Paddy Hopkirk: Celebrating the BMC Days
This year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the iconic and internationally influential, BMC Works. In 1955, the British Motor Corporation founded its illustrious ‘Works’ department. The prestigious competition department grew to be regarded as one of the most successful and acknowledged in the World, hosting a range of performance cars that went on to break records and pioneer the tracks for future rally racing.
Quality engineering, innovations in modifications and a daring and dedicated team of mechanics and engineers are often accredited for the momentous success of the BMC ‘Works Department’ and it’s true to say that their pivotal legacy still lives on, six decades later in contemporary motorsport.
Legendary drivers like Pat Moss, Timo Maniken, Tony Fall, Rauno Aaltonen and Paddy Hopkirk became household names throughout and following the BMC’s reign, gaining recognition for their sporting breakthroughs and achievements. Amongst MG & Austin Healey, the Mini gained acclaim as the recognised underdog of the thriving rally and race scene. Yet the most significant stronghold of this car was and always remained, in the resilient field of rally racing.
The works Mini’s, tuned by the iconic John Cooper, were to become one of the most significant contenders in rallying and with increasingly robust power and nimble agility it wasn’t long before the Mini certified itself as BMC’s all-impressive underdog. Launched in 1962, following the Issigonis & Cooper collaboration, the Mini Cooper and later, the Mini Cooper S delivered a number of international victories; establishing the first win with Pat Moss at the Netherlands Tulip Rally (1962). Pat Moss claimed that the Mini Cooper was ‘twitchy, and pretty unruly on the limit’ but this international win marked the first of many for Mini Cooper and BMC.
Above: Pat Moss wins Hollands Tulip rally (1962) driving Mini Cooper
In the June of that year, Stuart Turner, the head of the BMC’s competitions department received a letter from a young Paddy Hopkirk. Paddy had previously been rallying with Volkswagen and gained his first win with a Volkswagen Beetle in 1953 before he made his works debut in 1956 at the RAC Rally in a Standard Ten. Accepted as one of the Standard-Triumph team, Paddy competed in the Tulip Rally, Circuit of Ireland and Coupes des Alpes throughout the late fifties before joining the ‘Rootes’ rally team for a European rally programme in 1959. Still driving a Sunbeam Alpine for the Rootes team, Paddy’s letter to Stuart read ‘I want to drive cars which are capable of winning rallies outright – even if I’m not’. Turner’s previous experience of competing in a Mini told him that the car was a winner and he set about building a team of professional drivers to compete in it…Sure enough, BMC took Paddy Hopkirk on.
For his first appearance in a home international for BMC, Stuart entered Paddy Hopkirk and Jack Scott in the 1962 RAC Rally, driving an Austin-Healey 3000. “I liked the RAC Rally so long as it was not an icy, snowy event.” Says Paddy who was lined up with a formidable BMC entry of eight cars – including three more Big Healeys; driven by Pat Moss, Don Morley and Peter Riley. Unfortunately, Paddy hit a rock, damaging the front suspension and bursting the front tyre but continued riding on the rim to end of the stage, coming in second behind Erik Carlsson in his Saab.
For his first introduction to the Mini, Paddy was entered into the 1963 Monte, alongside co-driver Jack Scott. Practice was essential “We’d make our notes and then we’d go out at three o’clock in the morning to practice them, in hope that nothing was coming the other way…It was important work. Good notes, well read are worth times 10-15 per cent faster and you’re much safer.’’
The 997cc Group 1 Mini-Cooper was prepared by Brian Moylan and Paddy was invited down to Abingdon by Stuart Turner to learn how to efficiently fit snow chains. Paddy and Jack started in Paris alongside teammates Pauline Mayman and Val Domleo who also rode in a Mini-Cooper. Harsh winters eliminated competition in Athens and Lisbon but France was also hit with cold weather. Raymond Baxter, who was having his first drive with BMC at the Monte reflects on how the drivers would use Brandy to defrost the windscreen! Despite harsh conditions; Paddy Hopkirk and Jack Scott came in 6th overall with Paddy making the fastest time in the maneuverability test following the rally. This was certainly the start of something big for Paddy Hopkirk and BMC.
Throughout the following year, Paddy Hopkirk’s career with the BMC Works flourished, partaking in the Alpine Rally, Liege-Rome-Liege and a notable triumph at Tour de France in a 1071cc Mini-Cooper S. This car, prepared at BMC by Johnny Organ finished third overall and first in the index of performance, a fantastic result which sparked a new-found interest in Mini-Cooper– unknown to everyone that this car they called ‘33EJB’ had a lot more to prove…
Above: BMC launches the upgraded Cooper S, producing 76bhp.
1963 ended with Paddy Hopkirk and Mini-Cooper firmly on the ladder of success, after meeting Sir Jackie Stewart and coming in as ‘best placed driver’ at the RAC Rally in the Works 8EM0 the only way was up – the Monte Carlo regulations had been released and it was time to prep!
Manager, Stuart Turner was looking for an outright win for the 1964 Monte and emphasis would be on the Mini. Mini-Cooper had become the rally car to have and no more than 38 were entered into that years Monte. In regards to the Cooper ‘S’ Paddy claimed, “It was a different kettle of fish from the Cooper. It wasn’t just the engine – it had bigger brakes and other differences.” Other adjustments were made to the car with the addition of heated-windscreens, headlamp washers, and brighter Lucas headlamp bulbs. The common route incorporated ten sections and five special stages with patchy, snowy and foggy road conditions adding to the unpredictability.
Paddy made it through all stages with high and lows, he even had to blag his way out of getting his roadbook stamped with an ‘Englishman abroad’ charade when he accidently travelled the wrong way up a one-way street. We all know how the story of the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally ends but at the time Paddy had no idea that he had won. ‘Stuart stopped us when we were coming down the Turini and asked me how we’d done. ‘”I said that we hadn’t gone off the road and had done our best. We didn’t know. I remember the French journalist Bernard Cahier ringing me at four o’clock in the morning to say ‘I think you’ve won…”
Above: Paddy Hopkirk at the wheel of 33EJb for the Monte Carlo Rally (1964)
Had Paddy Hopkirk thought that a Mini could win the Monte? ‘No way. Maybe Stuart did, I don’t know. The Fords had the performance, but the thing is that the roads were very narrow as a result of how they’d snow-ploughed them clear. So the Mini was particularly good. But we’d practiced well, and we had our notes. It was a combination of things – like everything.’ This win was also a huge surprise for BMC and catapulted both the BMC team and Paddy Hopkirk into the public eye. Paddy Hopkirk and Henry Liddon had become superstars with appearances on Sunday Night at the Palladium, received fanmail from The Beatles and met with Princess Grace of Monaco.
The next year Paddy Hopkirk teamed up with another great Rally driver, Timon Makinen and together they won a Coupe D’Argent at the Alpine Rally. Between 1965 and 1966, the Mini Cooper S clinched 16 outright victories on international events, despite the controversial Monte Carlo disqualification of 1966. Stuart Turner left BMC in 1967, to join Ford as the mastermind of their Competition Department as Paddy Hopkirk was elected as a life member of the British racing Drivers Club.
Above: Makinen, Aaltonen and Hopkirk take first, second and third places in Monte Carlo, before they were disqualified on a technicality. (1966)
Paddy Hopkirk’s long-lived association with the BMC ‘Works’ department and Mini was one of a mutual love, which classically defined a shift in Motorsport and engineering throughout the sixties which still stands strong today in 2015. Mini Sports friendship with Paddy Hopkirk is one of great privilege and our work with Paddy and his brand ‘Paddy Hopkirk Mini’ is one that still echoes the originality and innovation of the BMC’s competition department back in 1964. The BMC Works 60th Anniversary Decal has been limited to just 1,000 Worldwide and celebrates the influential roots of British Motorsport and the great names, which delivered success for Mini, and Mini-Cooper following the BMC’s competition departments launch in 1955.
Celebrate this anniversary with the BMC Works Anniversary Decal, you can find here.
This article took the original facts and quotes from ‘The Paddy Hopkirk Story – A Dash of the Irish’ by Bill Price with Paddy Hopkirk. If you’d like to here more about Paddy Hopkirk and his story invest in a signed copy of this fantastic book here ‘The Paddy Hopkirk Story – A Dash of the Irish’ by Bill Price with Paddy Hopkirk. (Proceeds from the sale of the signed edition of ‘The Paddy Hopkirk Story’ will be donated to Paddy Hopkirk’s charity ‘Skidz’)