Business profile: Carac Group

By: Lyndsay Whittle, Photography by: Lyndsay Whittle and supplied

John Burling manufactured his first go-kart at the tender age of nine, and he’s never stopped making things since that time in the early 1960s

John and Yvonne Burling

After improving upon some of the go-kart’s features, John’s next foray into the world of invention was creating a series of off-road motorbikes in two-, three-, and four-wheel configurations.

As a kid, John says, he was an avid reader of Popular Mechanics magazine, and he’d always been "mad on motorbikes", so it was easy for him to come up with dozens of ways to improve on the machines that were already on the market at the time.

John’s original D-Series Ford and electric bike

Perhaps the invention he’s most proud of is the patented ‘T Bar’, which he designed quite early in his inventing career and is fitted to quad bikes. This device surely has saved the lives of hundreds, if not thousands off-road riders worldwide.

Spend some time asking John about his inventions and the mind is sent into a tailspin, trying to filter out which of his creations would be best to write about in a four-page magazine article.

While it would be possible to fill an entire book on the subject, here’s just one more of his pre-Carac inventions—it’s a six-wheel buggy with 40 forward and 20 reverse gears. The machine is powered by a Suzuki TS185 engine and high/low transmission and coupled to a Skoda Trekka gearbox, giving it its incredible number of forward and reverse gears.

Sounds exciting enough to send one particular magazine contributor on a trip to New Plymouth to take it for a test run, I reckon. Partly to satisfy his love of the motorcycle, in 1981, John and his wife Yvonne opened a motorbike shop in Stratford, with John manufacturing a diverse range of implements such as brightly coloured children’s seesaws and farm trailers as a side-line, which traded as ‘JB Products.’

As demand steadily grew for the New Zealand-made trailers outside of the local community, the units had to be transported to the local railway station for distribution throughout the country.

A good-old Falcon ute was often used to tow a trailer loaded high with JB Products’ farm trailers to the railhead, however, the staff members making the delivery found that hitching and unhitching the company trailer was proving to be a bit of a mission, which often resulted in the ute’s tailgate sustaining damage of some kind or another due to the awkward forces required to pull against the strong spring of the conventional trailer coupling.

When John learned of the difficulty his staff had been experiencing, he put his imagination into gear, picked up a table napkin, and started writing a list of 10 ways the simple trailer coupling could be improved upon.

Having made a few sketches of some possible improvements, John went straight into his R&D workshop and started fabricating a prototype (now patented). He says he still has it sitting around today. The short story is that when people saw all the easy-to-use features of the finished product, the couplings sold like hotcakes and a worldwide market was born.

Made in New Zealand

TrackGrip bolts on and off with ease

Applying the age-old theory of not having all of one’s eggs in one basket, John decided to venture into contracting, as he has a liking for trucks and machinery, He bought an old D-Series Ford tipper and a 20-tonne digger, which he was soon working hard and doing well for himself while having a bit of fun at the same time.


One wet miserable day when walking his excavator up a slippery slope using the bucket to anchor the machine as he moved forward, things turned pear-shaped as all forward momentum was lost and he found himself sitting in a machine that was further down the slope than he’d started out from minutes earlier.

Now, the majority of us would probably utter a few expletives and curse the digger manufacturer for not being able to build a machine with tracks that could alleviate or at least mitigate such issues.

But the mind of John Burling doesn’t work that way, and he didn’t waste any time getting into his R&D shed and began working on a design for some cleats that would eventually become known as TrackGrip.

TrackGrip models for different applications

The brief he’d given himself was to come up with a set of attachments that were easy to fit on and take off a machine and would produce better traction in all conditions encountered by operators of tracked machinery.


Fast forward to 2021 and Carac Group manufactures TrackGrip in three configurations: Mighty Grip for forestry use, Ultra Grip for use in snow, and Rubber Grip for machines with rubber tracks.

The company

Carac’s innovative Bin Mate easily attaches to a vehicle towbar

When asked about the company name, John says it’s basically a made-up name, but it can be attributed to the trailer coupling, which, although originally intended for use on farm trailers, found its way into the on-road market.


As the manufacturing business expanded, a name for the operation was required so John came up with a contracted version of ‘car accessory company’ and the name Carac was born.

It’s not clear whether even John realised at the time that the word he created for his venture was a palindrome, but he reckons it’s pretty cool having a company name that reads the same even when read backwards.

More products from the Carac stable

Carac Group is a family-operated organisation, with the company founders John and Yvonne’s daughter Sonia holding the position of CEO, Yvonne and younger daughter, Heather, jointly in the position of office administrators, and son, Mark, completing his apprenticeship with the company.

Aside from designing and manufacturing its own 100% New Zealand-made products, Carac Manufacturing’s eight factories are set up to produce large and small runs of product to service its ever-increasing customer base.

The following is an example of the services the company can provide:

  • CNC laser cutting
  • CNC high-definition plasma cutting
  • CNC milling
  • CNC waterjet and router with 6m x 2m bed
  • CNC press brakes (bed lengths up to 3.6m and up to 220 tonnes capacity)
  • CNC lathes with live tooling

The company also has guillotines, robot welders, fully automated bandsaws, bead blasters, and rumblers, along with zinc plating and powder-coating plants. The company’s CNC high-precision waterjet six-axis plus rotary cutting is an extremely versatile piece of equipment, plus the newly installed CNC router, capable of drilling and tapping plus rotary cutting of aluminium. With the combination of these two machines, they can cut stainless and tool steel, glass, titanium, plywood, ceramic, and more.

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