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1954 62 dawb 6
Northern Ireland’s Other Car

By: Vasileios Papaidis Sun, 21 Mar 2021

1954-62 DAWB 6

Northern Ireland’s a bit of a strange place. It’s really only famous for three things. The Titanic, which was a ship that sank. The IRA, which was a terrorist group. And the DeLorean DMC-12, which was actually pretty good. Apart from the engine. And the links to drug trafficking.

We don’t really have a car industry – the DMC-12 was the only mass-produced car built exclusively in Northern Ireland. But we do have Crosslé, which builds race cars, and then of course we have that one car built by a strangely driven man somewhere in Belfast. The DAWB 6. David Woods was one of the key people at Belfast Tool & Gauge, which was a company that built stuff like press tools and precision components, and was known as one of the best precision engineering companies about. And on a completely unrelated note, they undertook sub-contract work for DeLorean. One day in 1949 his friend Artie Bell, who was a works Norton motorcycle racer, asked him to build him a motorcycle. David didn’t like that idea. So they decided to build a car instead. And so they got to work. Well, no they didn’t. It took five years to plan. So, by 1954, they were ready to start actually making something. Actually no. By 1954, David Woods was ready to start making something. All Artie did was put his initials in the name – DAWB stands for David Artie Woods Bell. Early on in development, David went to the Turin Motor Show to look at the latest styles and to discuss a body for his car. It didn’t go well.

“Pininfarina wouldn’t even let us through the door. Bertone let us inside but was not interested. Others quoted prices which scared us.” So he contacted an old apprentice of his, Billy Leitch, who was running a small body shop specialising in turning Rolls-Royces into hearses. Unfortunately nothing comes up when you put Billy Leitch into Google, so I can’t show you any of the what I’m sure would be very interesting cars. Have another quote instead.

“Without him we would have got nowhere. He made the body from 20 gauge steel from a model and sketches I’d made on the wall, there weren’t any proper drawings, for that or anything. I don’t know how he did it, he used wooden patterns so rough you would light your fire with them. He was a genius.”Those parts included the windscreen, which was taken from a MK2 Ford Zephyr, the back window, which was a modified Volvo windscreen, the door frames, which were from a Humber Hawk, and a few of the interior gauges. Everything else was custom built, even things like the starter motor and the four-wheel disc brakes. The car took eight years to build, and was referred to by workers at Belfast Tool and Gauge as ‘Davy’s Folly’, and probably for good reason. It is said that he sometimes put in a 100 hour week working on it. That’s more than 14 hours a day, seven days a week. But now we must get onto the engine, because that’s the weirdest part yet. This is quite possibly the strangest engine you will ever find in a car of any sort. Seriously. I will be impressed if you find me something weirder. It has a 1413cc six-cylinder engine, with dual overhead camshafts. And a dry sump. Oh, and it’s air-cooled. And it’s laid flat. Transversely mounted, too. It’s even got an integrated gearbox. Did I mention that it’s FWD? It’s the fantasy of a madman. The Mini Cooper only had a few of those features and came out years after work started on the DAWB 6, and it was considered revolutionary. But it gets even better. This ridiculous engine actually worked. And it worked well. It made 136bhp. From 1.4 litres! That gives a specific output of 97bhp/litre! For comparison, the Aston Martin DB4 GT, which was the fastest car in the world when the DAWB was completed, only had 65hp/litre. No production car got close to the DAWB 6 in terms of specific output. So. What happened to this pioneering car, with its incredible engine and undeniably beautiful (if a bit weird) styling? The ridiculously expensive one-off that had taken years of hard work to bring to fruition?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

His dream realised, David lost interest in the car, and moved on to designing a boat. It currently languishes in the Ulster Transport Museum, with a worrying amount of pans underneath to catch the leaking fluids. At least, that’s the generally accepted ending. Whilst researching the DAWB 6, I came across an entry in a book, which claimed to list every single car in the world, for the DWBS. A prototype sports car built in 1973 by a certain David Woods at a certain Belfast Tool and Gauge. The DAWB 6 is mentioned in a separate entry. Is it possible that a second car was built? That book is the only evidence of the existence of such a vehicle, and when you type ‘Belfast Tool and Gauge DWBS car’ into Google Images all you get is kitchen utensils. But I know of one person who might possibly be able to tell me if it exists. If she wasn’t dead. When Margaret Thatcher, who was at that time the UK Prime Minister, visited Belfast in 1981, she got a tour of the facilities at Belfast Tool and Gauge. Documents which were declassified in 2011 include, among lots of stuff about the IRA, a few letters to and from David Woods. They talk about the prototype car she had been shown, and also mention a picture of the car which David sent to her. A picture of the car that wasn’t included when the documents were uploaded. What was this prototype car? Could it have been this DWBS? Or was it ‘just’ the DAWB 6. Unfortunately, unless Margaret Thatcher rises from the grave, we will probably never know the full story of the DAWB 6. But we can at least console ourselves by thinking about what a car it was.


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