Obituary: Paddy Hopkirk, racer from Belfast who won the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally in a Mini Cooper


Paddy Hopkirk, who has died aged 89, was a racing driver whose victory in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally in a Mini Cooper made the car world famous in the early swinging sixties.

he Mini, in which Hopkirk partnered Henry Liddon, was one of 30 cars in the 240-strong field that started the race in Minsk, then in the Soviet Union. Riders came to Reims from various European cities before completing the same stages through the Alps to Monte Carlo.

Due to the complex system of timing and handicaps, riders arrived at the Cote d’Azur not knowing where they stood in the standings and Hopkirk was asleep in his hotel room when a French journalist called to tell him that the race so long for them because they didn’t fail the last stage the next day.

In Britain, the car and its drivers became stars. There was a performance Sunday night at the London Palladium at the urging of the host, Bruce Forsyth. “They wrote a comedy routine about me and I drove the car onto the stage,” Hopkirk recalled. He received a telegram from Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home and one from the Beatles which read: ‘It’s nice to be number 1, isn’t it? Stop.”

Patrick Barron Hopkirk was born in Belfast on April 14, 1933, the son of a military engineer. The family moved to Whitehouse on the shores of Belfast Lough. His father had six greenhouses there, and Paddy brought grapes to a neighboring clergyman. When he was seven, the priest died and left the boy his Harding car – something like a motorized wheelchair. Living on an estate with private roads, Paddy was able to learn to drive his new vehicle unhindered by traffic.

He attended Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school in Co Kildare. He began studying engineering at Trinity College Dublin but dropped out as his racing career took off.

By the time he was 17, he had saved enough to buy an old Austin 7, which he converted himself and began rallying. He celebrated his first victory on St. Patrick’s Day 1954 in a VW 1200 Beetle. Victories in the Hewison Trophy (the Irish Rally Championship) in 1954 and 1955 led to participation in the RAC Rally of Great Britain in 1955.

He joined the Triumph works team and had his first major success at the Circuit of Ireland in 1958, which he and his navigator Jack Scott won in a Triumph TR3A. He then joined the Sunbeam team and won the 1961 Circuit of Ireland with Scott. They also finished third overall in the 1962 Monte Carlo Rally and that year marked a turning point in Hopkirk’s career when he joined the British Motor Corporation team alongside Finns Rauno Aaltonen and Timo Makinen.

He won six other international rallies – two at the Circuit of Ireland, two at the Alpine Rally in France, one in Germany and one at the Acropolis Rally in Greece.

He didn’t go on with Liddon for long. “We ended up having a kind of lenient divorce,” he recalls. “Maybe I got a little big for my boots after winning the Monte.”

In 1968 he finished second in the 10,000 mile marathon rally from London to Sydney with Alec Poole and Tony Nash. On the penultimate stage, they missed their chance for overall victory when the Citroen just ahead of them collided with another car. They probably saved Lucien Bianchi’s life by pulling him out of his burning vehicle.

Hopkirk retired from full-time competition in 1970; He was a successful businessman, importing Toyotas and running his own sales, marketing and car accessories company.

He has worked extensively for WheelPower, the British wheelchair sport charity based in Stoke Mandeville, and for Skidz, which trained disadvantaged young people to become car mechanics.

Hopkirk lived in Buckinghamshire with his wife Jenny, whom he married in 1967 and who survives him with their daughter and two sons.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Obituary: Paddy Hopkirk, racer from Belfast who won the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally in a Mini Cooper

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