In the UK at least, the frenzy surrounding Lewis Hamilton’s World Championship win last November spread far beyond Formula 1’s normal audience, and for a few days his name was on the lips of politicians, comedians, media pundits, even the priest on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.
You have to go back 45 years to remember such a thing happening in the world of rallying. In 1964 the Monte Carlo Rally, then the best-known event of its type in the world, was won by that symbol of irreverent 1960s British fashion, the Mini. At a time when ordinary people, as well as most of London’s bright young things, were driving Minis, this cheeky little car had vanquished the German Mercedes 300SEs, the American Ford Falcon V8s, the Italian Lancias, the Swedish Saabs and Volvos. The cheerful Irishman at the helm was already well-known in the rallying world: but now, for a while, he became a household name, up there with Julie Christie, Adam Faith and Jean Shrimpton.
“A policeman stopped me and said, ‘Who d’you think you are, Paddy Hopkirk?’”
Paddy Hopkirk looks back on it today with an amused incredulity. “I got a telegram from the Prime Minister [Sir Alec Douglas-Home] and another from The Beatles, and I was given the keys to the city of Belfast. The car was flown straight from Monte Carlo back to England, because Bruce Forsyth said he had to have me and the Mini on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. That was the biggest TV programme in the land then: it used to get 28 million viewers. They wrote a comedy routine about me and I drove the car onto the stage. The same week, hurrying to a BBC News interview, I made an illegal right turn. A policeman stopped me and said, ‘Who d’you think you are, Paddy Hopkirk?’”
But that Monte Carlo win was just one event in a hectic career involving 15 seasons as a works driver for Standard-Triumph, Rootes and BMC, and a string of outright victories in major rallies. Now a fit and energetic 75, Paddy runs a marketing company in the automotive components field with one of his sons. He and his wife Jenny, a former High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, have lived in the same glorious half-timbered 16th century house in the Chilterns for 25 years. We take lunch at his golf club.
It’s typical of Paddy’s ebullient approach to life that he first learned car control at the wheel of an invalid carriage, aged nine. “I was the youngest of five children, brought up in Belfast. I was crap academically – I’m dyslexic, and I’m still a slow reader – but I was always fascinated by mechanical things. I used to take grapes to an old clergyman who lived nearby, and when he died I found he’d left me his bath chair. It was a thing called a Harding, with a 250cc JAP engine driving one wheel, and tiller steering. Highly unstable. I learned to drive it flat out, sideways, around an estate near where we lived. The brakes only worked on the back, so when you tried to slow down it was like doing a handbrake turn. About 50 years later I mentioned it in a radio interview, and a man wrote in and said he had one like it. The BBC sent the letter to me, and I went to see him, down in Dulwich. It was all in bits, in boxes, and I pulled out the number plate. IJ 9670. The same one. God knows how it got from Belfast to Dulwich. Of course I bought it, and I’m having it restored.”
As soon as he was old enough to be let loose on the public roads of Ulster Paddy got a motorcycle, but his father made him fit a sidecar to it because he felt it would be safer. “With a sidecar you steer on the throttle and the brakes. On the wet Belfast cobbles and tramlines it was very educational.” He got a place at Trinity College Dublin to read engineering, and acquired an Austin Chummy with which he did his first rallies. These usually involved what were then called Driving Tests, and are now known as Autotests, a branch of motor sport in which the Irish have always excelled. “In Ireland it was pretty much the only thing going on. On Saturday afternoons the lads would borrow their mums’ Morris Minors and Ford 8s, find a crossroads up in the Wicklow mountains, put down a few pylons and some chalk lines, and someone would stand there with a stopwatch and time you. Peak revs in bottom and reverse, round the pylons, spin turns – a wonderful way to develop hand/foot/brain co-ordination.”
Cars began to take over Paddy’s life, and he dropped out of university, getting a job at the retail outlet of the Dublin VW assemblers at Ballsbridge – known locally, of course, as Testicle Viaduct. This enabled Paddy to buy, and rally, a series of second-hand VW Beetles, usually navigated by a friend from Trinity days, John Garvey. He won a lot of local events, and began to be noticed on the bigger ones: in 1954 he led the Circuit of Ireland on the first day, and on the 1955 Circuit he won his class. At that time Triumphs were assembled in Dublin, and the plant was run by the brother of the Archbishop of Dublin, whose son was a friend of Paddy’s. A good deal on a TR2 resulted, and Paddy did every possible event with it, including racing at Phoenix Park and Kirkistown. He was fourth in the Leinster Trophy in 1955, and a trio of outright rally wins helped clinch the Hewison Trophy, which goes each year to Ireland’s most successful rally driver. He was to win the Hewison three years running.
But Paddy’s goal was the international stage. His successes in the TR2 attracted the attention of Standard-Triumph competitions boss Ken Richardson, and when the Belgian Johnny Claes was too ill to drive his works Vanguard on the 1956 Monte – he died of tuberculosis a few weeks later – Richardson called on Paddy. But the organisers refused to change the entry. Paddy lobbied Richardson hard for another chance, and he and Garvey were given a Standard 10 for the RAC Rally in March.
“We got on some ice and went over the edge of a mountain. We landed on the roof of a Citroën”
“Straight after the Blackpool start there was a test on the sea front, and the fastest in each class got zero points. Most of the English didn’t seem to know what the handbrake was for, and I cleaned up. Ken was sitting in a bar somewhere in Blackpool and almost fell off his stool when he heard on the radio, ‘Unknown Irish driver leads RAC Rally’! We had problems later on, but we did finish. Ken was a workaholic, lived on his nerves, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, always flirting with the ladies. As a naïve Catholic boy I thought that was all a bit naughty. But looking back, he was a lovely man.” Two months later Ken put the Hopkirk/Garvey duo in a humble Standard 8 for the Tulip Rally – the first time Paddy had been outside the British Isles – and they finished third overall. Works drives followed in the Rally of the Midnight Sun and the Alpine, in which Paddy’s TR3 won a Coupe des Alpes for completing the event without penalty.
At home in Ireland he was still campaigning his own cars: the TR2, then a Ford Anglia and a Speedwell-modified Austin A35. He’d become the Speedwell importer for Ireland, having set up his own business initially to import a German puncture repair process. It was the seed corn of what would become a substantial enterprise in motor accessories and components. For 1958 he had a new navigator, Jack Scott, who ran the Dublin outpost of his family’s jam business. “I kept winning the Irish rallies and driving tests and he kept winning the navigation events, so over several pints in a pub in Clonmel we decided to join up. He was a wonderful chap, great sense of humour, and an excellent pianist, with his own unprintable words for These Foolish Things. We used to have good parties after the rallies. The prizegiving was always a wonderful do. It was part of the fun, the social side, all gone from rallying now.
“Jack and I did the Monte in a works TR3, and then the RAC in a Standard Pennant. Up in Scotland the rear axle became noisy, so we stopped at a Standard dealer in Kelso. He told us he didn’t like Southerners, because a couple of them had had some work done and driven off without paying. Keen to keep on the right side of him, I said, ‘Yes, you can’t be too careful with those bloody Londoners.’ ‘Well’, he said, ‘these southerners were from Wigan.’ But we won him round, and his staff took a back axle off a car in his showroom, and fitted it to our Pennant in 64 minutes. We finished, and Standard won the team prize. Then we won the Circuit of Ireland in a TR3A a month later. On the Alpine we were unpenalised until we got to the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps. On one of the 48 hairpins we got a puncture on the left rear Dunlop Duraband. I was determined to get another Coupe, so I kept going. By the time we got to the top I’d cooked the engine, and we were forced to retire. It was bad judgement on my part, but I’d been going well for Standard-Triumph, so I was surprised when Ken Richardson fired me for that one mistake.
“So I didn’t have a drive for the Monte in 1959. I was selling Les Leston’s stuff in Ireland – his steering wheels and racing overalls and gloves – and Les asked me to go with him in a Riley 1.5 as his co-driver. I’d never just done the maps before, and I wasn’t very good at it. In the mountains we got on some ice and went over the edge. We landed on the roof of a Citroën ID19 which had gone off shortly before. Somehow we managed to manhandle the car back onto the road, and we finished 82nd. Les was a mercurial character, a fine jazz drummer, a fine circuit racer, but he had a temper. At one point we were stopped by a motorcycle cop after Les crossed a white line. The Riley was right-hand-drive and the gendarme came to my window, whereupon Les, enraged, leaned across me and started swearing at him in perfect, and very rude, French. The cop drew his gun, and I crossed myself and sank as low as I could in the seat. Eventually, after looking at our papers, he let us go.
“After the Monte I was walking across the foyer of the Hotel Metropole and Basil Cardew of the Daily Express was propping up the bar with Norman Garrad, competitions boss of Rootes. Norman was the top team manager of his day, a hugely respected figure, a sort of rallying Alfred Neubauer. In a real publicity coup he’d signed Mike Hawthorn, the new Formula 1 World Champion, to drive for him in the East African Safari in, of all things, a Hillman Husky. Like getting Lewis Hamilton today to do a rally for you in a Fiesta van. But he’d just been phoned with the news that Hawthorn had been killed in that accident on the Guildford bypass. Basil said to him, ‘Well, if you need a rally driver, there’s one’, and pointed to me. Norman Garrad called me over – it was rather like being summoned by the Pope – and offered me the ride there and then. That was the start of four years as a Rootes works driver.”
“In Kenya, my co-driver was a serious boozer. Kept a bottle of brandy in the car, under his seat.”
The Husky – “a horrible thing” – didn’t last long on the Safari, but in a succession of works Rapiers Paddy got some excellent results. “Norman Garrad’s attention to detail was wonderful. He was always immaculately dressed, and the cars were immaculately prepared. Peter Harper was the team leader. He was very quick, very determined, and he didn’t like the idea of anyone challenging him. I didn’t get on with him too well, but I learned a lot from watching him. On the Rapiers we had the overdrive wired up to work on all four gears, but the mechanics told us not to go over 6500rpm. On one Alpine Peter was taking 10 seconds off me on the hillclimbs, and his co-driver let slip that he was using 8000rpm. So I did the same, and then I was taking three seconds off him. Norman Garrad seemed quite happy for there to be rivalry within the team.”
On the 1959 Alpine Paddy’s Rapier was an unpenalised third overall, winning its class and his second Coupe. For the 1960 East African Safari he was paired with a Kenyan-based aristocrat, Viscount Kim Mandeville. “He was the son of the Duke of Manchester and an excellent co-driver, because he’d done a lot of local events. But he was a serious boozer. Kept a bottle of brandy in the car, under his seat.” They led the rally until the Rapier’s diff failed. In 1961 Paddy and Jack Scott again won the Circuit of Ireland, repeating the feat in 1962, and he was third on the 1961 Alpine and the 1962 Monte.
Norman Garrad was also a believer in circuit racing, and Paddy found himself in a Rapier in the touring car race before the 1960 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He won his class. By now Rootes had announced the new Sunbeam Alpine and, sharing with Peter Jopp, Paddy drove race-prepared versions in the Sebring 12 Hours – finishing fourth in class after a head gasket change – and Le Mans, when they were disqualified after 11 hours for refilling the overdrive unit with oil.
“Joppie and I became great mates. He was another lovely man, only died a few months back. At Le Mans in 1962 the Alpine’s engine started to run a bearing. They didn’t want to break the rules again about changing the oil, so the mechanics dropped the sump and strained the old oil through a pair of tights supplied by Peter’s fiancée Judith, to get the nasty bits out. Then they fitted new bearings, poured the oil back in and sent us out again. But at 10 o’clock on Sunday morning the engine quit for good out on the circuit, and I had to walk home.
“As a works driver at Triumph I never got paid – we just got our expenses on a day rate – but Rootes did pay me a small retainer. And going all over Europe, and Africa, and racing in the States, it was like being on holiday. I was living the life of a rich kid without being rich. In those days most people didn’t go abroad on holiday, they went to Scunthorpe.”
Paddy also went single-seater racing at this point. “Frank Nichols persuaded me to buy a Formula Junior Elva – I must have been mad, it was a lethal bloody thing – and also Charles Eyre-Maunsell lent me his Lotus 18 for a few races. Formula Junior was very close-fought. At Dunboyne I led John Love and Peter Procter in the Tyrrell Coopers into the first corner, and suddenly I was surrounded by all these wheels almost coming into my cockpit. I finished third, but it rather put me off single-seaters. I don’t think I was that sort of racer. I preferred the races that, like the rallies, needed real stamina: Le Mans, with the fog swirling along the Mulsanne Straight at dawn, and the Targa Florio, which I loved.”
Reliability at Rootes was not always flawless, and the last straw came on the Acropolis Rally in 1962. “Within the space of a single kilometre, all three works Rapiers blew their engines. They were using new bearings which had too small a hole to circulate the oil, and they hadn’t been tested at full tilt. So we went back to the beach. After the rally I asked Pat Moss what her Austin-Healey 3000 was like. She handed me the keys and said, ‘See for yourself.’ Another indication of how relaxed World Championship rallying was in those days. So I took it for a blast, and after the Rapier I couldn’t believe the power. It was something else. I decided I really wanted to get my hands on one.”
Former rally journalist and co-driver Stuart Turner had just taken over at Abingdon as BMC’s competitions manager, and for the Liège-Sofia-Liège rally in August Paddy and Jack Scott were in a big Healey. “The Healey was exhilarating, but it felt pretty scary, especially downhill. It was a steep learning curve. More and more rallies were now on loose surfaces, which hadn’t been my forte. The Scandinavians had been raised on loose surfaces – over there, even in the summer you see Granny coming round a corner in her Volvo on opposite lock – and people like Timo [Mäkinen] used left-foot braking. I was never keen on it. Unless you’ve been brought up like that, it’s very hard to adapt, so I always stuck with right-foot braking. Putting your two feet hard on the brakes and the throttle at once can be faster, but if you need to change gear at the same time you have to do it without the clutch, and that’s hard on the transmission. That’s why Timo used to break more gearboxes than me.
I had a reputation for being kinder on the car. I liked to get the revs right changing gear, instead of just banging it through.” By his second rally with the Healey, the RAC, he was revelling in it. A puncture meant he had to do the last two miles of a special stage on the wheel rim, but he finished second behind Erik Carlsson, cementing his position in the BMC team.
His introduction to the Mini came in the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally, and he and Jack Scott finished sixth. “You recced very hard in those days. I didn’t like it much, found it boring, but it was essential work. We’d go over and over the key sections, maybe changing the notes on a given curve from ‘very fast’ to ‘flat’. Sometimes you’d come across a crew from a rival team on a recce, and it was always interesting to see how they were going. I remember descending a snowy mountain pass in the dark, and I saw a pair of brake lights ahead. They were really pressing on, so it was obviously one of the serious teams.
I had to drive on the absolute limit to wind them in, but gradually I closed on them. As we reached the bottom of the mountain and the road levelled out, I was finally able to catch and pass them. When I did I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a Deux Chevaux with a couple of nuns in it.
“Stuart Turner was a very good team boss: strict, amusing, cynical, constantly working, constantly looking for the lateral thought and the fresh idea, never relaxing. He’d ring you up in the middle of the night: ‘Paddy, why don’t we try those tyres for that stage?’ The morale and the quality of work at Abingdon, with people like Douggie Watts and Gerald Wiffen, made it la crème de la crème. Gerald usually prepared my cars, and he was a totally professional, hands-on engineer. Nothing was too much trouble, the smallest detail – ‘Would you like the seat half an inch more raked, Paddy?’ – was always done at once. It was a proper works team, and for me it was wonderful to drive for them.
“One of Stuart’s clever initiatives was the introduction of ice notes. During the rally an experienced crew would go on ahead with copies of our notes, and mark them in red pen showing where the ice was. Stuart would also use their information to decide which types of tyres, with which length of spikes, to have ready for us. He was brilliant at logistics, getting the right tyres to the right places without having duplications everywhere and killing the budget.
“Jack Scott was now too busy with his jam business in Ireland, and my new co-driver was Henry Liddon. That first BMC year, as well as sixth on the Monte, we were second on the Tulip Rally, sixth on the Liège, fourth on the RAC. On the Alpine in a big Healey I posted fastest time up St Baume, and coming down the other side the front end locked up on some gravel and I went over the bloody edge. Peter Harper had rolled his Rapier and was out of the rally, and he stopped and tried to pull me back onto the road, but it was no good.
“I did Le Mans in an MGB with Alan Hutcheson, who went into the sand at Arnage early in the race and spent over an hour and a half digging it out with his hands and his helmet. After that we plugged on and finished 12th.”
Paddy also did the Tour de France in 33 EJB, the Cooper S destined a few months later to become one of the most famous Minis of all time. In the Tour’s week-long combination of races and hillclimbs he finished third in the Touring Category behind a pair of 3.8 Jaguars, won his class and was overall winner on handicap. The televised sight of the Mini battling with Henri Greder’s 7-litre Galaxie around Pau in the rain was a big hit, and sales of Minis in France soared.
Then came that 1964 Monte Carlo Rally. Ford of America was as keen to win the Monte as it was Le Mans, and entered a mighty team of eight Falcons with 300bhp V8s and Peter Harper, Peter Jopp, Bo Ljungfeldt, John Sprinzel and Graham Hill among the drivers. There were also serious works entries from Mercedes, Ford UK, Chrysler, Saab, Volvo, Sunbeam and Citroën. Once the routes unified in France there wasn’t a lot of snow, but the roads were constantly icy and slippery, and Paddy’s painstaking recces paid dividends. Ljungfeldt, a Monte specialist, was favourite to win, and his big Falcon set fastest scratch time on all five special stages – except that Hopkirk equalled his time on the narrow Chorges/Savines leg. And when the handicap coefficient was factored in, Paddy was the consistent leader everywhere.
“But it was a while before we knew we’d won. We got to Monte Carlo, there was a rest day, and then came the circuit stage around the Grand Prix track. No computers in those days, so you had to wait to hear the results the morning after the finish. In fact Bernard Cahier, the French journalist, rang my hotel room at 4am and said, ‘I think you’ve won it.’ When we got the full results Timo was fourth and Rauno [Aaltonen] was seventh, so we had the team prize as well. It was all pretty good.”
Paddy won his next international rally, too. This was the Austrian Alpine, and he was back in one of the big Healeys. “Just as we roared away from the start of a narrow mountain stage one of the organisers yelled, ‘Ein bus kommt!’ I shouted to Henry, ‘What does that mean?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he shouted back. A few corners later we met this huge bus coming the other way…”
For the next four seasons Paddy’s activities for BMC were a whirl of different cars and events. There were two more Circuit of Ireland victories, and another win in the Austrian Alpine in 1966. That was the year of the notorious row at the end of the Monte Carlo Rally, when the Minis of Mäkinen, Aaltonen and Hopkirk finished 1-2-3, only for the scrutineers to tear the cars apart and finally decide that the headlamp bulbs infringed the regulations. “I’d won in 1964, Timo had won in 1965, and there’s no doubt the organisers were determined not to see a third Mini win on the trot. They went through every tiny detail of the cars, and finally settled on the lights. We were all disqualified, and so were Roger Clark’s Cortina and Rosemary Smith’s Hillman Imp, which would have won the Coupe des Dames. A Citroën was declared the winner. It all became a bit of an international incident – but the Minis probably got more publicity than they would’ve done if they’d simply been allowed to win.”
Paddy’s racing took him twice more to Le Mans in the droop-snoot MGB, to Sebring in Healey and Midget, to the Spa 24 Hours in a 970S Mini – he won his class – and the Bathurst 500 in Australia, when he shared a Mini with Mäkinen and finished third in class.
The Targa Florio in Sicily was one of Paddy’s favourites: “Just like one long special stage. Each lap was 45 miles of narrow bumpy country roads, and Andrew Hedges and I used to recce it like a rally, painting signs on the walls and kilometre posts to give us pointers. Then Lancia copied the idea, and went round and painted over all our signs.” In 1965 Paddy and Hedges brought their little Sprite home 11th and third in class; their MGB was ninth and third in class in 1967, and in ’68 in an MGC they were 12th and second in class.
In the 1967 season alone Paddy and co-driver Ron Crellin won three major rallies – the Alpine, the Circuit of Ireland and the Acropolis. His £4000 retainer at BMC had gone up to £5000 a year for two years, which helped him to buy his first home in England, an £11,000 two-bedroom mews house in Belgravia. “Jimmy Clark was my lodger. He was living in Paris then, but he needed a base in London, and we got on very well, so he rented my second bedroom. He was charming, quiet and well-mannered, and unbelievably talented in anything on four wheels. On his occasional rally outings for Ford his stage times were fantastic.”
The one-off London-Sydney Marathon at the end of 1968 attracted tremendous interest and publicity. Paddy shared a meticulously-prepared Austin 1800 with Tony Nash and Alec Poole. The unloved “Landcrab” had the advantage of being strong and long, with a Hydrolastic-suspended wheel at each corner. The route went via Afghanistan and Bombay, and then by sea to Perth for the final leg to Sydney. Towards the end of an extremely tough 10,000 miles there were three cars in the frame for outright victory: Lucien Bianchi’s Citroën DS21, Andrew Cowan’s Hillman Hunter and Paddy’s 1800. On the last day the Citroën, with co-driver Jean-Claude Ogier at the wheel, was involved in a head-on accident with a non-competing car. The 1800 was the next car to arrive. “Lucien was still inside, the two cars were locked together, and then the other car caught fire. I left Alec and Tony trying to get him out and went for help. I used a taxi’s two-way radio to get a doctor and an ambulance, and we managed to get Lucien free. He was badly injured, but he recovered – only of course he was killed testing at Le Mans three months later. Anyway, we carried on, and just made the next control in time. Unfortunately we made a mistake on the last day, which lost us some time and dropped us to second. The Hillman beat us by six minutes.”
At Abingdon things were changing. Stuart Turner had left at the end of 1966 for a job at Castrol, to be replaced by Peter Browning. “Peter was an excellent manager, efficient and unselfish. He inherited a very successful department, but the Mini was approaching the end of its rally career. There was always going to be a limit to how much power you could put through 10-inch-diameter front wheels, and Ford were starting to get serious with the Cortina, and then with the Escort.”
In 1968 came the merger between BMC and Leyland to form British Leyland. Budgets were tightened, and the new management decided the car that needed exposure was the Triumph 2.5PI saloon. Paddy used one to finish a clutchless second in class on the 1969 RAC, but this was really a warm-up for the London-Mexico World Cup Rally the following April. Paddy and team-mates Brian Culcheth and Andrew Cowan recced the South American route in detail, and even spent a day at Farnborough undergoing oxygen deprivation to prepare themselves for the Andes. In the event itself, after innumerable adventures – including setting a record for traversing Costa Rica, beating the Escort of ultimate winner Hannu Mikkola by six minutes – the Hopkirk/Nash/Neville Johnston Triumph finished a fine fourth overall.
In October 1970 Lord Stokes’ axe fell, and the Competitions Department was closed. “BMC had got an enormous value out of not very much – Stuart always had the ear of the directors, and seemed to be able to get what he wanted – but Donald Stokes decided to shut it down. It saved him £300,000. Not a lot of money, even then. Abingdon got results not from big budgets, but from good people.”
Paddy, now a 37-year-old family man with a growing business empire, had already decided to hang up his helmet. He was importing Toyotas into Belfast, and his car accessory firm had expanded hugely. That was sold in the 1990s, after which Paddy set up his current marketing company, Hopkirks Ltd. There have been a few outings since – like the 1977 London to Sydney Marathon, third overall in a Citroën CX; the Pirelli Classic Marathon, which Paddy and Alec Poole won in 1990; and a run on the 1994 Monte Carlo Rally to celebrate 30 years since his win, in a Mini-Cooper registered L33 EJB.
In his long career, who was his favourite co-driver? “Not a fair question. That’s like asking a man which of his girlfriends is best in bed. Henry Liddon was a real English gentleman, quiet and contained, a very nice man. But in the end we had a sort of mild divorce. Maybe I got a bit too big for my boots after I won the Monte. Ron Crellin I had the longest. Jack Scott, Tony Nash, all lovely chaps. Ron came with me on that 1994 Monte, and after all those years he was just the same. I didn’t have a lot of accidents, but I was with Terry Harriman when I had my worst one, on the 1966 Circuit of Ireland. At 4.30 in the morning we took off over a brow at about 80mph. The car came down on its nose, went left, demolished a tree and spun down the road on its roof. The doors came off, and the roof came down to the seats. We didn’t have roll cages then. Terry and I weren’t hurt, and I ran down the road with a torch to warn the oncoming competitors. Trouble was, we’d spun around so much that I ran down the road in the wrong direction. The next competitor did stop, but the one after him hit him up the back.”
Today, Paddy’s energies seem undimmed. Besides running Hopkirks he does a lot of work for Wheelpower, the national charity for wheelchair sport, and Skidz, which provides workshops for youngsters who would otherwise have no hands-on access to learning about cars. He’s president of the Historic Rally Car Register, a vice-president of the BRDC and, maintaining the Mini connection, a consultant to BMW on its Mini programme. Unsurprisingly, his everyday car is a new Cooper S Works, nicely registered Y333 EJB. He also still has 6 EMO, the Mini with which he won the 1990 Pirelli Marathon.
The state of modern rallying concerns him.
“I worked very hard with two governments, the Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain and Irish Sports Minister John O’Donoghue, to get World Championship status for Rally Ireland. We went down to Monaco for a meeting with Max Mosley, and we got it. But I do think the sport has lost its way. The cars are terrific, the men driving them are terrific, but those things are almost like Formula 1 cars with bodies. So expensive. In my day you didn’t need to be a rich man to go rallying. The cars were pretty much standard, and you could take your mum’s shopping car out for the weekend and actually win something. For the big events, up to a dozen works teams would line up. Only two manufacturers are left in the WRC now.”
With Colin McRae and Richard Burns sadly gone, the man in the street might be hard pushed today to think of a current British rally driver. But, just as he will never forget the name S Moss, he will probably still remember the name P Hopkirk. Those few days in the wintry mountains above Monaco in January 1964 have been very good for Paddy. And, over a long and illustrious career, Paddy has been very good for rallying.