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