The mechanic

Australian Muscle Car - - Mail -

Mark Leven­spiel was 28 when he went to Bathurst in 1968 as a race mechanic on the Wy­ong Mo­tors-en­tered Monaro GTS 327 pur­chased and driven by Bruce McPhee.

Wy­ong Mo­tors was owned by Mark’s fa­ther Phil Leven­spiel, who had long sup­ported the rac­ing ef­forts of his good mate McPhee, through use of the Holden deal­er­ship’s work­shop, labour and parts.

“My brother, Max, had con­trol [of the deal­er­ship] by then and I was the ser­vice man­ager. I had a Jewish fa­ther, so I worked in the garage from when I was very young, prob­a­bly in Kin­der­garten,” he laughs.

Mark left the fold to do his ap­pren­tice­ship with Geissler Mo­tors Goul­burn, be­fore stints in the Old Dart and Mel­bourne.

“We were in­volved with Bruce’s rac­ing back in his early days, then vir­tu­ally all the way through. Dad was a morale sup­porter and helped a bit. Reg­u­larly we’d work in the deal­er­ship Fri­day, go away and race on the week­end, then be back at work Mon­day.”

Mark says the seeds of McPhee’s vic­tory were ac­tu­ally sown ear­lier in the 1960s when the Arm­strong 500 was held at Phillip Is­land.

“I can clearly re­mem­ber go­ing to one of the Phillip Is­land 500s. Bruce McPhee and Dad were there and they said, ‘We are go­ing to win this race (one day).’ That’s where it all started...”

At that stage Bruce’s reg­u­lar ride was a lime green FE model Holden in the early-model Holden cat­e­gory and it would take many years be­fore McPhee had the chance to make good on their pledge to win the en­duro to­gether.

When the Arm­strong 500 switched from Vic­to­ria to New South Wales, McPhee raced Ford Corti­nas from 1963 through ’65 on the Moun­tain, be­fore running a Cooper S the year af­ter. He achieved an in­cred­i­ble run of con­sis­tent top per­for­mances through this pe­riod, net­ting re­sults of third, seventh, sec­ond and third. Of course, the best was yet to come.

By 1968 Mark Leven­spiel was back in the fam­ily busi­ness. He has very spe­cial mem­o­ries of be­ing part of the Monaro’s ground­break­ing win in that year’s Hardie-Ferodo 500.

“We re­built the en­gine sev­eral times (preevent) to get the power up. And one mem­o­rable run was to Bris­bane and back. We’d re­worked the rings of the pis­tons too much, so it con­sumed too much oil. I can also re­mem­ber howl­ing into one of the towns on the way back from Queens­land and the po­lice­man look­ing down speed­trap and then back up to the car. Even he couldn’t be­lieve we were that quick. But that was Bruce, he was a very quick driver. He was also very good at talk­ing his way out of trou­ble with po­lice.”

Dur­ing the ’68 race Mark was en­trusted with chang­ing brake pads on the Monaro’s front right. While it was pre­vi­ously re­ported that #13D’s win was due in part to sav­ing time not having to change brake pads, Mark says McPhee’s big ad­van­tage was com­plet­ing the pad change much faster than fel­low com­peti­tors (see ‘The Keep­sakes’ spread), thanks to the use of a spe­cial ‘brake spoon’ tool.

We know this to be true as our newly dis­cov­ered cache of photos taken dur­ing the ’68 race con­tained pics of Mark chang­ing the pads mid race!

The spe­cially-fab­ri­cated tool was just one ex­am­ple of the team’s level of prepa­ra­tion for Bathurst in over­com­ing the GTS 327’s Achilles Heel. Com­pet­ing in Sandown’s Dat­sun Three Hour with the brand new car, which quickly ran out of brakes, steeled their re­solved to man­age the prob­lem on the Moun­tain.

“We also had spare discs on hand as we thought we might even have to change them mid-race. A cus­tomer of our garage, named Brian Brown, had bought a GTS 327 and he kindly al­lowed us to use his ve­hi­cle to bed discs in. Peo­ple just got be­hind us.

“Bruce ran on Miche­lins and Herb Skaife (Mark’s grand­fa­ther) had the lo­cal tyre ser­vice at Wy­ong and buffed most of the tread off be­fore we fit­ted them. Bruce al­ways ran on near bald Miche­lins, weather per­mit­ted, much to the con­ster­na­tion of of­fi­cials.

“I don’t think the deal­er­ship fi­nan­cially gained a lot from be­ing in­volved. In fact, we prob­a­bly lost a for­tune through all of the spare parts that were used.

“Des West was in the pit­box next to us. They thought they were in front. Dad was phys­i­cally do­ing the time-keep­ing with two stop­watches and a click­board that changed over. He knew im­me­di­ately that they had made a mis­take with their lap calls.

“Dad was what you would call today the ‘car con­troller’ in the pits. No one was head, ev­ery­one just worked as a team and ev­ery­one pulled their weight.

“Al­lan Howard was an­other mechanic who worked on the car. Al­lan was a Gos­ford Mo­tors em­ployee, but a mo­tor­sport en­thu­si­ast who would reg­u­larly come along and help us.”

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