Australian Road Rider Mag: Social Customs

A little over five years ago, laid off from the mines when a downturn hit, Liam Butler, a Newcastle lad with an interest in vehicle modification and restoration, needed work and a new challenge.

And so it came to pass that a new custom shop emerged…

Butler’s Customs & Café Racers.

With a need to feed his family and limited space to work from as he’d be starting off at home, Liam used Facebook to let punters know he could repair motorcycles and do wiring, which resulted in him getting four jobs that very evening!

Work steadily rolled in as word got out that there was someone willing to do the jobs that dealers weren’t interested in, and a more suitable location was sought. After 18 months of working from home, Butler’s Customs’ first workshop was set up in a disused space alongside a cool local restaurant and drinking hole called The Edwards, in the west end of town.

Set in a light industrial area, this former laundromat conveyed the right vibe and set the right scene as having just the right customers, right there “on tap”. Things were going along quite well, but after a mere two years at this location, the restaurant was due for renovations and expanded into the Butler’s Customs’ work space, so a new location was needed.

Newcastle is fast becoming a cosmopolitan centre, a place with all the good things in life. It has beautiful beaches, is close to a major wine-producing region and many natural wonders, with the advantage of not suffering the congestion of larger cities. There’s a diverse range of dining establishments and bars cropping up regularly, establishing themselves in areas once considered industrial, and it’s not unusual to find coffee, fashion, food and repair workshops sharing the same building. The more grunge the better! Many locals who would have worked in jobs servicing the steel and coal mining industries in the past have had to reinvent themselves to survive in an ever-changing cultural and economic landscape.

For Butler’s Customs it was off to bigger premises in Belmont for a couple of years, with further growth forcing another move to the current shop in Gateshead, an industrial area just south of Newcastle. This 450sqm shop has more space, with dedicated areas for fabrication, painting and assembly, with off-street parking as well as a front counter for customers to book in.

Butler’s Customs is a family-owned business, with Liam and his wife Sharna doing pretty much everything.

Now with a bit more space and the workload increasing, they’ve added a full-time painter to the mix. Known for designing and making parts, the business now encompasses the world of custom cars — like the Chevy C20 pickup they did for Murray’s Brewery — leather goods and more. This way you can be assured you’re getting a true custom product. Whatever you need, they’ll make it happen for you, usually in a retro style to help you look like one of the cool kids.

Butler’s Customs likes to keep in touch with customers on a regular basis via photos and videos of the vehicle being built. This way the client can follow the progress and ensure the job is to their liking. The photos and videos also form part of a catalogue of past work to show new clients the many possibilities available.

Much of the work Liam gets is a result of his Instagram profile, @butlerscustomsandcaferacers, where potential customers can see the style of his creations and tap into a resource that would possibly only exist underground. This has enabled him to pick up new commissions. While I was there checking out the place for this article, he showed me a new arrival from a client… his second bike after having just had one finished (and not yet delivered). Liam is expecting to get another from this client, transported up from Victoria based on what he’d seen on Instagram and after a phone conversation! Needless to say, the word is getting out there!