Throughout the years I have come across a lot of Top Gear fans who have all been wondering the same thing – What happened to the Paddy Hopkirk mini?
Top Gear ran a competition called Restoration Ripoff during Series 5, back in 2004. In each episode, James May would introduce a car which was worthy of restoration and asked viewers to vote via a phone poll to decide which would be restored. The list consisted of James Dean’s Lotus Ten, the Adams Probe 16 from A Clockwork Orange, Keith Moon’s 1938 Chrysler Wimbledon, a Range Rover previously owned by Princess Diana and Paddy Hopkirk’s racing Mini Cooper “407 ARX”.
In the eighth episode of the series, the 407 ARX Mini was crowned the winner and would be restored during Series 6, using the money raised by the phone call voters. However, this would be the last time we ever saw 407 ARX on Top Gear…
A few years later, rumors began to circulate about the car’s fate. One such story was that the garage selected to restore 407 ARX charged exorbitant fees in an attempt to rip off the BBC, and refused to release the car until they were paid. Another story would have you believe that the whole thing was cancelled and that the car was never finished. So what happened?
Shortly after 407 ARX won the competition, questions began to surface over the car’s true originality. Eventually it was found that what the BBC actually purchased was a car log book, along with a body shell, an engine and a collection of parts which were required to restore it. The problem here is the log book and the body shell had most likely never met before in their lives – the same could probably be said for the rest of the parts. As a result, restoring the car using these parts would make it nothing more than a “log book restoration” or perhaps a “replica”.
The logbook had ties to Paddy Hopkirk, but the car itself didn’t. The world of rallying is a very harsh and punishing environment – so harsh in fact that back in the 60’s and 70’s it was common practice to re-shell a car in order to keep it as straight as possible. ID numbers and registration plates would be carried across onto the new shell – not to defraud anyone (as the team owned all the cars) – but more so because the body shells were considered as being just another part number. Some estimate that 80-90% of the cars were re-shelled at least once during their rally duties, not counting the ones which have been re-shelled privately since then.
The problem is that some Mini Works cars now exist that have been totally re-shelled using little of the original and leaving one to evaluate whether the sum of parts constitute a genuine car or not. All of these factors make it pretty much impossible to determine whether or not any parts on this car went anywhere near Paddy Hopkirk, or in some way were responsible for anything noteworthy in the world of rallying.
Because of these issues, the BBC failed to get authentication on the car which then brought on the initial delays. But the exact details on what happened next may always remain a mystery. What we do know is that the car was eventually restored, and was seen in 2006 – it “looked fantastic” according to those who saw it up close.