We describe the parallel implementation of a multigrid method for unstructured finite element discretizations of solid mechanics problems. We focus on a distributed memory programming model and use the MPI library to perform the required interprocessor communications. We present an algebraic framework for our parallel computations, and describe an object-based programming methodology using Fortran90. The performance of the implementation is measured by solving both fixed- and scaled-size problems on three different parallel computers (an SGI Origin2000, an IBM SP2 and a Cray T3E). The code performs well in terms of speedup, parallel efficiency and scalability. However, the floating point performance is considerably below the peak values attributed to these machines. Lazy processors are documented on the Origin that produce reduced performance statistics. The solution of two problems on an SGI Origin2000, an IBM PowerPC SMP and a Linux cluster demonstrate that the algorithm performs well when applied to the unstructured meshes required for practical engineering analysis. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.