Hugh Chambers described Hopkirk – who rose to fame following a famous victory at the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964 driving a modified Morris Mini Cooper S – as one of the greatest competitors of his era.

The performance made headline news on the front page of the most respected titles – both in the UK and around the world. It also compelled the British government of the time to send a telegram in which prime minister Alec Douglas-Home expressed his congratulations.

A signed photo was also sent specially by chart-topping band the Beatles and, very quickly, Hopkirk became known as 'the fifth Beatle'.

His Monte success was the start of a long and illustrious career behind the wheel that included victories at the Circuit of Ireland Rally, the Alpine Rally in 1966 and again in ’67 – the same year he mastered the notoriously difficult Acropolis Rally in Greece.

In 1977 he made the podium on the London-Sydney, won the RAC Golden 50 in 1982 and in 1990 led the field home at the Pirelli Classic Marathon – achievements that marked him out as one of the first of four people to be inducted into the Rally Hall of Fame in 2010.

Away from the stages, the father-of-three who was born in Belfast scored a hat-trick of finishes at the Le Mans 24 Hours in France and enjoyed success at the Spa 24 Hours in Belgium.

Reflecting on the contributions Hopkirk made, Chambers said: “One of the finest drivers of his generation, Paddy made the Mini Cooper S a global icon with success on the grandest of stages.

“He worked tirelessly for the benefit of motorsport with unwavering passion and commitment. His legacy will live on, providing contributions across a broad spectrum of our sport and that will act as an inspiration to many who follow in his footsteps.

“As a close family friend, we will miss his infectious humour and tireless energy,” he added.

Former World Rally driver and countryman Kris Meeke added: “Paddy was a fascinating character. Despite his success, you immediately felt comfortable being in his company. He was great craic and always had a story to tell. I will forever remember him and how he helped me in those early days.”