Leo Levine, longtime Mercedes public relations chief in N.A. and zealous defender of the brand, dies at 90

Editor’s notice: The writer lined Mercedes-Benz as an Automotive News reporter in New York beginning in 1988 and labored for the company from 2003 to 2006.

Leo Levine, the former head of public relations for Mercedes-Benz of North America who epitomized and zealously defended the model in the U.S. for many years, died Saturday at age 90.

His demise adopted a battle with Parkinson’s illness, stated his stepdaughter, Nancy Fournier.

Long earlier than he turned a spokesman for the model, he had pushed its automobiles to their limits.

Levine bought a style for race automobile driving in Europe, the place he served in the Army throughout the Korean War period. After his discharge, he raced for Porsche in Europe and South America in the iconic 356 Speedster.

He additionally drove and wrote about driving Mercedes-Benzes, together with the 1954 W196 grand prix Formula One race automobile that had been pushed by Juan Manuel Fangio and the legendary gull-winged 300 SLRs.

He was a journalist and a guide writer, an automotive historian with an encyclopedic reminiscence. He wrote Ford: The Dust and the Glory, A Racing History, Volume 1 (1901-1967), which was printed in 1968. Decades later got here the second quantity, masking 1968 to 2000.

Within the business, he could also be greatest remembered for his 20 years or in order head of public relations in the Nineteen Seventies and ’80s for what was then Mercedes-Benz North America, now Mercedes-Benz USA.

While Mercedes-Benz actually is taken into account a luxurious model in Europe, it is also a standard model for supply vehicles, taxicabs and stripped-down passenger automobiles with out the luxurious options of U.S. fashions. Mercedes-Benz North America cultivated a picture as the creme de la creme, and Levine was chargeable for a lot of that.

Levine prolifically wined and dined the commerce press, however he additionally took what he thought-about any disrespect for the model personally. (And if he did not take it personally, he actually acted as if he did.)

That might embrace shows of mood. He may ban a reporter from Mercedes-Benz press occasions for some time for getting a title fallacious, corresponding to vp as an alternative of govt vp. Years after he retired, he quietly seethed when a journalist confirmed as much as the Mercedes-Benz vacation luncheon at The Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan “without the common decency to put on a necktie.”

But he was simply as robust, perhaps harder, on his personal group. “His mantra was, ‘Never lie,’ ” automotive PR veteran Mike Geylin recalled in a telephone interview.

Levine additionally always, and solely a bit of extra politely, reminded Mercedes-Benz executives to maintain their mouths shut once they did not know, or knew and could not share, the answer to a journalist’s question.

“ ’No is an OK answer,’ words to that effect,” stated Geylin, president of Kermish-Geylin Public Relations. He labored for Levine from 1978 to 1983.

Contributions might be made to the Parkinson’s Foundation.

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