The Mini has been an automotive icon for over a half-century. While the stylish compact is undoubtedly a cultural symbol, the Mini first rose to prominence through its success in competition. Paddy Hopkirk secured many of Mini’s greatest rally victories, including at the 1964 Rallye Monte Carlo. He passed away yesterday at 89 years old.
“Paddy was a fantastic friend to all of us here at Mini Sport, but so much more than that, he was a part of our Mini family. We would like to extend a special thank you to Paddy for everything that he has done throughout his illustrious career, both for Mini Sport & the Mini itself… Paddy achieved the impossible, he cemented the Mini in history & will be forever known as one of the greatest motorsport heroes of all time. He will be sorely missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.”
Paddy Hopkirk, born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1933, had his first notable result in international rallying with a class win at the 1955 Circuit of Ireland Rally. Over the course of his career, he would win the Circuit of Ireland Rally outright five times. Three of those victories would be from behind the wheel of Mini Cooper.
Hopkirk’s most famous victory would come be with the iconic red No. 37 Mini Cooper at the 1964 Rallye Monte Carlo. Not only did Hopkirk and the rest of the BMC team push the Mini past larger and more powerful machines, he accidently added another element of danger to his rally. This was back under the original format when the rally had several different starting positions across Europe. Hopkirk volunteered to start in Minsk, Belarus in the then-Soviet Union. He told Hagerty a few years ago, “I, like an idiot, put my hand up, because I’d never been [to the Soviet Union].”
Against all the odds, Hopkirk reached the Principality first to the shock of everyone around the world. He received congratulatory messages from the British Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home and the Beatles. Paddy Hopkirk became a household name in the UK and the Mini an immediate underdog icon. A few years later in 1967, he was elected as a full member of the prestigious British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC). The only people who are guaranteed full membership are Britain and the Commonwealth’s F1 World Champions.
Hopkirk would become President of the BRDC in 2017 and served the position until 2019. In some ways, Hopkirk was the perfect driver for the Mini. He was humble, hardworking, and always thankful.