Mike Parkes (1931 - 1977)

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Mike Parkes (1931 - 1977)

Mike Parkes

Michael Johnson Parkes

Michael Johnson Parkes was born in Richmond, Surrey, on 24 September 1931. His father, John Joseph Parkes, once a test pilot, moved to the midlands in the mid 1940s and was to become chairman and managing director of Alvis. Educated at Haileybury (where Stirling Moss was a fellow pupil), Mike joined the Rootes Group as an apprentice in 1949. He worked for 18 months as a fitter and a further 18 months inthe administration department before joining the experimental section, where he was closely concerned with the development of the Hillman Imp between 1956 and 1963.

Mike's first car was a 1933 model MG PB, but it was unreliable and his father replaced it with a new MG TD on one condition: it was not to be raced. However, Mike did race it - twice - and later went into partnership with fellow Rootes apprentice John Munn to race a 1930 chain-drive Frazer-Nash in vintage meetings. The Nash was raced with some success for three years, and in 1956 Mike and another Rootes colleague, Geoff Williamson, jointly purchased a Lotus II Club complete with rigid rear axle and 1172cc side-valve Ford engine.

The Formula Two Fry-Climax Project

The pair designed and built their own light-alloy overhead-inlet-valve cylinder head (a unit which was commercially produced by Willment), and later the car was raced with the engine super- charged and running on alcohol fuel. Next, Parkes become involved in the Formula Two Fry-Climax project. This was an advanced, rubber-suspended, semi-monocoque car built by David Fry in collaboration with Alec Issigonis.

At that time, Alec Issigonis (designer of the Mini) was working at Alvis and Parkes' father suggested that Mike would make a useful test and development driver. It was a heavy machine, Parkes having little real success bar a second at Brands Hatch on Boxing Day 1959. Mike was also asked to advise Sir Gawaine Baillie with the preparation of his Lotus 15- Climax sports car, and it transpired that Parkes drove the baronet's Lotus Elite in long-distance sports-car races in 1960.

Parkes was impressive, but unlucky, an instance being at Goodwood in the Tourist Trophy where Mike was leading his class when a tyre blew in the closing minutes. In 1960, Parkes also had a couple of races for Rootes in the works Sunbeam Rapiers and drove a works Gemini Mk 3 in the Boxing Day Brands Hatch Formula Junior race. In 1961, it all happened for Parkes. He raced for Gemini in Formula Junior and was invited to join Tommy Sopwith's Equipe Endeavour team and race a Jaguar 3.8, a Jaguar E-type and a Ferrari 250 GT. He won race after race and, following his defeat of Stirling Moss at Goodwood on Easter Monday, Parkes was invited to test a works Ferrari 250 GT at Le Mans during the April test weekend (Parkes was present to oversee the Rootes team's cars).

Parkes lapped quicker than the works drivers and was immediately offered a place in the Ferrari team in the 24-hour race itself in June. Driving a 3-litre Ferrari 250 TR61 he finished a strong second to team leaders Phil Hill / Olivier Gendebien. Parkes' total of successes comprised fourteen victories and eight seconds that year, including six wins and six fastest laps in one weekend. In 1962, Parkes, by then 30, was ripe for Formula One. He had offers, but his commitment to Rootes - whose Imp was in its crucial final development stages - led to these being declined. He had a one-off Formula One outing at Mallory Park in a Bowmaker Cooper T53-Climax on Whit Monday, finishing a highly creditable fourth behind John Surtees, Jack Brabham and Graham Hill.

Parkes main programme once more comprised saloon and GT racing, while he also enjoyed the occasional works drive for Ferrari in sports cars. He was second in the Nurburgring 1000 km, but at Le Mans a team-mate pushed him off in to the sandbank on the first lap. The highlight of the year was the Guards Trophy meeting at Brands Hatch on August Bank Holiday Monday. Parkes won the feature sports-car race in a works Ferrari 246 SP, the GT race in a Ferrari 250 GTO and the saloon event in a Jaguar 3.8 - all in very bad weather conditions against top-line rivals. Parkes finally left Rootes at the end of 1962, accepting Enzo Ferrari's invitation to go to Italy and become a development engineer/test driver/works racing driver.

Mike Parkes at the 1966 German F1 GP
Mike Parkes was best known for his exploits in sports and saloon cars, Michael Parkes was also seen briefly in F1. Here he drives a Ferrari during the 1966 German GP and Paris 1000 km. At last he was asked to race a Formula One Ferrari, enjoying second places in the French and Italian Grands Prix.

The Coppa Inter-Europa

It was during this time that Parkes spent most of his working day either behind the drawing board or testing production-line cars. In 1963, he was third in the Le Mans 24-hours and second in the Tourist Trophy and Coppa Inter-Europa. The following year he won the Sebring 12-hours and the Spa Grand Prix, but later was out of action owing to a testing accident, and in 1965 he won the Monza 1000 km and was second in the Nurburgring 1000 km and Rheims 12-hours.

The 1966 season opened well with victory in the Monza 1000 km and more sports-car successes were gained in the Spa 1000 km. The 1967 season began with seconds in the Daytona 24-hours, Monza 1000 km and Le Mans 24-hours, but in the Belgian Grand Prix Parkes was involved in a serious first-lap accident.

His special Ferrari 312/67 with which he had won the Daily Express Trophy at Silverstone (it had an extended wheelbase so Mike could insert his 6 ft 4 in frame) spun on oil and rolled, throwing out its occupant. Mike's legs were badly broken and if it had not been for immediate attention in the new Grand Prix Medical Unit, amputation would have been likely. Recovery was a long, slow and painful process, but eventually Parkes was back at Ferrari to resume his duties as development engineer.

The North American Racing Team

Despite the severe injuries, Parkes was determined to continue motor racing as well, and in October 1969 co-drove a Lola T70-Chevrolet in the Paris 1000 km with Dickie Attwood; they were loth after various problems. Driving an old Ferrari 312P for the North American Racing Team, Mike was fourth in the Daytona 24-hours and sixth in the Sebring 12-hours in 1970. He later raced for the Italian-based Scuderia Filipinetti team for the remainder of 1970 and 1971 in 5-litre Ferrari 512S. Best result was a fourth in the 1970 Nurburgring 1000 km.

In 1971 Parkes quit Ferrari to work for Scuderia Filipinetti, becoming involved with the preparation of a team of racing Fiat 128 Coupes. Later he worked on racing versions of the De Tomaso Pantera, taking time off to race one - and win - at Imola in 1973. In January 1974, the Scuderia Filipinetti having been disbanded owing to the death of its patron Georges Filipinetti, a wealthy Swiss, Parkes moved to Lancia as development engineer in charge of the Lancia Stratos rally-car project and was working for the' company. But fate would strike a cruel blow. On the 28th August 1977 Mike Parkes was killed in a road accident in Italy. He had lived there for over a decade. The world lost one of the greatest ever drivers.
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