Mini’s recent foray in the World Rally Championship was sadly a very short one, so the least the carmaker can do now is console itself with past triumphs. Of course, the recent Dakar wins are important, but by far its biggest rallying victory was the 1964 triumph in the Monte Carlo Rally with the legendary Paddy Hopkirk behind the wheel of the classic Mini rally car.
This month, Mini celebrates 50 years since that event, as on January 21 1964 the Mini Cooper S won the Monte Carlo Rally for the first time. Paddy Hopkirk and his co-driver Henry Liddon pulled off a big surprise, managing to win the world’s most famous rally in the small British car, beating rivals that were seen as superior.
Nevertheless, the nimble 90hp Mini Cooper felt at ease on Monte Carlo’s narrow winding mountain roads, winning it again in 1965 and 1967 with Timo Mäkinen and Rauno Aaltonen, respectively. For the United Kingdom, Mini’s first victory in Monte Carlo was a matter of national pride.
Hopkirk, now 80 years old, received a congratulatory telegram from the British government and even the Beatles were quick to congratulate him. “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 legendary driver recalls.
Hopkirk says the Monte Carlo victory was due too many factors, but the car’s lightness, nimbleness and size were crucial.
“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,” the driver said. “The Mini was particularly good downhill, and all the tests were up and downhill, so what we lost going up, I think we made up for going downhill,” he adds.
By Dan Mihalascu