Patrick Barron Hopkirk MBE, 14 April 1933 – 21 July 2022
Rally driving will be the reason why the public at large will remember Paddy Hopkirk and in particular his team’s triumph at the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally. However, it will be Paddy’s cheerful business dealings in car accessories over the decades that the aftermarket will regard him for.
Paddy’s association with the aftermarket went back way before his success in the Monte. Indeed it was sometime in the 1950s when he opened an office in his home town of Belfast as an agent distributing Speedwell tuning parts and Tip-Top puncture repair kits. When not racing, he’d be found going out and pitching local garages about the benefits of using the product.
Paddy’s motor racing career began with the backdrop post-war Belfast. His first ‘car’ was a 1920’s Harding invalid carriage which he modified to be a sort of go-kart which he drove hard, earning him the nickname ‘handbrake Hopkirk’ after his trademark way of attacking sharp turns. In 1953 he got the fastest in the Cairncastle hillclimb driving an early Beetle. This would be the first of many circuit victories.
As Paddy’s star rose in motorsport circles he joined entrepreneurs, John Cracknell and Roger Hawkins in England to sell a range of accessories and Nomex racing suits featuring the Paddy Hopkirk brand. The operation was based in Peterborough and was run day-to-day by Hawkins as by this point Paddy was at the height of his racing career. “He ran the business, while I buggered about” he told us in 2018.
This ‘buggering about’ included the podium finishes at scores of endurance and rally driving competitions around the world that made Paddy Hopkirk a celebrity. However, he retired from full-time driving following the Mexico rally in 1970, which allowed him to re-enter the parts and accessories aftermarket.
Paddy made contact with fellow rally drivers Robbie Longmuir and Peter Riley as well as accessory dealer Richard Grant which resulted in the formation of Mill Accessories which sold a number of items including the ‘Paddycan’, a safer design of fuel can which made the most of Paddy’s name.
While the original line-up of directors didn’t work out (once likened by Paddy as being like ‘four people in a marriage’), Mill Accessories lasted into the 1990s. At this point, Paddy moved in a new direction. Aided by Patrick, one of his three children, the family set up Hopkirks Ltd, which set out to handle publicity for and ‘manage relationships’ with a number of brands, including Fiamm and McGuards. Perhaps predictably, Paddy was also brand ambassador for the BMW Mini brand.
Latterly, Paddy was involved in a number of charities and voluntary organisations. These included Skidz, an operation aimed at getting disadvantaged uses into the motor trade, WheelPower, a charity that helps disabled people get into motorsport and IAM Roadsmart in which he championed older motorists. He was also vice president of the BRDC.
In 2016 Paddy was appointed MBE in the New Year Honours list and was presented the award by Princess Anne.
Paddy is survived by his wife Jennifer and children Katie, Patrick and William. He’ll be missed by everyone who met him.