Because They Could

Few unique car designs hail from Ireland. Fewer still as thorough as this. Bruno Vijverman investigates the story of the DAWB. 

DAWB 6. Image: David Heatley

As the name implies, the Ulster Transport Museum in Cultra, Northern Ireland harbours a variety of modes of transport. Trains, trams, airplanes, bicycles, motorcycles and of course cars are on display. Among the exhibited cars, one stands out as a unique showcase of what could be achieved when a determined cohort of men set out to make their dream car, and were not prepared to compromise when the components they needed were not available ready-made. Undaunted, they decided to simply design and manufacture their own.

David Woods worked at the Harland & Wolff shipyards as a marine fitter and later at aerospace company Short Brothers plc. In 1946 Woods started his own business under the name David Woods & Sons. This grew into the Belfast Tools and Gauge Company which at its peak employed around 100 workers.

In 1949, popular motorcycle racer Artie Bell (who had famously finished second in the 1947 Isle of Man TT on his second hand Norton) approached his friend David Woods with the request to build a bespoke motorcycle to his specification. Perhaps because David Woods & Sons was situated near the Dundrod racing circuit and along a stretch of road regularly used for the Circuit of Ireland Rally, Woods instead convinced Bell to jointly design and build a sportscar instead of a motorcycle.

It was not until 1954 that the engineering plans and specification were finalized, and it would take another eight years before the car was finished. In order to find a company to design and build a body for the car, David Woods visited the Turin Motor Show and approached both Bertone and Pininfarina but neither carrozzeria was interested to take on the job.

Help was at hand however because a former apprentice of Woods named Billy Leitch now ran a coachbuilding shop that specialised in hearse conversions, mainly Rolls-Royce based. Leitch was happy to assist his former mentor and in cooperation with Woods and Bell, designed and constructed a coupé body for the duo’s project. Bell would emerge as the creative force, while Woods was the talented engineer and machinist with an attention to detail and quality that bordered on the obsessive.

Meanwhile, Bell and Woods had decided on a name for their car: DAWB 6- an amalgam of their initials, with the 6 denoting the number of cylinders of the engine that would power it. And what an engine it was; wholly designed and manufactured by Bell and Woods themselves: a dry-sump, aircooled inline six with three dual carburettors and a displacement of just 1413cc. Its output was an impressive 136 Bhp.

The transmission (built from scratch as well) was integrated into the engine and drove the front wheels. The whole drivetrain was mounted transversally and laid on its side to allow for a low front profile. Milled from solid billets, the elements for the all round independent suspension and steering box were also entirely home made. The DAWB 6 was fitted with disc brakes on all four wheels, which were Borrani wire wheels initially but after these were stolen they were replaced by JA Pearce alloys.

The 20-gauge steel body rested on a tubular frame and rubber bushes. Leitch had delivered a beautifully finished, at once modern and distinctive design. The few elements sourced from existing vehicles were the windscreen (Ford Zephyr Mk2), rear window (a cut down Volvo screen), dash instruments (Zephyr Mk2 again), and the door frames which were modified Humber Hawk items.

The end result was as impressive in concept as it was in execution and detail finish. The flush-mounted door handles (Bell & Woods-made of course), two 6-volt batteries in tandem mounted on either side of the boot, hydraulic struts for bonnet and bootlid and the trim around the rear window that acted as the radio aerial are just some of the features demonstrating the talent and eye for detail of both men.

David Woods and the DAWB 6. (c) Motortalk

Finished in 1962, David Woods soon lost interest in the DAWB 6 (Bell had for reasons unknown already went his own way some time before) and turned his attention to designing and building a boat.

Luckily the DAWB 6 was spared the fate of deteriorating forgotten and uncared for in a shed or back yard and instead found refuge in the Ulster Transport Museum; looking as if it has just rolled out of the Belfast Tools and Gauge Company’s gates it is an exhibit that deserves more than just a passing glance.

After all, not many have it in them to design, manufacture and assemble a working car mostly from scratch – that it also happens to look pleasing is simply a nice bonus.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

29 thoughts on “Because They Could”

  1. What a brilliant car.
    The front doesn’t quite work.
    I thought the screen was from a DB4.

  2. Somehow overall it looks like a baby Iso Rivolta 300 to me, but the front and rear are treated very differently. Not to keen on how the fronts looks, it’s quite busy with all those lights.

    I’m fascinated by the engine and gearbox, small capacity and an impressive power output and really wonder how it sounds. The only air cooled inline six I’ve heard was from a Franklin, but that was a different beast all together.

    Also I’m pretty interested in the boat, but can’t seem to find any info on it.

  3. Good morning Bruno. What an amazing achievement! There’s no sign of the usual small-run model compromises (i.e. slightly ill-fitting off the shelf components) and the body looks as though it could have come straight from Pininfarina. The quality of the coachbuilding looks superb. Coupling that with a bespoke engine and transmission just adds to the excellence of their endeavours. What a shame it was effectively stillborn.

    The headlamp treatment is interesting. From straight ahead it looks fine, but it’s a bit boss-eyed from other angles.

    Thanks for bringing the DAWB 6 to us. (It really needed a more romantic sounding name though!)

  4. What a find! I really, really like this car.
    What chutzpah, what commitment, to
    bring this to completion. Thanks Bruno!
    and yes, the sound that engine might make,
    surely intoxicating…

  5. “a dry-sump, aircooled inline six with three dual carburettors and a displacement of just 1413cc. Its output was an impressive 136 Bhp.” and the refinements like the batttery placement makes this a very cheering machine. The engine concept is fantastic. What a pity the designers were in the wrong part of the world to get this further. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  6. The DAWB is new to me, so thank you for introducing me to it. As others have said, the treatment of the lights is odd, but otherwise it seems very well resolved.

  7. What an interesting article and superb engineering skills by the Developers / Builders too. Thanks very much for posting.

  8. Thanks for the article.
    The DAWB 6 is also completely unknown to me.
    Apart from the very interesting technology, I also find the design very neat. In contrast to other readers I also like the front with the solution of the double headlights. A very independent design and very nice how the motif is repeated at the rear.

  9. What a fillip for a freezing evening. You constantly manage to unearth something not only unheard of before, Bruno, but also bring forth the interest with this tiny Inline six cylinder. Indeed, how must this sound? I really enjoyed this article. Heartwarming.
    To the name, DAWB is pretty awful. My suggestion being the Woods Wolf. They could’ve gone on with a Wolverine cabriolet and a Lair for their large saloon had the coin dropped more favourably.

  10. It is a remarkable story – thank you, Bruno. It must have taken tremendous dedication, but I’m sure that David Woods enjoyed the creative process and making something the best it could be.

    I’m also sure that he was proud of what he created – it looks as though he showed it to Margaret Thatcher when she visited his factory in 1981, and then sent her a picture of it as a memento.

    Click to access 454416EF07074F2F8488AE9F52DD094F.pdf

  11. I’ve been nurturing a plan to visit the Ulster Transport museum at some point when the darn virus loosens its grip. (Maybe next summer if we’re lucky!) The Queen Medbh is the attraction – but now that Bruno has brought this creation to our attention, I’m longing to take a close look…

  12. While Messrs Woods and Bell were working on the DAWB 6, in the Republic, some enterprising individuals were developing this beauty:

    The 1959 Shamrock was intended to be exported to the US as a cut-price competitor to the Thunderbird. It was powered by a 1.5 litre engine from the Austin A55. Here’s a contemporary advertisement for it:

    They made ten examples, apparently.

    1. Has someting in common with a Nash Rambler.
      Austin made a smaller version of that with an A40. Its front-heavy 1200cc B-series engine gave it awful handling.

  13. That’s made my day!

    It’s a reminder of Belfast’s standing as one of the UK’s great engineering cities, and the passion which exists for cars, motorcycles and motor sport in that part of the world.

    The end product is an astonishing accomplishment, and I have to admire Woods’ nerve in going straight to Bertone and Pininfarina – never mind the smaller carrozzerie who might have valued the work. In the end Billy the hearse-builder did a grand job.

    This car has completely gone under my radar – unlike the hideous Shamrock – and I’m already thinking of a trip to Belfast when freedom returns. I just hope it isn’t an elaborate 1980s hoax built around a Honda CBX engine…

    1. Hi Robertas, the Shamrock is just too weird and eccentric for DTW not to give it its moment in the limelight…stay tuned, or be forewarned!

  14. Interesting that the Shamrock was built in Castleblaney, a small town in Co. Monaghan, just South West of the often disputed border with Northern Ireland. Not the first place one one think of building a motor car. The Shamrock puts me in mind of an enlarged, more self-important looking Nash Metropolitan, which isn’t really a terrific embarkation point. One would have to assume there was drink involved.

    Of course cars were assembled in many locations in the Irish Republic over the years, but DeLorean apart, I don’t recall there being much activity of that nature in Northern Ireland. The reason for this one imagines is that as part of the UK, Ulster wasn’t subject to the same tariffs as were enacted in the autonomous 26 Counties.

    But in terms of indigenous carmakers, I can only think of TMC Costin who built a Frank Costin designed sportscar in Co Wexford for a brief time during the 1980s. There was bound to have been others…

    1. “The Shamrock was to be built in Tralee in County Kerry but that didn’t work out.”

      https://www.thejournal.ie/the-shamrock-car-3284091-Mar2017/

      https://www.independent.ie/life/the-shamrock-the-flash-and-sleek-irish-car-that-never-got-out-of-first-gear-30600546.html

      Here’s an article listing cars that were exclusively assembled in Ireland, and also mentions the various satellite assembly plants such as Ford, Cork.

      https://www.allianz.ie/blog/your-car/made-in-ireland.html

  15. Ah, the Amigo. Definitely worthy of the DTW treatment some time.

    We should not forget that County Down gave us Harry Ferguson, who I would nominate, without a hint of mischief, as my choice for the greatest automotive engineer the British Isles ever produced.

    1. Robertas: Not quite. The TMC Costin was a Lotus 7 inspired, somewhat rudimentary sports car design, quite unlike the rather sophisticated Amigo, which was built in the UK. But yes, the latter deserves further elaboration. One of these days…

    2. Gooddog: Thanks for this. Castleblaney – Tralee; could they have found less appropriate locations to build a motor car? The list of car assembly sites cited in that linked article falls a good way short of the total. Some of the marques assembled in Ireland would surprise a lot of people. It certainly surprised me. Adler, for example. I seem to recall that several US carmakers also had an assembly operation for a time. As did Jaguar. And Mercedes. The first VWs built outside of Wolfsburg. Panhard. And so forth…

      Vic: the very same, if not in person. Harry had passed into the realm of the infinite by then.

  16. I have a recollection of reading not long ago about a car making enterprise in Belfast in the Edwardian era. I’ll see if I can find the reference tomorrow…

  17. Managed to locate a reference to Chambers in Belfast:

    https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/motors/past-imperfect-1.1026490

    While looking it up I flicked through Bob Montgomery’s “Motor Assembly In Ireland”, and found to my astonishment that apparently at one point Opels were assembled and distributed by two different companies in the Republic. O’Shea’s in Cork covered Carlow, Cork, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford, while everywhere else was supplied by Reg Armstrong in Dublin. It seems like the least efficient way possible to manage a small market…

  18. Thank you all for your kind comments, glad you liked it.
    Freerk: Like you, I also tried to find information about the boat Woods turned his attention to after the DAWB project but unfortunately without any luck so far…
    Charles: That’s an interesting document; it provides the extra information that at least until 1981 the DAWB6 was still on location at Woods’ factory. Thank you! Too bad there is no scan of the photo that Woods sent to Mrs Thatcher- or is there?

    1. Thank you, Bruno – I’ll see if I can find something. I know of a photo of Mrs T sitting in the car with (I believe) David Woods looking on, so he really was proud of it and what he and his company achieved, all those years later – rightly so, too.

      I’m interested in the boat, but equally have drawn a blank, so far. The only things I’ve found out was that it was made of steel and about 40 feet long. I can’t recall where I found that out, though.

  19. Wonderful article Bruno. I live about 10 miles from the Transport Museum so have seen the DAWD several times and can thoroughly recommend a trip to all DTW readers; cars, buses, trains, planes, cycles and motorbikes all quite accessible. Northern Ireland had a great cadre of skilled craftsmen from the shipyard and the aircraft factory and an enthusiasm for motor sport, Artie Bell, Tommy Robb, the Dunlops, Paddy Hoplirk, Eddie Jordan and John Watson so perhaps it’s surprising that this is the only “special” built here. Another name worthy of mention are Crosslé carshttp://crossle.co.uk/ built a few miles away in the Holywood hills.

  20. What a fascinating car.
    I live 4 miles from the museum and I can’t recall ever seeing it before.
    Good excuse for a return trip to find it, when we can get out and about again.
    Thank you for the article.

    1. You’re welcome Kevin. Pleased you enjoyed the article, and hope you get a chance to see it in person very soon.

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