Abu Cardinal 57 : The Miss

You probably know me better for my reviews of modern spinning reels, but I actually have a special passion for vintage spinning reels and one of my best pastimes is fully restoring old spinners that I'd just got off ebay, usually costing only a few quid because of their lousy condition or mechanical problems that the owners couldn't fix. In the future I will be posting reviews of other vintage spinning reels by Abu, Hardy, Mitchell, DAM, "communist" reels from East Germany and the Soviet Union, and rare saltwater Alcedos. 

The reel reviewed today is the Abu 57, which was generously gifted to me a couple of years ago by Wayne Real, one of the most knowledgeable Abu collectors in the world. I used it a few times to catch Carp and Pike, but the reel has some issues so I decided to service it before fishing it some more. The following is the procedure.

A few shots

This series of black skirted spool Abu reels was short lived, only made for 4 years between 1978 and 1982. There were several versions and spin offs from those reels: For the USA market a version was sold from 1980 to 1982 that had a red "Garcia" logo on the body - An edition was built briefly in 1980 that was named "Ambassadeur" instead of "Cardinal" - A Zebco version with a creme coloured body was sold in the USA with a "5" added to the model number (554, 555, and 557) - A cheaper version in which the handle couldn't be moved to the other side and had a more basic oscillation mechanism was made from 1980 to 1982 had a "1" added to the model number (152, 154, 155, and 157) - And there was also a spin off from the reel with a "7" added to the model number made with a regular hypoid gearing and a metal spool (752, 754, 755, and 757). This is not an exclusive list. Other variations existed for European and USA markets but this is not the place to list every one of them.

Mine is one of the early reels, made in 1978.

The first thing I disliked about this reel was the extensive use of plastic, particularly when compared to Abu spinning reels that preceded it

Plastic spool, with all the problems that come with it. The reel will be exposed to sun, Ultraviolet light will reduce the flexibility of the already brittle plastic, then the spool would simply crack when a good fish pulls on the tightly wound line. I heard reports about it, then saw it happening in late 1990s. The text on the spool says "Totally Corrosion Resistant". We'll get back to this later.

The cover of the bail's detent is plastic as well, and it was cracked in two places, most probably when someone over-tightened the screw during a past servicing.

The handle is attached to the gear via two hex tubes, male on the gear and female on the handle, then a screw goes through from the other side securing everything together. Well, again you must be familiar with the issues that comes from this setup: With the handle's movement the screw will slowly become loose and you will have to re-tighten it quite often. Also that movement causes slow wear to the edges of the hexagon, creating permanent play that only periodical forceful tightening of the screw would keep in check. Older Cardinals from as early as 1965 had a proper screw-in handle attachment that's trouble free, so it's quite obvious that on the 57 (and the rest of the series) Abu was cutting corners. This inferior system for the handle's attachment had nothings to do with the reel being ambidextrous. Long before the Abu 57, reels were coming from Japan with ambidextrous screw-in handles with two sets of counter cut threads on the handle and inside the gear shaft.    

That play in the handle causes wear in more than one direction, and on my heavily used reel the gear shaft itself became about 1.5 mm shorter due to wear, bringing the handle closer to the body and causing it to hit the bail wire every few turns. Doesn't stop the reel from working but feeling/hearing the handle slamming the wire when reeling is definitely annoying. 

Another problem with the reel was that the drag was silent. That means that when a fish pulls the line off the spool the familiar buzzing sound doesn't come out and the spool simply rotates quietly. Opening up the reel...

The red arrow points the spring clicker housed in the side cover, and the blue arrow points the gear that should engage the spring clicker to create that missing drag buzz when line is pulled out. Being familiar with those reels I immediately saw that someone had put the drag discs back in the wrong order placing the clicker gear further back than it should be, hence it no more engages the spring in the side cover. The mystery of the silent drag is solved!

The gearbox

A considerably complicated setup here. The reel has a worm gear drive which -as I mentioned in the past- is the most durable of the gearing types used in spinning reels in addition to its superior strength due to the contact area between the drive gear and pinion being several times the contact area in the case of bevel or hypoid gearing. The sliding action of the worm gearing makes it the smoothest and quietest type of all, and the only drawback is a loss of mechanical efficiency compared to other gearing types. Still in the above photo, #1 is the brass drive gear, #2 is the stainless steel pinion, #3 is the anti-reverse switch, #4 are the drag components, #5 is the plastic oscillation gear, and #6 is the anti-reverse dog and the red arrow points the rubber ring that quietens the rapid sliding of the anti-reverse dog on the pinion.

Early reels in this series, such as mine, had an audible anti-reverse that made a clicking sound when the anti-reverse was switched on, but in about 1980 they changed the design to make the anti-reverse silent

Above is a photo of such a later version where they attached a spring loaded lever (red arrow) to the anti-reverse dog and on the other end it was attached to a black plastic block (blue X) mounted on the drive gear's shaft. When the anti-reverse was switched on and the drive gear rotated clockwise, the plastic block slid around it pushing the lever down and disengaging the dog. But when the handle was turned backwards, the drive gear would turn counter-clockwise and the plastic block would bull on the lever bringing the dog up to engage the pinion and stop it from going backwards. When the anti-reverse was switched off the hidden lever coming down from the switch would block the dog from engaging the pinion so the handle could turn forward and backward freely.

Back to my reel, here is the back of the oscillation gear (red X). It's activated by the small set of teeth on the drive gear's shaft (red arrow), and the stud on the oscillation lever (blue arrow) then slides inside the channel in the back of the gear (green arrow), taking the main shaft (blue X) forward and backward with it. The large diameter of the oscillation gear makes it spin at a low speed resulting in only one full spool cycle up and down with every 3.25 turns of the handle. This slow oscillation lays line in closer coils and improves casting performance marginally.

The drive gear

The gear is machined brass, and although it shows some wear it's nowhere near being problematic. Good to go for another 30 years with proper care.

The drag knob

The knob is connected to a threaded pressure disc (red arrow) that is prevented from rotating by a little post cast in the reel's body which fits into the small cut in the disc (blue arrows). Therefore when the drag knob is turned the disc moves forward and backwards increasing or decreasing pressure on the drag washers.

Above is the pressure disc in its fully forward position.

Here are the drag components: A brass head (#1) that's keyed to the shaft internally and keyed to the clicker gear (#2) and another key washer (#3) externally. The black drag washers themselves (#4) are made of Teflon, which is another gimmick that doesn't quite work. A drag washer should be made of a material that's able to compress under pressure and produce a braking force that decreases in a linear manner with the decrease in applied pressure. The Teflon is too slippery to produce any usable braking and it doesn't compress. The result is an inconsistent performance and a very low maximum drag that didn't exceed 1.2 KG (2.7 lbs) on my reel and 2.2 KG (4.8 lbs) on another 57 I tested that was in a much better condition. Felt or leather would have done a better job than those lousy washers.

Moving to the front portion of the reel

This nut needs to be unscrewed counter-clockwise in order to remove the rotor.

Do you remember the text on the spool "Totally Corrosion Resistant"? Well, obviously they only meant the plastic spool by this

This was the sight underneath the rotor. Corrosion so bad I can hardly count a handful of times where I've seen something as bad on a reel.

Took me a while to remove the snap ring (red arrow) securing the pinion/bearing assembly, and I had a tougher job ahead removing the pinion itself because the bearing (blue arrow) was virtually fused to the body by rust.

Finally got it out and it was completely clogged with a paste of rust and old grease to the point that the ball cage had become immobile and the inner ring of the bearing was slipping around the static balls instead of rolling them. This explained why the reel felt very rough to wind despite the gears being in a good condition.

A lot of gunk found at the joint of the bail arm, which is made of plastic as well.

More gunk at the joint of the end piece opposite to the bail arm. The red arrow points to the spring loaded detent that keeps the bail open for a cast. The reel has two bail springs, one at each side which gives the bail a positive snappy feeling and should make the reel still able to function in case one of the springs fails or breaks.

The line roller disassembled.

With everything that was wrong with the reel, the line roller was turning smoothly. Thanks for that to the nylon bushing inside it (red arrow). Reels from that era mostly had some type of metal on metal arrangement for the line roller, and rollers often stopped turning after a little use. Mitchells were particularly notorious for that. 

More corrosion on the main shaft and its cross pin.

With all that rust and gunk sprays of WD40 wouldn't have made a difference, so a 24 hours soaking in a very strong solution of solvents was a must.

A day later and and after much brushing and scrubbing and work with sandpaper...

This is the part I enjoy the most when I restore an old reel: Everything is squeaky clean and ready for fresh lubes and assembly

The retaining ring being as corrosive as it is, I decided to leave a slight layer of oxidation on it that should increase its resistance to any future corrosion. This is a trick I learnt from the best gunmakers who use "rust blacking" to finish the barrels of handmade guns. That is forcing the barrels to rust then sanding off the rust leaving a thin layer of oxidised material on the surface then repeating it for a few cycles until the formation of an attractive black finish that isolates the metal from humidity and oxygen.

The ball bearing after a meticulous multi-phase cleaning process. Common sense would have been replacing it with a new bearing of the same dimensions, but I don't believe in replacing anything in a vintage reel unless it's an original part coming from another identical reel. Same goes for repainting or refinishing the metal. You will never see one of my reels with anything but the original finish no matter how worn it is.

I would be out of my mind to replace this original bearing with a modern Thai or Chinese bearing

Made in France.

The bail springs clean and ready to go. Note that they are counter-wound and non-interchangeable. Each must go to its correct end. Still in the above photo, the red arrows point to the two holes in the bail arm. This gives you the option to insert the spring's end in the further hole for more bail resistance, or in the nearer hole for a bail that's lighter to open.

There is a sintered bronze bushing inside the pinion (red arrow) to reduce the friction between the pinion and main shaft. An early concept of the "Floating Shaft" feature in modern reels.

The gearbox assembled and lubed with high grade synthetic lubes, and on the left side of the photo you can see the drag components correctly arranged so that the drag clicker can buzz again.

The reel all done and running smoothly again. I took care of the handle hitting the bail wire with a pair of tiny washers placed in the handle's tube.

Well, I actually use my vintage reels and sometimes I go on trips with a group of friends all using vintage reels exclusively. The 57 though will not be coming out with me often because of this:

A previous owner had the brilliant idea of placing this hole right in the path the line takes as it leaves the spool during a cast, and when I fished it I could feel/hear the line getting caught in the hole with each coil of line leaving the spool. See that Abu? When you make a plastic spool you put some nasty ideas in the heads of some people who aren't exactly the most innovate!

That's all. Every manufacturer in the world has hits and misses, and this series of reels was Abu's great miss in my book. Extensive use of brittle plastic, a cheap handle attachment setup, a disappointing drag performance, and the sharp boxy body lines make it one of the ugliest Abu reels I've seen. I have a lot of respect for them and they are the makers of the Suveran, the reel that I consider to be the finest spinner ever made, but I have no brand loyalty and I won't automatically revere every reel made by a particular maker no matter how good that maker is. The only rule I believe is that quality is where you find it, and the 57 lacked quality in both design and execution and no pedigree or classical status could make up for that.

I'm looking for a couple of vintage reels to review. If you have an Abu 160 or an Alcedo Mark V (or IV) that you are willing to see featured in a review get in touch with me. I will borrow it for a maximum of two months.

I hope you have enjoyed this.

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Alan Hawk
August, 3rd, 2012

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