Not long ago we were telling you about the MINI JCW and its trip to the place where the original Mini wrote history. Today, the real deal is standing before you, with a classic Mini and the man, the myth, the legend: Paddy Hopkirk. The Northern Ireland resident doesn’t need any more introduction, as he was the one mad enough to tackle V8-powered Fords in a rally stage using a tiny Mini and then show them how it’s done.
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The first time the Mini badge won a rally stage was back in 1964. It was Paddy who was doing the driving and he put on a show for the ages at the Monte Carlo Rally. This was the era when automobile manufacturers all over the world discovered rally sport as the perfect stage for presenting their models.
And consequently, vehicles from different weight and performance classes competed against each other with a handicap formula providing appropriate compensation when allocating points.
“The Mini was a very advanced motor car. Its front-wheel drive and the transversely mounted engine at the front presented significant advantages, just like the fact that the car was small given that the roads had lots of bends and were narrow,” explained the rally driver from Northern Ireland as he recalled his greatest triumph. When we met up at the foot of the Col de Turini, he slid in nimbly behind the steering wheel of a classic Mini.
This time, the little car was styled in a livery of British Racing Green, there was no snow on the road, and time was available to enjoy the magnificent landscape and the view of Monte Carlo nestling in the valley.
But Hopkirk still finds the ideal line from the start and steers the classic Mini out of the bend with a broad smile and forceful pedal-to-metal acceleration. Driving fun comes back immediately, along with the memories of the event 56 years ago.
Back then, the Monte Carlo Rally was a star rally covering nine different European cities. The first stage was hosted by Minsk of all places and the final one only took place above the Monaco kingdom. Throughout the rally Paddy had traded blows with many agile drivers but his one main rival was driving a Ford Falcon, was coming from Sweden and was named Bo Ljungfeldt. Unfortunately for him the last stage in Monte Carlo was to take place on a track laden and utterly covered with snow.
That was to the Mini’s advantage, as its small and light construction helped it cover ground fast. According to Hopkirk: “The Mini performed particularly well going downhill, and the tests had all been uphill and down dale so that we were able make good anything we lost going uphill when we were driving downhill.” Everything else was dealt with by the handicap formula.
Ljungfeldt made up 17 seconds during the “Night of the Long Knives” and gained a lead of half a minute in the final circuit race on the Monte Carlo Grand Prix track, but this was not enough to displace Paddy Hopkirk from his position as number one in the overall placings.
At the finishing line, it took some time before all the times had been compared and all the points had been totted up. However, ultimately the first overall victory achieved by the classic Mini in the Monte Carlo Rally was established.
This was enough to put the Mini brand on the map and the win was welcomed warmly in the UK. That wasn’t it though. The small wonder managed to win in 1965 and 1967 as well at Monte Carlo, cementing its name in the history of rallying.