Mike Humble recalls the career of Paddy Hopkirk, three-times Monte Carlo Rally winner and the man who helped put the Mini-Cooper on the map.
Paddy’s recollections were recorded at Goodwood in 2015.
Paddy Hopkirk: the Mini maestro
Born in Belfast in 1933, Paddy Hopkirk will be forever regarded as the man who put the original Mini-Cooper on the map after winning the Monte Carlo Rally with his trusted co-driver Henry Liddon. He first steered a Mini to victory back in 1964, which some might have put down to sheer luck, but for the car to win a further three times suggests the Mini had real talent.
Paddy had come third in the event two years earlier behind the wheel of a Sunbeam Rapier but to most people he will be known as Mr Mini. Back in 2014, he told Mike Humble, ‘despite the fact our cars were small and our team was not as well financed as some of the others, we were incredibly well prepared.’
‘We practised day and night for what seemed months prior to the event and the mechanics? Well… let me simply say they were some of the best in their field.’
Monte Carlo memories
When asked what scared him the most about the Monte Carlo Rally, he said: ‘well, the special stages were pretty rough going, but some of the political and cultural aspects were pretty worrying at that time to a young Irishman like me.’
He continued: ‘when we entered Minsk, the Russians took our passports from us and told us they would be delivered to our hotel – some 200 miles away so we couldn’t get up to no good.’
But the Soviets were less than happy about the BBC being there to report on that part of the rally: ‘Raymond Baxter and the Beeb arrived at my hotel to interview me and before you knew it the authorities arrived outside making a bit of a song and dance about it. At the time it was quite intimidating.’
When asked if the team was instructed by Stuart Turner to go out and win or simply go out and come back Paddy recalled, ‘‘we didn’t think we had a chance in hell of winning in reality in all fairness. We were simply told to get out there and do our best.’ He certainly did just that.
Paddy’s views on the Mini were always positive, which goes some way to explaining why he ended up becoming an ambassador for the brand in later years. ‘It was an amazing car that did everything you asked it to do.’ He had an enthusiasm that radiated from every pore…
What about becoming a household name?
Fame through winning the rally took a little getting used to for Paddy. ‘Meeting and being congratulated by Princess Grace of Monaco is perhaps one of the proudest moments, I had to pinch myself at the time… she was a very special and pretty lady and, of course, we were front page news all over the world back then.’
He added: ‘it was quite surreal at the time… even The Beatles sent me a signed picture and a telegram stating I was one of them now and I’m reminded of that almost every day… its on the wall of my downstairs loo.’
But fame was only a part of it for Paddy. ‘We weren’t just driving to compete, we were driving for Queen, for Country and everything that stood for British manufacturing, engineering and design. Great Britain was very influential at that time to the world and the Rally made front page news so a lot was at stake… if we did well, Britain did well and BMC would do well.’
Hopkirk is survived by his wife Jennifer, children Katie, Patrick and William, and six grandchildren.