WATCH 'THE FAITH OF A FEW':
THE FAITH OF A FEW
There’s much more to MINI’s latest advert than meets the eye. We caught up with Mini Sport for an exclusive look behind the scenes...
Words Jeff Ruggles Photography Chris and Daniel Harper, Michael Anderson, David Thomas
The chances are you’ll have seen MINI’s latest advert featuring the story of Paddy Hopkirk’s 1964 Monte Carlo Rally victory against all the odds, but if you haven’t, get yourself on to YouTube and type ‘The Faith of a Few’ into the search bar before you read on. This brilliant film has wowed viewers with its brilliant footage of 33 EJB working its way up the leaderboard,leading to the inevitable conclusion it must have been painstakingly spliced together from archive material. Well, painstaking it was, but archive material it most certainly is not.
Amazingly, the footage was all shot during the summer by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Greig Fraser on period 35mm film. Commissioned by MINI, it was written by Lydia Willie and directed by Daniel Wolfe via Anorak Productions. As you can imagine, recreating a winter rally from 1964 during a busy summer in 2017 presented huge challenges, with multi-million pound yachts filling the harbour and locals in their Veyrons making the Monaco background look a little different than it did 53 years ago. And of course, they had to find the right Mini for the lead role. Enter Mini Sport...
Paddy’s original 1964 Monte steed still exists of course, but it’s not suitable for being thrashed up the Col de Turini these days. However, the charismatic Ulsterman happens to own his own very convincing replica, which is left in the capable hands of the Padiham-based specialist. Not only that, but it also looks after his Appendix K rally Mini, 6 EMO. So when MINI brand ambassador Paddy had a conversation with the folk at BMW’s base in Munich, he naturally put Mini Sport’s name forward.
Being asked to be a part of such a prestigious production was undoubtedly a coup, but one that brought plenty of pressure with it. “We knew the professionalism would be right from MINI, and were told the team they were putting together would be top notch, so we also had to be on top of our game to deliver what was expected,” says Mini Sport Managing Director Chris Harper. “We knew it was a big budget production and there would be a lot of pressure on us. We’d been put forward by Paddy and were using his cars, and we were opening the door for a bit of controversy by putting our name out there. As we well know in this industry, not everyone likes the BMW MINI. We were getting involved in something that was using the Mini from 1964 to sell new cars.”
That wouldn’t put Chris off, however. Indeed, despite the doubters, Chris believes that MINI’s more recent moves to embrace the Mini’s colourful history have been a positive thing. “The people at MINI have recognised they have a heritage,” says Chris. “OK, they bought it, but so did Tata with LandRover and look what a success they’re making of that. It’s keeping thousands of people in a job in Oxfordshire, and it keeps the brand alive. They can’t run a business in 1964, so they have to encapsulate it and move forward.”
But moving the 1964 Monte forward into 2017 was a mammoth undertaking, and nothing could be left to chance. “We went backwards and forwards with understanding what was required, and eventually agreed on a deal with MINI in Munich,” says Chris. “The original idea was to use Paddy’s cars and put someone else in to drive them. However, the deal we have with Paddy is that we come as a whole team package. We do that because then we have control over what’s going on in every eventuality. We take being entrusted with Paddy’s cars very seriously, and until the day that changes, wherever the cars go, we go.”
The team involved had to be right too. “If there was a problem, it wasn’t going to be Mini Sport’s fault that the production didn’t run on time,” Chris says. “So to ensure we could carry out our side I dispatched a van down to Monaco with two people in it – John Cressey, and ‘Diddy’ Dave Thomas. I had a back-up driver in John Cressey plus his mechanical and electrical knowledge, and we knew what Dave could bring after going to the Monte with Paddy in 1994. Along with Michael Anderson, we had a great team with lots of rally experience.”
The responsibility for Paddy’s driving role was given to experienced Mini and MINI pilot Daniel Harper. “He isn’t a professional precision driver, but he is one of the best Mini drivers of the modern era,” says Chris. “Originally we lined up Steve Entwistle as I didn’t think Daniel could spare the time, but he wanted to do it as it was the only chance he would ever get to do something like this. As a true rally petrolhead, that was the right thing.
“I’m not saying there are not other drivers out there who could’ve done it, but not that could fit into the team, and I could trust,” adds Chris. “We took spare engines, gearboxes – everything, and we were prepared to change an engine overnight if we had to. We knew we were going into a big job with our eyes wide open, and we could not afford to mess it up. It became very apparent after 24 hours in Monaco that we were integral to the whole thing. They had 100 people on the ground there, costume people, make-up, transporter drivers – it was a massive thing. But without our cars, they had nothing.”
Mini Sport would eventually end up taking three cars – the 33 EJB replica, 6 EMO and Brian Harper’s Cooper S project for the garage scenes. However, it wasn’t as simple as that. It only had about six weeks to prepare the cars after getting the green light, which included MINI picking them up about four or five days before the event. That left a lot to do. “33 EJB is a replica, and is pretty close to the original,” explains Chris. “There was no rollcage or anything else, and it’s fairly standard when you look at the spec. So what we opted to do was convert 6 EMO, which is an Appendix K rally car built for the job, remove the cage and make it look like 33 EJB. As it was built to go rallying, it was decided that 6 EMO would do most of the mountain work.
“We went through 33 EJB from front to back, then 6 EMO was made to look exactly the same, with holes made for the roof-mounted lamp and front indicators,” Chris continues. “The attention to detail that came back from MINI was just incredible. Photographs went backwards and forwards, and we had the production designer, Robin Brown, come up from London to check everything over. The third car was my dad’s 1275 S that we’ve nearly finished; we had to take the engine back out and change the roof from black to white.”
The gruelling schedule would be extremely tough on the cars, and the folk at Munich questioned whether they would be up to the task. “You can either take that as an insult, or pick up the gauntlet, and say yes,” Chris explains. “MINI were nervous as they had a lot of money riding on it, but I promised them that both would be capable of doing a Monte Carlo rally from start to finish. We just preferred to use EMO for certain tasks, and EJB for others. As it turned out, both ran every day.”
THE WORLD’S FINEST
The production set-up was certainly impressive, and a real mix of nations. Much of the contact between Anorak Productions and Mini Sport was done through producer Yan Shoenefeld, who became a good friend, while other key figures came from all over the world. Their credentials were exemplary – for example, the transport coordinator Charles Heidet provided all the vehicles for Sky’s mini-series Riviera and manufactured all the trucks for the filming of the movie Dunkirk! “Whoever was good at their job, they’d fly them in from all over,” says Chris. “They pulled in a team of professionals that could all work together. Some hadn’t worked together for 10 years, but they all knew each other – apart from us!”
Before filming could begin, there were two days of recceing and preparation. “Our cars were ready to go, so our guys spent the day getting the Ford Falcon running,” says Chris. “The Mercedes was an original 1964 Monte car but it had racing seats in, so they’d actually found a complete correct Mercedes interior to put in it. With the other cars the scene crew still had to prep them with the rally plates and the lights, but ours were good to go. A film set is stress from start to finish, so the last thing they need to worry about is a car breaking down. We had to put ourselves in a position where we caused them no problems at all.”
Having done the Monte before, Dave was able to help with bits and pieces during the various discussions that took place early on. “In fairness to them they’d done an awful lot of research – all we did just fine-tune a few bits and pieces,” he says. “For example, when we got up on the Col de Turini, they told us we were coming up from the Sospel end, then going up to the top and going off to the right. That’s the way the new Monte Carlo goes, but the old Monte went off to the left. In the end they filmed it both ways, and used the correct way. I was just worried about anoraks picking up on little things like that. Because we were good at what we were doing, we gave them the opportunity to push the boundaries even further.”
TURN UP THE HEAT
The first day of filming wasn’t as intense as the days that followed, allowing people to get used to everything. The scenes shot included the part where the Mini trails behind the Mercedes, Ford Falcon and Saab on the bridge, and the start in Reims where the young lady in period clothing describes the Mini as a “sweet little tin can, or a “toy” depending on which version you see! These were actually filmed in Nice, and involved the cast and extras wearing period winter dress in the searing summer heat.
Indeed, conditions would be even more testing than anticipated. “We were led to believe it would be filmed at 30-40mph where the speed limit allowed, but it was all done flat out,” says Chris. “However, the heat was the biggest concern we had. In Nice and Monaco it was 38 degrees, which we all know Minis don’t like as they are not designed for it. We prepared the cars as well as we could, even to the extent of having a garden leaf blower that we stuck in the grille. It was like doing a Monte Carlo rally of 300 stages that were 200 metres long. The cars were idling for a lot of the time, so we put the blower in, and it dropped the temperature 20 degrees. They ran perfectly, but that was due to the preparation and knowing what we were up against. Even just below the Col de Turini at 2pm in the afternoon, it was still 33 degrees.”
Day two saw the garage scenes being filmed, where John Cooper is told that his idea to create a performance Mini “will never work.” Look carefully and you’ll see Dave Thomas and John Cressey among the team of mechanics. Brian Harper’s Cooper S is in the background, as is a Surf Blue Mini Super owned by French-based Swedish enthusiast Jan Pettersson (who drove the car to this year’s Irish IMM!). Many of the parts in the background were supplied by Mini Sport, but set dressing such as the signs were specially made, and the ramps were constructed from wood. This was also the day the original ACM timecard came out. “We don’t know if it was the original or a copy, it was that good,” Chris comments.
The scene doesn’t depict the Abingdon garages, but rather the initial development of the Mini Cooper some three years earlier. “Cooper did not produce the rally cars of course, Cooper is the man that put a bigger engine in it, then Abingdon got hold of it,” says Chris. “So it’s actually fairly true to life. Mike Cooper was actually very adamant that it should not be filmed as if Cooper had done the Monte Carlo. Instead it followed John Cooper’s thoughts from 1961.
The third day, a Sunday, saw filming take place at the iconic Fairmont Hotel hairpin, which forms part of the Grand Prix circuit. It took all day, and once again the extras had to be there for hours on end in the blazing sun. “You also had to think about the public and the cars of today’s modern world,” says Dave. “They had to keep opening the road up as they were trying to run these scenes, and that’s why it took so long. That was a true test of the cars, because it was hot, and they were idling then going flat out all day, up and down, up and down. The film crew’s base camp was at Rascasse (around 2km away), so they kept having to move the crew and extras about too. It was all under pressure, but not once did I hear a cross word from anybody, and we meshed into that.”
Cost was also a consideration during the filming. “The cameras were old ones using original 35mm film,” adds Dave. “They wouldn’t let you turn the car round with the film still running, as it would’ve cost about 200 Euros just for that. And then at some points the crews would spend two or three hours assembling all the camera mounts, only for the producers to come along and say they wanted to change it all.”
The driving scenes saw Daniel take the role of Paddy, with Mini Sport Workshop Manager Michael Anderson as Henry Liddon. Dave ended up as navigator in the Saab, and John Cressey drove the other Mini. “Most of the days, Daniel was in the saddle for 12 hours,” says Chris. “Producers have to have 12 hours off between each shoot, so if we didn’t finish until two in the morning, they didn’t come back until two in the afternoon. Everyone takes their lunch at the same time as the producers, so you can have breakfast and not eat again for eight hours, then your day starts again.” And what about the cars, which were given authentic-looking brake dust and road grime? “Basically, it’s make up,” Chris explains. “The set people are very skilful. They used different colours of dust, put water on and blew it on with a small garden blower. They used a paintbrush for some of the details and all sorts of different tools to get what they wanted. The one thing you weren’t allowed to do was touch the car. Even after the guys had taken off the rigs for the cameras they were back there, touching them up. It was an art to watch.”
Day four saw filming move to the finishing straight, where the doubting French woman from the Reims scene is astonished to see the Mini cross the line in victory. “That was filmed very well because it’s full of big yachts,” says Chris. “There was a lot of standing around but you constantly had to be in a state of readiness – you couldn’t afford to let your guard down.”
The fifth day was arguably the one everyone had been waiting for. “We were told we were going into the mountains, and we’d be staying overnight,” says Chris. “The transporter couldn’t go up so there were two low-loaders that we ended up providing drivers for. We did the scene through the houses in about 36 degrees. There were lots of extras there, but the woman leaning out of the window was actually a local. No one knows if that road was used originally, but it was the natural route into Monte Carlo, and we filmed there for about four or five hours. “From there it was another hour’s drive uphill to the Col de Turini,” Chris continues. “We arrived to the scene crew filling the road full of fake snow to make the scene – 1750 square metres of liquid paper, which sets like Papier-mâché and churns up like snow when you run on it.”
This day saw the employment of the Russian Arm – a huge arm mounted on the roof of totally blacked-out Porsche Cayenne with the camera suspended from it. “When you see the Mini overtaking the Ford Falcon, and all the snow is being kicked up, Daniel is driving about half a metre from the Russian arm,” says Chris. “The driver was in charge of everything, watching a monitor while she drove. There were four engineers in that car and another guy moving the Russian Arm, but she was in control, telling Daniel on the radio to do this, and do that. The respect that they gained between them was incredible. He was half a metre off the back of the car, and if he got it wrong, he would’ve hit £200,000- worth of camera. Sometimes the Russian Arm was following Daniel, and that was when he had to be told to slow down as she couldn’t keep up!”
Filming continued until the early hours. “We had a bulb go in 6 EMO’s central lamp just as it was about to go dark, so we had to take that from EJB,” says Chris. “That was the most difficult day, the reason being that a lot of budget was spent and we knew there was no wiggle room at all. But despite the pressure, it was probably the most fun. It was the moment when all of us realised it was a once in a lifetime experience.”
The snow was water soluble, and by the following morning it had almost all been cleaned away. Naturally Chris and the team couldn’t resist some photos with the Col De Turini sign, which was made for the film. Apparently there isn’t a sign in reality, as everyone keeps nicking them! “Everyone was tired, but I would say day six was probably the nicest day,” says Chris. “There was a bit of waiting around, but it gave us time to make sure the cars were fit to go again.”
The day’s scenes would be shot on the Col de Braus. “We were up there for six hours,” says Chris. “The amount of filming that went on there was incredible, even though only a small bit of it made the cut. The Russian Arm had gone back to Monaco for some filming with the new cars, so 33 EJB was used to follow Daniel down the mountain with all the cameras on the front – one Mini chasing the other. Going up and down the mountain passes flat out was hard work for the cars, but they worked well. If a car was going to pack up it would’ve been then. One of the cars had that much heavy camera gear on it that it ended up boiling the brakes, but we sorted that. That’s when we suddenly got the call to do the hairpin scene with the Saab, which was shot in only 45 minutes. On the second take, Daniel nearly T-boned it because the driver, Espen, turned in too fast! He only just missed him. Because we were so much further up the mountain and it was still just as hot, the temperature was a problem for both cars. The Saab was knackered by the time we were finished.
“We finally wrapped up there as it went dark, and did the 2.5-hour journey back to Nice, where the cars went straight into a transporter and went home,” Chris continues. “They were 18-hour days for six days, flat out, but in the end, all we had to do was change four spark plugs on one of the cars and bleed the brakes. Oh, and EJB’s starter motor seized up due to dust, so we had to sort that.”
A JOB WELL DONE
The Mini Sport team finally got back to Nice about 12.30pm. “All we wanted was a couple of beers, food and bed,” says Chris. “We said our goodbyes and enjoyed great camaraderie. There was a lot of euphoria, and we felt proud that we’d achieved what we set out to do. We knew we could do it, but even so, to cross the finish line was a big thing.”
It was only really after the event that the magnitude of the week set in. “The biggest thing was that it was the nearest thing that we could’ve got to being there in 1964,” adds Chris. “Everyone would’ve done it for nothing – we came away with the kudos and the glow of being part of a fantastic experience. As I said to the guys, ‘it’s another one of those jobs where I’m going to pay you, but you’re going to owe me an awful lot!’ “What I’m pleased with is that Mini Sport, in our 50th year, have the knowledge and experience to carry off something like this,” Chris continues. “Were always striving to better ourselves and push the boundaries. All that experience transcends down to the Mini driver on the road.”
The adventure wasn’t quite over yet, however. The team had been invited to the prestigious wrap party to mark the completion of the filming. “That’s where I experienced probably the most touching and proudest period of my life,” says Chris. “As we walked through the door, everyone rose and we were given a standing ovation. They could not believe the passion we brought to the job. I thanked them, and said that it was just unfortunate that the real star of the show was now in a trailer on its way home...”
The advert first broke cover on September 12, and as you might expect, it’s been brilliantly received by Mini fans. Critics will have their say, of course. Some may mention the appearance of the new F56 MINI at the end, or that the advert is not 100 per cent historically accurate. Granted, the Mini wasn’t quite the curiosity suggested as 38 were actually entered in 1964, and Paddy didn’t overtake his rivals in the same literal way as depicted. But then how would you show that in a film?
What can’t be criticised is the spirit and feeling this production evokes. It’s surely the best trip back to the Mini’s giantkilling antics of January 1964 yet, unless someone should go the whole hog and produce a full movie. And on that subject, we’d advise you to watch this space...