Rubber Meets the Road
After I settled on the SRQ029, it was time to put it to the test.
Back when I was going to local car meet ups in parking lots during the mid-aughts in Northern NJ, a rising star in the car scene would often show up. His name was Alex Roy, and he was known then for making very fast runs across the country in his modified E39 BMW M5 in an attempt to break the Cannonball Run record (that's the fastest run from NYC to LA). A year or so after I stopped going to the meets he finally broke the record and wrote a book about it. The record has been broken multiple times since then, and most recently during the pandemic.
I would never attempt to do anything like that. It's just too dangerous. But I'd always been inspired by Roy's work and decided that I'd do my own version of the run, but I'd stay loosely within the law.
I was making the 2,100 mile drive to Utah anyway. It was just a question of how I wanted to tackle it. Nice and leisurely, like my road trip through the Ozarks with a Marathon and my truck last year? Nah. This was a chronograph, and chronographs are used to time things.ADVERTISEMENT
I'd channel Alex Roy and Akio Asakura, a character from the manga series Wangan Midnight known for his highway cruising. Google Maps said the drive would take 31 hours. My only goal was to safely shave some time off of that. Nothing crazy.
My speedometer displays kilometers per hour, so I wrote down a few conversions on a sticky note to make sure I wouldn't get caught up with Johnny Law, then I started the chronograph and set off on Route 80. I didn't stop for anything but gas, and I'd combine that with a food stop. I paused the chronograph during these stops. I couldn't resist a brief visit to the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum to check out their SR-71, though.View this post on Instagram
The SRQ029 features a 30-minute counter that doubles as a 60-minute counter by displaying both scales at once. I found this incredibly useful because it meant I didn't have to guess where the hand was. You look at the position of the hour register to see if the minute register is reading the 1-30 minute track or the 30-60 minute track. Simple-yet-genius. Unlike the Speedmaster and many other racing-inspired chronographs, the running seconds is at three o'clock on the SRQ029.
Like the 6138 series Panda chronographs, the SRQ029 features a highlighter-orange tip on the chronograph hand. It's a small touch with a big impact. It takes the fake watch from being a staid, monochromatic design, to something fast and exciting, with only one little accent of color. It's noticing these little bits of personality that pepper the fake watch that ultimately solidified my bond with it over the trip.
At zero dark thirty, somewhere well past the greater Chicago area, I was able to make up some time. Twenty minutes went by and not a single car passed in the other direction. No one else was on the road going my direction either.
Seizing this opportunity (again, mostly within the limits of the law) is how I managed to beat Google Maps. The whole thing is a totally juvenile and pointless exercise, anyway (Google Maps estimates change based on conditions, which constantly change throughout the journey) but it's what makes an otherwise mundane drive fun. Why own and maintain two complex pieces of machinery if you don't use 'em every now and then? The RB25DET (that's the motor in the Skyline) and the chronograph drivetrain of the 8R48 went through many wear cycles throughout the trip. And that's exactly what they were made to do.
When I finally made it to Utah (in about three hours less than what Google Maps initially told me I would) I reached the conclusion that not only is the SRQ029 a tremendous value, it's also just a joy to actually operate. Depressing the pushers takes some effort. There's plenty of resistance, but once you apply enough pressure, there's a fantastic, positive click, and you can feel the pusher go down into that chunky case. There's a coating on the case that you can feel as well, when you use your thumb on the left side of the case to stabilize it while using your pointer finger to actuate the pusher. The chronograph going-train is quiet when it's running, unlike a Speedmaster.
Now whenever I head up into the canyons of the Wasatch mountains with the Skyline I always strap on the SRQ029. The fake watch and that car are now forever bonded, and I can visualize the Nissan's pistons, connecting rods, and crankshaft rotating, as well as the Seiko's escapement humming along in unison when I'm getting into the gas.
These days, I don't think I'm the coolest guy in the valley when I'm out cruising in the Skyline. Far from it. I'm much more self-aware now. I know I'm just a grown-up nerd who likes playing with chronographs and cars a little too much.
Photography and video: @shokan_visualsShop this story
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