Features

Paddy Hopkirk and the Mini that won the Monte Carlo Rally

We meet Paddy Hopkirk on the 50th anniversary of his 1964 Monte Carlo rally victory, which launched the Mini legend

Nearly every iconic brand has a moment when it enters the public consciousness – a moment that’s remembered and resonates long after it happened. Arguably, for Mini that point came in 1964, when 31-year-old Paddy Hopkirk and his co-driver Henry Liddon won the Monte Carlo Rally. 

Having started behind the Iron Curtain in the Arctic temperatures of the Russian city of Minsk, they excelled on the treacherous Alpine passes, before victory in glamorous Monaco propelled Paddy and the Mini into the A-list of ‘swinging sixties’ British cool.

• The future of MINI: head man Jochen Goller reveals all

Flown back to the UK to appear on Sunday Night at the Palladium with Bruce Forsyth and to be interviewed by the BBC’s Raymond Baxter, Paddy received a telegram from Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home and a signed congratulatory photo from the Beatles. The publicity steam train saw Paddy tour BMC factories across the country and give countless interviews. The Mini quickly became the iconic sixties car. 

Meeting Paddy and a superb recreation of his winning car 50 years later, it’s clear how much the memories of this victory mean to him. Paddy explains that “we weren’t just promoting Mini by winning; we were selling British goods of every kind. A Mini win was a British win; we were winning for the country”.

A world away from the super-modified rally cars of today, sixties rally cars were closely related to their road cousins, so arduous long-distance rallies were the perfect advert for a car’s durability, handling and performance. 

“It was the hand-built attention to detail that the BMC rally team lavished on the Minis that set them apart from cars that came down the production line,” says Paddy. Sitting in the car today, it’s amazing how close to the road it feels, but it’s hard to imagine the bravery and skill needed to drive it on the limit in the era before roll cages, let alone the endurance required for the regulatory long road sections of sixties rallying.

With a 1,071cc engine, the Cooper S produced around 70bhp and revved to over 6,000rpm. Paddy remembers that “the Mini wasn’t so good uphill but was amazing downhill”. Thanks to its diminutive size and novel (for the period) front-wheel-drive layout, it had an agility its bigger and more powerful rivals could only dream of. 

• Eight design innovations that made the MINI

Driving the car today, the distinctive whine of the straight-cut gears echoes around the cabin and, with its twin carburettors, the throttle response is surprisingly spirited. Even at the steady speeds needed for photography, the Mini’s famed innate connection with the road is clear. And the bank of front spotlights and distinctive combination of red paint and white roof provide the original and definitive ‘Mini look’. 

So, while the ’64 Monte winner is a world away from today’s MINI, it unquestionably created the legend and reputation for agile handling on which the modern MINI is built. Today’s success owes much to Paddy Hopkirk and his team-mates of 1964. 

Rallying in the Sixties

Half a century ago, rallying was very different, with none of today’s centralised servicing and relatively short special stages. Cars competing in the Monte Carlo Rally would start at various European cities, covering vast mileages at a set average speed, before converging in France for the competitive legs. 

In 1964, for instance, crews departed from Minsk, Paris, Glasgow, Frankfurt, Athens, Warsaw and Lisbon. The entry saw no less than six BMC factory-entered Minis, with a further 24 Minis driven by privateers. 

In the early legs of the rally, more powerful cars headed the Minis but, with the advantage of ice note crews scouting the route ahead of the drivers to report on road conditions, the team made good use of its Dunlop tyres, to take the upper hand in the thick snow of the famous Col de Turini stage – setting up a famous victory that’s still talked about half a century later.

 

The Magic of MINI

The Magic of MINI: special feature

• The future of MINI: head man Jochen Goller reveals all• Classic Mini vs modern MINI: which is the better car?• How many MINIs? The MINI range reviewed• Eight design innovations that made the MINI• MINI's greatest concept cars• Paddy Hopkirk and the Mini that won the Monte Carlo Rally• Can the new MINI 5-door really be used as a family car?• MINI Countryman ALL4 Racing Dakar Rally ride review• MINI UK factory: how we make the MINI• MINI adverts: the campaigns that built the brand• Win a MINI for a year

Recommended

Official: 400 jobs to be cut at MINI Oxford plant
MINI

Official: 400 jobs to be cut at MINI Oxford plant

Reduced customer demand will see almost half all agency staff at the MINI Oxford factory lose their jobs by mid-October
26 Aug 2020
New MINI Cooper S 2021 review
MINI Cooper S - front
MINI MINI

New MINI Cooper S 2021 review

The MINI has been facelifted as part of its 20th birthday celebrations. We try it out in Cooper S guise...
1 May 2021
New all-electric 2023 MINI Hatch spied in the snow
MINI Hatch - spyshot 1
MINI MINI

New all-electric 2023 MINI Hatch spied in the snow

The next-generation MINI Hatch will go on sale in 2023, with smaller dimensions and a new electric powertrain
9 Apr 2021
MINI hatchback review
2021 MINI 3-dr hatch
MINI MINI

MINI hatchback review

In the face of stiff competition, the latest MINI stands out by offering the quality and driver appeal of a baby BMW
16 Mar 2021

Most Popular

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox
Dacia Duster gear lever
News

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox

With more drivers learning in autos and electric cars, the DVSA is looking to update the driving test so people can still drive manuals in future
16 Jun 2021
Illegal car modification hotspots revealed
Volkswagen Polo exhaust
News

Illegal car modification hotspots revealed

Gloucestershire has the highest proportion of illegal car modifications, with altered number plates the most common breach
14 Jun 2021
New Vauxhall Astra prototype review
Vauxhall Astra prototype - front
Vauxhall Astra

New Vauxhall Astra prototype review

A new Vauxhall Astra is on the way and we've driven a prototype ahead of its official arrival
14 Jun 2021
Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review
Ineos Grenadier prototype
Ineos Grenadier 4x4

Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review

Can the Ineos Grenadier really fill the mud-splattered void left by the old Land Rover Defender? We take a first drive in a prototype to find out...
15 Jun 2021
‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'
Gearknob
Opinion

‘Our switch to electric will soon make driving manual cars a lost art'

Want to drive a manual car? You need to take your test in a manual car. So what happens once all driving-school cars are automatic EVs?
8 Jun 2021
UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars
Electric car charging
News

UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars

Analysis reveals lithium refining takes 65 per cent of Chilean region’s water, while 40,000 child miners dig for cobalt in DRC
14 Jun 2021
New Renault Arkana 2021 review
Renault Arkana - front
Renault Arkana

New Renault Arkana 2021 review

Does an eye-catching coupe-SUV body give the new Renault Arkana the edge over other mid-size SUVs? We find out...
16 Jun 2021
New Nissan Qashqai production begins in Sunderland
Nissan Qashqai - front static
News

New Nissan Qashqai production begins in Sunderland

Nissan will offer every school child in the North East of England a place on the Nissan Skills Foundation course to mark 35 years of manufacturing in …
14 Jun 2021
New SsangYong Korando e-Motion breaks cover with electric power
SsangYong Korando EV
Electric cars

New SsangYong Korando e-Motion breaks cover with electric power

The new SsangYong Korando compact electric SUV will be on sale later in 2021, says the financially stricken South Korean manufacturer
15 Jun 2021
'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'
Toyota Mirai opinion
Opinion

'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'

Mike Rutherford says hydrogen-powered cars could still be a frequent sight on UK roads
13 Jun 2021
New Porsche 911 GT3 Touring tones down the styling
Porsche 911 GT3 Touring - front
Porsche 911

New Porsche 911 GT3 Touring tones down the styling

The optional Touring package aims to bring a few creature comforts to the track-focused Porsche 911 GT3
15 Jun 2021
SsangYong J100 to get tough in the electric SUV sector
SsangYong J100 electric SUV
SsangYong

SsangYong J100 to get tough in the electric SUV sector

The tough looking electric mid-size SUV is slated for production next year and will be joined by a pick-up model
15 Jun 2021
New hydrogen-powered Land Rover Defender prototype in development
Land Rover Defender
Land Rover Defender

New hydrogen-powered Land Rover Defender prototype in development

The Land Rover Defender FCEV prototype will be assessed for off-road and long-range zero-emission motoring
14 Jun 2021