Whenever you think about rallying, one of the most iconic car and driver combinations is Paddy Hopkirk and the Mini Cooper. With the Northern Irish star at the helm, the Mini Cooper managed to get victories over cars that were much more powerful. One of those times was during the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally. This was the victory that made Paddy Hopkirk a motorsport legend, changing his life forever.
Sadly, Hopkirk passed away earlier this year at the age of 89. With the much-loved rally driver now gone, it feels somewhat appropriate to shine a light on some cool things about him. Some of them are things you might not have known about him!
8/8 He Didn’t Do Very Well In School
There are plenty of tales throughout history of people who weren’t amazing in school who went on to have great careers. Paddy Hopkirk was one of them. He struggled with dyslexia growing up and it severely impacted his school work. Whilst he did manage to go to university, he later ended up dropping out to work a much less academic career. He also increased his rallying exploits after dropping out, leading to the great career he eventually had.
Hopkirk’s initial academic struggles eventually leading to a prosperous career should give hope to anyone else in a similar situation. Despite his difficulties, he still managed to have an incredible life doing exactly what he wanted to do. That can only be celebrated.
7/8 His First Vehicles Were… Very Unusual!
When you think of what somebody might have as their first vehicle, it’s usually a fairly generic small car or starter bike. That was definitely not the case when it came to Paddy Hopkirk. The first vehicle Hopkirk ever owned was, of all things, an invalid carriage! The disability aid had been left to him by a local clergyman, who had written in his will that Hopkirk should receive it. It was on this humble vehicle that the future rally star learned the basics of car control. All this happened when he was 9 years old!
When he was a bit older, Hopkirk graduated to a motorbike and sidecar. His father insisted on it having a sidecar for safety reasons. Then, by the time he was attending university, Hopkirk obtained his first proper car, an Austin 7 “Chummy” Tourer.
6/8 He Didn’t Compete In A Mini Until 10 Years After His Debut
The association of Paddy Hopkirk and the Mini is so deep-rooted now that it’s hard to imagine him driving anything else. But, for the first 10 years of his rallying career, he drove a lot of different cars! He did his first rally events in his own Austin 7. He then changed to driving Volkswagen Beetles, then to a Triumph TR2 and then to Standard’s Eight and Ten models after becoming a factory driver for them. After being fired by Standard, he became a factory driver for the Rootes Group. He first drove a Hillman Husky, then moved on to a Sunbeam Rapier. The Rapier propelled him to a Monte Carlo Rally win in 1962!
However, all was not rosy with the Rootes Group. Frustrated with the Rapier’s lack of reliability, he made a move to the BMC factory team for 1963. Here he ended up driving the Mini and the rest, as they say, is history!
5/8 He Competed In His Last Rally In 1994!
Hopkirk left motorsport pretty far behind after the 1960s. That didn’t mean that he was fully retired, however, as he occasionally popped his head out for special events. One of those special excursions he did not only seem completely crazy on paper, but meant that he ended up competing alongside one of rallying’s most revered generations. Hopkirk made a World Rally Championship entry in 1994, entering that year’s Monte Carlo Rally! He decided to compete in a 1990s Rover Mini, entering a rally landscape that was totally different to the one he had left decades before. This was an era of all-wheel drive and raucous turbo engines, where drivers like Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz Sr. were starting to climb up the ladder and become big stars.
As you might have expected, the low-powered Rover Mini didn’t have any hope of competing with the top dogs. Hopkirk still managed to complete the rally, though, finishing in 100th place. The rally was won overall by Francois Delacour in a Ford Escort RS Cosworth, followed by Juha Kakkunen in a Toyota Celica Turbo and Carlos Sainz Sr. in a Subaru Impreza. This was the last official rally Hopkirk ever did. What a way to end your career!
4/8 He’s An Inaugural Member Of The Rally Hall Of Fame
When the Rally Hall of Fame was established in 2010, it was pretty obvious who had to be among the inaugural inductees. Paddy Hopkirk was one of four rally legends who were inducted at the Mobilia automobile museum near Tampere, Finland. As somebody who was one of the first international stars of rallying, it just made total sense to have Hopkirk as one of the first people to go in. The Rally Hall of Fame is now located in the Rally Museum section of Mobilia, which opened in 2016.
The other three inaugural inductees were Erik Carlsson (often known as “Mr. Saab”), Rauno Altonen and Timo Makinen. Many other massively influential rally drivers have been inducted since then including Walter Rohrl, Hannu Mikola, Michele Mouton, Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz Sr. and Stig Blomqvist. All of them have a dedicated poster in the Rally Museum, keeping their legacies alive for future generations.
3/8 He Imported Toyotas Into Northern Ireland
Toyota maybe isn’t a brand you would ever associate with Paddy Hopkirk. He never drove a Toyota at any point during his rallying career. But, he did have a business relationship with the Japanese mega-manufacturer! One of Hopkirk’s business ventures during the early 1970s was importing Toyotas into his home region of Northern Ireland. Hopkirk was a keen businessman throughout his life and often had several businesses on the go. This venture was one of them, along with an automotive accessories business branded after himself.
Whether Hopkirk’s business venture with Toyota was a big success or not is unknown. What is certain, however, is that any residents of Northern Ireland who bought any of these Hopkirk-imported vehicles would have got a very dependable car in true Toyota fashion.
2/8 He Was A Consultant For BMW’s Revival Of The Mini
When BMW acquired the Mini brand at the dawn of the new millenium, it was very serious about keeping Mini’s heritage important. There were quite a few things BMW did to achieve this, but one of the coolest was hiring Hopkirk as a consultant for BMW’s re-imagining of the car. He must have been pretty helpful for BMW, as the re-imagined Mini was very well-recieved at launch and continues to be loved to this day. This has especially been the case with the fast Cooper S model, which is consistently one of the best hot hatches on the market.
BMW were definitely very appreciative of what he meant to Mini. In 2020, they honoured him and his legacy with a new special edition Mini. Called the Paddy Hopkirk Edition, it was based on the Cooper S and came with all sorts of unique features. This included a special livery that paid homage to Hopkirk’s winning 1964 Mini rally car, as well as the man’s signature on the hood. The owners of these limted-run Minis have definitely got something very special on their hands!
1/8 He Competed In The British Saloon Car Championship
Whilst Hopkirk is best known for his rallying, what isn’t as well known is that he had a go at circuit racing as well during the 1960s! Hopkirk was a regular participant in the British Saloon Car Championship. He competed in the championship on a part-time basis from 1963-1966, always driving some variant of the Mini Cooper S. He actually had some decent success, even managing to come 3rd in class in the 1964 season!
Hopkirk wasn’t up against poor competition in these saloon car races, either. It wasn’t unknown for him to share a circuit with drivers such as Brian Muir, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jacky Ickx, Sir Jack Brabham and Jack Sears. Considering there are some Formula 1 veterans in there, that’s some serious driving talent! The fact that Hopkirk, a rally specialist, was able to competently race with some serious circuit racers shows the true skill he had behind the wheel.