The Legend, Paddy Hopkirk

Patrick Barron Hopkirk
Born April 14th, 1933

• Winner of the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally with Henry Liddon in a Mini Cooper
• Five times winner of the Circuit of Ireland Rally
• Member of the World Rally Hall of Fame
• Inductee into the Irish Sports Hall of Fame
• A Northern Ireland Belfast Telegraph Sports Personality.
• Granted the Freedom of the City of Belfast
• Member of the Irish Racing Drivers Club

Paddy was born in Belfast and his parents moved when he was a child to Whitehouse near Belfast. He attended Clongowes Wood College near Dublin and then studied engineering at Trinity College in Dublin.

When seven he bequeathed a Harding car, which was a bit like a motorised wheelchair, by a neighbour who was a clergyman. Paddy lived on an estate with private roads so he was able to drive it without fear of traffic. He learned to drive the Harding with great aplomb and it was this gave him the urge to become a rally driver.

When he was 17 he had saved enough money to buy an old Austin 7 which he rebuilt himself and began rallying. In those days rallying was won or lost on driving tests and Paddy like most of the other great Irish drivers of that era, honed his driving skills weaving around pylons, often in reverse and making hand brake turns in narrow stone wall lined country lanes and cross roads.

His first rally win was on St. Patrick’s Day in a VW 1200 Beetle in 1954. He had many more successes and won the coveted Hewison Trophy (Irish Rally Championship) in 1954 and 1955. Through this he became known in the UK and he was given a drive in the R.A.C. Rally of Great Britain in 1955. As they say, the rest is history,….well almost.

He joined the Triumph factory team and had his first major success in the 1958 Circuit of Ireland which he and navigator Jack Scott from Dublin, won in a Triumph TR3A. However things didn’t go so well at Triumph and he was fired after he continued to drive on a flat tyre while climbing the torturous Stelvio Pass in the Italian Dolomites. The tyre caused terminal destruction of the suspension of the Triumph and he was forced to retire.

However he was soon snapped up by the Sunbeam factory and in 1961 he and Jack Scott won the Circuit of Ireland for the second time in a Sunbeam Rapier. They were also 3rd overall in the 1962 Monte Carlo Rally.

1962 was the turning point in his career when he was invited to join the British Motor Corporation’s rally team alongside Finnish drivers Rauno Aaltonen and and Timo Makinen.

He and Scott won the Circuit of Ireland again in 1962 in a Mini Cooper. He won six more international rallies which included two more victories in the Circuit of Ireland with Terry Harryman from Bangor, two victories in the Alpine Rally in France, one in Germany and the Acropolis rally in Greece.

The crowning glory was his victory with Henry Liddon in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally. Overnight he became a household name after he, Henry and the winning Mini appeared on the nationwide televised London Palladium show, which most of the UK watched every Sunday evening. His victory is considered one of the most significant events in the history of the British automobile industry. This victory launched the Mini on to the world stage and it soon became a “must have” car by celebrities such as the Beatles.

But it wasn’t just the television appearance and the Monte win which made Paddy so famous. It was his engaging personality, the ability to make fun of himself, he never became “stuck up.” He is also very proud of being a “Belfast lad” and has never forgotten his roots.

He continued rallying and racing with great success until his retirement in 1970. He finished second in the 10,000 mile London to Sydney Marathon Rally with Alec Poole from Dublin and Tony Nash, England.

He is also a very successful businessman and he used his name to great effect. To this day he energetically manages an automotive sales and marketing company which represents numerous accessory, safety and emergency product manufacturers, many of whom carry the Paddy Hopkirk ‘signature’ brand.

His rallying fame lives on however and a few years ago BMW built a limited edition Paddy Hopkirk/Monte Carlo Rally version of the new Cooper S for the American market. It was launched at the Chicago motor show by the man himself and sold out immediately.

In 2005 Paddy was honoured with a place in Irish Sport’s Hall of Fame and he was the fourth inductee into the World Rally Hall of Fame.