Paddy Hopkirk remembers the classic Mini with a special fondness and to this day still embraces the challenge of difficult terrain behind the wheel of a motorsport icon.
Since its inception in 1911 and even in 1964, the legendary Monte Carlo Rally was an adventure and showcase for Automobile manufacturers presenting their models to an eager public that could watch the rally spectacle live on television.
A carefully designed handicap formula would see a whole range of vehicles with different weight and performance classes competing against each other. A Ford Falcon boasting eight cylinders was a full 17 seconds ahead, while a tenacious drive from Paddy Hopkirk and his tin of caviar in the toolbox of his Mini Cooper S, had only just mastered ‘the night of long knives’ stage – nicknamed so because of the high beam lights shining brightly through the night.
By the way, the caviar came from Minsk. Hopkirk and his English co-driver Henry Liddon set out from there in the winter of 1964 for the Monte Carlo Rally, which at that time was still started as a rally from nine European cities.
Fast forward 56 years and Hopkirk, now 87 years old, speaks about his hussar ride in the classic Mini with the start number 37 and how his fascination of classic motorsport remains intact.
The Mini was a very advanced car. Its front-wheel drive and the transverse engine at the front were very beneficial, as was the fact that the car was small and the roads were winding and narrow
The Northern Irish racing driver slips behind the steering wheel of a classic Mini once again, this time at the foot of the precarious and often complex Col de Turini – luckily, without a snowflake in sight. The classic Mini dressed in British Racing Green will be expertly driven by the most famous rally driver in Great Britain.
There’s no time to soak up the magnificent landscape and the view down to Monte Carlo, with the ‘smiling’ Hopkirk instinctively finding the ideal line as the small but responsive throttle is planted firmly into the threadbare carpet.
Hopkirk recalls the start being successful and on the country roads across France, a duel quickly emerged between Hopkirk in the Mini Cooper S and the Swede Bo Ljungfeldt in the powerful Ford Falcon. Plenty of snow had fallen the day before on the winding curves of Col de Turini but the short wheelbase of the nimble Cooper made light work of the difficult conditions.
The Mini was particularly good downhill, and the tests were all uphill and downhill, so we could make up for what we lost uphill, downhill.
Life was made even more difficult for Ljungfeldt, who was fighting a handicap formula that saw his 17 seconds in the ‘night of long knives’ and an extra 30 seconds lead in the final round race on the Grand Prix circuit in Monte Carlo, pale into insignificance. Victory at Monte Carlo was certain…
Paddy Hopkirk – Celebrity Status
Celebrity status soon followed the charismatic Hopkirk as driver and vehicle appeared on the popular TV show ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’. Fans, celebrities and even the UK government sent congratulatory telegrams. One of Hopkirk’s most beautiful memorabilia is an autograph card from the Beatles with the inscription: ‘Now you’re one of us, Paddy!‘
The Mini Cooper S also dominated the Monte Carlo Rally in the years that followed. Hopkirk’s Finnish team-mates Timo Mäkinen and Rauno Aaltonen, who had already finished fourth and seventh in 1964, achieved second and third overall victories with the Mini Cooper S in 1965 and 1967, respectively.
Remembered as the ‘three musketeers’, the trio were jointly inducted into the Finnish ‘Rally Hall of Fame’ as the first members in 2020.
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