Paddy Hopkirk – Obituary

The following obituary has been isssued by the BRDC, we are grateful that they are content for us to share.

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.

Funeral details will be updated on the BRDC website when confirmed.