Michael Parkes made an unusually full contribution to this World. He was a talented engineer, aviator and competition car driver. “Mike”, as he was almost invariably called, died at the end of August. His Lancia struck the rear of a 43-ton lorry in heavy rain at Chieri, South East of Turin, and it is thought he died instantly. The accident happened late at night on a section of road notorious for flooding under such conditions.
Born on September 24th, 1931, at Richmond, Surrey, Mike was the elder son of the well-known aviator and motor industry personality John Parkes, the former Chairman and Managing Director of Alvis Ltd. Growing up in an atmosphere charged with a love of both ‘planes and cars, Mike’s subsequent career after leaving Haileybury College was no surprise, but the sheer breadth of his talent is unlikely to be repeated.
Michael Parkes joined the Rootes Group as an apprentice in 1949 and worked in various capacities at the factory until he left at the end of 1962. Motoring historians may well remember him as one of the senior engineers who breathed life into the rear-engined Imp, surely one of the finest mass-production saloons ever made in enthusiast terms?
Of course it was on the racing side that Mike really came to the general public’s notice. His first race was in a 1933 MG PB at Silverstone in 1952. Parkes ran MGs for four years, together with Frazer Nash cars.
In 1957 Parkes had a Lotus XI and was nominated as a reserve driver at Le Mans with Lotus. The following year he began his association with the David Fry Formula Two car, originally built for Stuart Lewis Evans. When Lewis Evans died, Parkes took over the driving with success.
However, sports/racing cars were to become Mike’s metier. He began to really get to grips with the front-engined GTs of the day and made headlines by beating Moss on more than one occasion with a Ferrari 250 GT belonging to Maranello Concessionaires. He had also driven Jaguar 3.8 saloons with great success for Tommy Sopwith against the fiercest opposition.
In 1961 he had a really tremendous year with the GT outings augmented by Formula Junior. In the latter category he once scored six wins in as many races over one long weekend: he had 14 wins to his name by the end of the year and numerous competitive placings. The same year also saw him out in a Ferrari from the works at Le Mans, finishing second overall with Willy Mairesse in a 3-litre Testa Rossa.
The following year he had his first Formula One outing (fourth in a Cooper at Mallory Park) and had regular drives with Sopwith’s Equipe Endeavour and Marancllo Concessionaires, where he continued to fly the Ferrari GT flag.
Enzo Ferrari recognised this unusual young Englishman’s talents and engaged him for both his engineering and driving abilities in 1963. That move led to Mike’s “expatriate Englishman” status, which was largely preserved (though he didn’t work entirely in Italy) until his untimely death.
At Ferrari Parkes was to face the greatest challenges possible to his talents, mastering fluent Italian as the months and years went by. In that first year he was third at Le Mans and second in the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood. During the next season he had his first long-distance classic victory (Sebring 12-Hours paired with Maglioli) and followed it up with another win, this time at Spa-Francorchamps.
That 1964 season was curtailed by a testing accident: the following year he was back with another win, this time at Monza. This performance was backed up by a brace of second places at Reims and Nurburgring, the last a bit of a British affair as the other driver was John Surtees.
The 1966 season saw his Formula One career blossom firmly as the 3-litre Formula was the subject of a particularly strong Ferrari challenge. The usual fortunes of racing at Ferrari put more emphasis on driving than Parkes would have anticipated with his commitment to development engineering. Teamed with Scarfiotti and Bandini in the wake of the Surtees departure, Mike’s 6 ft. 4 in. frame presented the team with some problems in just fitting it within the scarlet body!
The trouble was worth it and Mike was second in his Reims debut. Another second place, this time in a Ferrari 1-2 at Monza, gave him high hopes for 1967. Those hopes seemed justified with a string of second places in the sports/racing P4 Prototype. Paired with Scarfiotti those results came at Daytona, Monza and Le Mans. In the Spring of that year Mike was boat in Britain for the Daily Express non-Championship F1 event, and he won convincingly.
Spa-Francorchamps brought the accident that was to end his brief F1 career. A long slide, on oil, eventually led the car into a somersault that left Mike with severe leg injuries: it was to be 1969 before he raced again.
In fact his energies were given over to developing the 312Ps, but these were not destined to take the limelight until the FIA took out the 5-litre machinery, long after Mike had left Ferrari for the chance of driving (a Ferrari 512) at Filipinetti, based in Switzerland. His best results after
Although he continued to work with Filipinetti for some time his driving was confined to testing after the 1971 season. Inexorably he was drawn back to Italy, and some of his old contacts, by a largely unsuccessful project that involved running Filipinetti Fiat 128s in the European Touring Car Championship (attempting to beat an Alfa Romeo stranglehold).
At the time of his death Michael Parkes was still employed by the Fiat organisation, working as the competition development engineer for Lancia at their Turin factory department. He was responsible over a period of years for the tremendously impressive Lancia Stratos programme and was involved in the current Montecarlo development work to replace this unique vehicle in the Lancia motor sporting armoury. The fact that the Stratos raced on odd occasions was almost entirely due to Mike Parkes and his bubbling determination to, “do something about those blasted Porsches everywhere!”
I said he was a talented aviator at the beginning of this tribute. I am indebted to his father for these recollections of an aspect to his eldest son that was not to widely known. “Michael was an impeccable flyer: as a former RAF instructor and an aviator of 53 years’ experience I can fairly say he was exceptional. He never put a mark on anything to the best of my knowledge.
“I was a little apprehensive when he bought the powerful Beach Baron twin, but I have been with him at 22,000 feet on oxygen above the Alps and know what an outstanding pilot he was.
“He started flying in Italy and I see here —from one of the two logs I have—that his first flight from the club at Modena was on October 10th 1965. He subsequently earned a full commercial pilot’s licence in America, and also held Italian and British air licences. In connection with motor sports I remember that he used to act as a pilot on the Safari Rally, acting as ‘satellite’ to transmit message, and act as a flying HQ,” Mr. Parkes concluded.
In one of those savage quirks of life Mike Parkes was actually set to return to Britain to marry his fiancee and work within this country. It is our loss that this will not be possible any more.
To his fiancée, family and many admirers, Mike Parkes was a man, to be truly loved and respected. Motor Sport extends its deepest sympathies to all concerned.—J.W.