Beloved rally ace and grasp Mini driver Paddy Hopkirk has died aged 89
Words: Paul Guinness
One of Britain’s best-loved and most well-known rally drivers of all time, Paddy Hopkirk, has died aged 89. Hopkirk was the person who gained the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally outright on the wheel of the long-lasting Mini Cooper – and even now, the story of Hopkirk and his Mini antics is the stuff of legend, guaranteeing him a podium place within the historical past of rallying.
There’s extra to Hopkirk’s success and his profession than Issigonis’ miniature marvel alone, nevertheless. Belfast-born Paddy started in competitors participating in numerous automotive trials, initially on the wheel of a Volkswagen Beetle earlier than upgrading to a Triumph TR2 and hitting each Ireland’s and the UK’s racetracks. His first official Works competitors automotive was a Standard Ten, through which he competed within the 1956 RAC Rally, although by 1959 he’d moved to Rootes the place he spent 4 seasons competing in Sunbeam Rapiers, Alpines and even the odd Hillman Husky.
If the remainder of the Sixties are remembered for Hopkirk’s Mini Cooper motion, we shouldn’t neglect his different exploits throughout the BMC Competitions Department – a listing that included competing at Le Mans in an MGB, taking an Austin-Healey 3000 rallying and even coming second within the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon on the wheel of an Austin 1800.
It was in his personal Triumph TR2 that Paddy discovered a lot about driving, nevertheless, competing in it from 1955 and crafting his abilities to develop into a formidable competitor all through Northern Ireland and past. The automotive itself had been acquired by way of Matt McQuaid, a pal of Paddy’s who additionally occurred to run Standard-Triumph’s meeting plant in Dublin. And regardless of it being basically standard-spec, the Triumph was a race winner with Hopkirk on the wheel:
“The TR2 was excellent in its day,” Paddy defined in The Paddy Hopkirk Story, revealed by Haynes in 2005. “It was robust and easy, and it was fast and beautiful to drive. I shocked myself at how properly I did in it at Phoenix Park, and it was additionally a superb automotive for driving checks. It was much less good although, on rallies that had very tough roads – the stable rear axle didn’t do it any favours.”
This was within the days when up-and-coming race and rally drivers may enter the game with out the necessity to make investments enormous sums in automobile modifications. As lengthy as you may afford a automotive you may afford to go racing, as Paddy defined about his TR2: “I don’t suppose I did a factor to the engine – I simply received in and drove it. That’s what has modified nowadays – competitors vehicles are so totally different from these you should buy. In our day it was only a query of blowing the tyres up a bit and going and racing it.”
It was his successes in occasions just like the 900-mile Irish Rally (which he gained outright in 1955) and the Circuit of Clare that introduced Hopkirk to the eye of the large boys in rallying, with Standard-Triumph giving him his Works debut (on the wheel of a Standard Ten) within the RAC Rally of 1956. Much to the shock of Ken Richardson, Standard-Triumph’s competitions supervisor of the time, Paddy led for a lot of the way in which: “So Ken Richardson was in a bar someplace in Blackpool when he heard on the radio that an unknown younger Irish driver was main the rally. He practically fell off his bar stool – and I by no means regarded again.”
Paddy completed the RAC Rally however wasn’t positioned, as a consequence of a holed sump inflicting him to lose worthwhile time. But he needn’t have apprehensive, as a result of his abilities as a driver had been instantly within the limelight, and his future as a Works driver appeared assured. He turned a agency fixture at Standard-Triumph and by 1958 was competing in his first Monte Carlo Rally, this time piloting one in every of a number of TR3As entered by the staff. The following yr noticed him altering his allegiance although, taking over a proposal from Rootes Group staff supervisor Norman Garrad; and it didn’t take lengthy for Paddy to begin producing headlines by way of his antics and successes with Works-prepared Sunbeam Rapiers and (afterward) with Alpines.
Hopkirk and Rootes labored properly collectively, with many successes alongside the way in which, even when they weren’t all outright wins. In the 1961 Alpine Rally, for instance, Paddy achieved a reputable third place in his Rapier – one in every of simply 25 finishers in that notably gruelling occasion. But it wouldn’t be lengthy earlier than Paddy was being made one other supply – one which was to make family names of each him and the automotive he’d be driving.
Paddy’s transfer from Rootes to BMC was the beginning of a golden period, throughout which he discovered himself underneath the administration of Marcus Chambers, Stuart Turner and Peter Browning – every of whom took their flip as supervisor of the BMC/British Leyland Competition Department throughout the Sixties. Interestingly although, it was Hopkirk’s frustration with Rootes in direction of the top of his involvement with the Coventry agency that prompted the change.
Stuart Turner recalled receiving a letter from Paddy, dated June 1962, through which the annoyed Irishman bemoaned the truth that Rootes wouldn’t be offering him with a Sunbeam Alpine for that yr’s Alpine Rally. Hopkirk wrote: “I’m extraordinarily dissatisfied to overlook the occasion, and as my contract comes up for renewal with Rootes in August this yr, I’d be very happy to listen to from you earlier than I make any preparations for 1962/63”.
Needless to say, BMC jumped on the alternative and Paddy’s subsequent involvement with its Competition Department was nice information for all involved. And, after all, it was with the company’s smallest mannequin – the Mini – that Hopkirk would get pleasure from his greatest slice of fame thus far. Prior to his arrival, Minis had already competed (with affordable success) on the world’s rally circuits, with at least six Works vehicles competing within the Monte Carlo Rally as early as 1960.
The launch of the Cooper in 1961 (the results of the now legendary collaboration between BMC and the Cooper Car Company) gave the Mini a better probability than ever. Sadly although, when Rauno Aaltonen – in any other case referred to as The Flying Finn – entered the Monte Carlo for the primary time, his Mini Cooper rolled, caught fireplace and ended up destroyed.
Happily, issues improved significantly the next yr when Stuart Turner introduced Paddy Hopkirk on board, competing for the primary time on the wheel of a Works Cooper alongside teammate Aaltonen. Hopkirk achieved the primary Monte Carlo class win for the Mini, in addition to ending a formidable third total. Suddenly, anyone who had doubted the worldwide rallying functionality of a machine as small because the Mini had been compelled to vary their minds.
The unique Coopers had seen 56bhp from their 997cc powerplants, with prime speeds of round 87 mph. But 1964 introduced the debut of the Cooper S, its larger-displacement (1071cc) engine seeing energy boosted to 70bhp, virtually 100mph flat out and – crucially – a 0-60mph time slashed from 19 to simply 13 seconds. The Mini was now a critical contender.
Even so, few pundits severely anticipated a automotive as diminutive because the Cooper S to be able to an outright win. But, after all, 1964 was the yr when Paddy Hopkirk proved all of them flawed, taking probably the most well-known Mini of all – 33 EJB – to final victory in arguably probably the most well-known rally win ever. Almost as rewarding was the truth that Timo Makinen managed a formidable fourth place, whereas fellow teammate Rauno Aaltonen got here in sixth.
Intriguingly although, in The Paddy Hopkirk Story, Paddy himself admits he wasn’t positive his Cooper S may win when requested the query afterwards: “No. No approach. Maybe Stuart [Turner, BMC Competitions Manager] did, I don’t know. The Ford Falcons had the efficiency, however the factor is that that yr there was quite a lot of snow, and the roads had been very slim on account of how they’d snowploughed them clear. So the Mini was notably good. But we’d practised properly and we had our notes. It was a mix of issues – like all the pieces.”
Paddy admitted too, that probably the most historic Monte Carlo win of all time was a shock to simply about everybody at BMC: “I don’t suppose the BMC boys again residence hardly even knew the rally was on. Suddenly they received a cellphone name from BMC PR man Tony Dawson saying ‘Do you realise that you just’ve gained probably the most well-known rally on this planet, and the world’s whole press is right here?’. I had Life journal from the States interviewing me, and you understand it actually was a shock – I used to be instantly within the public eye. This was when folks went to Skegness or Clacton for his or her holidays, and Monte Carlo was a really glamorous place. I had a telegram from the Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and I used to be later given the keys to the City of Belfast…”
Hopkirk wasn’t only a sensible driver; he additionally had a capability to identify a enterprise alternative. As early as 1956 he was being featured in an commercial for a Dublin-based automotive parts producer, endorsing one in every of its best-selling merchandise. And by the next yr Paddy had based an organization underneath his personal identify (Paddy Hopkirk Ltd), initially promoting a tyre restore system earlier than transferring on to a complete vary of motoring equipment, devices and gizmos.
Over the years, Paddy supplied an enormous array of merchandise, promoting them each by way of mail order and thru his personal shops. He additionally based the Belfast-based Paddy Hopkirk School of Motoring, with round a dozen vehicles and instructors offering driving classes for any learners eager to be related to a rising rally star; a course of ten classes value lower than £10, and got here with the reassuring slogan ‘Do your check with the most effective’. More lately, he labored with Padiham specialist Mini Sport to provide a novel vary of elements and equipment, in addition to making present appearances to boost cash for charity.
Despite his business success, nevertheless, it was his rallying achievements for which Paddy was most revered. That his competitors highlights occurred throughout some of the thrilling eras in rallying makes him a real icon; however the truth that he was largely chargeable for placing the Mini Cooper on the ‘rally legend’ map, altering the picture of the Mini ceaselessly, is equally necessary.
All of the Classics World staff supply their condolences to Paddy’s mates, household and lots of followers. Great rally drivers have come and gone, however there’ll by no means be one other Paddy Hopkirk.