The giant’s shoulders – Timo Mäkinen 1928-2017
Words: Monty Watkins.
Farewell to BMC’s brave Achilles. Young Timo Mäkinen, like many young warriors, had a paper round. This involved driving the then new Morris Mini-Minor 200km every night, on frozen dirt roads, around Helsinki. If you learn to drive where there is nearly no grip for most of the year, and where big bhp is not much use, then intuitive car control is a simple necessity. If the car happens to be tractable, agile and has low polar moment then magic can happen. Timo was one of the first generation to drive in this new era of car dynamics.
As a favour to the Helsinki Morris dealership, Voimavaunu, young and unknown Mäkinen was given a Works Mini 997cc Cooper drive in the 1962 RAC Rally. This was a few months after Rauno had started with Comps. Timo, who spoke little English, is reported to have asked his co-driver, John Steadman, to keep quiet on the special stages as instructions would have been distracting. In that event, Turner’s Myrmidons came in second, third, fifth, seventh and 13th overall. They achieved three class wins and Mäkinen/Steadman gained one of them, along with seventh overall. This was Timo’s first international rally, his first RAC and his first drive for BMC. Stuart Turner’s judgement in choosing the Finns was, for the remainder of the 1960s, to bring in a fabulous horde of silverware and establish BMC as a world-beating car maker.
Despite language barriers, Timo’s unflinching gaze and direct approach got results. He told the mighty Issigonis to his face that he didn’t like the new Hydrolastic suspension, due to its tendency to squat under acceleration and compromise traction, and wanted to stay with the now-outmoded dry rubber. Issigonis instructed Comps to comply. One of the outcomes is still hailed as the greatest rally drive of all time: Timo and Paul Easter’s 1965 Monte victory.
As competitors approached Monte Carlo, having started from places as far afield as Stockholm, Paris, Minsk and Athens, a snow storm moved in. Bill Price was huddled by a Camping Gaz heater in the BMC service transporter in Gap, Hautes Alpes, France: “I returned by about 17:00hrs with the tyres, just as a few snowflakes started to fall. By 18:00hrs it was snowing hard and by 22:00hrs there was six inches of level snow in the town… When an hour had passed after the first car was due we feared that there had been a major blockage of the route.”
The first car to come along was perhaps the lightest and most fragile in the rally: Timo and Paul’s alloy-clad Gp3 1293cc S, car 52, AJB 44B. Bill recalls: “We later learned that only 35 cars arrived at Monte within the scheduled time limit, five of them being Abingdon-prepared cars.” Timo and Paul had smashed through snowdrifts as high as their Mini, long after the roads had become indistinguishable from ditches and kerbs either side. They still had the six special stages of the Mountain Circuit to complete when the ignition points failed. Paul Easter installed a new set in four minutes and they won five out of six stages and the rally outright, by a comfortable margin, ahead of Böhringer’s 904GTS and Pat Moss-Carlsson’s Saab 96.
Regardless of Timo’s subsequent successes in other marques, his powerboat racing and touring car prowess, the 1965 Monte drive showed the world that Timo had become a giant; one of the new generation. Timo told MiniWorld in 2004: “The Mini was an excellent car, so well balanced. I drove it hard, all the time, in any conditions.”
Read tributes to Timo from Stuart Turner and Paddy Hopkirk MBE in the Summer 2017 issue of MiniWorld.