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OBITUARY - PADDY HOPKIRK MBE (14 APRIL 1933 - 21 JULY 2022)

Paddy Hopkirk passed away peacefully in Stoke Mandeville Hospital last Thursday. He was 89 years of age and had been suffering from cancer. Before and after his two years as President of the BRDC from 2017 to 2019, Paddy was a director of the Club between 1995 and 2002 and a Vice President. He was passionate about the BRDC, insistent that Members should wear the Club’s badge proudly and as often as possible. Because of his great fame as a rally driver, the fact that he had also been a successful racing driver and was a fully qualified Life Member of the Club, to which he had been first elected in 1965, tended to be overlooked.

Born in Belfast, the youngest of five children to survive childbirth, Paddy gained a place at Trinity College, Dublin to study for an Engineering degree. However, he soon discovered the joys of motoring, first with motor-cycles before acquiring an Austin Seven Chummy with which he entered his first rally, a much gentler affair than those which he would encounter a few years later. In the 1950s it was common for motor sport competitors to use their road cars in a variety of disciplines by the simple expedient of removing the hubcaps and taping over the headlights. Fortuitously for Paddy, a fellow student at Trinity College was the son of the Volkswagen importer in Dublin. Attracted by the versatility of the VW Beetle, then the only model manufactured by the company, Paddy took a job as a salesman with the retail outlet of the importers and was soon at the wheel of a Beetle in rallies, trials, driving tests (autotests), hillclimbs and any other form of motorised competition in which a Beetle could be used. In 1952 Paddy’s passion for motoring competition led to him dropping out of university and pursuing his career as a car salesman to enable him to spend as much time as possible rallying.

VW Beetles saw Paddy through 1953/54 with some successes along the way but they had their limitations so a Triumph TR2 took their place in 1955 and provided Paddy with his first race win, in a heat at the Phoenix Park road circuit. Added to this were overall wins with the TR2 in other Irish events such as the Irish 900 mile Rally and several trials, news of which reached Ken Richardson, then competitions manager for Standard-Triumph in Coventry. The opportunity to drive a factory Standard Vanguard in the Monte Carlo Rally fell through but a Standard Ten was at Paddy’s disposal for the 1956 RAC Rally. Back then the RAC Rally started with a series of driving (auto) tests at the seaside town starting point. In 1956 Blackpool was the chosen venue where Paddy deployed his full repertoire of handbrake turns and other auto gymnastics to emerge as initial leader of the Rally, much to Richardson’s surprise and delight. Paddy was on his way as a works driver and celebrated by finishing third overall on the Tulip Rally in a Standard Eight.

The Suez Crisis severely curtailed international rallying in 1957 and Paddy only contested the Tulip and Midnight Sun Rallies for Standard-Triumph, the latter in a Standard Eight badged as a Standard Vanguard Junior which provided Paddy for the first time with the experience of an underpowered car on loose surfaces. The highlight of 1958 was Paddy’s first win in the Circuit of Ireland at the wheel of a factory Triumph TR3A but, after he had been forced to retire from the following Alpine Rally with an overheated engine, he was not invited to drive for Standard-Triumph again.

After sharing a Riley One-Point-Five with Les Leston in the 1959 Monte Carlo Rally, Paddy was invited by Norman Garrad, the Rootes Group competition manager, to drive a Hillman Husky of all things in the East African Safari Rally. Although unsurprisingly Paddy failed to finish, his next outing for Rootes in the Alpine Rally with a Sunbeam Rapier Series III ended with third place overall, first in class, a Coupe awarded for an unpenalized run, and The Autocar Trophy for first British car. Outside his international rallying for Standard-Triumph and latterly Rootes, Paddy kept his hand in with the smorgasbord of Irish events in a Speedwell Austin A35 and then a Mk 1 Austin-Healey Sprite ‘Frogeye’, continuing to enjoy considerable success. Paddy’s first notable race outside the island of Ireland came in the touring car event supporting the 1960 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. In a race famous for the brilliant battle for the lead between Colin Chapman and Jack Sears in Jaguar 3.8 Mk 2s, Paddy in his Sunbeam Rapier finished seventh overall behind the Jaguars but ahead of all the 1600 cc class regulars.

For 1961 Paddy continued with Rootes for the major international rallies in a Sunbeam Rapier, again finishing third overall on the Alpine Rally and winning the Circuit of Ireland for a second time, whilst also sharing a Sunbeam Alpine with Peter Jopp in the Le Mans 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours. Adding another string to his racing bow, Paddy acquired a Formula Junior Elva 200 of which he had no fond memories, describing it as ‘a dangerous pig’ although he did wrestle it to a third place in a formule libre race at Kirkistown. A much better proposition was the Lotus 18, which he borrowed from the Rootes distributor for Northern Ireland Charles Eyre-Maunsell, with which Paddy finished third in an international Formula Junior race at behind the Ken Tyrrell Cooper T59s of Peter Procter and John Love on the Dunboyne road circuit in 1962.  Uncle Ken was sufficiently impressed by Paddy’s performance to offer him a place in his Formula Junior team which he turned down.

By now Paddy’s status as one of the UK’s top rally drivers was undisputed. Having finished third overall in the 1962 Monte Carlo Rally behind Erik Carlsson’s SAAB 96 and Eugen Bohringer’s Mercedes-Benz 220SE, followed by his third Circuit of Ireland victory, Paddy left Rootes for the British Motor Corporation where the competition manager was the newly appointed Stuart Turner, and the Austin-Healey 3000 was at the peak of its powers. Little did Paddy think that it would not be the Big Healey so much as the diminutive Mini with which his fame and legendary status would be forged over the coming years. Paddy’s first outing in a Healey 3000 was the Liege-Rome-Liege Marathon de la Route from which he retired but the RAC Rally, now in the forests of course, went much better, Paddy finishing second overall behind the one and only Erik Carlsson.

Paddy would rarely rally the Big Healey again. In 1963 he took one to sixth overall in the Liege-Sofia-Liege and the following year won the Austrian Alpine Rally with ARX91B but retired from what had become the Spa-Sofia-Liege. For the next six years it would be mainly Minis. In a foretaste of what was to come, Paddy finished sixth in the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally with a Mini-Cooper before spending much of the year racing a Mini-Cooper and later a 1071 cc Mini-Cooper S in the British Saloon Car Championship, finishing the season sixth overall and second in class to John Whitmore in a similar combination of cars. In the Tour de France, with Henry Liddon as his-co-driver in a 1071 cc Cooper S – 33EJB - Paddy finished third overall in the Touring Car division behind a couple of Jaguar 3.8 Mk 2s.

With the same car - 33EJB - Paddy then began the 1964 season with one of the victories for which he will forever be best remembered - the Monte Carlo Rally. Starting from Minsk in the Soviet Union, Paddy and Henry Liddon battled through ice, snow, fog, and freezing conditions to emerge triumphant ahead of the Ford Falcon of Bo Ljungfeldt. A measure of the achievement is the list of famous rallying names who finished behind Paddy. Ljungfeldt was followed by Erik Carlsson in third place then Timo Makinen in another works Cooper S, Pat Moss-Carlsson, Tom Trana, Rauno Aaltonen, Carl-Magnus Skogh, Eugen Bohringer and Pauli Toivonen. It was the first win of many for the Mini in a major international rally. Paddy received telegrams of congratulation from amongst others the Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, from the Beatles and appeared with 33EJB live on stage for Sunday Night at the London Palladium with Bruce Forsyth, at the time one of the most-viewed programmes on television. When asked by the host what had been the most difficult part of the whole event, Paddy’s typically quick-witted response was to say ‘getting the Mini through the stage door’.

Over the next few years Paddy stayed loyal to BMC, mainly competing in Mini-Cooper Ss. His major victories included the 1966 Austrian Alpine, the 1967 Circuit of Ireland, the 1967 Acropolis and the 1967 Alpine Rallies while featuring prominently in the overall and class results in many other events. In 1969, with the Mini-Cooper S coming to the end of its time as a front-line car for the major events, Paddy had one final outing in the Circuit of Ireland but had to settle for second place behind the state-of-the-art Ford Escort Twin Cam of Roger Clark. In racing, Paddy continued to enjoy class success in the Bruitish Saloon Car championship and shared a 970 Mini-Cooper S with Julian Vernaeve to win the 851 to 1000 cc class in the 1964 Spa 24 Hours. This was not the end of Paddy’s Mini successes, however. In 1982 he came out of retirement to share a Cooper S with Brian Culcheth and win the RAC Golden 50 Rally and he was back again in 1990 to share a Cooper S with his great friend Alec Poole on the Pirelli Classic Marathon which they won.

In 1968 Paddy had been accompanied by Alec and by Tony Nash in a BMC Austin/Morris 1800 on the first and most famous transcontinental rally, the London to Sydney Marathon sponsored by the Daily Express. After driving across Europe, through Turkey, Afghanistan, India and from one side of Australia to the other, Paddy, Alec, and Tony in the underpowered ‘Land Crab’ claimed second place overall behind the Hillman Hunter of Andrew Cowan, Brian Coyle and Colin Malkin. This achievement gave Paddy a taste for transcontinental rallies. In 1970 he finished fourth on the London to Mexico World Cup event with a Triumph 2.5Pi and in 1977 he was third overall in a second London-to-Sydney Marathon, this time sponsored by Singapore Airlines. In a factory-supported Citroen CX2400 Paddy, racing driver Michael Taylor and Australian Bob Riley came home third.

Although it was his rally successes which made Paddy a household name in the 1960s, his time with BMC also saw him compete in a number of major sports car races such as the Targa Florio, Sebring 12 Hours and the Le Mans 24 Hours, the last of which he had already contested in 1961 and 1962 in a Sunbeam Alpine. While the Alpines may not have finished their races, the MGB proved to be a much more reliable proposition enabling Paddy and Alan Hutcheson to finish 12th overall and first in their class in 1963. In 1964, this time with Andrew Hedges as team mate their MGB was 19th overall, second in class and winner of The Motor Trophy for the first British car to finish. Paddy and Andrew were second in class again in 1965 and 11th overall with an MGB whilst in his last outing in the Great Race, again with Andrew but this time in an Austin-Healey Sprite, they were forced to retire with head gasket failure while going well only a few hours from the finish. In the Targa Florio in 1965 Paddy and Andrew shared a MG Midget Coupe to 11th overall and second in class, a MGB GTS with Timo Makinen to ninth overall in 1967 and a MGB GT with Andrew Hedges to 12th overall in 1968.

Paddy’s last competitive event came in 1994 when he drove a Mini-Cooper 1.3i in the Monte Carlo Rally to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his 1964 success. With former co-driver Ron Crellin alongside and at 60 years of age Paddy finished fourth in his class. The Mini association never went away for, after his retirement from active competition, Paddy established an association with BMW as an Ambassador for the second-generation MINI brand, overseeing most recently the introduction of a special edition Paddy Hopkirk Cooper S. From his earliest days in motor sport in Ireland Paddy developed commercial interests to help support his activities. Quick to see and seize an opportunity he expanded his car accessory business over time into the Mill Accessory Group based in Peterborough.  He gave his time and name freely to several charities including Wheelpower, SKIDZ and the Integrated Education Fund for Northern Ireland. He supported IAM RoadSmart, initiating an event for BRDC SuperStars and Rising Stars at Silverstone which enabled all the participants, after full assessments, to become Advanced Motorists.

In his two years as President of the BRDC, Paddy always took a keen interest in the Club’s activities, making himself available whenever requested and attending as many events as possible. His engaging charm and sense of humour invariably ensured that encountering him in the Clubhouse or wherever else would guarantee an entertaining chat. One of the first to be inducted into the Rally Hall of Fame, along with Erik Carlsson, Timo Makinen and Rauno Aaltonen, Paddy was a legend without any airs and graces. He was comfortable in the limelight but never sought it. Paddy was one of those BRDC Members for whom Membership of the Club meant a very great deal, an honour to be cherished. He will be very much missed.

To Jenny, Paddy’s wife of 55 years, their children Kate, Patrick and William, to their grandchildren and to Paddy’s many friends and colleagues around the world, the BRDC extends its most sincere condolences.

There will be a private family funeral with a memorial at a later date.  

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