High-Speed – It’s all Relative

1973 ABU/Garcia ad for the ABU 5000. This was arguably the most popular reel ever made by any reel company. Note the small double handle. By the mid-70s, most anglers took this handle off and replaced it with a Gator Grip or BPS double handle.

1973 ABU/Garcia ad for the ABU 5000. This was arguably the most popular reel ever made by any reel company. Note the small double handle. By the mid-70s, most anglers took this handle off and replaced it with a Gator Grip or BPS double handle.

We’ve previously covered the Swedish reel manufacturer ABU with respect to their Cardinal series of reels marketed by Zebco in the late 60s through 80s. We’ve aso talked about their ever-famous 5000 series reels here a bit. But these ads I recently ran across really tell a lot about where we’ve come from and what anglers dealt with early in this bassin’ game.

The year is 1973 and nearly every hard-core bass angler is using the reels ABU made. Yeah, there were a few using reels made by Shakespeare and Pflueger (Lew Childre wouldn’t debut his BB1 Speed Spool for another couple years) but the vast majority were using the 5000 series of reels produced by ABU and marketed by Garcia.

1973 ABU/Garcia ad featuring their new 5500C High-Speed casting reel. Note the small counter-balanced handle. That was a joy to reel.

1973 ABU/Garcia ad featuring their new 5500C High-Speed casting reel. Note the small counter-balanced handle. That was a joy to reel.

At this time, the ABU Garcia 5000 was the mainstay. In the U.S. it came in red and was a bushing reel (no enclosed ball bearings) that featured a 3.8:1 gear ratio. The other reels at the time in the series were the 5000C and 5000D. The D model was essentially the same reel as the 5000 but in direct-drive. In other words, if a fish needed to take line, the handle would rotate backwards, hence the nickname “knucklebuster,” as the reel spool went backwards liberating line from the spool. This reel came in green in the U.S. and was also a bushing reel. The 5000C, on the other hand, was the first bearing reel they marketed and the reel that would become the standard of the time.

Then in mid-’73 ABU came out with their new high-speed reel, the 5500C. More than likely they listened to their staff and customers who desired a higher gear ratio reel. By now, high-speed gear kits such as Buzz Gears and Speed Grears were being sold and many anglers were taking advantage of them by swapping out the factory gears. Now ABU offered a reel that didn’t need any additional work.

What’s kind of amazing is we considered 5:1 high speed back then. Today reel companies offer reels anywhere from a slow 5:1 up to and over 7:1. Aside from the occasional company that puts out a low-speed cranking reel, you’re hard pressed to find anything slower than 5:1 these days. Makes me wonder how we caught fish back then [grin].

  • Jojo Norwood

    ….I thought they were 4.7 to 1…. My first reel was like that w/ the single grip, in a leather box w/ oil ,wrench and spare brake blocks….I bought a power handle w/ APM ASAP…..My 4500C came w/ one allready, but no leather box… Got it the 8th grade. {mid 70’s}…. caught 4 bass on it this morning on a spinnybait. That reel has been used 37 years +/-…..

    • You know Jojo, I thought they were 4.7:1 also. Maybe they were and in typical engineer form they rounded up. 🙂 I’ve retired all my old ABUs. Actually I wore most of them out. It would be nothing to replace the pinion gears and pawls for my 4500Cs and 5500Cs but the reels I’d really like to repair are the 1500Cs and 2500Cs. Hard to find parts for those suckers……