50 years ago the classic mini won the Monte Carlo Rally for the first time. Paddy Hopkirk made the one-off British small car a motor sport legend in January 1964 – Timo Mäkinen and Rauno Aaltonen repeated the triumph in 1965 and 1967.
Small car, huge win: it is now 50 years since one of the most spectacular victories in the history of international motor sport. On 21 January 1964, the Mini Cooper S won the Monte Carlo Rally for the first time. It was the pairing of Northern Ireland’s Patrick (“Paddy”) Hopkirk and his co-driver Henry Liddon that pulled off the big surprise, resisting the supposed superiority of significantly more powerful rivals in their small British car. Its faultless run over country roads and mountain passes, ice and snow, tight corners and steep gradients laid the foundations for the underdog-turned-giant-slayer to cement itself in both the hearts of the public and the annals of motor sport legend. Indeed, the classic Mini’s dominance of the Monte Carlo Rally continued over the years that followed, Hopkirk’s Finnish team-mates Timo Mäkinen and Rauno Aaltonen adding two further overall victories – in 1965 and 1967 – to the British manufacturer’s collection.
Now 80 years old, Paddy Hopkirk’s eyes still light up when he recalls the driving qualities of his winning car: “Although the Mini was only a little family saloon, technically it had a lot of advantages. Its front-wheel drive and front-mounted transverse engine were a great advantage, and the fact the car was smaller and the roads were ploughed, they were quite narrow, so I suppose that was an advantage. We were very lucky – the car was right, everything happened at the right time and came together at the right moment.”
It was the legendary “Night of the Long Knives”, the penultimate stage of the Monte, which put the Mini Cooper S with car number 37 and the now famous licence plate 33 EJB on course for victory that winter of 1964. Hopkirk crossed the finish line just 17 seconds off the pace set by his chief adversary Bo Ljungfeldt in the far more powerful V8-powered Ford Falcon. The handicap formula at the time – designed to even out the weight and power differences between the various cars – meant the classic Mini actually led the way in the overall standings. And Hopkirk defended his advantage in the sprint through the streets of Monte Carlo that rounded off the rally. At the winner’s ceremony he shared the cheers of the crowed with his team-mates. Timo Mäkinen’s fourth-place finish and Rauno Aaltonen’s seventh overall set the seal on the success of the Mini Cooper S and ushered in the era of the “Three Musketeers” in the Monte Carlo Rally.
The classic Mini’s victory was celebrated with particular excitement in its native Britain. Hopkirk received a congratulatory telegram from the British government and the Beatles were also among those leading the applause. “I got a telegram from the Beatles,” remembers Hopkirk. “That was followed by a photograph of the four of them autographed to me saying: ‘You’re one of us now, Paddy.’ And it’s very nice to have that nowadays.”
The triumph of the classic Mini in the Monte was lauded as a sensation by motor sport fans around the world. But this wasn’t a success that came entirely out of the blue: the small car developed by Alec Issigonis, then Deputy Technical Director at the British Motor Corporation, possessed an inherent sporting talent from birth. The first person to spot this potential was John Cooper. The sports car designer was the driving force behind construction of a more powerful version of the car. The Mini produced only 34 hp at launch, but its front-wheel drive, low weight, wide track and comparatively long wheelbase made it an extremely agile four-seater and paved the way for its forays onto race circuits and rally courses.
Source: BMW Group
Mini Cooper/Mini Cooper S (Rally Giants Series)
By Graham Robson.
This book describes the birth, development, and rallying career of the BMC Mini-Cooper/Mini-Cooper in the 1960s, providing a compact and authoritative history of where, when and how it became so important to the sport. More info.