Mini is taking a look back in time as it celebrates an incredible milestone, with January 21st representing the 50th anniversary of the car’s first triumph at the Monte Carlo Rally. 

Few perhaps expected the unassuming small car to triumph so spectacularly at the event, but it proved to be a race for Mini to remember.

It went down as one of the most stunning victories in motorsport history, as driver Paddy Hopkirk guided the car into the book of legends.

Paddy Hopkirk/Henry Liddon in the Mini Cooper_8The little British beast defied the odds and sealed victory against a number of other more powerful rivals, thanks to a completely faultless drive around country roads and mountain passes.

It spelled a period of rallying dominance for the car, with Hopkirk and teammate Henry Liddon’s success being replicated in 1965 and 1967 by Timo Makinen and Rauno Aaltonen, respectively.

Paddy Hopkirk/Henry Liddon in the Mini Cooper_7To commemorate the incredible occasion, the BMW Group has spoken to Mr Hopkirk to discover what memories he has of the race and the incredible car.

“Although the Mini was only a little family saloon, technically it had a lot of advantages,” the 80-year-old said. “Its front-wheel drive and front-mounted transverse engine were a great advantage, and the fact the car was smaller and the roads were ploughed, they were quite narrow, so I suppose that was an advantage.

Paddy Hopkirk/Henry Liddon in the Mini Cooper_6“We were very lucky – the car was right, everything happened at the right time and came together at the right moment.”

The path to victory was forged during the penultimate stage of the Monte Carlo race, with the Mini Cooper S – adorned with the number 37 and the now famous 33 EJB licence plate – taking a shock victory over the Ford Falcon.

Paddy Hopkirk/Henry Liddon in the Mini Cooper_5Despite crossing the finish line 17 seconds off the pace of the powerful V8 model, the handicap formula that took account of the difference in weight and power of the cars saw the Mini at the top of the overall standings.

In the final sprint event of the rally, the Mini held its own through the winding streets to see Mr Hopkirk and his little machine take a famous win. Not only that, but Makinen and Aaltonen also took fourth and seventh place, respectively, to cap off a sensational race for the team.

Paddy HopkirkThe victory was greeted with delight back home in the UK, with the Beatles and the British government sending congratulatory telegrams.

Mr Hopkirk said of the telegram from the Liverpool pop sensations: “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.”

Paddy Hopkirk with Morris Mini Cooper SThe Mini remains as one of the most iconic vehicles in British manufacturing history, not least because of its stunning performance in the Monte Carlo event, but also because of its unique shape, style, handling and fun that it has provided drivers with for decades.

Despite the surprise the victory caused to some, it perhaps wasn’t such a shock for the manufacturers. The Monte Carlo racing version of the car was first developed by sports car designer John Cooper and he was one of the men responsible for the added power in the model.

Paddy Hopkirk/Henry Liddon in the Mini Cooper_4While only producing 34hp, its front-wheel drive, low weight, wide track and comparatively long wheelbase made it an extremely agile four-seater and perfect for the racing circuit.

Even years before the race the car was tested out by top racing drivers to examine its handling abilities – especially on the corners.

The opening win would begin a racing legacy for the Mini and would cement its place as a cultural motoring icon for years to come.

Paddy Hopkirk/Henry Liddon in the Mini Cooper_3Paddy Hopkirk/Henry Liddon in the Mini Cooper_2Paddy Hopkirk/Henry Liddon in the Mini Cooper_1

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