Roy Wilkelmann, who has died at the age of 81, was such an unusual character that you would not believe his story if it was written in fiction.
Born in the UK to a family with German roots, he moved to Utah in his childhood and grew up there, graduating from the University of San Jose, with a degree in criminology. He then became a criminal investigator with the US Air Force in the 1950s and then moved on to work with (and perhaps for) an organization which he referred to as “the company”, which most folk seemed to believe was the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In this era he also raced in the fast-expanding US sports car scene.
This was during the Cold War era when the major threat was seen to come from the Soviet Union and Europe was the “battlefield”. It was no surprise therefore that Winkelmann should turn up being in London, where there was constant activity in the espionage and counter-espionage world. His security business did a wide variety of different things, including transporting bullion in armoured security vans, providing surveillance (and anti-surveillance) hardware and services and, so they say, providing “muscle” when it was required. He also owned a number of bowling alleys/clubs, notably Burnham Lanes in Slough and The King of Clubs in Wokingham. He eventually sold the company for a considerable profit and invested in developing electronic anti-bugging devices.
He raced a Cooper-Bristol sports car occasionally and in 1962 set up a team which ran a Chevrolet Corvette for Colorado-based gentleman driver Danny Collins in British events. The following year Winkelmann hooked up with a young Alan Rees and ran a Formula Junior programme and a Lotus sports car and they moved on to Brabhams in 1964. The high point of the team began in 1965 when Jochen Rindt joined the organization. In the years that followed Rindt won 23 Formula 2 races in Winkelmann Racing cars. The team also ran occasional cars in F1 races.
In the interim he was acting as “as a contract counterintelligence field agent for governments” and developing systems that could not only sweep for bugs, but also destroy them with electrical charges. He gave up the racing team at the end of the 1960s and faded from the scene, although his name was mentioned from time to time in relation to commercial dealings in the United States, notably with Dan Gurney’s All American Racers in Indycars and Formula 5000. In the 1980s he popped up again trying to take Team Lotus back to the Indianapolis 500 with the 96T, designed by Gerard Ducarouge and a young Mike Coughlan. The Lotus 96T was built but never raced. His name was also linked to a plan to convert a former US Navy base on Staten Island into an F1 race track.
Winkelmann’s electronic security empire boomed with the company being paid large sums to provide de-bugging equipment and to de-bug embassies around the world. This included visits to such interesting spots as Baghdad, where he consulted with the country’s military intelligence on counter surveillance. He was also an advisor to the AFL/CIO union organization in the methodologies used by Communist sympathizers to infiltrate and gain control of local unions. His company also advised Zimbabwe on how to transport the country’s new currency, which had been printed in England, and transporting valuable items such as a Gutenberg Bible. In later years he ran various businesses including a private investigation service, a shop selling spy equipment and he was even a lecturer on espionage and counterespionage techniques. In recent years he has been in Florida with his wife Judy.