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.”