The 1964 Monte Carlo rally was an event of unmatched stature, with genuine drivers competing with each other to be on the stage. The era when Carmakers across the globe recognized rallying as the perfect way to demonstrate their more sporty models before introducing to the mass markets. Vehicles from all classes and weights were allowed to compete with the difference in specifications used to compensate while allocating points. One such driver at the race was Paddy Hopkirk, an Irish driver behind the wheel of a british Mini, a car which he has used last year in ‘63 to finish 6th, but oh did his stars shine in the ‘64 Monte Carlo rally. The Irishman, now 87 years old, still gleams with fascination while he talks about his number 37 classic Mini and the rallies he drove with it.
“The Mini was a very advanced motor car. Its front-wheel drive and the transversely mounted engine at the front presented significant advantages, just like the fact that the car was small given that the roads had lots of bends and were narrow”, said the Irishman reminiscing about his golden days behind the wheel of a Mini. Even after 56, the rally driver still leaves no inch to the road and grinds up the classic mini right up to the rev limiter as he slides out of bends effortlessly, just as he did all those years ago.
The famous caviar he had with him originated out of Minsk, where the start for the Monte Carlo rally began. Already had a name in the rallying circuit with numerous wins and close calls, especially his penchant for adventure, which came as no surprise when he willingly chose to start the race in Minsk, because he has never driven on Russian( then soviet) roads before. The competition was between his Mini and Swede Bo Ljungfeldt’s Ford Falcon, and the snow helped his case, as the heavy cars struggled his nimble Mini was able to easily make up times.
Even though the Ford Falcon was 17 seconds in the lead, it could not displace Paddy’s light and small engined Mini, which after the handicap method emerged as the victorious car, and the Mini’s first ever international rally win. Hopkirk became a british sensation, with the public cheering and even the Prime Minister of England congratulating the driver. But Hopkirk considers a telegram from the Beatles which said ‘Now you are one of us, Paddy!’, his greatest memorabilia.
The Mini Cooper went on to be crowned the winner at Monte Carlo in subsequent years, with Paddy’s teammates, Timo Makinen and Rauno Aaltonen racking up points. Paddy Hopkirk however could only get a small number of victories in the later years, and in 1970 he retired from professional rallying. He serves as an honorary advisor to Mini, now a part of BMW. Owing to his sportsmanship and always helpful attitude he was awarded Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2016.
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