Zach Reynolds: The #CaliberMan of Cigarette City

Every watch has a story. And in working with pre-owned watches, we at Crown & Caliber hear quite a few of them. What we hear about less often, though, is the story of the watch owner – and as we’ve recently discovered, they too have some interesting tales to tell.

Zach Reynolds, heir to the R.J. Reynolds tobacco fortune, literally lived life in the fast lane. As an avid racer who owned an entire fleet of sport and muscle cars and an accomplished stunt pilot, calling Zach a daredevil would be an understatement.

Zach Reynolds in one of his cars.

Growing up in the rural backwoods of Winston-Salem with all the trappings of wealth, Reynolds developed a wild streak early on in life, testing his sense of indestructibility with drag racing on motorcycles, cars, and even a tractor. But as reckless as he may have been, Zach Reynolds had a keen mind for engineering – enlisting in the Navy at age 19 honed the mechanical skills he would later use on his vast collection of racing cars. Among them was a 426 Plymouth HEMI Cuda and a 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 outfitted with a rocket motor that he called “Tobacco King.”

Zach Reynolds working on one of his cars.

As a racer in Le Mans and The Isle of Man TT in 1964 and as a man with a lot of money with an equally outsized personality, Zach associated with plenty of celebrities of his day, and counted among his friends Steve McQueen, Bob Dylan, and Keith Moon. A road racing accident in 1961 led to Zach’s obsession with ham radio, and with his in-home broadcasting station, he had contact such notable people as the Shah of Iran, Barry Goldwater, and the FCC. But Zach himself had a become a living legend in his own right.

“Never one for understatement, Zach embraced the excesses of the late ‘60s with a gusto. He grew his hair long and began wearing his trademark red jumpsuits, often with a skull-tipped swagger stick and a black cape. He began decorating his bikes with pictures of cigarette packs, and hieroglyphics that seemed to taunt death – black cats, skulls, demons, the ace of spades.”

Zach Reynolds and one of his cars.

And he defied death still further by taking up flying, both as an aerobatic and stunt pilot.

Zach Reynolds in front of one of his planes.

But despite his flamboyant style, eventually Zach Reynolds settled down in Winston-Salem, stopped flying, became a champion marksman, and served as a sort-of mentor to the local boys. Those close relationships would eventually lead to his death. On September 4, 1979, 18-year-old Gary Cermak wanted to show off his newly-licensed flying skills and invited Zach on a flight. Twenty minutes after take-off, the plane went down in the woods outside of Pinnacle, NC, killing everyone aboard.

Zach Reynolds wearing his Rolex Datejust.

Over 30 years after his passing, Zach Reynolds’ legend lives on in the tight-knit communities of Winston-Salem and muscle car enthusiasts. His passions were well-documented, and his larger-than-life personality endeared him to almost anyone he met. Less well-known about him, though, is that Zach Reynolds was a watch enthusiast who had acquired an interesting amalgam of watches throughout his life.

Crown & Caliber has two watches from Zach’s collection: a Rolex Cosmograph ref. 6239 that was a gift from his father, and a working-condition Heuer Chronosplit with original box and papers.

cosmograph-heuer


Images courtesy of Kathryn Reynolds.

If you’re interested in learning more about Zach Reynolds and his exploits, you can read an in-depth profile of his life from Garage Magazine, reposted here.

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