For 2023, the California Mille rally event took place in scenic parts of inland Northern California across a several-day period which ended in sunny Napa Valley at the Silverado Golf Resort. The drivers were all exhausted but satisfied toward the end, having completed 1,000 miles driven across some of the world’s most beautiful roads in an assortment of priceless, mostly 1957 and prior, European sports cars. The event, now owned by the Hagerty car insurance and media group, is a thematic off-shoot of the Italian Mille Miglia event which honors a historic race series. Chopard has been an official sponsor of the California Mille for several years now, a story I talked about in more detail when I drove in the 2022 California Mille with Patrick Long (race car driver and Luftgekhult show founder).
The California Mille, like most gatherings of well-to-do big kids with their toys (including items such as watches), is an event that probably seems confusingly irrational to most normal people. An assortment of well-bred people with often generations-old car collections endeavors to be chosen from a competitive waiting list to ship a 70-year-old (or older) fragile and rare automobile for 1,000 miles of inevitable service and damage-causing “rallying.” And good money is paid for the privilege. Why can’t these people just put wear and tear on their museum-worthy automobiles back home where they live in private? Well, the short answer is that it isn’t as fun.
The California Mille is currently the crown jewel of social events for the Hagerty empire (primarily an insurance provider). Being part of it isn’t just fun for the participants; it is also a kind of social validation. To be selected by McKeel Hagerty himself to be part of it, with your lovingly restored (and often upgraded) collectible car, to be among an elite group of like-minded souls, is a real honor. Just like how many timepiece collectors feel the first time they encounter someone else who has passion like them, first-time participants in the California Mille can be delighted to meet others like them who have invested dearly in terms of both money and time into finding, fixing, and driving the world’s top vintage sports cars. This is the ultimate event to drive and share passion for one of the most expensive forms of car collecting, and everyone at the California Mille has proven their love of the hobby many times over, including the Scheufele family that owns Chopard.
It isn’t for purely aspirational purposes that Chopard sponsors or participates in so many classic car events. Karl-Friedrich Scheufele himself collects and drives these cars. He drives in the Mille Miglia and Monaco Historiques rallies, he personally loves the unique sensation of operating these classic cars, so it makes perfect sense to him and his family to entangle themselves with the best of them. In the United States, the California Mille is among the best, and it is a rare experience for devotees of the same ultra-expensive hobby to pursue it together with shared camaraderie. This is the call of the California Mille, and why despite enough people being able to afford it, the event itself remains purposefully exclusive. Similar to previous years, for the 2023 California Mille, Chopard has created a limited edition timepiece for the event known as the Mille Miglia GTS Automatic Chrono California Mille 32nd Edition. Wristwatch appreciation, like car collecting, is a pursuit that many people claim as being irrational, and yet their popularity soars. Importantly, it is hard to understand these passions as an outsider. It can even be challenging to understand these passions when in close proximity to them.
It’s about halfway through the last day of the California Mille and I’m at a gas station. It feels good to get out and stand a bit. It isn’t that 1950s seats are that bad, but when combined with several hours of driving with 1950s suspension, then the vibrations begin to inhibit blood circulation, hence why it feels good to allow feeling to return to my rear. I’m enjoying the hot air of spring in California when I hear muffled expletives coming from under the front hood of the 1957 Porsche 356 I am riding in. That’s where the fuel tank is – certainly less than convenient. Apparently, the fuel cap won’t fit back on easily. It, like most things on the car, needed to be replaced recently which meant a new gasket. This part is crucial because, without it, the gas wouldn’t easily stay in the tank. I got a first-hand whiff of this when we started driving after a first failed attempt to screw the gas cap back on. It was pretty clear from the immediate smell of fumes that the gas cap wasn’t fitted properly. That’s because the gasket inside of it was too big. If it fitted neatly like it was supposed to, the otherwise primitive gas cap would have been fine. Alas, like many things on these cars which need to be just right, and constantly tweaked, our beautiful ride didn’t seem to want to end this round of refueling. It’s a good thing that rubber gaskets can be forced into place if enough elbow grease is used. This is hardly the worst thing that happened to one of the 67 cars in the California Mille that day, however. Cars fail to finish the course often enough that in addition to several mechanics onsite, many of the participants bring several cars with them, just in case one or more of them break down. That is the California Mille way.
It really isn’t a question of whether or not these cars will need maintenance, but rather how much. Classic car collecting certainly isn’t for the easily frustrated, the impatient, or the practical. It is about getting to enjoy that very special feeling of putting all of your attention into driving a car that onlookers wish they could be driving. What excites California Mille drivers more than anything isn’t the value of their cars or the rarity of any particular vehicle, but rather the physical feeling they get when looking at, hearing, smelling, and driving these cars. Like timepieces, automobiles are lifestyle tools that people can associate great emotion with. This is the exact same mentality that gets people excited about watches, and why there is so much love for vintage sports cars. It isn’t just the appeal of looking at them. Rather, the desire for them comes from their aesthetic beauty mixed with the obstacles that exist to putting them into good condition and then making them operate in good condition.
Chopard typically does well with its limited-edition California Mille watches, even though they are mostly aesthetic variations on an existing product platform. For 2023, Chopard decided to give a nod to the parent of California Mille, Hagerty. Accordingly, the blue, white, and black racing stripes on the dial are the same colors as the Hagerty racing stripe company logo. What is interesting is that this is not an official Hagerty timepiece, even if it is made for a Hagerty event. So, while the official name of the watch is the Chopard Mille Miglia GTS Automatic Chrono California Mille 32nd Edition, I think it is also safe to call it the Chopard California Mille Hagerty watch. To my knowledge, this is the first watch dial to honor the Hagerty logo.
The underlying Mille Miglia GTS Automatic Chrono watch itself is part of Chopard’s older Classic Racing case family and is 44mm wide in Lucent steel. The watch contains a Swiss Made Valjoux 7750 automatic chronograph movement and comes on a black rubber strap with a perforation texture. I’ve written about this underlying Chopard Mille Miglia GTS Automatic Chrono style before, so I won’t take the time to discuss it in detail again here. In summary, while Chopard will probably update this collection soon, it is a smart-looking sports watch that mixes elegance and machismo in a pleasant way. The quality feels good and legibility and durability are a strong suit. However, if the 44mm-wide side for you is too large, then a great alternative is the just-updated 2023 Chopard Mille Miglia watch collection (read more about it on aBlogtoWatch here). In this article, I also have images of the red-dialed version of that watch since I double-wristed it during the California Mille and wore one on each wrist.
The same irrationality and passion that some people have for cars is also applied to watches. While people might love automobiles and timepieces for slightly different reasons, the power of their emotions is typically always intense. To own, drive, and enjoy classic 1957 and before European sports cars is a painful experience if you don’t love it. To buy and understand a traditional wristwatch can be similarly challenging if you don’t have a genuine passion for the product. And yet, high-end watches and cars (both new and old of both types) sell often and sell well. The best-off in our communities often dedicate a lot of attention and time to both of these hobbies. That’s evidence enough to suggest that the struggles are worth it. At the California Mille, what makes it worth it is being connected to the road, in a historically significant luxury automobile, with a group of friendlies by your side. Price for the limited edition of 30 pieces Chopard Mille Miglia GTS Automatic Chrono California Mille is $8,500 USD. Learn more at the Chopard website here.
Images of the watches by Ariel Adams and images of the California Mille 2023 by Zach and Gina Hammer.