They said that ‘it couldn’t be done’ – the little, economical car winning on one of the most difficult rally courses in the world. But it was done – 57 years ago, Paddy Hopkirk piloted his modified Mini Cooper through the slush and snow of the Alps; coming through the precarious ‘night of the long knives’ not just unscathed, but energised.
Here, we’re going to recount that famous win – a victory that didn’t just establish the Mini as a rally legend but also going a long way in boosting the brand’s popularity throughout the 1960s and beyond.
Paddy Hopkirk And His Mini’s Famous Monte Carlo Rally Win.
Rallying was very different 50 years ago; today, we have centralised servicing and relatively-short special stages. For Paddy and his fellow competitors, they had to start from various cities across Europe, covering huge distances at a set average speed, before converging in France for the competitive legs. Many crews wouldn’t even make it to the first stage – setting off from Minsk, USSR (now modern-day Belarus), Paddy and his co-driver, Henry Liddon, had to battle through snowstorms in their tartan-red Cooper just to get to the starting line.
With its four-cylinder engine and stroke capacity of 1071cc, Paddy Hopkirk’s Mini was considered ‘ordinary’ by supposed experts whose attentions were caught by the six-cylinder, V8 engines of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SE’s and Ford Falcon’s that were in the field. Being FOUR times as powerful as the engine in the Cooper, Paddy and the other Mini crews weren’t given a prayer.
However, rallying is about more than being able to control your drive at high-speeds – it requires deft skill and judgement across variable terrain, the ability to quickly slow down when required and to take easy and hard turns in quick succession. So whilst the ‘supercars’ did indeed come out fast in the early, flat stages, leaving the Mini’s trailing behind – a hare should always be aware of the tactics of the ‘tortoise’.
The Mini Cooper Conquers The Col de Turini.
Notorious for its tight hairpins and marvelled at for its scenic landscapes, the Col de Turini is a mountain pass in the Alps that is 5,000ft above sea level. As you can imagine, during the winter, it can get quite icy. This proved to be an issue for the leading cars and their V8 engines; they struggled to adapt to the slower speeds and having to negotiate frozen surfaces that dipped and rose constantly.
Aware of the conditions, Paddy Hopkirk and the rest of the Mini crews plotted a way in which they may be able to catch up during this stage. A massive part of this was the Dunlop tyres that gave their Cooper’s the best opportunity to let loose its natural racing ability. The low-centre-of gravity of the car was a massive help in allowing it to quickly change its speed throughout the stage.
If racing around a high mountain pass with tight corners and constant drops and rises wasn’t difficult enough, the Col de Turini stage was held at night! The stage’s evocative nickname ‘The Night of The Long Knives’ refers to the headlamps of the cars, as they cut through the night sky, high up in the mountains.
Dramatically, Paddy took the lead on the Turini, setting up a nail-biting final stage. Aware that closest competitor, Bo Ljungfeldt, in his Ford Falcon Spirit would be able to pick up speed during the final part of the race, Paddy squeezed as much as he could from the plucky Mini and miraculously held on for a famous win.
A famous win, incidentally, that he wasn’t aware of for quite some time after he finished! With no GPS, mobile phone, internet or even a decent radio signal, Paddy had to be informed by gathering journalists that he had won; sealing the biggest upset that motorsport has ever seen. How the story hasn’t been turned into a movie, is beyond us!
The Establishment of A British Icon.
The win made headlines around the UK. On his return to the country, Paddy appeared on the popular variety show ‘Sunday Night at the Palladium’ to recount his experiences to Bruce Forsyth. He also received a congratulatory telegram from Prime Minister Alex Douglas-Horne and The Beatles sent him a signed photo with their own congratulations (they, of course, would become notable owners of Mini Cooper’s themselves not long later).
With the Mini brand already gaining traction due to its affordability, surprisingly-roomy interior and ease-of-driving, the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally win helped to sign it off as a British icon; a must-have for anyone intending to evoke a ‘trendy’ and ‘fashionable’ image.
Over five decades on, Paddy is still very much a revered figure for Mini fans of all ages – from those that remember the famous win to those who are just learning about it. This is a great example of what makes the classic Mini so timeless; it’s ability to capture the imagination of those who are far too young to remember even when the car was a constant presence on British roads and in top-level motorsport but are attracted to it because of its history; the memories and stories it has to tell. Dare we say that owning a Mini is about more than driving it? (We just did!)
The Paddy Hopkirk Merchandise Collection.
With Paddy’s Mini being a motorsport icon, there has been much interest amongst enthusiasts for a merchandise collection marking the famous Monte Carlo win. As such, we have worked with the man himself to retail several exclusive items – everything from clothing, mugs, stickers, decals, keyrings, badges, posters, lifestyle accessories, art prints and even Paddy’s selection of specialist Mini parts! Why not take a look around to see the range for yourself?
If you have any questions that you’d like to ask about our Paddy Hopkirk collection, or if you need any advice on Mini servicing in general, feel free to get in touch with our Mini experts by calling 01282 77873. Alternatively, you can reach us by e-mail at email@example.com