This is the story of the ultimate underdog victory: Paddy Hopkirk's win in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally in a Mini Cooper S. The original Monte Carlo rally was essentially a long-distance reliability trial with some special stages thrown in. We chaps at MotorPunk Magazine resisted the temptation to drag our own classic Mini across the continent and went on another mental rental adventure. We flew down to Nice and collected a BMW Mini from Hertz. From there we wound our way up into the mountains of the Mercantour national park to retrace the final stages of the famous '64 rally.
The Col de Turini stage is particularly entertaining, switchbacks and short straights climbing up the hillsides to a summit of 1,600m. That's a mile high. Back in Paddy's day, the road was covered in snow and the Mini's lightness was an advantage, as the car would brake later and harder than its heavier opponents.
The Ford Falcon was a favourite to win; driven by Bosse Ljungfeldt, it packed a whopping V8 but didn't handle the twisty bits like the little Mini. Another favourite was the Saab 96 piloted by Erik Carlsson, nicknamed "on the roof" thanks to a sometimes over-enthusiastic driving style. The Mini pulled out a decent lead in the mountains back in '64, but our Mini was hampered by an automatic gearbox and a driver, me, a long way short of Hopkirk's ability. These are beautiful roads to drive, though, and a lack of horsepower only makes you appreciate the rest of the package even more. Up here it's about grip, braking, and handling, things both the Mini and the newer Mini excel at.
The final stage of the original rally was a sprint around the streets of Monaco, essentially the same route as today's GP circuit. There was little hope of us setting any records in our Mini as we competed for road space with supercars, mopeds, and the Monaco sightseeing bus stuffed with gawping tourists. As we now know, Hopkirk held off a late challenge from the Falcon for a famous win and was presented with a trophy outside the Palace. We were presented with a lecture about our driving from the local Gendarmes. Nothing handles like a rental.