HERO-ERA mourns the loss of rallying superstar Paddy Hopkirk OBE who became a household name after his fabulous Monte Carlo Rally win in 1964 in a works Mini Cooper S. A fine racing driver and raconteur as well, he will always be remembered as not just a brilliant competition driver, but as one of the great characters of motor sport.
He was a Vice President and former President of the BRDC, Paddy Hopkirk also made major contributions to road safety through his work as IAM Road Smart Mature Drivers Ambassador.
Sadly, Paddy had been suffering with cancer for the past few months and had recently been admitted to hospital.
Many HERO-ERA members and fellow competitors will remember Paddy competing on Classic Marathons and in particular lending his pristine red and white works replica Mini Cooper S to former national champion Steve Entwistle who was entrusted with the car by Paddy on various outings with his precious machine. Steve came close to winning the RAC Rally of the Tests in 2017 and 2018, when Paddy was on hand to watch his charge, but ultimately Entwistle won the event outright in 2019 after Paddy had said; “You have the car, you have a top navigator in Mark Appleton with you, you’d better go and bloody win it!”
RAC Rally of the Tests winner Steve Entwistle was still beaming an hour after getting back to rally HQ in Chester. “It’s sunk in now, I’m over the moon. When we arrived initially I was a bit low key as I’d spent all afternoon thinking it’s going to go wrong, then we got here and I thought no, no its alright, it’s alright!! I spoke to Paddy and told him his car has won three times now, once with Rauno Aaltonen, once with Roger Clark and now me!
“I’ve been rallying for 30 years and this is the best thing that has happened to me thanks to Paddy. It’s also a win on the Mini 60th Anniversary plus 54 years since a Mini won the RAC Rally! I have been an RAC rally lover since I was three and a Paddy Hopkirk fan all my life.
Steve speaks for many when he said that, as for many rally drivers, even the young up and coming WRC drivers such as Jon Armstrong, he was a Rally God. Jon described him today as ‘An absolute legend and icon.’
As a Belfast born boy, Paddy learned his car control aged nine in an invalid carriage that he had been left by the local clergy in his will! He graduated to motor cycle and sidecar and after dropping out of Trinity University in Dublin he had the bug for rallying and started the sport in an Austin 7 ‘Chummy’ Tourer. He worked at Dublin’s VW assembly retail division where he bought a few VW Beetles at a good price to further his rally career.
He started winning in1955, including taking a class win on the tough and demanding Circuit of Ireland Rally. He drove for Standard Triumph but lost the ride after over driving on the Alpine Rally in 1958!
The following year he was driving for the Rootes Group as a works driver in a Hillman Husky on the East African Safari Rally. In 1959 he was third overall and took a class win at the Alpine Rally in a Sunbeam Rapier, and he led the 1960 Safari Rally until his Rapier suffered a differential failure.
He won the Circuit of Ireland in 1961 and 1962 and took another third at the Alpine Rally in 1961. Whilst at Rootes, Hopkirk also took part in circuit racing, winning his class in a Rapier in the touring car race supporting the 1960 British Grand Prix.
Paddy was third in the1962 Monte Carlo Rally in a Sunbeam Rapier but he was getting frustrated by the Sunbeam’s reliability, especially when all three works cars blew their engines within the space of a kilometre at the Acropolis Rally.
He really wanted to drive for BMC after trying of Pat Moss’ Austin Healey 3000, he pushed for a move, joining the British Motor Corporation and making his debut in a big Healey 3000 at the Liège-Sofia-Liège Rally. In his second competition with the Healey was the RAC Rally, he finished second despite having to complete two miles of a special stage with a shredded tyre after a puncture.
His first dalliance with a Mini was at the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally, where he finished an encouraging sixth.
Also in 1963 Paddy finished second on the Tulip Rally, sixth on Liège-Sofia-Liège, and fourth on the RAC Rally. He took the Mini to third place in the Tour de France Automobile’s Touring Category behind two 3.8-litre Jaguars, winning his class and the overall on handicap.
The one that cemented his name in the annuls of history was that fabulous win on the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally in a Mini Cooper S car number 37. The famous registration plate was 33 EJB.
He led BMC to the team win, with fellow Mini drivers Timo Mäkinen and Rauno Aaltonen in fourth and seventh. The victory made Hopkirk a household name: he received telegrams from the UK Prime Minister and The Beatles, but most importantly to Paddy, he was given the Freedom of the City of Belfast.
The coup was BMC despatching the car direct from Monte Carlo to appear the next evening on the major programme Sunday Night at the London Palladium as the Mini and Paddy went round on the famous roundabout on stage waving to the audience and 20 million viewers on TV!
In 1968, at the London-Sydney Marathon, Hopkirk gallantly gave up any chance of victory on the penultimate stage to rescue the Bianchi-Ogier team then in the lead, whose Citroën DS had just collided head-on with another car on a road supposedly closed to traffic. Hopkirk and his teammate Tony Nash managed to pull out occupants from both cars that were starting to burn, probably saving the life of severely wounded Lucien Bianchi in the process. The accident happened just ahead of Hopkirk’s Austin 1800. By driving back to warn onlookers and the police, Hopkirk and Nash likely also prevented another crash with any incoming participants. Hopkirk’s crew went on to complete the rally in second, behind Andrew Cowan’s Hillman Hunter.
Paddy Hopkirk was fourth on the 1970 World Cup Rally in a Triumph 2.5 PI but quit full time competition driving when the Head of British Leyland, Lord Stokes, decided to close the competition department. Paddy concentrated on his many promotional engagements and his successful business, Paddy Hopkirk Accessories.
In 1982 he won the RAC Golden 50 Rally, which celebrated the 50th RAC Rally and he won the Pirelli Classic Marathon in 1990 with Alec Poole.
In 2010 he was amongst four star drivers to be inducted into Rallying’s Hall of Fame, along with Timo Makinen, Rauno Aaltonen and Erik Carlsson.
Paddy Hopkirk helped bring rallying into the mainstream, yet he always had an eye on the past, using the heritage card whenever he could. That he continued to work for BMW as an ambassador and act as the BRDC President late in his life indicates the sort of drive and energy the extraordinary man brought to all those around him. He will be greatly missed and oft lamented as a true great of motor sport, synonymous always with the incredible success of the Mini Cooper S.
HERO-ERA offers its condolences and huge respect to the Hopkirk family at this sad time.