Obituary : Timo Makinen 1938-2017

Timo Makinen

AROnline is sad to report the passing of legendary Finnish rally driver Timo Makinen on 4 May 2017, aged 79. Among his achievements were a hat trick of wins in the RAC Rally driving the Ford Escort, but he is perhaps best remembered as one of the of the ‘Three Musketeers’ of the British Motor Corporation’s works rally team in the 1960s, alongside fellow Finn Rauno Aaltonen and Ulsterman Paddy Hopkirk.

These three drivers helped propel the BMC Mini into the public’s imagination and thereby established its iconic status as more than just another small car – all too briefly, that also gave rise to the hope that BMC would become a global motor manufacturer.

Makinen was first hired by BMC Competitions Manager Stuart Turner in 1962 when he drove a 997cc Mini Cooper in that year’s RAC Rally. It would, however, not be until September 1963 before he drove a Mini in anger again.

Teaming up with Paddy Hopkirk

In January 1964 team-mate Paddy Hopkirk won the Monte Carlo Rally in 33 EJB, a Mini Cooper 1071S. However, by March, the 1071S was old hat and the new 1275S made its debut on that month’s Tulip Rally. Timo Makinen and navigator Tony Ambrose scored a debut win, the first of the Finn’s 14 official international rally wins.

Makinen did not win an international rally again until January 1965, but what a win it was! Now teamed up with navigator Paul Easter, the Finn was entered into the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally in Mini Cooper 1275S AJB 44B (above). Makinen and Easter destroyed the opposition in a drive that has been hailed as one of the greatest in rallying history.

AJB 44B finished an amazing 20 minutes ahead of Eugen Bohringer’s Porsche 904, and confirmed that Hopkirk’s triumph of a year earlier was no flash in the pan. Mini Designer Alec Issigonis was in Monte Carlo to witness the triumph and even allowed the Porsche Competitions Manager to drive the winning car.

Shortly afterwards, Makinen (second from left, above) attended the official production of the one millionth Mini at Longbridge with the likes of Alec Issigonis (left, above), Paddy Hopkirk (far right) and BMC Chairman, Sir George Harriman.

Success comes quickly

The same year Makinen won the first of a hat trick of 1000 Lake Rallies in his native Finland, but the European Rally Championship went to team-mate and fellow Finn Rauno Aaltonen, who was a more consistent rally winner.

In January 1966 Makinen and Easter won on the Monte Carlo Rally again on the road, this time in GRX555D. But the authorities stripped Makinen of the win over headlight irregularities and awarded the win to Pauli Toivonen of Citroen.

Toivonen refused to accept the trophy and Prince Rainier of Monaco declined to present the trophies. The second and third-placed Minis were also disqualified along with the fourth-placed Ford Lotus Cortina driven by rising star Roger Clark. The disqualifications made international headlines.

Monte blow, but a win at home…

As partial compensation, Makinen won his native 1000 Lakes Rally again in JBL 493D, followed by the Munich-Vienna-Budapest Rally in HJB 656D.

After the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally, this time won by Rauno Aaltonen in LBL 6D, Stuart Turner departed BMC for Castrol to be replaced by Peter Browning. Makinen won his third 1000 Lakes Rally in GRX 195D and this was the most famous victory. On the Ouninpohja stage the bonnet of his Mini flew open after the retaining straps failed. Despite having his visibility impaired for around 12km of the 25km stage Makinen still posted the third fastest time!

BMC’s efficient Competitions Department was able to keep the Mini winning despite the advent of more sporting rivals. In 1967, it was Paddy Hopkirk who emerged the most successful of BMC’s trio, with victories on the Acropolis and Alpine Rallies.

Competitive against the odds

However, by 1968, the opposition had caught up, and BMC and the Mini’s run of success came to an end. Having been thwarted by Aaltonen at the last minute the year before, Porsche got its act together and won the Monte Carlo Rally, an event they would dominate for the next few years.

Their was also change at BMC. The corporation was in financial trouble. In order to remain financially viable BMC needed to sell cars in the major European markets. The motor sport success of the Mini had given BMC a glamorous sporting aura, and boosted demand for both the Mini and its bigger ADO16 1100/1300 brother across Europe.

However, in a sense it was all in vain as for political reasons BMC were unable to exploit the Mini’s competition success. Britain for the time being, could not gain access to the major European car markets because of France’s veto of its application to join the Common Market in both 1963 and 1967. By 1969, BMC’s products were subject to a trade tariff of 17.5 per cent in Common Market countries, and it was a price most European customers were simply not prepared to pay, no matter how good the product. Demand was not translated into sales.

BMC Competitions wind-down

The European car market exploded in the late 1960s and BMC was left behind in the dash for growth. The British Government misdiagnosed the problem and engineered a merger cum takeover by the Leyland Motor Corporation. Leyland infused into BMC Ford-style cost cutting measures as it tried to turn Austin Morris into Ford UK clone, and this effected the BMC Competitions Department.

British Leyland Chairman Sir Donald Stokes was only interested in motor sport if there was a chance of winning. At the end of 1968 it was decided to let both Timo Makinen and Rauno Aaltonen go and retain Paddy Hopkirk as he was deemed as PR friendly.

Timo Makinen later plied his trade at Ford, its Competition Department now run by Stuart Turner after his brief sojourn at Castrol. At Ford he won a further seven international rallies, often alongside navigator and fellow BMC refugee Henry Liddon.

After Ford…

After Ford in turn let him go in 1977, he competed for other teams including four World Rally Championship events in 1980 in a Triumph TR7 V8. After 1981 he effectively retired from WRC competition until 1994 when he competed in 10 events in of all cars, a Rover Mini Cooper. From this point, both official and unofficial, Makinen, Paddy Hopkirk and Rauno Aaltonen became ambassadors for the Mini brand, both during the Rover years and the later BMW era.

The 1960s works colour scheme of red with a white roof was never an official BMC colour, the cars were taken from the Longbridge production line as red with black roofs and subjected to a repaint, but red and white became an official Rover colour scheme in the 1990s, something continued by BMW to this day. The exploits of the works Minis were an integral part of the little car’s story, on a par with Jaguar at Le Mans, a legacy exploited by BMW with its new MINI.

Many reading this will have driven a Mini and, with the exuberance of youth, fantasised about being a top-class driver but perhaps the greatest Mini driver of them all was Timo Makinen. May he rest in peace.

Ian Nicholls
Latest posts by Ian Nicholls (see all)


  1. Great days, great team, great cars ( possibly the greatest car ever made since it set the trend for virtually all small cars since ) and not least, great drivers . RIP Timo Makinen

  2. Timo was an inspiration to me as a young car fanatic in the ’60s.
    Just done a commemorative painting
    Of ‘we were robbed’
    Will try to copy it here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.