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Paddy Hopkirk (89): Of Mini and Monte fame

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Paddy Hopkirk, the first man to win the Monte Carlo rally with a Mini Cooper, passed away aged 89. Hopkirk furthermore won the Circuit of Ireland five times, he took class wins at Le Mans and Sebring as well.

Paddy Hopkirk didn’t know he’d won. It was 1964, the scene being the Monte Carlo Rally. BMC had entered their Minis for a couple of years already, ever-improving their entries. In 1964, the BMC competition department in Abingdon sent the Mini Cooper S with the 1071 cc engine to Monte Carlo. The Cooper S suddenly brought overall victories within the Mini’s grasp; no longer would it have to settle for class wins.

Photo BMW Group Archive

33 EJB

Hopkirk had gotten his first taste of his new Cooper S, registered 33 EJB in the 1963 Tour de France Automobile. Hopkirk’s sensational driving netted him third overall and a lot of press attention in France. With a new car carrying the same registration, he arrived at his starting point for the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally: the city of Minsk (Belarus). The Ford Falcon driven by Bo Ljungfeldt was in fact the faster car on many of the stages. But in those days, it was a coefficient that decided the eventual winner. “It was journalist Bernard Cahier who phoned me at 4 in the morning to tell me he thought we had won,” Hopkirk later explained.

Photo BMW Group Archive

Telegram from the Beatles… and an MBE

The victory was confirmed, and a little later Paddy Hopkirk and his co-driver Henry Liddon had to find some more fancy clothes for the award ceremony in front of the Monaco royal palace. The pictures of the tiny Mini that had slain the giants caused a stir around the world. The result promoted Hopkirk to the status of national hero in the United Kingdom – he received an official MBE from the Queen in 2016 – and got him a telegram from the Beatles as well.

The Minis would win the Monte in 1965 as well, this time Aaltonen won, and of course there was the infamous disqualification on a technicality of the three leading Minis in the 1966 Monte Carlo as well.

Photo BMW Group Archive


Hopkirk, born in Belfast in 1933, got involved with rallying during his engineering studies. In 1962, BMC recruited him for the works team. Hopkirk participated in the Le Mans 24 Hours in a privately entered, streamlined MGB in 1963. He would win the 2-litre class. In the 1965 Targa Florio, Hopkirk started in an MG Midget, ending up second in class.

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Tazio readers might remember our story on the Mini registered GRX 309D in issue 1. A Mini with that registration number – even though it was a different car – was raced at a support event prior to the 1967 Sebring 12 Hours by Paddy Hopkirk. He stopped one lap from the finish. The main event brought him another class win in an MGB. He would win that year’s Acropolis rally in a Mini as well. At the 1968 Sebring 12 Hours, Hopkirk scored MG’s best overall result, bringing the MGC home in tenth place overall.

Photo BMW Group Archive

Hopkirk is forever associated with the Minis, and even under BMW’s stewardship of the brand, he appeared regularly as a brand ambassador. There was even a Hopkirk-edition of the new Mini. Paddy Hopkirk served as president of the British Racing Drivers Club from 2017 to 2019.

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