Don Newell: An appreciation
Finding myself with some time to spare in Brisbane about four years ago, I decided it was time to drop in for the first time on Don Newell. Don had given me simple directions over the phone which included “take the Gateway Highway”. This sounded like a few minutes drive but obviously Brisbane has its traffic holdups and it turned out to be similar to “take the M5 tunnel” in Sydney, without the pollution but with all the delay. When we arrived Don had given up on us and was leaving a note to let us know when he would be back. This gave us time for lunch while Don took his wife Marie to the doctors. Later we were all together and while I have heard lots about Don I admit to being somewhat gobsmacked. I asked Don about his introduction to the Bultaco clan and it turns out that he was, back in the ‘50s and ‘60s much more a BSA and Honda devotee. Don raced BSAs and worked at the local
Honda dealer where he was the workshop mechanic specialising in the rebuilding of the early 4-stroke twin cylinder models.
He got to try his first Bultaco about the same time as he found himself out of a job and with no money, and not even a phone, but was advised to try to run a business – any business. Don decided his first choice would involve the new Bultaco brand of motorcycles. To this end he wrote to convince Sr. Francisco Bulto that this was a serious request to be come part of the Bultaco dynasty. The big surprise to Don was when none other than John Grace*, works engineer, called in on Don. Don announced regretfully that although he appreciated the visit he probably didn’t qualify for a franchise, and in any case didn’t Bert Flood already have dibs in Australia for the brand? No problemo, Bert’s franchise was for Victoria and South Australia. And what about the money problem? Don was essentially broke. No problemo, look in the Yellow Pages, find a financier, and borrow the money. John Grace’s next question at this inaugural meeting convinced Don that this was for real. “How many models do you want to start off with?”
The rest of this story did not proceed as smoothly as the fairy tale start, with another new kid on the block, starting off in Orlando Road, Lambton in Newcastle as a backyard mechanic – Norm Fraser. Norm was smart and ruthless – you have to be when in business, and eventually swallowed up the NSW and Queensland franchises, and Don was out of the picture but still the proprietor of the business that his son runs to this day. When Norm Fraser was getting out of the Bultaco business, the amazing swag of new spare parts was trucked from Newcastle to Sydney, then Brisbane and after negotiations with Bill McDonald, there were many trips with ute and trailer to Don’s place where along with many newly manufactured parts they now reside.
Sthn. Highlands, NSW See Paul Read’s obituary to Don Newell in Buzz Box this issue.
*John Grace’s real name was Juan Garcia. He was a native of Gibraltar and raced, quite successfully under Grace as he felt it would be easier to gain fame with an English-sounding name. He was the first sales manager for Bultaco and in fact came up with the brand name – a combination of Bulto and ‘Paco’, which was Francisco Bulto’s nick name.
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ABOVE In his pre-Bultaco days, Don Newell chases Tony Edwards’ Maico in a scramble at Jerry’s Downfall, Qld. LEFT Don Newell was still competing into his late ‘seventies, Bultaco mounted of course.