From our Archives - On the road with the Monte Carlo rally-winning Mini Coopers

We thought that the first British on the Monte Carlo Rally for years deserved something more than a straightforward report and consequently we decided to arrange to road-test Paddy Hopkirk’s Mini Cooper S. This proved more difficult than stealing the Crown jewels for there were 500 people with the same idea, and as the win was entirely expected no one at BMC knew where car was for more than five minutes at a time.

However, the winning Mini was at last run earth and we were summoned to Cowley the car was being shown to the people who the Minis, who were as proud as Punch of the win.

Unfortunately we couldn’t take the car away long enough to take performance figures, which a pity for, from our short experience with the we would say that the performance figures only go to emphasise the fantastic piece of that Paddy Hopkirk must have turned in over special stages. The winning Mini team of Aaltonen and Makinen all drove identical cars running in Group 1, which means that the cars allowed very few modifications from standard, and of course over 1,000 have to be sold in a year. When the rally started the sales of Cooper Ss had reached just over the 2,000 mark, so everything was all above board.

The cars use standard steel bodywork with no lightened parts except for plastic side and rear windows. The driver arid navigator have suitable seats, the driver’s being a tight-fitting bucket seat while the navigator’s is a reclining type. The steering column is lowered and a Les Leston wooden steering wheel fitted, while a longer throttle pedal is fitted to allow heel-and-toe gear-changes. A full-width facia is employed incorporating a central 200kph speedometer which includes the fuel gauge, a combined oil-pressure/water-temperature gauge and a 10,000rpm tachometer with no red line marked!

The navigator has twin stop-watches, a very large illuminated magnifier for the mileage recorder, and a complicated array of switches for various lights. The car is fitted with five auxiliary lamps along the front and a roof lamp, as well as the normal headlamps, because the main lamps are fitted with iodine vapour single-filament bulbs which cannot be dipped. The headlamps are fitted with their own washers to clear dust. The heater is larger than standard and this necessitates fitting the brake servo under the facia in front of the navigator. Changes of fuses can be made without getting out of the car. The hard-worked navigator has his own floor-mounted hooter button,and he is also in charge of the fire extinguisher. A tool roll is clipped to the rear seat back-rest and a small selection of spares arc in a bag on the scat, while two wheel braces are clipped to the shelf behind the rear seats. A shovel is clipped into one of the rear pockets and the jack is fitted in the pocket on the navigator’s side.

The boot is filled with twin fuel tanks and the two spare wheels, which are held in place by a metal cage having quick-release elastic octopus straps.

The engine does not look much different from the standard unit, except for the air intake trumpets on the twin S.U.s. An oil cooler is fitted low down behind the grille, and aluminium plates are fitted to deflect water from the distributor and other electrical parts. A radiator muff is fitted, as is a steel sump guard. The suspension does not look much different from standard, the only visible modifications being the spacers fitted to the rear wheels to give a slightly wider track. Hopkirk’s car was fitted with 5.00x10in Dunlop racing tyres as it had come straight from the circuit races at Monaco.

We made a false start when we got around to doing some driving for we went off in the wrong car! BMC have been so inundated with enquiries from people wishing to exhibit the winning car that have fitted up Makinen’s car with Hopkirk’s rally numbers. This is the car we made off with originally, which was unfortunate, as it had been stolen from outside a West End night club in the early hours of the morning, a day or two previously, by an inebriated soldier who had a fine dice through Knightsbridge hotly pursued by the Police, and in the excitement he over-revved it with dire effect on the power output. However, we eventually got into the right car and were soon playing at rally drivers in rural Oxfordshire.

In fact there is not a lot that can be said about the car because it behaves much the same as a normal Mini Cooper S. The ride is very firm, although the racing tyres no doubt contribute to the stiffness. Otherwise it seems to handle exactly like any other Mini. The rally cars have a slightly lower final-drive ratio so acceleration is improved quite noticeably. Obviously this engine has been carefully hand-assembled and balanced for it is the smoothest Mini engine we have used, except perhaps for the Speedwell Elf, and it will rev quite comfortably to 7,000rpm in all gears, giving speedometer indicated readings of 35, 50, 77 and 92mph in the four ratios. Thus it is slightly slower in top speed than a well-tuned standard Cooper S.

The gearbox is also one of the best Mini boxes we have tried, for it is difficult to beat the synchromesh, yet the lever moves from gear to gear very smoothly and rapidly. The brakes seemed very poor to us in spite of the vacuum servo, as really high pedal pressures were required and there appeared to be no bite at all; they hardly felt capable of stopping a bicycle, let alone a 90mph car.

The overall impression given by the rally-winning car is of a meticulously prepared machine which has had a lot of time spent on it but which still remains to all appearances a standard Cooper S. Few extras have been added and it is unlikely that the cost of extra equipment on this car exceeded £3200, but in terms of the amount of hand assembly and finishing which went into the rally cars they must be worth something like £4,000 each. As we said before, this makes Paddy Hopkirk’s and Henry Liddon’s performance all the more remarkable for in respect of performance and handling their car was probably nearer to the product you can buy at your local BMC dealer for £695 7s Id than any other car in the rally. But don’t offer Stuart Turner £695 7s Id for Paddy’s car. It’s not for sale!