BMW’s MINI division is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its very first Monte-Carlo victory. The milestone occurred on January 21st, 1964, when Patrick “Paddy” Hopkirk and co-pilot Henry Liddon drove a Mini Cooper S wearing number 37 across the finish line in the Principality of Monaco.
Former Mini parent company British Motor Corporation (BMC) began to notice the Mini’s race-winning potential in the early 1960s when drivers like Graham Hill and Jim Clark took turns rallying the car around the Silverstone Formula One track for fun. Things started to become serious when Patt Moss – Stirling Moss’ sister – won both the Tulip Rally and the Baden-Baden Rally behind the wheel of a modified Mini in 1962.
BMC needed no further convincing and it decided to try its hand at racing. Hopkirk and Rauno Aaltonen raised eyebrows when they drove a pair of 55-horsepower, Cooper-tuned Minis to a 1-2 finish in their class in the 1963 edition of the Monte-Carlo Rally. The cars got third and sixth overall, results that encouraged BMC to work with Cooper to further develop the car.
Through miscellaneous modifications Cooper managed to squeeze nearly 90 horsepower out of a 1,071cc evolution of the Mini’s four-cylinder engine, considerably more than the 55-horsepower Hopkirk and Aaltonen raced with a year earlier and nearly three times as much power as a stock Austin Mini 850. The company fielded six factory-backed cars in the 1964 edition of the Monte-Carlo.
Starting from three different cities across Europe, the cars fared remarkably well against competitors with larger engines such as Ford Falcons and all of them managed to make it to Reims, France, where they lined up with 271 other racers for the final few stages of the race. Bo Ljungfeldt’s Ford Falcon and Hopkirk’s Mini were neck-to-neck for most of the race but Hopkirk took the lead going over the Col de Turini. The race was close and although Hopkirk slipped behind Ljungfeldt, he drove flat out and managed to hold on to his time advantage until the end. He realized he won when he saw the spectators’ reaction to his arrival.
“It’s not like rallying today when you know where you are. I had to do the final circuit, then the journalists told me I had won and I couldn’t believe it. It surprised the world and us, so it was very nice,” says 80-year old Hopkirk. “[Following the race] I got a telegram from The Beatles. 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.”
Mini won the Monte-Carlo the following year thanks in part to an even more powerful engine with a displacement of 1,275cc. Two factory-backed Minis earned a spot on the podium in 1966 but they were disqualified after the race because they used non-dipping single bulbs in their headlights that were not fitted to regular-production Minis. The third car, a Ford Cortina, was disqualified for the same reason and fourth place went to another banned Mini so Finland’s Pauli Toivonen and his Citroën ID suddenly moved up from fifth to first.
The disqualification sent shockwaves through the rally world. The entire Mini team boycotted the dinner after the race, Prince Rainier of Monaco protested the decision by going home before the prize-giving ceremony and Toivonen never drove for Citroën again. Mini appealed the decision but it was upheld in October of 1966.
Mini considered withdrawing from the Monte-Carlo Rally after the 1966 scandal but it sent a Cooper S to the starting line once again in 1967 and captured first place.
Times were changing at a fast pace and the cars participating in the Monte-Carlo were becoming more and more powerful. Starting in 1968, the race was dominated by rear-engined machines like the Porsche 911 and the Alpine A110 until the early 1970s.
All photos courtesy of BMW’s archives department.