Fred Crouch Jet Centrepin vs Allcock Match Aerial

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Replicas…are they really the same?

For some time now I’ve wondered about my Fred Crouch Jet centrepin and how it compares with an original Allcock Match Aerial in terms of design, engineering and construction. Reluctant to pay the £200 or so that mint originals are fetching I’ve been waiting for a reasonably priced Allcock to become available. That happened a few weeks back when I bought a somewhat bald but sound example for a lot less. A quick fettle by Garry Mills and I had a very usable reel for comparison.

These are fairly heavy reels by centrepin standards so long trotting sessions can be a bit arduous the point of this review is to compare them with each other, not lighter alternatives, so if you want one be prepared to develop your wrist muscles.

The Jet total weight is 297gm and the original 268gm. Drums weigh 158gm & 151gm respectively with the backplates coming in a 139gm & 117gm (hope that all adds up). The end result is surprising, for a ‘replica’ the Jet is already facing a deficit of almost 30gm.

The obvious difference is the dimpled (leatherette) finish to the original’s back plate. Some of the early FC replicas were produced with this finish but broken tooling put an end to that and so the reels are now manufactured with a smooth backplate. There’s a significant weight difference too with the replica’s backplate weighing some 20gms more. It’s hard to see why this should be the case when a little more machining would seem to be possible, for example the return flange (pictured below) is slightly wider on the replica than the original, it’s not obvious why.


Reel Foot
Both chrome plated items but slightly different shapes, the original’s foot is a few mm shallower than the replica’s and so might cause problems with some modern reel fittings. In use I’ve found the proximity of the original reel to the rod handle to be an advantage, it allows me to support the reel better when it’s held horizontally. Note the difference in backplate return flange thickness.


Ratchet Mechanism
The mechanisms inside the backplate look identical even down to the spacing and type of the fixings used to secure the spring, lever and cam. The pawl is the same and was interchangeable between both reels. The only difference that I could see is the ratchet knob, a three vane item on the original and two on the replica. I understand that some later originals also used the two vane knob.

A useful feature on both reels is that by reversing the pawl the strength of the ratchet can be changed from anti-clockwise to clockwise. You do need, however, to grind a little off the pawl to reverse it.

The gear wheel fixed to the Jet’s drum has fewer teeth and results in a much coarser ratchet sound but it’s not annoying by any means.


Pin & Endfloat Grubscrew
So far the manufacturing differences between the two reels wouldn’t really affect the way the reel runs, but the key components making up the crucial bearing surfaces could have an impact.

The pin itself has a slot for locating the drum retaining fork. Ideally when the drum is located the retaining fork should not be in contact with any of the slot surfaces (it’s only there to stop the drum falling off), this ensures that the drum is bearing only on the tiny grubscrew and pin tip. I adjust my reels by gently taking up all of the endfloat and then backing off the grubscrew a fraction at a time until the reel spins as freely as I can get it to. This usually coincides with re-introducing a small amount of endfloat but I prefer that to none at all.

There are some differences in the pin diameter and profile but both are designed along similar lines with the bottom section of the pin providing lateral support, the drum retention slot for the drum fork and the pin tip providing the bearing surface. The change in pin diameter is apparently a design feature intended to retain a small amount of oil.

Both the original and replica reels responded well to adjustment proving that they were both manufactured accurately with true centrepin principles in mind. I was able to achieve a couple of very free running reels with only tiny movements of the grubscrew. The Jet ran true whereas the original suffered from very slight wobble that couldn’t be trued out, in use the drum won’t spin fast enough for it to be noticeable and after 40 years use you have to expect reels to have been dropped a few times.

A small but significant difference is that of the rim return lip. On the original this is a nice curved profile whereas the replica reel is a lot squarer, in use this is quite noticeable.

The fixtures and fittings on the replica drum hub are not quite as well manufactured as the original. Things like the drag fork & knurled nut and the drum retaining fork are thinner material and not as precisely stamped, in operation they worked perfectly well so this shouldn’t necessarily put potential purchasers off. Worth mentioning though that the one problem I had with my first replica was when the drag fork got stuck on the spoke and wouldn’t free off. That’s when the advantage of buying new comes into play, Fred replaced the reel without quibble.

The drum spokes, line bearers, hub and handles were similarly constructed on both reels with no obvious differences in manufacturing quality or finish.

In Use
This is where I think the difference becomes apparent. In terms of free running drums and overcoming initial inertia both reels perform very well, there’s not much to choose between either and you’d expect that with them both being manufactured in a similar way with drums of similar weight. Provided they’re looked after I wouldn’t think much would change over the years.

But the original has an intangible quality which somehow makes it feel better. The lighter weight, the round drum lip and the proximity of the reel to the rod aren’t differences which in isolation would cause me to choose one over the other but they combine to make the original feel just right. The Jet isn’t a bad reel at all, far from it, but it feels like a replica.

Despite the Jet being labelled as a direct copy, in my humble opinion it falls short of that accolade. I genuinely think that the reel would be better marketed as a very good value true ’pin which will provide many years of reliable service and enjoyment. There aren’t many alternatives in this price range (the Greys Bewick springs to mind) and even fewer of the traditional Aerial spoked design. If you want the experience of running in a reel rather than simply lubing ballraces you could do a lot worse than a Jet particularly at the current e-bay price of £125.00 plus P&P, you also get a warranty.

If, however, you want the genuine article then, as with most things, nothing else will do. You’ll have to buy second hand unless your wife’s lucky enough to find a new one at a car boot fair (that never happens does it?) and until you see the reel you can’t really be sure of its condition. You’ll also pay almost double the cost of a Jet, achieve all of that though and you’ll have a much nicer reel.

Just goes to show that all the advances in manufacturing processes & techniques over the years don’t necessarily add up to better products.