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Not forgotten – Bob Levy | Columns | Gassit Garage

The sidecar supremo on any surface

Those of us baby boomers whose highlight of the week was Saturday night at Sydney’s Speedway Royale will well remember the Levy name.

International Solo champion Lionel Levy, sidecar star Clarence Levy. And Bob Levy; the only man in history to have enjoyed success at the Royale on two, three and four wheels.

Often handicapped to the point where he may well have started from the adjacent Sydney Sports Ground, Bob Levy was the man to beat for more than six years; twice winning both the sidecar Scratch and Handicap pointscores with regular swinger Col Lewis.

But Bob was probably best known for winning back-to-back Australian Sidecar Championships as a swinger, before going on to take the hat-trick as a rider.

Bob and Mal dominated at New South Wales’ Amaroo Park in the mid 1970s

With Mal Byrne in the chair, Levy won many races at Oran Park, Amaroo, Calder, Lakeside and Surfers Paradise. Then came The Wedge. Built in the early 1970s by the late Brian Payne, Bob Levy’s Kawasaki Z1-powered Chesterfield Wedge – initially fitted with a Formula One style wing –remains one of the most quintessential images of Australia’s motorcycling heritage. The outfit was an instant success, winning the Bennett-Honda Sidecar series before heading to Mount Panorama where Levy and Byrne finished third in the 1974 Senior Sidecar Grand Prix. The pair looked set for victory the following year, leading by 30 seconds on the final lap before an engine misfire put them into the Armco.

After winning Amaroo Park’s El Dorado series Bob sold The Wedge, and shortly thereafter retired. Bob may have retired from racing but, along with wife Pat, continued his involvement with motorcycling. For over 20 years Bob was a scrutineer for the Australian MotoGP and WSBK, while Pat was compiler of the Incident Reports. And it was during this period Bob assisted riders such as Clive Knight, Mal Campbell and Garry Thomas. Thomas recalls working with Bob in pit lane at Phillip Island, as part of the so-called flying squad at Mount Panorama repairing crash pads and airfences, as well as supervising parc fermé at the 1992 ISDE at Cessnock.

“Bob was great fun and we spent many, many nights in the campground socialising and rehydrating at those events,” Thompson said.

Bob Levy and Mal Byrne on The Wedge replica at Lakeside in 2014

In 1995 Levy took on the task of driving David Tapp’s 500 Series transporter; a speedway circus that visited venues as far flung as Cairns and Kalgoorlie. Five years and 100,000km later, Levy turned to event promotion, staging a tri-series of speedway events in 2002. With a massive prize purse of $30,000 and starring the best racers in Australia, it was a big hit in the sport-starved Northern Territory.

Levy’s sons, Warrick and Reed, followed in the old man’s wheel tracks, both winning Australian Championships; Warrick in road racing and Reed in long track. Then came grandson, Zac, who became an Australian Dirt Track Champion at 12-years old; the fourth-generation Levy to win a national title.

A very proud grandad stepped up and sponsored Zac, mentoring the young talent to more than a few tea chests full of trophies during the following three years. Then followed a year in Asia where a couple of round wins provided encouragement, before an 18-year-old Zac was off to the European Junior Cup with Pop Levy as sponsor, team manager and gofer.

After a promising fourth place at Monza, the hoped-for results weren’t forthcoming and the duo returned home where Zac continues a competitive career in the Supersport 300 series.

It was while working on Zac’s racebikes in November 2013, the idea of building a replica of The Wedge was born. Using Brian Payne’s original sketches, Bob weighed in with a Z1 motor complete with a pair of 40mm Webers and with a team of mates the project came together remarkably quick.

Time enough for the resplendent replica to make an appearance at the 2014 Australian Historic Road Racing Championships at Lakeside in September 2014; the first time any bikes had raced at that venue for over a decade.

Complete with the formerly banned wing, Bob and Mal made several parade laps, some forty years after the Wedge’s first outing at the venue.

Sadly that was Bob Levy’s final outing.

Sidecar success in the 70s was a glamorous affair

Words Peter Whitaker 

Photography Gaven Dall’osto & AMCN archives