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Paddy Hopkirk MBE

Date of birth     14 April 1933
Place of Birth  Belfast, Northern Ireland
School             Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare
Elected to BRDC   1965
BRDC Director     1995 to 2002
BRDC Vice President 2002 to 2017

Paddy Hopkirk MBE has succeeded Derek Warwick as President of the British Racing Drivers’ Club. He is the 11th holder of the office since the foundation of the Club in 1928.

Although Paddy is perhaps best known for his successes in Mini-Coopers in the Swinging Sixties, his winning ways in motor sport began in 1954 with a Volkswagen Beetle after he had abandoned his engineering degree course at Trinity College, Dublin and found work with the retail side of the Dublin VW assemblers. In the way of the motor sport world at that time, the VW was used for rallies, hillclimbs, sporting trials and autotests although it was not until it had been replaced by a Triumph TR2 that Paddy entered his first race, at Dublin’s Phoenix Park, where he won his heat, only to have the throttle linkage fail in the final.

More success with the TR2 followed to the extent that Paddy’s performances came to the attention of the Standard-Triumph Competitions Manager, Ken Richardson. However, Paddy’s first factory drive was not in one of the sports cars but in a rather more humble Standard 10 in the 1956 RAC Rally. For his first event outside the British Isles, Paddy was entrusted with the even more mundane Standard 8 for the Netherlands-based Tulip Rally and brought it home in third place overall. The same year, armed with a Triumph TR3, Paddy entered his first Alpine Rally, winning a coveted Coupe des Alpes for a penalty-free run in this arduous event. In all Paddy competed in eight Alpine Rallies, winning outright in 1967 with a 1275 Mini-Cooper S and also taking a class-winning third place overall in 1959 and 1961 with a Sunbeam Rapier.

After winning the 1958 Circuit of Ireland Rally with a factory Triumph TR3A, Paddy moved to the Rootes Group for the following year after being asked to replace Mike Hawthorn who, having retired from Grand Prix racing after winning the Formula 1 World Championship, had agreed to undertake the East African Safari Rally in a Hillman Husky of all things, only to lose his life tragically in a road accident. Unsurprisingly the little, underpowered Rootes estate car failed to go the distance but Paddy had sufficiently impressed Norman Garrad, the Rootes team manager, to secure a factory contract for the next four years. A class win with a Sunbeam Rapier in the touring car race supporting the 1960 British Grand Prix, two more victories, also in a Rapier, on the Circuit of Ireland in 1961 and 1962 and, with a Sunbeam Alpine, the first two of six visits to the Le Mans 24 Hours were some of the highlights of the Rootes period. 

Through the Standard-Triumph and Rootes years, Paddy was free to compete in a variety of motor sport events in his own cars which ranged from a side valve Ford Anglia (eight wins in 1957), Speedwell-tuned Austin A35 (10 wins in 1958) and Austin-Healey Sprite ‘Frogeye’ (10 wins in 1959/1960). He acquired an Elva 200 Formula Junior for some circuit racing in Ireland but his best single-seater result was third place in a three year old, borrowed Lotus 18 on the Dunboyne road circuit in 1962 behind the Ken Tyrrell team Cooper T59s of Peter Procter and John Love. Paddy’s versatility behind the wheel was also apparent to viewers of BBC Grandstand’s Ken Wharton Memorial Autotest competition in which Paddy captained the Northern Ireland team to victory in 1959, 1960 and 1962.

Paddy’s move from Rootes to BMC came at the end of 1962 with a fine second place in the RAC Rally with an Austin-Healey 3000 to the legendary Erik Carlsson and his SAAB 96. This was the start of the heyday of the BMC Competitions Department under Stuart Turner. Paddy’s team mates were the famous Flying Finns Rauno Aaltonen and Timo Makinen to be found either in Mini-Cooper and Cooper Ss or the ‘Big Healeys’. When Paddy won the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally in a 1071 cc Mini-Cooper S, the car and its driver appeared with Bruce Forsyth on Sunday Night at the London Palladium, the most viewed television programme of the time. A few months earlier Paddy and his Mini-Cooper S had finished third overall, behind two Jaguar 3.8 Mk 2s, and won on handicap in the Touring Car division of the Tour de France, a success which ensured the popularity of the Mini in France. In the Healey Paddy won the 1964 Austrian Alpine Rally and finished sixth overall/first in class in the 1963 Marathon de la Route. In a Mini-Cooper S he won the 1966 Austrian Alpine rally, won the Acropolis and Alpine rallies in 1967 and won the Circuit of Ireland twice more in 1965 and 1967.

Circuit racing was also very much part of Paddy’s programme with BMC. In 1963 he competed in 13 races compared with just five rallies plus the Tour de France which was a mixture of both disciplines. In the British Saloon Car Championship he finished sixth overall with a Mini-Cooper and a 1071 Cooper S. His first visit to Le Mans for BMC with a MGB resulted in 12th place overall and victory in the 2-litre GT class with Alan Hutcheson as team mate. In both 1964 and 1965, with Andrew Hedges sharing the driving, their MGB won the Motor Trophy as best-placed British car. Also with Andrew Hedges Paddy won his class in the 1967 (MGB) and 1968 (MGC GTS) Sebring 12 Hour races.

Together with Alec Poole and Tony Nash, Paddy finished second overall on the London to Sydney Marathon in an Austin 1800, the so-called ‘Land Crab’, after stopping near the end to go to the aid of one of their principal rivals, Lucien Bianchi and Jean-Claude Ogier whose Citroen DS21 had been involved in a serious road accident. The merger of BMC with Leyland in 1968 into British Leyland under Donald Stokes led to the closure of the ultra-successful Competitions Department which Stuart Turner had established and Paddy had few opportunities to compete. However, he finished fourth in the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally in a Triumph 2.5Pi and second on the Scottish Rally with a Mini 1275GT. The 1977 London to Sydney Marathon was undertaken in a Citroen CX2400 with the late Mike Taylor which resulted in third place. In 1982 with Brian Culcheth Paddy won the RAC Golden 50 rally in one of the original works Mini-Cooper Ss (AJB 44B) and, with Alec Poole, won the 1990 Pirelli Classic Marathon in another ex-works car 6 EMO. In 2010 Paddy was one of the first four inductees into the Rally Hall of Fame along with Timo Makinen, Rauno Aaltonen and Erik Carlsson.

Never one to let the grass grow under his feet, Paddy’s car accessory business flourished during his professional driving career. He brought Toyota to Ireland for the first time in 1964 and established distribution in Northern Ireland for Toyota, Jensen and Skoda. His company Mill Accessories Group Ltd manufactured automotive products for many years and these days he works with his son Patrick in his marketing company Hopkirks Ltd. He is Brand Ambassador for the BMW MINI worldwide, an Honorary Life Member of the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association, President of the Historic Rally Car Register,  a Director of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Paddy is also involved in a number of charities being a patron of Wheelpower, the Kop Hillclimb Charity, the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators, the Silverstone Heritage Experience Project and is a Mentor for the Institute of Advanced Motorists’ RoadSmart scheme. In 2016 Paddy was awarded a MBE in recognition of his charitable work.

Paddy and his wife Jenny, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 2017. Jenny was High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire in 2005 and then Vice Lord - Lieutenant until 2011. She is now President of Bucks NSPCC.  They have three children – Katie, Patrick and William and six grandchildren.


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