DMW & Mr Dawson

Founded in 1940 by Leslie ‘Smokey’ Dawson, DMW was a pioneering British bike builder based in the Black Country – the founder of Dawson Motors Wolverhampton. In three decades, the DMW company manufactured some 15,000 motorcycles including many still used for trials and competition.

Smokey started out racing motorcycles in the 1930s and then began fitting swinging arm rear suspension to previously rigid pre-war machines. He introduced Telematic front suspension to replace girder forks, and started building grasstrack racers after WW2. He claimed patents for several engineering innovations, including dual front brakes, before emigrating to Canada in 1948. In later life, Leslie returned to the UK and here RC reader David Towler recalls meeting the man himself…

I first met Smokey Dawson when he bounced his Morris Minor off the back of my older brother’s Triumph Herald, which was parked at the time, twenty feet up our drive! He selected reverse with a scrunch and lurched away, seemingly unaware of the collision.

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About a week later I caught sight of Smokey as he visited a neighbour, a retired haulage yard owner. He did this most Sundays, so I marched across to point out his deviation from the highway code. Standing about three-feet away, he couldn’t see me. As he was clearly a bit confused I let the matter go and returned to my own side of the road.

An hour later he appeared at my gate and asked if I would kindly help him cross the busy main road. Yes, I said… and to my surprise he climbed into his car and approached then broached the red light! Luckily nothing was coming and away he went, flat out in every gear until I could no longer see him.

In 1935, Smokey Dawson made his first appearance at the Isle of Man. He clocked up a very respectable average speed of 75.2mph on this outing

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Some time passed and the neighbour called and asked if I would visit Smokey and check on him, as he hadn’t been to dinner in a while. Furnished with his address, about a mile away on the other side of Ellesmere Port, I left to conduct the first of many social check-ups.

Smokey’s door opened and there he stood, in his trousers c1945 and vest. Unshaved. Come in, he said, would you like a cup of tea? I could have been anyone. After I had boil-washed some cups and had tea, we agreed I would call every now and then for a cup of tea and a chat.

His house was no longer traversable by normal means: castings, prototypes, jigs and a few unridden machines filled every space, the stairs were lined in either side the same. I tried to suggest a clear-out but to each piece of (to my youthful eyes) junk, was attached an hour’s story. Tales of patents allowed to slip, lack of capital and even major manufactures stealing his ideas… most were dismissed as fantasy at the time.

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Piles of photographs, sepia and withered, told further tales of speed and handling. Of little changes that affected performance, of tuning and design. Smokey would often say that the world wasn’t ready for some of his ideas. After looking at the pictures, I began to see his point.

He once asked about my interests. In truth I had no interest other than escaping Ellesmere Port as soon as I had finished college. What about girls, he said. Yes, I had one. What about motorcycles? Yep, one of them too.

‘Would you like this?’ he said, gesturing to what could accurately be called a ‘cooking’ moped styled by the writer of the Jetsons. ‘No thanks,’ I said, more in fear of my father making me return it post haste than actually distain for the ugly machine. Oh youth, you fool.

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This 1968 DMW Deemster was sold by Bonhams auctioneers for £2185 in summer 2020. Was it perhaps the machine encountered by our reader in Dawson’s home?

Eventually his licence was taken away and the roads became a little safer, albeit boring. I had to move to Brize Norton and made it a mission, at the first available weekend free, to visit Smokey and check in. Too late was the cry, he had gone. Hung up his overalls for the last time and wearily rode away.

Life has its regrets; one of mine was not knowing him for longer. Research into his life afterwards shone light upon his genius and ruthless determination to win and his misplaced trust sadly placed in people. I am not sure anyone else on the council estate where he lived knew much about him apart from his eccentricities. I knew him, if only for a while.


Words: David Towler
Photos: DMW Motorcycles of Canada, and Bonhams auctioneers

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