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A Story About Paul Newman, Three Rolexes and the Sound Barrier




Three Rolex wristwatches connected with a Hollywood stuntman’s 1979 attempt to break the sound barrier on land are scheduled to be auctioned on Dec. 9 at Sotheby’s New York.

But two of the watches, a GMT-Master and a Cosmograph Daytona, also have another claim to fame: Paul Newman gave them to the stuntman Stan Barrett. And since the record-breaking $17.8 million auction of the star’s Rolex Daytona in 2017, any Rolex with a Newman connection is considered ultravaluable.

Mr. Barrett, now 79, doubled for the Hollywood star on numerous films, including the 1971 “Sometimes a Great Notion.” Their friendship, which included Mr. Newman being godfather to Mr. Barrett’s two sons, lasted until the star’s death in 2008.

Over the years Mr. Newman gave Mr. Barrett several watches, including the steel GMT-Master. The auction house estimated its sale price at $50,000 to $100,000.

The Cosmograph Daytona, however, is expected to go for as much as $500,000, in part because it was Mr. Newman’s own watch, which he presented to Mr. Barrett right after hearing that he was going to attempt to break the record.

“We were at his home in Connecticut, and he just went upstairs and came down with the Daytona,” Mr. Barrett said in a phone interview from his home in Bellevue, Idaho. “He was always very funny about me having the right watch to wear and was always extremely generous.”

On Dec. 17, 1979, Mr. Barrett strapped both watches to his left wrist and, driving the Budweiser Rocket Car at Edwards Air Force Base in California, reached an unofficial speed of 739.66 miles per hour.

That speed would have given Mr. Barrett the record, but it was never confirmed because the radar scanner was found to be faulty and no one heard the telltale “sonic boom” that usually accompanies the sound barrier being broken. (In 1997 a British pilot, Andy Green, seized the record by driving 760.343 m.p.h. in the Nevada desert.)

The third Rolex to be auctioned, a gold GMT-Master, was presented to Mr. Barrett after the attempt by August Busch III, then chief executive of Anheuser-Busch, which sponsored the car and Mr. Barret’s record try. It is expected to sell for $100,000.

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