Michael Parkes – Ferrari Engineer (and more)

Parkes, Ferrari, 330LMB, klemcoll

Mike Parkes in a Ferrari 330LMB

This rather studious-looking British gent is Michael Parkes, a Ferrari development engineer and member of the Scuderia Ferrari as a driver, here making notes in a right-hand drive Ferrari 330LMB. This image was taken on June 9, 1963 at the Modena Sud exit from the Milano-Bologna Autostrada. In the 1960s Ferrari conducted their high speed tests along this road as it was the only local venue where speeds attained on the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans could be duplicated. Parkes is making his notes in preparation for the car going to Le Mans a few days later where it would finish fifth overall and third in the prototype class, driven by Jack Sears and Mike Salmon.

Mike Parkes started out in 1952 as an engineer for the Rootes Group, manufacturers of Hillman, Singer, Sunbeam and other marques in the U.K. Parkes had a major role in the initial design of the Hillman Imp, introduced in 1963,  a small rear-engined sedan which used a Coventry-Climax motor. The Imp, like  BMC’s Mini, was an unusual car, but poor build quality and extensive labor troubles at Rootes allowed the Mini, already well-established and beloved, to overwhelm the Imp in the market. Parkes was retained by Ferrari in late 1962, moving to Modena in early 1963.

But Parkes was also an accomplished racing driver, a combination which had great appeal to Enzo Ferrari. He had begun by racing various small British cars starting in the early 1950s, with a number of races in a privately-entered F.2 car at the end of that decade. In the 1960s Parkes received more demanding rides, first in Jaguars for Tommy Sopwith’s Equipe Endeavour and then in Ferrari GT cars, including the highly successful Maranello Concessionaires/Equipe Endeavour dark blue Ferrari 250 GTO in 1962 and also a works four-liter GTO at Le Mans that year.

At Ferrari, Parkes now got to drive the full scope of GT and Prototype cars and graduated to F.1 cars in 1966 to replace the departed John Surtees. Those were, as the saying goes, truly big shoes to fill, and Parkes acquitted himself very well as a new driver at the top level of motorsport. Unfortunately, Parkes was seriously injured, with compound fractures of both legs and other injuries, at the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps in June 1967. His recovery took some 18 months and his career in F.1 was over, although he continued to race sports-prototypes for another few years. In 1974 Parkes moved on to Lancia in Turin to oversee their development work with the Stratos rally car. Even so, he kept an apartment in Modena and had a close relationship with Brenda Vernor, an English lady there who had taught him his Italian and who ultimately had a long career as the English-speaking assistant to Enzo Ferrari.

It was on a return to Turin one weekend in August 1977 during heavy rain that Parkes, probably traveling at high speed, slid into oncoming traffic and was killed  in the resulting crash.

Photo by Peter Coltrin ©The Klemantaski Collection

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One comment

  1. Roger Burns · · Reply

    A very sad story.

    Like

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