Dick was responsible for the development of the Viper’s legendary V-10 and is known throughout the Viper Nation as Mr. V-10.
Three generations of Winkles had worked in the auto industry around Flint, Michigan. His great grandfather was a country Veterinarian who moved to Michigan from rural Missouri in the 1920’s for “the better life” the auto industry promised and retired from Buick. Dick’s grandfather was part of the 1937 “Sit-Down Strike” at Fisher Body which was the genesis of the UAW – he was a welder and helped build tanks during WWII. Dick’s father was a toolmaker at a Chevrolet engine plant. While in the Air Force in the early 1950’s, his Dad met his Mom who was from the Mountains of North Carolina. They married and moved to Flint near where his father had grown up. After raising Dick and his late sister, his mother managed an eye clinic.
Dick was born in Flint (which was the birthplace of GM) and grew up in a great little suburb of Flint, Davison, where he Graduated high school in 1974. He went to The University of Michigan and graduated with a BSME in 1980. As with most U of M graduates, Dick felt it necessary to tell you GO BLUE!! For any that know or have met Dick, he is quiet, reserved, and, some would say, stoic. However, its rumored that even Dick Winkles cried the day Bo Schembechler died!
For the two summers before graduation, Dick held a co-op job at the Chevrolet engine plant where his dad worked. He supervised the maintenance crib and worked with pipefitters, millwrights, and electricians. His plan was to be an engineer in the plant, but the auto industry hit one of its many recessions in 1980. He took a job in testing and development with Transamerica Delaval in Monroe, North Carolina, a couple of hours from his Grandparents home. Delaval made pumps and turbines for the Navy and the oil industry. Dick excelled at the job and liked the area’s mild winters when Chevrolet called with an opening at the Flint Truck Assembly plant in early 1981. He reluctantly accepted the job and moved back to Michigan. He hoped to eventually move into a product role, preferably in his passion of – can you guess it – engines. Six months in, it became obvious that a product design, development, or testing job wasn’t in the cards at GM.
In the summer of 1981, Chrysler secured the Federal Loan Guarantees and advertised for Design and Development Engineers. Dick applied interviewed for positions in the Stress Analysis Lab, Cooling Systems Lab, and Engine Development group. “I was offered my choice of any of those jobs on the spot and didn’t hesitate to accept the Engine Development job much to the dismay of my GM family!”
His first project was the new “fast burn” cylinder heads to improve combustion and fuel efficiency on the new 2.2L 4-cylinder engine. He worked with the air-flow techs, created the design, and tested concepts on single cylinder engine dynamometers. Once completed, he followed the project to the multi-cylinder dynos and into production. His next assignment was running development testing / calibrations for 2.2L and 2.5L turbos. He was also working with Joe Varde and Kal Shoket on the 2.2L Charger IMSA RS race teams designing, building, and calibrating race parts (cylinder heads, cam/valvetrain, manifolding etc.). This led to more work for the Direct Connection and Mopar Performance groups with Larry Shepard and Dick Maxwell. This work also started a relation with Bill Hancock, former Chrysler Engineer, who founded Arrow Racing Engines out of his garage in 1983. Dick relied on Arrow for engineering support for “small” racing projects. Dick’s relationship with Arrow only grew.
Dick’s racing career blossomed when he met another young engineer, Pete Gladysz, who was starting a factory-backed showroom stock race team to compete in the IMSA Playboy Endurance Cup series with turbo 2.2L Shelby Chargers in 1985. He worked with Team Shelby and guys like Pete, Ken Nowak, Don Jankowski, Ray Schilling, Al Fields, and Neil Hanneman (who all later joined Team Viper). They raced together for two years and won two endurance championships. The team changed cars to Daytona Turbos competing in the 1987 IMSA GTU series. Dick’s 2.0L 2-valve turbo engines made over 420hp. The FWD car had the power but struggled with traction, braking and handling and as a result, only lasted one year.
For the next two years in addition to working on his “day” job in turbo engines (which included the Turbo II, III and IV engines), Dick worked with Kal Shoket’s race team competing in a naturally aspirated 2.4L RWD version of Daytona in the same GTU class with much more success. By 1987, Dick had the reputation as “the high-performance engine go-to guy.” He worked on the 1987 LeBaron turbo Indy 500 pace car, Maserati 2.2L turbo engine for the T/C coupe and convertible, and various show cars and special projects. In 1988, Dick was the first Chrysler Engineer sent to Lamborghini as part of a technical exchange program. The V-10 engine entered Dick’s life and would never leave. He spent six months working for Mauro Forgheri on the Lamborghini Formula 1 V-10 engine. Dick was also tasked to modify two V-6 Chrysler engine control system to operate a Lamborghini V-10 road vehicle. While there, Dick worked with Lee Carducci who he knew from Highland Park. Dick and Lee would later work together on other projects including McLaren and Arrow Racing Engines after Lee acquired the business from Bill Hancock.
Interestingly, Dick doesn’t remember the first time he saw the Viper. He says, “I thought it was rather cartoonish looking and really didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal, but with a big high-power V-10 engine – it sounded good to me!” When the Viper took the 1989 Detroit Auto Show by storm, Dick was still in Italy and hadn’t heard much about it. When he did return, his old friend Pete Gladysz persuaded Dick to join Team Viper.
One of the first people Roy Sjoberg hired was Pete Gladysz. Roy recognized Pete was a guy who could get things done by hook or by crook. In turn, Pete wanted Dick on the V-10 for the same reasons. Dick says, “I really didn’t interview, I was drafted!” Pete told Roy in order to make the engine a success he had to get Dick and his race dynamometer, Cell 13, with his “right-hand” dyno tech/operator Bob Ziemis. As it turned out, Cell 13 was the only dyno cell left at Chrysler capable of handling 300 plus horsepower. It was used in the 60’s for the race 426 Hemi and 355cid NASCAR work. It was resurrected for Dick’s race and Mopar/Direct Connection work and Dick had the “good fortune” to be teamed up with Bob Ziemis. Roy talked with Chris Theodore, Director of Powertrain Engineering, to discuss the pair moving to Viper and “the band was back together.”
From April of 1989 to September 1993, Dick was the Viper Engine Development Engineer reporting to Pete Gladysz and, later, to Herb Helbig. Dick’s work was independent of and in conjunction with Jim Royer, Manager of Viper Engine Design. Pete, Herb, and Roy recognized Dick’s talents and ability to get stuff done and knew that wouldn’t always sit well with Royer. They felt if Dick was allowed to work independently he would be more successful. Dick was made responsible for meeting all power, torque, emissions, and durability requirements. He worked closely with other notable Viper design engineers Charlie Brown, Joe Gall, Jim Broske, and Pete Kinsler to design and manufacture the parts based on his testing and direction. Dick helped design the engine control system and performed all of the base calibrations while emissions certification testing and calibrations were finalized by Mike Kasper who was brought in to help Dick.
After the Viper launched in 1992, Dick worked with the New Mack assembly plant and its suppliers to keep production rolling. Viper’s production run was uncertain – most thought it last two or three years – and many were encouraged to find other positions. Dick took over a spot in Small Car Engine as Development Supervisor for 2.0L & 2.4L DOHC engines in late 1993. As with Team Shelby, Chrysler started racing in the newly formed North American Touring Car series in 1996 with the Dodge Stratus with 2.0L naturally aspirated engines developed by Dick. He and his team worked with drivers Dominic Dobson and David Donohue of the PacWest race team. The 1996 “learning” season led to the championship in 1997 – in large part due to the engine that was making an impressive 310+ HP at the series limited 8500 rpm. The North American Touring Car series ended after only two seasons.
Dick return to Team Viper at Herb Helbig and John Fernandez’s request working as Viper GTSR Race Program Manager. Working closely with the ORECA Team, Dick had a great group that included Tom O’Dell, Jeff Reece, Tom Wierchon, Matt Bejnarowicz and Jerry Malicoat to name a few. They won LeMans in ’99 and 2000 along with FIA titles and the overall title at the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2000. All of this was unheard of for a production-based vehicle. As we can all agree, Chrysler made the fateful decision to pull out of racing to concentrate on designing a new GTSR based off the Gen III concept car that was later cancelled. However, the Viper Competition Coupe was eventually an outgrowth of that work.
Meanwhile, the new Gen III Viper engine team struggled to make its 500hp target. Dick was told to take over engine development. His team met the targets but launched with an OBD deficiency for full range misfire detection – generally, CARB (California Air Resources Board) allows up to two deficiencies with fines but in this case was told Chrysler that it must be fixed in no more than three model years.
This led to the creation and development of the Gen IV engine program and Dick was given a free hand to make it happen. With a Gen IV target of 560hp, the team felt it needed more and set their own target to be the first US production car to make 600hp. Late in the program the Marketing Team at SRT determined the Gen IV needed 600hp. Herb Helbig told Dick, “If you can release the engine rated at 600hp I’ll make a bronze statue of you!”. Herb actually took a bronze sculpting class after he retired and made good on his promise.
As Chief Engineer for Viper Powertrain for the Gen V, the power increased to 640hp and Dick retired in 2015 with 21 of 34 years at Chrysler with the Viper. Dick may be the only person to have a hand in all five generations of the car.
Dick, like most, never considered working on the Viper as life changing. However, clues started to emerge “when working on the Gen I Viper, I would often drive mule or development cars home. Cathi and I would go out someplace in it and it would always cause quite a stir. I’m on the quiet side and people would pull alongside and ask questions like “how fast is it?”, “when will it be out?”, how much will it cost?” and any number of other questions. Cathi made up flash cards with the questions and answers so we didn’t have to stop or yell! She knew then it was something special.” As we can all agree, Dick gave the car a heart and soul like no other.
In retirement, Dick couldn’t just stop working on the snake. He has been at Prefix part time since his retirement to support owners and develop aftermarket parts and kits for the Viper. Dick says, “Once it’s in your blood it’s hard to stop! I had a fantastic career with Chrysler and wouldn’t trade a minute of it.” We can all thank God he left GM where he would have been just another engineer working on uninspiring vehicles like the Corvette.
Outside of work, Dick is active car enthusiast. He owns the first new car, 1974 Z-28 Camaro, he bought as a high school senior. It currently has 32k miles and looks better than new with original paint and interior. As you may have guessed, he couldn’t leave the engine alone. He also has a 1970 Ram Air IV GTO that he bought in 1980 and restored in 2002. For late model year fun, Dick drives a 2015 Hellcat Challenger with a 6-speed manual. As for Vipers, Dick owns the first Gen IV 2008 Viper convertible in the Viper Very Orange color. Dick spent three days in the plant following it down the line (and doing some of the work himself!).