A couple weeks ago we posted a piece on the Daiwa and Shimano offerings for the 1979 tackle year. Although Daiwa had long been in the tackle industry, Shimano had only recently delved into the market after Lew Childre convinced them to produce his Lew’s Speed Spool in 1974. Well, today in Shimano 1978-79 we have the first Shimano catalog for you to check out. It’s a meager catalog offering only two casting reels, three spinning reel series, and five rod series.
We talked at length in the Daiwa Shimano article about how Shimano got in the business and this catalog is a testament of how fast they moved from manufacturing someone else’s ideas to going out on their own. Still, Lew Childre’s fingerprints are all over the first couple pages of this catalog.
But I’ll wait to cover those topics when we get to those pages. First off, I want to address the cover.
You can often tell how fast a company is moving with relation to R&D and production by looking at a new catalog. In this case, the cover image tells an interesting story.
I’ve heard of prototype reels that have been made out of balsa wood or cork that provide a full-size 3-D model to test for overall size, ergonomics, and advertising images. At first glance of the image on the cover of this 78-79 catalog, it appears as if we’re looking at full-up Bantam 100. But then something caught my eye. The Fuji ceramic insert is missing from the line guide. This real is not complete and it makes me wonder how much of this picture reel is there. For all intents and purposes, it could be missing gears, bearings, and other internals.
The image could have been taken once the final design was approved based on prototype parts and the image was shot knowing nothing would change. A lot of times, marketing and production are working in parallel, especially when there’s a deadline to meet, in this case the 1978 AFTMA show.
Turning the page, we are introduced to the company itself. They discuss how they’d been in business for over 50 years producing bicycle parts as well as metals for several other industries. What is interesting is they say they started in the fishing industry in 1970. This makes me wonder if that is when Childre approached them about making reel parts or to make his Speed Spool. It is entirely possible that it took four years to develop a new concept reel like the BB1.
What I found to be disheartening was there was no mention of Lew Childre and the work they’d done with him. I guess at this point they were trying to make a clean break and start fresh. From a business standpoint, this makes sense, especially after the passing of Childre in 1977.
Turning the page we’re greeted with the brand-new Bantam Series reels, the 100 and 100EX. These reels were complete gems for their day and offered the angler the option to have a small, compact, light reel that would accommodate light lines. In fact, these reels could handle 6- and even 4-pound lines without fear of the line getting behind the spool. A first in the industry.
Looking at the bantam 100 on page 2 you can see clearly that the Fuji insert was placed in this line guide and the teak handle knobs add a touch of class to the all-silver reel. But aside from the overall shape, every aspect of the reel was a BB1 Speed Spool.
For example, there’s the tristar drag, the sticker on the spool tension cap is an exact copy, and the disengaging levelwind were all Speed Spool features.
But Shimano did add some other features that were new. First was the 1/4-turn spool engagement. The Bantam 100EX even had a lure control feature that would allow an angler to fish baits down to 1/16-ounce, so they said.
Never mind their association with producing the Speed Spool, the first Bantam series reels put Shimano on the map when it came to baitcasting reels. One wouldn’t see how serious they were until the 1979-80 tackle year, a catalog I can’t wait to share with you.
The next few pages of the catalog feature their four spinning reel series, reels I am not too familiar with due to their weight. We sold the ML series, which looked a lot like a Daiwa Silver series, at the shop I worked at as a kid and the smallest reel, the ML-10 came in at nearly 10 ounces. In my opinion, the reel didn’t feel as solid as the Daiwa 1500C or 2500C either.
On page 10 starts the Shimano lines of rods. I do have to say the Shimano pistol grip was an absolute work of art. Silver in color like the reel, the problem I had with the rod I owned was it was a bear to fish with in the winter. It’s the only rod I sold in my young bass fishing career and today, I kick myself in the butt for doing so.
Another thing about this handle was the reel attachment mechanism. Unlike the Fuji pistol grips that had a thumbscrew on the bottom of the grip, the Shimano pistol grip had a knurled nut inline with the length of the foregrip. It was classy and it worked well, until someone overtightened the nut. That’s when the metal threads on the nut would strip the plastic threads on the reel keeper and you’d play hell getting the reel off the rod and being able to tighten another reel down on the reel seat. I remember taking a few of the pistol grips to the grinder to remove them and replace them with a Fuji pistol grip.
We didn’t sell many of these rods at all in the shop I worked at and after a couple seasons quit selling all Shimano rods all together. This was due to the fact that Fenwick and Phenix were the rods of choice for the anglers in the western states.
That about covers it for this catalog. If any of you out there reading this can add anything on the products I glossed over, please leave a note in the comments section below. And, for those of you who are interested in seeing the entire catalog, please check out the gallery below. Click on the first image and use the arrows to scroll through the entire catalog.