Roy Winkelmann 1930-2011

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.

34 thoughts on “Roy Winkelmann 1930-2011

  1. What a remarkable man. I remembered the Winkleman Brabhams but had no idea he was such an interesting character. This post reads like a pitch to your publisher for your next book, Joe. I’d buy it!

  2. Roy became a close family friend in the 1970’s and added much to our lives He was supremely intelligent man with a life that made James Bond’s look rather dull! He related various incidents to us, in confidence. If his family choose to release would make a best seller. Incidentally Roy was Rendt’s mentor early in his career, I believe up to F1. ……

  3. Thanks for the great post Joe. I just want you to know how much I enjoy and appreciate your blog posts. Always interesting and full of insight. Love the occasional travel stories and pics too. Cheers.

  4. How sad. I met Roy when I was a very young student working in Kingston and living in Surbiton. I had no money so had to walk to work! This took me past the shop where he had his race team hidden behind.
    He was always very nice about showing off his cars and many years later he claimed to remember me when he was trying to put together a Indy car deal with Doug Shierson, cool guy.

  5. Sounds worthy of a book Joe!
    It must be very satisfying to blow up a bug, presumably with a close range EMP (electro magnetic pulse). On the other hand, often it may be better to leave the bug in place, however the sweep itself would probably register on the listener’s equipment. I would guess that EMP is being developed as a weapon in the espionage field. (the guys listening outside in their van suddenly find it all goes dead, oops their mobiles have too and the van wont start. On a larger scale it could be used to wipe out data stores and computer farms, however I believe we currently need several large trucks full to do that, but like the rail gun, it is a thing of the future)

  6. That’s a full life. During my student days, I once met an electron microscope specialist professor, who used to be a Royal academy ballet dancer. After that, he was a racing driver. People like this inspire me to get of my arse and do something. Sometimes.

  7. To be honest, I’m stunned. And yes, in a time where Hollywood looks like is turning to Formula 1 to make some films, looks like this caracter would be a good one for an action movie. It has all of it’s ingredients…

  8. Thanks Joe, indeed a very interesting person.
    Certainly someone that sounded like they seized life and lived it to the fullest!

    Cheers
    JF

  9. Roy Winkelmann had quite a big impact on Formula 1. In the end of 1967 he was together with Ken Tyrrell the first customer of Cosworth for Formula 1. When Jochen Rindt decided to go to Brabham Roy Winkelmann left the engines to Bruce McLaren and stayed in Formula 2. Thank to that the McLaren team changed from zero to hero. In 1969 there was the rumour connecting Winkelmann team and Cosworth 4WD car. The car was a disaster and Winkelman´s team was divided to two parts. For the first of them Jochen Rindt called his friend to lead it in Formula 2 races. That friend was Bernie Ecclestone. The second one became the base of the absolutely new team March with Alan Rees (the former Winkelmann´s driver and then the team manager) and unsuccessful driver and young lawyer Max Mosley.

  10. There was a ‘built but never run’ Lotus at Goodwood FoS this year – I think this was the 96T?

  11. Looks like I was beaten to the punch about subject for your next book. I have recently finished The Grand Prix Saboteurs, what a great read, you have to constantly remind yourself that it is real & not a story. Makes our modern day (sporting) “heroes” look like prissy lady boys. As the Australian cricketer Keith Miller said, there is no pressure in sport, pressure is having a Messchersmit on your arse at 20,000 feet.

  12. I second rpaco’s motion for a book, Joe!

    I heard the Winklemann name, via amongst others a friend who dealt with De La Rue, or their family, but i never guessed the racing link. How utterly cool!

    Thank you for bringing these names to attention. I find it very sad that a important generation is now leaving us, but you do them proud. The nicest thing for a young(ish) man, is to be properly humbled and delighted at the same time.

    . .

    rpaco,

    you should see if there’s still the HP video out there of firing a 50cal through one of their servers, and it still chugging along. Not HP design, but DEC design, otherwise i’d give Mssrs. H & P their proper names, which are now denigrated by the abbreviation. My mates and me (aged 12 i think) tried to build a rail gun, blagging materials under false school projects. Best not say how far we took the deception, but we were aiming for true evil genius . . You’re spot on about EMP and bugs. My later school was populated by very paranoid and very rich kids, scions of family firms you have heard about. My Indian buddy and me sidelined selling them bugs of all kinds. With maintenance contracts, in case, (amazing how many came back for service, we’d heard of ladies stockings, but to be honest it was rushed solder joints . . ) and “insurance” where under we’d take the fall, for a price. Oh, happy days. Inflation adjusted, i am not sure i ever made as much money.

    I’d definitely love to read more about Roy Winkelmann. God Bless, RIP and my respect.

    – j

  13. wonderful man and grandad this report has given me insight to alot of the things he has accomplished in his life that i did not know if i ever do half the things he has done i would be proud!

  14. In this era of specialization in careers and drivers starting at very young ages, I can’t imagine this type of “character” will ever be seen in F1 again. With that said, if a driver or a team principal had an interesting background now, I doubt they would ever let it show through.

  15. I am aware of Winkelmann mainly due to the association with Jochen Rindt in F2 but I had no idea about the other side of his life. All we need is an author with an interest in motor racing and intelligence agencies to write a book on him. I wonder who could do justice to such a subject.

  16. I had the extreme pleasure to have worked under such an extraordinary man. I completed my Private Investigator training under Roy Winkelmann and just within the last few months we finished up on some cases together. Like Roy always told me, this business was in his blood and he still had a few more ideals for his Private Investigative Company that he was still thinking through. To have known Roy, you knew that every move he made required many hours of thought before acting upon anything. This man, I will sincerely miss and will continue to keep his name alive through Private Investigator Courses that I teach in Venice, Fl through State College of Florida and by the many things that he taught me to do and most importantly produce a polished product with the highesst level of professionalism and ethics to this profession.

    Sue Ewell
    S.C.I. Investigation, Inc.
    Agency # 1100022

  17. I worked with Roy when he was team manager for Gurney’s F5000 team and was involved with his try to get a Lotus back to Indy. That was well underway until the major sponsor got cold feet and decided to cut the funding.

    There were so many stories of his non-racing life, but I’m not able to talk about them.

    One other thing, he was the importer of the Wink Mirror into the U.S.

  18. Back in the 80’s I had the pleasure of staying with Roy at his home in Lake Havasu Arizona to discuss working together on counter espionage projects. My company, ComSec Telecommunications and Roy’s company worked together on many TSCM (technical security countermeasures) projects around the world. He was a fascinating man, intelligent, intriguing and quite an adventurer. Due to privacy issues I cannot go into details but suffice it to say Roy lived a full and exciting life. His exploits in Bagdad could keep you at the edge of your seat for hours on end. One of my favorite memories of working with Roy was a visit to London where he took me to the Engish spies headquarters. Cannot tell you where it is, but he took me through the back alleys and through businesses explaining how he took this path to elude Soviet agents during the Cold War. I was allowed to sit in the chair that the Queen of England would sit in during her visits. Roy lived the type of life many of us only dream about. Roy from your friend in Santa Cruz, rest in peace and ROCK ON!

  19. A wonderful man whom I had the pleasure of knowing along with his children. And he was married to a great woman, Judy, whom I introduced him to for what seemed to me a whirlwind romance but fit both of them. May he rest in peace and I will always retain fond memories of him. And what friends I met during their various visits. He cared for his friends and family deeply always.

    A book should be written as he lived one of the fullest lives of anyone I have ever met.

  20. I actually worked for Roy and his son Michael in the bowling alley in wokingham. He was always pleasant and polite and had an likable manner….. What ever happened to Michael??

  21. Colin Saunders, England

    I worked for Roy in the early 60’s for his American styled Armoured Car Company in Slough, England. He enthusiastically encouraged his staff to believe they were the “best” in the cash-in-transit business. He eventually sold half of the business to Chubb Lock & Safe Company, in expectation of a new breed of armoured vehicles until a loss from one of the vehicles in London seemed to end Chubb’s enthusiasm. A promised trip to Denver Colorado never materialised

  22. I remember Roy well. His son Mike was my brother in law´s best man, and I had a part time job at The Phoenix Plaza, in Wokingham. I am a racing fan so used to love his stories, how he had Ron Dennis as a mechanic hahaha! He was a great guy, could be a bit of a tyrant at times, but he always gave credit where due. Good luck where ever your spirit finds itself Roy!

  23. Of course I remember the Winkelmann Racing cars. I attended the Chelsea College of Aeronautical & Automobile Engineering and finished in July 1970. I was at one point in the same workshop as Tony Dron and saw his first official race at Brands Club circuit in a FF1600 against James Hunt.
    I have been extremely lucky to have met people in the car world, but for some mysterious reason always stayed out of the floodlight! Now that I am pensioned, I intend to change that and would love to be of help or unite car fanatics. Wim van de Kimmenade

  24. I had the privilege to be employed by Roy as a Supervisor at the Armoured Company near London Airport (now Heathrow) in the 1960,s. Those days were the happiest in my life. Sadly, they came to an end when the firm was sold to Securicor who systematically disposed of most of the staff.
    Roy instilled respect and pride in his employees and I cherish the photo’s and relics I have of those times.

  25. I met Roy while attending school at San Jose City College. We were in SPEECH class together. This was back in 1966 before I left for a carrier in the USAF. I really enjoyed visiting with him in the school cafeteria between classes. I was an Air Force Brat whom lived a few years in England and we talked alot about that. He knew I was leaving for the Air Force and asked me to look him up when I got out. Boy was that a long time down the road. 23 years.. I had looked for him (surfing the net) to see if I could find out what he was up to now, but to no avail. I pray he is in restful peace now. Barry L Hall retired USAF.

  26. My first job was at Burnham Lanes Bowling Alley (1964). Roy also ran his racing stable out of the same building. I met Roy and Jochen Rindt many times but had no idea about many things he was involved in. I seem to remember that his father-in-law worked there too, and his sons often visited.

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