Forty years ago, the mini’s victory on the Monte Carlo laid the foundations of its iconic status and changed rallying forever. John Davenport relives an epic event with the team’s key figures
It was the last weekend of January, 1964. Bruce Forsyth and Tommy Cooper flanked Joan Regan on the revolving stage that marked the finale of Britain’s most popular televised show, Sunday Night at the London Palladium. The glamorous Tiller Girls stood alongside them, but for once only two of the long-legged high kickers were on the stage’s central podium. And they were sharing it with two nervous-looking gentlemen in dark suits and ties and a little red car with a white roof. The men were Paddy Hopkirk and Henry Liddon and the car was their 1071cc Mini Cooper S, which days earlier had won the Monte Carlo Rally. Just like that!
To us, now, a Mini winning the Monte doesn’t seem such a strange idea. Back then, it was simply amazing. That such a small car—an innovative piece of engineering from a British company and driven by a British crew — could triumph on the world’s most prestigious rally was something to marvel at. And to celebrate.
The victory was not just on the front page of every British newspaper, but was in the nation’s living rooms at peak viewing time. The amazing Mini had already taken wins on the track, but it was this display of endurance that truly captured the imagination, in Britain and beyond, and propelled the car towards becoming an icon of the ‘Swinging Sixties’. The car would, of course, be immortalised on celluloid in The Italian Job five years later, but Hopkirk’s win was a major marker in helping to establish a legend.
The 1964 Monte was not the first competition appearance for the Mini Cooper registered 33 EJB. Built in the summer of ’63, the car’s maiden outing had been the Tour de France, crewed by Hopkirk and Liddon. It was one of four of the new 1071cc Cooper S models entered by the factory, and Hopkirk came a creditable third overall in the Touring category, which he also won on handicap. Having developed a liking for French roads, it was decided to use the car as Paddy’s mount for the Monte.
Cliff Humphries BMC development engineer
“In those days we would get one mechanic to build the whole car. That included the engine and gearbox. The cylinder heads were done by Weslake, but our guys would have to grind in the valves, fit the springs and camshaft and deck the cylinder block to get the right compression ratio. We never used an engine twice. When it came back from a rally it would be sold off to a private owner and we would build a new one for the next rally. The whole process could take nine weeks, or more if the mechanic was building a car from scratch.”
The BMC entries were shipped from the Port of London to Gdansk in Poland. On the boat were two more Mini Coopers, a works car for Raymond Baxter/Ernie McMillen and a private car for Dr Shelagh Aldersmith/Liz Jones. They were accompanied by mechanics from the Abingdon works, plus the redoubtable Dr Aldersmith. On arrival at Gdansk they were faced with a 250-mile drive to Warsaw, where they met up with the crews who had flown in and were to drive the cars on to Minsk, a further 370 miles up the road.
Paddy Hopkirk winning driver
I flew out to Warsaw and a welcoming committee took me to be reunited with Henry and the rally car. They also tried to reunite me with a month’s production of Polish vodka. The local police had dreamt up this reception for us, which was very nice, but we had to drive the Mini up to Minsk the following day. I guess they knew how cold it would be and were just making sure that we had adequate anti:freeze inside us.
“And boy, it was cold. Alec Issigonis deserves full marks for designing such a super little car, but he had not given much thought to the survival of the occupants in a Russian winter. A Mini heater is a contradiction in terms. We were soon equipped with fur hats and fur boots. In fact, we probably, looked a lot like those Russian policemen that we all made fun of —they looked like tea cosies carrying guns.”
The night-time temperature dropped to below -40°C and the rally cars had to be tow-started in the morning. That came as a bit of a shock to the locals, who had imagined that the superior technology available in the West would have bypassed such primitive methods.
Stuart Turner BMC team manager
“Why Minsk? I tried not to choose starting points for the drivers but let them pick their own. I was keen for there to be a good spread so that if one starting point had bad weather, the others would be okay. But Minsk was an obvious choice because it was the first time in 52 years that there had been a starting point in Russia, and so there was bound to be a lot of press coverage.”
For the Minsk starters, the flag dropped at 00:34am on Saturday January 18. Facing them was a nine-hour run (back!) to Warsaw on roads that, while not free of ice, at least had no new snow. That was a big relief because snowploughs in the area were few and far between. The biggest difficulties came at the borders, where even special arrangements for the little convoy could not avoid the inevitable bureaucratic delays. Hopkirk had a very worrying experience when he took a wrong turning and encountered a brace of ‘tea cosies’ waving their guns in his general direction.
By lOpm on Saturday evening they were in Prague —and Sunday breakfast was taken in downtown Frankfurt. The day was spent in a foggy tour of the Low Countries, returning in the early hours of Monday morning through the Ardennes and Luxembourg to arrive at Reims just after 8pm.
Bill Price BMC Competition Dept co-ordinator
“I had a rather short involvement with the rally. My first task was to go with Den Green and Johnny Lay in a car to Frankfurt to service the cars as they came in from the East. It was about six o’clock in the morning and the chosen place was a frozen car park. The temperature was -10°C. There was no problem with the Minis, but we diagnosed a leaking radiator on the MorI9, brothers’ MGB and phoned home to get a replacement shipped out to meet them at the Oostende control.
“While the rally went off to the Niirburgring, we drove to our next service at Arnhem. We picked up the BBC on the radio and it was saying that two British girls in a a Mini Cooper had been taken to hospital in Maastricht after an accident. We guessed that it must be Pauline Mayman and Val Domleo. We headed towards Maastricht and, by the most amazing luck, a chap pulled up alongside us at a traffic light — he had seen the Monte service plates — and asked if wanted him to show us the hospital. We found the girls, left Pauline in bed and took Val back to the scene of the accident for her to retrieve their kit. We then pressed on to Arnhem, where we were happy that there were still no problems with the other Minis.
“The plan now was for us to drive to Paris, leave our car with the Austin dealer, catch a flight to Nice and integrate with the rally service. Sadly, the airport was completely fogged in and likely to stay that way for some time. I rang Stuart Turner, and he said that it was best for us to go home when it finally cleared — which is what we did.”
“My role was largely completed & before the rally started it was my task to work out the service arrangements and make sure that all the kit and spares would be in the right place at the right time, and that the teams of mechanics would find their way to the right spot. I remember my wife Margaret insisting that I clear all the maps and paperwork away from the dining room table as we had guests coming for Boxing Day!
“To me, doing the service plan was the most challenging job in rallying — and I loved it. On the event, I would jump into a car with a driver and go round to see the rally at various points. There were no mobile phones or radio so there was no chance to exercise any tactical control. In any case, the rally went straight from Reims to Monte Carlo so we only saw it a few times. I didn’t even make it to the finish ramp in time to see them arrive.”
Reims was the central point where all the routes converged, at a large Elf garage on the outskirts of the city. Thirty or so French motorcycle cops were waiting to escort the tired crews to the service park and control in the town centre, in the shadow of the famous cathedral. Their method was to gather a group of three rally cars together, then switch on every available flashing light and siren and head for the centre oblivious of traffic lights, other mad users or the speed limit. For drivers who had already been on the road for 56 hours, this was definitely a wake-up call.
The first cars left Reims at just after 9am. These were the Warsaw starters; the Minsk cars followed them. (If you were an Athens starter, you were not on the road south until 2.30pm.) As Monday night approached, the roads became smaller and more mountainous, while the time controls got closer and closer together. Crews had been arriving with 20 min or more in hand; now they were scrabbling in with just the odd minute to spare.
The organisers had banked on using a special stage at Mont Revard, before Chambéry, followed by the classic stages of Chartreuse and Chamrousse. However, Revard was closed because of road works and the authorities of Isère wanted to charge too much for use of the latter two. Thus the rally shot past all this prime mileage, and it was not until sometime after midnight that it arrived at the first special stage, 14.3 miles of hoar frost over the Col du Festre. Slow up and very fast down is the best description, and here, as on all five stages, it was the Ford Falcon of Bo Ljungfeldt that set the fastest time.
Actually, that’s possibly not true. The times of those who retired never arrived in Monte Carlo, much like their owners, and so were never published. And rumour has it that a Chrysler Valiant driven by Esko Keinanen set fastest time on the first three tests before a driveshaft broke…
The next special stage, taking in three cols between La Madeleine and Pellautier, followed immediately. At 28.6 miles this was the rally’s longest stage and featured a mix of fast and twisty sections, many with spectacular drops. (It was here that Sam Nordell, the Vauxhall driver, was killed during the recce.) Ljungfeldt again had the fastest recorded time. But Hopkirk was only 19sec slower on scratch — and led the rally by 30 points on handicap.
When Hopkirk equalled Ljungfeldt’s time on the icy Chorges-to-Savines stage after Gap, he was 44 points clear. Not that he knew it; Ljungfeldt and Carlsson may have learned of Hopkirk’s times, but Paddy could not have known theirs. He was ahead of them on the road, and since the stages were not started on whole minutes, no outside observer could be sure of any times. The drivers just had to get on with it Go as fast as they could.
As dawn broke, the Minsk runners were coming to the last two stages in the Alps overlooking Nice. The first of these was St-Martin-Vésubie, the infamous ‘Ford Falcon Autobahn’, so dubbed by Pat Moss and Liz Nystrom. But even here, with a 28sec second advantage over Hopkirk, Ljungfeldt could not stop the Mini gaining more points on handicap, while the twistier Col du Turini provided another huge leap forward for the little car.
THIS WAS THE PENULTIMATE MONTE TO USE THE FACTOR OF Comparison on stage times. This was a formula designed to reduce the benefits of tuning and engine capacity. The basic bit was the square root of a figure arrived at by dividing the cylinder capacity in litres by eight times the cylinder capacity plus one. A further fixed coefficient (zero for Group 1, 1.04 for Group 2 and 1.05 for Group 3) was added depending in which group your car was entered. This gave you your particular ‘factor’.
The times over the five special stages were added together and multiplied by your ‘factor’. Then, a day after the ‘finish’, there was a series of races on the Monaco GP circuit, each lasting four laps. The scratch time there was added to the adjusted stage times to give your final result.
Erik Carlsson Saab works driver
“The weather was a bit too good for Saab: cold, but not much ice and snow. What there was came on the three stages around Gap, where we could keep up with the Minis. But the ‘Ford Falcon Autobahn’ was impossible for us. It was dry Tarmac most of the way. I lost 48sec to Paddy — even Pat [Moss, in another Saab] beat me. She went like hell in those conditions. It was much better on the Turini, where there was proper snow and I was second fastest behind Ljungfeldt.
Part of the problem in such good conditions was that we did not use racing tyres like the Minis. We had a Dunlop contract, but to cover all the possibilities, from full snow to dry Tarmac, we also had to carry some studded BF Goodrich snow tyres and Pirelli wet road tyres. With two service cars and a supervision car to look after two rally cars, the tyre choice was never going to be optimised for every stage. The BMC boys did a fantastic job to look after all those cars they had and get the right tyres on them.”
MONTE 1964 STAGE TIMES
Thus, with the rallying over, Hopkirk led from Carlsson, Moss and Timo Mäkinen, with Ljungfeldt only fifth. But the crucial seconds on the four-lap circuit test were not subject to the coefficient, and counted as points. So Ljungfeldt could gain considerably — and the gap to Hopkirk was only 64 points.
The Falcons were the quickest on the circuit: Ljungfeldt did the fastest time ahead of Jo Schlesser, followed by Günther Klass (Porsche Carrera), the two Mercedes 300SEs of Eugen Böhringer and Dieter Glemser, and then Anne Hall in a third Falcon. But Hopkirk drove quickly and sensibly to drop just 34sec to Ljungfeldt The Swede did manage to leap ahead of Makinen’s Cooper S and the two Saabs —but Hopkirk remained just out of his reach.
Ljungfeldfs drive in the big 4.7-litre machine must be reckoned one of the best in modem rallying. And yet there was someone else able to go one better. Hopkirk and Liddon’s tenacity and planning paid dividends; they had put in a lot of time practising the stages, helped by the fact that three of the stages were around Gap, the other two around La Bollène.
“I don’t remember much of the rally and the stages. You were so tired you only thought of driving as fast as you could. I do remember seeing Stuart Turner at the roadside coming away from the Turini. He stopped us and asked how it had gone. We could only say that it was okay because we didn’t know how we compared with anyone else. He wanted to chat more, but we would have been late to the finish.
“Even then, after arriving in Monaco, we did not know how things were. It took a long time in those days to get all the printing clock records in from the controls and do the calculations. I went to bed on the Tuesday afternoon. At about four o’clock on Wednesday morning, the telephone woke me. It was Bernard Cahier, the French journalist. He wanted to know how it felt to be the winner. I thought he was kidding and told him it was a bad joke. But he finally convinced me.
People often speculate as to how Hopkirk was able to so convincingly beat his Finnish team-mates Makinen and Rauno Aakonen on an event and in conditions that should have suited them well. What one has to remember is that Hopkirk was, at that point, more experienced than they were, as well as being at the peak of his career. Sprinkle in a dose of hard work and you have the recipe for his success.
“After the rally, Tony Dawson, BMC’s PR dynamo, was simply fantastic. Before we knew where we were, there were telegrams from The Beatles (we had organised a lift for Ringo from Paris airport in a rally car before the start, when he had arrived after the rest of the group), a lunch with Juan Manuel Fangio, Graham Hill, Jo Bonnier and other luminaries, and then a celebration dinner, with Alec Issigonis as the star guest.
“Tony’s final stroke of genius was to get the winning car, together with Paddy and Henry,flown back by the Channel air ferry so that it could appear live on ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’, which was at the time by far the most-watched programme on TV. To add to the joy of the success, Tommy Cooper was on the bill.”
Just like that!
What happened next…
The Monte Carlo of 1964 seemed to open some kind of tap. The Mini’s win captured the imagination — and not just in Britain. Even America heard about it, since (the losing) Ford America had brought a pack of journalists with it. And, throughout the boardrooms of the car world, it seemed to pluck nationalist heart strings and generally set them thinking on how to win rallies, the Monte Carlo in particular. This victory triggered 20 years of growth within the sport.
To start with, the others did not have it easy. Waiting in the wings was a 1275cc version of the Mini Cooper, which was racking up outright wins by mid-1964. It didn’t matter that rallies were starting to ditch their capacity coefficients. With its bigger engine, the Cooper S had a sufficient power-to-weight ratio to win without handicaps. Famously, it did just that three more times on the Monte. First Mäkinen defeated Böhringer in a works Porsche 904 in the snows of ’65. He won again in ’66, only to be thrown out with all the other British-entered cars for an alleged lighting infringement. And finally Aaltonen won in ’67, finishing just 13sec ahead of Ove Andersson’s Lancia Fulvia. By ’67, Lancia, Alpine, Porsche, Ford, Sunbeam and Opel were snapping at the heels of the Mini and, sure enough, on their last appearance as a works team, on the Monte of ’68, they were swept aside by Porsche.
But they had had their effect. Rallying was on the up, and would stay that way. Carlsson may have bought the firework, but Hopkirk had lit the blue touchpaper.