Len Borgström reflects on red reel impacts

Len Borgström knows well that the often fickle nature of public opinion can be easily swayed by the perception of quality. In fact, the 87-year-old grandson of Abu Garcia founder, Carl August Borgström, recently shared an interesting historical nugget on how the Abu Ambassadeur 5000 — the acclaimed red round reel, which revolutionized baitcasters — actually ended up with its rosy complexion.

Now, the Abu Garcia story has been told many times, but for relevant background, here’s a respectful snapshot. In 1921, Carl Borgström founded AB Urfabriken (ABU), which translates to “AB Watch Factory,” by the Mörrum River in Svängsta, Sweden. Timepieces, telephone timers and taximeters were the original focus; but when World War II diminished their demand, Carl’s son Göte (Len’s father) refocused the company on fishing reels; the first of which was the ABU Record (1941). 

The Garcia Corporation began importing the Swedish-made reels in the 1950s and a 1984 merger yielded the Abu-Garcia name. ABU debuted the Ambassadeur 5000 in Sweden in 1952 and introduced it to U.S. anglers two years later at the AFTMA Show at Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago. Suffice it to say, the reel’s anodized aluminum frame, centrifugal brake and push-button free-spool design immediately captivated the fishing world.

The choice

Getting back to the tale of reel color, when ABU showed Ambassadeur 5000 prototypes at a Stockholm consumer show; attendees voted on red, gold, black and green options. The latter two colors were most popular, but with Göte already sold on red, that’s the direction the company proceeded.

Having recently taken over the company’s export management, Len quickly realized that the color decision would have significant impacts beyond Scandinavian markets.

"The conservative Englishman said ‘There’s no way in hell you can sell a red fishing reel to British fishermen,” he said. “So, we made a black reel for this market, but we also had red reels [available in the U.K.]. The first year, it was 90 percent black and 10 percent red that were sold in England. Two years later, it was the other way around because they said, ‘If I buy the most expensive casting reel in the world and I walk down the river, I would like people to see that the red reel is so different from everything else.’

“They were proud of the fact that they paid that kind of money for a reel and didn’t mind that people saw it. That was not the intention; it was just the consequence.” 

The company was most certainly intentional about building a reel that would out-perform its expectations. 

“One reason for our success is that both I and my father were very keen fishermen,” Borgström said. “We did not let anything out on the market unless we had tested it ourselves for at least one year. Every reel was tested by us personally before it was put on the market. 

“Sweden is an expensive country in which to manufacture; taxes are high and costs are high, but we had only one ambition. We knew we had to establish a Rolex philosophy — we had to be better than anybody else out there. So we worked constantly on improvements."