Long arm of the Law that won’t bust a budget — it’s a sub-MOA carbine!
GUNS & WEAPONS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT, May 2008, Page 38-44 and 87
By Matt Berger
SEVERAL SHOOTINGS AND EVENTSin the past decade or so have served as a stark wake-up call to law enforcement. LAPD’s North Hollywood shootout has become synonymous with the cry for patrol rifles and carbines. The simple fact of the matter is that if you’re on the receiving end of a long gun, you need a long gun, and nothing else will do. Few would argue the wisdom of outgunning the bad guys, or at the very least, meeting firepower with equal firepower.
SWAT units are very good at what they do, and typically have access to equipment the traditional patrol officer doesn’t have access to, but realistically speaking, a good response time for a tactical team is at least an hour. Patrol officers are the ones who’ll be first on the scene, often within minutes. Waiting for SWAT isn’t always an option when an active shooter is firing on victims or officers. Seconds can matter; let alone minutes, or an hour or more.
A shotgun is a very powerful, versatile weapon, but it does have limitations exceeded by a rifle, and in some instances, a carbine. Some law enforcement agencies have implemented pistol-caliber carbines, tactical rifles, submachine guns, and even lever-action rifles.
The vast majority of America’s police work for smaller agencies. It’s not uncommon in many of these departments for officers to have to purchase their own duty gear and sidearms, let alone “supplemental” weapons such as shotguns and rifles. A common scenario is that of a new patrolman anxious for a long gun, but struggling to make ends meet. A new tactical rifles or carbine with all of the bells and whistles is always attractive, but not always affordable. One option worth considering is the M1 Carbine.
M1 CARBINE HISTORY
The M1 Carbine is a gas-operated semi-automatic carbine that was being developed on the eve of World War II, going into production in September of 1941. The weapon became a mainstay of US troops throughout the war, reappeared in the Korean War, and even saw some service in the early days of the Vietnam War. The M1 was revered for its light weight, lighter ammunition, and rugged reliability.
Loved by many, but despised by others, most of the M1’s detractors dismissed the gun as inaccurate and ineffective as a stopper. Much of this opposition had to do with unfair comparison of the carbine with battle rifles. The little M1 is most appropriately considered an intermediate weapon whose ballistics place it somewhere between a powerful pistol carbine and rifle. With a bullet weight of roughly 110 grains and a velocity in the range of 1970 feet per second (fps), its kinetic energy is in league with the .44 Magnum revolver, and only a bit less than that of the .223 when the latter is fired from short-barreled carbines. Much of the criticism leveled at the M1 was no doubt due to troops attempting to employ it at distances for which the rifle was more appropriate, and due to poor marksmanship.
In reality, the .30 Carbine is an effective penetrator, and even those who malign the weapon will concede that it’s a workhorse, functioning even under the most adverse conditions. The military would claim the gun’s effective range to be 300 yards, though a more realistic range for delivering accurate and capable stopping power is 200 yards and less.
AUTO-ORDNANCE M1 CARBINE .30
|Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in feet per second (fps) by “Chrony” Beta chronograph, and accuracy in inches for 3-shot groups fired bench rested at 100 yards (* 50 yards).|
FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT
This brings us to the M1’s value for law enforcement applications. Barring certain exceptional scenarios encountered by some rural agencies, most police will never have occasion to engage targets beyond 100 yards, especially in urban and suburban venues.
Another factor law enforcement officers have in their favor is that of modern defensive ammunition. While an officer may want to keep some FMJ ammunition on hand for certain situations (this ammo will work quite well at penetrating car bodies and certain intermediary barriers), there is certainly no comparison between the performance of WWII-era ball ammo and today’s expanding hollow points in terms of wounding capabilities.
The M1’s “handiness” factor cannot be overstated here. If you haven’t hefted one of these guns, you simply cannot appreciate how light and “wieldy” they actually are. At 5.4 pounds, there’re lighter than even the smallest “shorty” AR15 carbines. The recoil of the carbine is very modest, and length of pull on the short side, making the gun friendly to even officers of smaller stature.
There were more than 6.25 million of these guns manufactured beginning in 1941, so 15- and 30-round surplus magazines are plentiful and cheap, and likely to remain so.
Lastly, one of the modern iterations of these carbines being rendered by companies like Kahr Arms can be had for the price of a decent pistol in today’s market, making them a viable alternative to more expensive rifles, carbines and sub-guns.
Kahr acquired Auto-Ordnance in 1999, and presently manufactures the Auto-Ordnance M1 in their state-of-the-air ISO 9002 certified plant in Worcester, Massachusetts. The guns are of newly manufactured parts using high-precision computerized machinery.
The M1 uses a short-stroke piston operating system. Charged by a reciprocating operating handle on the right side of the weapon, the bolt can be locked open by retracting the operating handle and pressing the locking pin down on the top right of the receiver.
Receivers are CNC machined from 4140 steel investment castings. Markings include “US CARBINE CAL 30 ML,” at the top front, and “AUTO-ORDNANCE WORCESTER, MA,” at the top rear. Serial numbers are marked on the left front.
The 18-inch barrel is machined from bar stock, and manufactured for Kahr by Green Mountain Barrels. It features a twist of 1 in 20 inches, and a 45-degree chamfer at the muzzle.
Stock is two pieces, from American walnut, handsomely grained with a stamped sheet-metal butt plate. The stock itself is recessed for the attachment of a sling at the rear. A swivel is mounted on the barrel band at the front.
Sights will be easily assimilated by those trained on the AR15/M16, combining an ear-protected front blade with a rear peep sight. The rear aperture flips from its 100-yard height to a taller 300-yard peep. The front sight is retained by a roll pin; windage is adjustable by drifting the rear sight in its dovetail.
Controls are ergonomic. The safety is situated just forward of the triggerguard, easily deactivated by the right index finger, and the magazine release is located just forward of the safety, also accessible by the trigger finger.
Trigger is a two-stage military unit with no take-up, letting off sharply at 8 pounds. The triggerguard and operating slide are CNC-machined investment castings.
Overall, fit and finish is very good, probably better than the original guns. The stock is also well finished. Barrel, receiver, trigger group, and operating handle are all evenly parkerized.
The weapon is shipped in foam padding with one 15-round magazine, cable lock, and rubber guards to protect the muzzle, operating handle and front sling swivel. Available accessories include a stock magazine pouch, carbine oiler and sling.
We headed to the range to see how the little carbine would perform. Champion Targets’ 8-inch VisiColor targets were stapled up at 100 yards, and we prepared to test the M1 for accuracy, benched on a sandbag.
The first thing noticeable about the M1 is its light recoil, in league with that of the AR15 rifle. The rear peep and front blade were also familiar, and easy to use.
Getting most of our rounds into an 8-inch pattern with all ammunition wasn’t a challenge; however, the 100-grain CorBon DPX impacted quite high, by about a full foot at 100 yards. We eventually solved this problem by stapling a second row of Champion VisiColor targets a few inches below the top row; aiming in at the bottom targets, we began shooting three-shot groups for accuracy. We soon managed an impressive 0.69 of an inch pattern with two rounds touching. The CorBon also turned in the highest velocities, averaging 2017 fps.
I had a deadline to meet, and things hadn’t exactly gone well before I made it out to the range. As a result, I was cutting it close, with the sun beginning to set as I started testing the Remington 110-grain MC. With the daylight fading, I decided to aim in at 50 yards with the Remington because one can’t hit what can’t be seen. My second group funneled into just 0.81 of an inch.
The carbine hammered away, never failing to cycle or go bang throughout my accuracy and velocity testing. The action was smooth, and the controls easily manipulated. Nothing is complicated about the M1. There was a definite fun factor present in shooting the gun.
Our only criticism of this gun is that we’d have preferred to have elevation and windage adjustable sights. This would easily regulate the sights for the ammo, which proved to be the most accurate in this case, the CorBon.
Overall, the Auto-Ordnance M1 Carbine acquitted itself well. It was reliable, comfortable and easy to shoot, and quite accurate for 100 yards. This featherlight gun would be very easy to maneuver in and out of a patrol car with its overall length just under 36 inches. This, coupled with its short length of pull and soft recoil make it a great candidate for officers of varying statures. Most of all, an officer could afford to purchase a gun like this for the same cost of their duty pistol.
It would seem that 66 years after the .30 caliber M1 Carbine was first produced, its original assets are still going strong.
THE NEW SEMI-AUTO CARBINE FROM KAHR ARMS TAKES TOMMY GUN SHOOTING OUT OF THE LUXURY SUITE. AND THERE ARE SBR AND DUMMY GUNS, TOO, WITH LOOKS THAT DELIGHT.
The Thompson Submachine Gun is arguably the most recognizable submachine gun is America, even 86 years after its initial introduction!
Although the Thompson is best known, aside from its gangster use, for its employment by U.S. and Allied forces during World War II, it was originally conceived during World War I. Many different military weapons were developed during the First World War all for one purpose … forward movement our of the trenches.
An Army Ordnance Officer, John T. Thompson, conceived the American version of a submachine gun, although the original concept originated in Europe. To design his submachine gun, dubbed a “trench broom” for sweeping the enemy from the trenches, Thompson enlisted the help of several talented individuals, including Theodore Eickhoff and Oscar Payne.
Although the resulting submachine gun was named after John T. Thompson, it was largely the efforts of Payne and Eickhoff that created it.
In 1921, John Thompson’s Auto-Ordnance Corporation signed an agreement with Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Co. for the actual manufacture of the Thompson. This was subcontracted to Colt because the Auto-Ordnance Corporation, which developed the gun, did not have any manufacturing capabilities.
The very first production run of the Thompson submachine gun only ran from 1921 to 1922. All of the original 1920s production Thompsons were manufactured by Colt under contract with the Auto-Ordnance Corp.
Only 15,000 Thompson Submachine Guns were manufactured by Colt, all as the Model of 1921. The original run of Thompson guns was manufactured to the very high commercial standards of the day.
The 1921 model had the famous Colt blue finish, and fine walnut stocks. The rear sight was adjustable for windage and elevation. The barrel of the Thompson featured radial cooling fins and a milled blade front sight. No compensators were originally fitted to the guns.
The actuator knob, fire mode selector and the safety levers were finely checkered. The original retail price of the 1921 model was $200, supplied with one 20-round box magazine. The first production Colt Thompson came off the assembly line in March of 1921.
By this time, World War I had ended and there was no demand for new arms. Sales of the Thompson were extremely slow. It would take almost 20 years to sell all of the initial production lot. The $200 list price of the Thompson was quite a sum of money in the 1920s. The National Firearms Act of 1934, aimed at keeping the guns out of the hands of criminals, added an additional $200 transfer tax to the cost, effectively ending Thompson sales to the public.
THE ORIGINAL COLT 1927
The original 1927 carbine model is one of the rarest variations of the early Colt Thompson Guns. The 1927 model, like the 1921AC, 1928 Navy Model and others, were created by altering off-the-shelf 1921 models. The 1927 model fired only as a semi-auto. The gun was created to offer a Thompson to law enforcement organizations who, for political reasons, did not want to arm their officers with a submachine gun.
The conversion was accomplished by redesigning a few internal parts. The full-auto markings were neatly milled out of the receiver and remarked to fit its new semiautomatic configuration. The 1927 model is still regarded as an NFA firearm because of its short barrel and submachine gun receiver. The 1927 model was available with or without the optional Cutts compensator installed.
After 1922, there was little manufacturing activity or subcontracting by the Auto-Ordnance Corporation until World War II broke out with the German invasion of Poland in 1939.
WORLD WAR II
In the year following the initial run of the Colt-made Thompson, the financially troubled Auto-Ordnance Corporation fell into the hands of businessman Russell Maguire. In the late 1930s, Maguire had anticipated a major war in Europe, and a demand for modern arms.
Maguire at first tried to interest Colt in another production run of the Thompson, but the Hartford manufacturer declined his offer. Maguire eventually negotiated with the Savage Arms Corp. of Utica, N.Y. to manufacture the Thompson. By 1941, Auto-Ordnance had opened its own facility in Bridgeport Conn., to assist Savage with the increasing wartime demand for Thompson submachine guns.
Despite the success of government sales by Auto-Ordnance from 1940 to 1945, when World War II ended, the company’s assets were boxed up and placed in storage, destined to become but a footnote in history. Reportedly, during the post-World War II years, the remaining assets of the Auto-Ordnance Corporation changed hands several times.
In 1951, George Numrich, president of the Numrich Arms Corp. of West Hurley, N.Y. purchased Auto-Ordnance’s remains. The Numrich Arms Corp. specialized in selling gun parts, and often bought up the remaining inventories of defunct gun manufacturers. Included in the sale were a large number of parts for the Thompson Submachine Gun.
The company was able to assemble a few operable Thompsons from the surplus GI parts. By 1961, it had run out of many of the essential parts needed and could no longer assemble any Thompsons.
NUMRICH ARMS CORPORATION
In 1974, after obtaining the approval of the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Numrich Arms began manufacture of the Thompson. They manufactured both semiautomatic and full-auto versions of the Thompson 1928 model, under the Auto-Ordnance name.
The receivers, trigger frames, bolts and barrels were new, while the remainder of the parts on the early guns were GI surplus, made by Savage and other wartime contractors. As production of the West Hurley guns continued, many original parts became unavailable, thus forcing the company to manufacture whatever parts it needed to maintain production. In 1985, the company also began the manufacture of a select-fire M1 (M1A1) version.
The majority of the 1928-type semiautomatic and select-fire Thompsons manufactured by the West Hurley, N.Y. company were fitted with a compensator-equipped finned barrel, vertical foregrip and a replica of the adjustable rear sight. The West Hurley Thompsons were finished in a dull “brush” blue color.
There were also special commemorative versions of the 1928 Thompson, made in both select-fire and semiautomatic configurations. Some of these commemorative West Hurley guns were accepted by the BATF for inclusion on the Curio and Relics firearm list, the manufacture of the full-automatic guns ceased in May 1986, when the ban on the manufacture of automatic firearms was enacted.
The Thompson Submachine Gun remains very popular with collectors today. However, the mid fire-figure prices of the fine 1920 era Colt guns are similar to that of a luxury SUV. The World War II M1928 and M1-M1A1 models have also greatly escalated in value, comparable to a nicely equipped full-size sedan. Today’s market prices place a Thompson well out of the reach of all but the most affluent collectors. However there is an alternative … a semiautomatic-only replica.
In addition to the full-automatic Thompsons, Auto-Ordnance, West Hurley manufactured a number of semi-automatic versions of the Thompson. Mechanically, the semi-auto guns were quite different from the full-auto guns, firing from a closed bolt and having longer barrels, to comply with Federal requirements.
Manufacture of a semi-auto version of the 1928 model, designated as the 1927A1, began in 1975. A new 1927 A-1C model with an aluminum alloy receiver and trigger frame was introduced in 1980. These Thompsons had the suffix LW for Light-Weight on the serial number. There was also a 1927A5 “pistol” variation. These guns had no buttstock, and were fitted with a short 13.5-inch barrel. Production of the 1927A5 “pistol” ended when the gun was included in the 1994 assault weapons ban.
First introduced in 1985 was a semi-automatic-only version of the M1. These guns are identified by their long 16.5-inch barrels. Although the outward appearance of the semi-automatic-only M1 Thompson is similar to a full-auto version, they are quite different mechanically.
There had been quite a few reliability and quality-control issues reported with the West Hurley-manufactured Thompsons. Some of issues included cast aluminum components and pop rivets to secure the rear sights. The barrel compensators were held in place by a thread-locking material. The compensators and sometimes even the barrels worked loose after a time.
In February of 1999 another chapter in the Auto-Ordnance saga was written, when the company once again changed hands. Kahr Arms of Blauvalt, N.Y., purchased the company, manufacturing rights and tooling. Kahr is currently offering several models of the Thompson carbine in a semi-automatic-only configuration.
Kahr Arms has worked hard to improve both the quality and reliability of their products. Their Thompson carbines are made on modern machinery using CNC technology.
New for 2007 is the Kahr 1927A-1 cal. .45 semiautomatic deluxe carbine. Designated as the T1B model in the catalog, Kahr’s latest carbine has a number of improvements and innovations that make it worthy of attention.
The frame and receiver are both machined from solid steel. The wood is fine American walnut. The removable buttstock is the same design as the original Thompsons, and the stock hardware is all manufactured from steel. The front and rear grips have been redesigned and no longer have the unsightly “slab sided” design seen on many West Hurley manufactured guns.
The rear sight base is manufactured from steel and secured to the receiver by machine screws, not pop rivets. The sight ladder and sight aperture are identical to those found on the M1917 Enfield rifle. The receiver markings are nicely struck and are similar to those found on the World War II guns.
The flat black finish is also reminiscent of World War II production. The barrel is 16.5 inches in length as required by law, and is finished in a dull blue like the originals were. The Cutts-style compensator is also blued and is marked with the Thompson “bullet” logo, the compensator is now secured to the barrel with a crosspin. The redesigned cocking handle safety-fire selector are blued and nicely checkered.
The overall length is 41 inches with the buttstock assembly installed. The unloaded weight is a hefty 13 pounds. The carbine is shipped with one 30-round box magazine. The box magazines are refurbished GI surplus reconfigured to function in the semiautomatic carbines. The Kahr carbine comes with a one-year factory limited warranty.
There are a number of options available for the 1927A-1 carbine including extra 30-round box magazines, and the classic drum magazines in 10, 50 and 100-round configurations. For storage or transporting there are replica FBI hardcases, “violin” cases and a “Tommy Gun” padded rifle case available. All Kahr Thompson carbines are .45 ACP cal.
The final step in our evaluation of the new Kahr carbine was the test firing. The weight and barrel length of the .45 cal. carbine results in a low felt recoil and superb accuracy for a pistol caliber long gun.
Those more familiar with the operation of the open-bolt Thompson submachine gun will find cocking the carbine requires more effort, and the distance the cocking handle travels is less. Additionally after cocking, the bolt returns to a forward, closed position.
The first round of testing was done with the 30-round box magazine. At first the carbine was fired slowly taking careful aim, there were no malfunctions, the magazine was reloaded and fired as quickly as the trigger could be pulled, again no malfunctions.
Next the 100-round new manufacture Kahr drum magazine, serial No.000656 was placed in the gun. The loaded 100-round magazine was heavy, weighing 8 pounds, 4 ounces. To place a drum magazine into a Thompson the bolt must be locked in a rearward position, (caution make sure the safety is in the on position).
With a drum in place, the bolt does not remain rearward after the last shot. The “third hand” supplied with the drum was used to hold the bolt rearward, making drum removal easy.
Together, the loaded 100-round drum and the 13-pound carbine were quite heavy! The drum was tested by firing in slow single shots and rapid-fire. I am pleased to report that the drum performed flawlessly. Next a 50-round drum magazine was placed into the carbine, again with no malfunctions. The only problem encountered during the test was rear sight retaining screws worked loose.
ACCURACY AND VELOCITY
Accuracy of the Kahr Thompson was very good for a pistol caliber carbine, despite the gun’s heavy 8.5-pound trigger pull. Velocity was measured with a Pact chronograph. Ambient temperature was unseasonably cool 39°F. There was a slight intermittent crosswind on the day of the test that may have affected accuracy.
The carbine was fired from a bench rest at a range of 50 yards. The smallest group that could be achieved under the test conditions was 2.5 inches, the largest group was 3.7 inches with an overall average of 3.1 inches.
For the firing test several types of caliber .45 ACP ammunition were used: Wolf Gold, Wolf steel case, Fiocchi, Winchester (White Box) and American Eagle (Federal). All fed and functioned in the carbine, including the Wolf Gold 185-grain hollow-points. The velocity from the 16.5-inch barrel ranged from 878 fps to a high of 930 fps.
There are several other models of the Kahr Thompson carbines available.
THOMPON1927A-1 DELUXE SEMI-AUTO
This model is similar to the 1927A-1 model, tested having a 16.5-inch finned barrel, Cutts compensator and vertical foregrip. The primary difference between this model and the one evaluated is that this one has a non removable M1 style buttstock.
THOMPSON 1927A-1 COMMAND MODEL T1-C
This model has the same feature as the 1927A-1 variation above except the wood stock and horizontal foregrip are have a durable black finish. Included is a 30-round magazine and a black nylon sling.
THOMPSON M1 SEMI-AUTO
This is Kahr Arms’ military M1 Thompson carbine, styled after the famous M1 and M1A1 Thompson submachine guns fielded during World War II. The barrel is 16.5 inches in length and lacks the cooling fins and muzzle compensator featured on the 1927 series. The rear sight is a military fixed aperture type with protective side ears. The front sight is a blade style.
The cocking handle is located on the right side of the receiver. The walnut stock is a fixed M1 type, the foregrip is horizontal. The overall length is 38 inches. The gun is shipped with one 30-round box magazine. The M1 series, like its original military counterpart, is not designed to accept drum magazines.
THOMPSON M1-C LIGHTWEIGHT SEMI-AUTO
This is the lightweight version of the semi-auto M1, weighing only 8-pounds unloaded. The weight reduction was achieved by the use of an aluminum receiver. Other features are the same as the M1 model above.
SHORT BARREL RIFLES
Recently, semi-automatic carbines with short 10.5-inch barrels, like the original submachine guns, have become quite popular with enthusiasts. However, the installation of a short barrel on a semiautomatic carbine requires prior approval and registration with NFA Branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Possession of an unregistered short barrel rifle (SBR) is a felony.
Kahr Arms offers factory short-barrel versions of most of their carbines. These short-barreled versions require a $200 Federal transfer tax and must be shipped to a qualified dealer in the customer’s home state. Kahr also offers smooth and finned 10.5-inch replacement barrels for use on properly registered guns.
THOMPSON SBR MODEL T1SB
For those that desire the look of the original configuration, this model is the same as the M1 and 1927A-1 models described earlier, but is fitted with a short 10.5-inch finned barrel, with compensator. This model requires registration and approval by the NFA Branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and a $200 transfer fee. Some states prohibit sale or transfer of short barrel rifles (SBR).
Kahr also supplies dummy Thompsons, and these are just the thing for display in the home without the bother of federal paperwork. The cover gun is a dummy with authentic 10.5-inch barrel and original stock and fore-end. If you can’t afford an SBR or state laws prevent it, a dummy mat be a viable choice for you.
Auto Ord’s GI Gem
Recreating the M1 Carbine
GUNS MAGAZINE, June 2007, Page 40-42
By Jeff John
Perhaps no other firearm has been as maligned and praised as the US M1 Carbine. It has been cursed for lack of power and praised for its reliability and ease of carry. Its .30 Carbine cartridge has been equally maligned for its lack of efficacy and knowledgeable people have gravelly opined you should never fight men with a round you wouldn’t hunt deer with. The .30 Carbine has been used on deer, but is not considered a good choice because the deer may travel far even mortally wounded.
Still, the efficacy of the cartridge is proportional to the attitude of the shootee towards being shot. Whereas a Japanese soldier bent on a suicidal Banzai charge might absorb plenty of the little pills before falling, the average Wehrmacht trooper would be more inclined to seek medical attention after absorbing a round. Deer don’t have any such options, which is why we now consider the .30 Carbine round unqualified as a deer round. In hunting, it is our duty to use a round adequate to anchor the game animal.
Nonetheless, if you ever want to bring someone into the shooting sports especially the fairer sex there is no better than the M1 Carbine. It is light, easy to shoot for someone without a lot of upper body strength, kicks just enough and makes just enough noise to keep the shooting interesting. Ammo is still relatively inexpensive and plentiful with all of our major players loading a generic-brand FMJ round. In fact, the biggest argument I ever had with my high school sweetheart was when I traded her carbine for something. Of course, I didn’t know it was her carbine, but I should’ve. The little Winchester M1 was her favorite when we went shooting. I never forgot that lesson (and I’m still learning others).
The Carbine has long been a fun collectible and manufacturers with such aberrant names as National Postal Meter, Rock-Ola, Underwood and IBM are among the makers. It was a post-war staple for firms like Universal and Iver Johnson, but both firms modernized the little rifle too much for my tastes with the stamped, perforated steel upper handguard and light-colored hardwood stock.
Auto-Ordnance, the Tommy Gun makers, finally got it right. They’ve given us basic, late WW2-era M1Carbine. It is sans bayonet lug and adjustable sights, but with later “low wood” as guns issued around the Normandy invasion would have looked. Parts are very evenly grey Parkerized and the wood is walnut finished with linseed oil. It comes with one 15-round magazine or one 10-rounder for us here in California where we ain’t allowed to possess so much deadly firepower.
Accessories available include a sling with oiler and a magazine pouch for the buttstock for two 15-round magazines. I’m not a big fan of the buttstock mounted mag pouch. It unbalances the gun and makes an otherwise naturally pointing gun a little squirrelly to shoot. I will not deny it looks cool and was often seen on the battlefield (and wound up on this one). A GI could carry quite a bit of .30 Carbine ammo one of its endearing features and keep the gun on a grab-and-go basis. Were you to choose one of these rifles for defense, there is some comfort in having 45 rounds at your disposal without having to scrabble around for an extra mag.
I hadn’t shot an M1 Carbine for years and this one was as much fun as I remembered. A good quantity of UMC ball ammo and Federal softpoints were obtained for the accuracy testing. Accuracy was pretty much what I’ve come to expect from the average Carbine. The best 50-yard 5-shot group was 3″ even with UMC and just 3 1/2″ with the Federal. At 100 yards, a 5-shot group was with the Federal softpoints was 8″ with four rounds going into 5 1/2″. It doesn’t sound very special, but all the shots were on target and to point-of-aim. In a fighting situation, I would’ve had a lot of unhappy customers. One nice thing was the groups were pretty much to the same point of aim at 50 and 100 yards.
Standing offhand, it was no trick to quickly and regularly ring the 100-yard steel targets 10 times. The Carbine swung smoothly between them and the sights were easy to align.
The trigger was perhaps the greatest detriment to accurate shooting. It is a heavy two-stage type and the short, heavy, spongy first pull ended in a gritty, creepy final 6-pound let off, according the RCBS Military trigger pull gauge. This one could do with some attention, but I don’t think I’d bother if it were just for me. It’s not that heavy, it just needs to be smoother and such might be accomplished by just shooting a lot more rounds through it. Not to step on the toes of you gunsmiths out there, but I much prefer to shoot guns into smoothness rather than pay to have same done. It’s not like this gun doesn’t work, it shot decently well at least as well as the old Winchester my girlfriend grieved after.
It’s not to say the M1 Carbine can’t shoot well. Holt Bodinson reports 1 1/2″ 50-yard groups with his Universal M1, so it’s possible. Once again, I believe it might be more productive to spend the money on ammo and enjoy the shooting rather throwing money chasing ultimate accuracy.
I wiped down the exterior and bore with Hoppe’s No. 9 prior to shooting and experienced no malfunctions for the first 80 rounds or so. Then, as the parts wore a bit, a few shiny spots began to show on the bolt. As soon as a round failed to feed all the way, I stopped and oiled the shiny spots with Kal Gard KG-4 oil. No further malfunctions occurred over the next 200-plus rounds.
If you’re not experienced with how the M1 Carbine operates, it is really simplicity itself. Remove the magazine and cycle the bolt. While holding the bolt to the rear, press down on the button on top of the bolt to lock the bolt open. Ensure the chamber and barrel are clear of obstructions. The safety is a push-button mounted on the trigger-guard just behind the magazine release button. Pushed in from the left, the Carbine is on safe and, pushed flush from the right, is off safe. With the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, apply the safety, insert a charged magazine, pull back on the bolt and let go. Allow spring pressure of the bolt to chamber the round.
When ready to shoot, remove the safety with your forefinger (you lefties will have to work this out yourself) and squeeze the trigger. Note: GI mags allow the bolt to close after the last round. The 10-round mag supplied by Auto Ordnance holds the bolt open after the last round. Removal of the Auto Ord mag is easier if the bolt is first locked open. If you’re using GI mags, cycle the bolt to ensure the chamber is clear.
With the cost of original WW2-era GI Carbines skyrocketing out of sight and the cost of Korean War versions climbing steadily, the new Auto Ordnance M1 gives re-enactors a fine copy to work with, while the rest of us get a fine shooter, plinker or defensive rifle. Just remember: If the little lady puts her brand on it, it’s hers no matter what you think.
COMBAT HANDGUNS, September 2005, Page 42-47
By Mike Detty
At the 1999 SHOT Show, Kahr Arms announced the purchase of the Auto-Ordnance Company. I have to admit that I was dumbfounded.
Kahr Arms, a relative newcomer to the firearms industry, had already firmly established themselves as an innovator capable of producing top quality pistols. Auto-Ordnance, on the other hand, did not share such a sterling reputation.
Best known for their semi-auto versions of the famous Tommy Gun, Auto-Ordnance also produced several variations of the 1911 pistol.
Unfortunately, these guns possessed a reputation for sloppy fitting and mismatched finishes, and were generally ignored by the savvy 1911 market.
As I approached their booth that year at the SHOT Show, I wondered just how Kahr Arms would match up with Auto-Ordnance. It was a union that I didn’t understand. I met with Kahr’s President, Justin Moon, and Frank Harris, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, and was impressed with their exuberance over the purchase. During the course of our conversation I asked, as tactfully as possible, about the quality of Auto-Ordnance guns. Moon reassured me that all manufacturing would be done in-house and to Kahr Arms’ standards rather than assembling parts from a myriad of suppliers, as had been done under the previous regime. His goal was to rid the Auto-Ordnance Company of its lowly reputation and make its name synonymous with quality.
Within a year I had a sample of the company’s new 1911 PKZ, a pistol designed to replicate our military guns from the WWII era. I have to admit that I was impressed with the fit of the parts. It possessed a very nice frame-to-slide fit and an even parkerized finish throughout. It was 100% reliable and capable of placing 5 rounds into a 2-inch group at 25 yards. I liked my test gun enough that I purchased it. Shooting the gun gave me a nostalgic feeling for my service days and I wanted to own one 1911 that had issue sights and no beavertail or extended thumb safety.
But I was intrigued with what Kahr had been able to do with its first 1911. During a time when Kimber was so dominating the market, I asked Frank Harris if Auto-Ordnance would ever offer a comparable pistol. “It’s in the works, Mike,” was always his reply. Each year I’d dutifully stop by their SHOT Show booth and look for a 1911 wearing low profile sights, a beavertail and an extended safety, and each year I was left wanting.
Finally, at the 2005 SHOT Show I found the 1911 that I had always hoped Auto-Ordnance would produce. Well, sort of. What I saw were 1911s wearing beavertails and extended safeties, like I had hoped for; however, their fit and finish was so lacking that it reminded me of the old Auto-Ordnance guns. Some of the guns bore evidence of heavy-handed buffing, while others displayed rough machine marks. Light showed around the sloopily fit front and rear sights, and the checkering on the front strap left much to be desired. The frame-to-slide fits were bad enough that the guns actually raffled when I shook them.
When I expressed my concerns and doubts to Justin Moon he patiently smiled and explained, “These are tool room samples, Mike. Not production guns. My goal is to make each gun that leaves our factory better than the last.” That was in January of 2005 and just two months later I received two evaluation guns – the Stainless Custom and Aluminum Custom. Both are full-size 1911 production guns.
The first thing that I checked was the frame-to-slide fit, and it was rock solid on both guns. No longer could I see daylight around the front and rear sights, and there were very few minor tool marks visible. Moon had kept his word; my test pistols were significantly better than the samples I had seen at the SHOT Show.
Auto-Ordnance machines their stainless frames from stainless 420 castings at their plant in Worcester, Massachusetts. The first castings were imported from Korea, but Frank Harris has informed me that they have recently found a domestic source. Quite frankly, I don’t care about the origins of the castings, as long as they are good metal and these stainless frames are plenty hard. While the frames are still in their CNC fixtures, the frontstraps are machine checkered, 20 lines per inch (lpi).
The Aluminum Custom’s frame is machined from a billet of 7075 aluminum to the same specs as the stainless frame. It is then anodized with a flat black finish.
Auto-Ordnance uses Chip McCormick’s slide stop and mainspring housing, and the beavertail and extended safety are from STI. All other small parts are manufactured by Auto-Ordnance.
The slides of the Auto-Ordnance Custom guns share a classic style with wide cocking serrations fore and aft, and are machined from 416 stainless forgings. Harris tells me that a different type of stainless steel is used for the slide, so there won’t be any galling as the slide reciprocates on the frame rails. Its left side is tastefully laser engraved with the Thompson bullet logo, while the opposite side, just under the ejection port, bears the legend “Thompson Custom 1911.” The port itself is of the enlarged and flared style so as not to impede the empty casing as it’s ejected. Breaking the current trend among 1911 manufacturers, Auto-Ordnance chose to stick with the traditional style internal extractor. They are also using a conventional style bushing and full-length recoil spring guide. Both front and rear sights are dovetailed for Auto-Ordnance’s excellent low profile sights.
Auto-Ordnance machines their one-piece, stainless barrels from rifled blanks in-house. The muzzle end of the barrel is slightly enlarged for a tight lock-up with the bushing. The chamber end of the barrel is throated and well polished, as is the feed ramp. One minor irritation that I had with the Custom guns is that the barrel hood was left unpolished. It took just a couple minutes for me to polish them bright with a piece of emery cloth, but for a gun that wears the name “Custom,” should I really have needed to do this? It would have taken just a few seconds for someone at the factory to polish the hood bright on a buffing wheel.
The fit of both guns is pretty good. Frame-to-slide fits are solid without any vertical or horizontal play. With the slide in battery the pressing down on the barrel hoods displayed no movement. While the thumb safety on both pistols securely blocks the sear and is well fit, both disengaged too easily. By removing the thumb safeties and stretching the plunger tube springs I was able to increase the amount of pressure necessary to disengage the safety. Problem solved!
Trigger pull on both pistols is about what we’ve come to expect from a stock production gun these days. Both guns had pulls that broke at just over 5 pounds after some gritty take-up. Triggers are of the lightweight aluminum variety and are adjustable for overtravel. Unfortunately, the trigger on my Stainless Custom had considerable vertical play. Probably the easiest way to fix this problem would be to replace the trigger with any of the many aftermarket parts available, if in fact, that extra play bothered the shooter enough. The trigger on the aluminum-framed gun was perfect for fit.
To prevent the gun from firing, in the event that it is dropped on its muzzle, Auto-Ordnance decided to add a firing pin safety. Modeled after the Colt Series 80 Firing Pin Safety, the Auto-Ordnance parts appear to be identical and interchangeable. Incorporation of this additional safety is most certainly tied to product liability.
Despite the less than match quality triggers, I certainly had no problem shooting tiny groups with both Auto-Ordnance pistols. Both guns’ sights were well regulated and did not need to be drifted for windage. The Custom’s low profile sights present a clear and precise sight picture, and every load fired grouped five rounds under 2 inches at 25 yards.
I took the two pistols and a few hundred rounds of reloaded ammo out to the desert along with a steel target. Shooting at the steel plate at a distance of 15 yards, I fired both guns just as quickly as I could get a sight picture and press the trigger. Using a LaserCast 200-grain round nose bullet and enough of Winchester’s 231 powder to propel it at 850 feet per second (fps), I rang the steel with nearly every shot, stopping only long enough to reload the magazines. What I found was that I actually preferred the way the aluminum framed gun handled. While the pistol recoiled in a more lively manner than the stainless framed gun, my double taps were every bit as fast. I had absolutely no problem controlling the lightweight pistol. Weighing 8 ounces less than its stainless counterpart, the aluminum frame gun would be my pick, between the two, for carry. If the gun were to be used as a house gun or for sport shooting I’d probably choose the heavier, stainless-framed model.
I put over 300 rounds through each gun without cleaning them and I would have thought that my desert outing would have induced some stoppages just from the accumulated dirt and grit, but that wasn’t the case. Both guns ran perfectly even during the rapid-fire exercises with the reloads and I didn’t encounter any jams or problems.
I detail stripped both guns and inspected them for any undue wear. I was particularly interested in seeing if the aluminum frame showed any indication of peening or places where the hardened slide displaced aluminum on the frame. I wasn’t able to find any problem areas or even bright spots where the anodizing had been rubbed against.
My criticisms of the two latest guns from Auto-Ordnance are relatively minor and easily correctable. The parts are of good quality and, like any 1911s, may benefit from some judicious polishing. In any event, both pistols displayed excellent accuracy and reliability.
Suggested retail for both guns is $753 but I’m sure that you’ll find them in your local gun shop for considerably less. Justin Moon’s commitment to make each 1911 better than the last provides serious shooters with yet another 1911 option. For more information on Auto-Ordnance’s latest offerings, check out their website.
|Performance: Thompson Custom 1911 .45ACP|
Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in feet per second (fps) by PACT Chronograph, accuracy in inches for 5-shot groups from 25 yards.
On Target, April 2005, Page 32-34
By Bob & Sandy Rodgers
In 1999, Kahr Arms purchased Thompson/Auto-Ordnance. Along with any physical assets included in the buyout were certain intangibles, among these, name recognition and reputation. In the case of Auto-Ordnance, it would be best to consider these as liabilities. The passing of ownership was, as they say, noted by many and mourned by few. You see, Auto-Ordnance, which once had a great reputation along with a colorful history, had managed to acquire a less than sterling repute in the manufacture of 1911 pistols. We’re unaware of any collector groups for these dogs, but there may well be support groups for the unlucky owners – you know, like for parents of troubled children. The point of all this is that Kahr Arms not only had to marshal their considerable expertise and ultra modern equipment to produce quality 1911 pistols, but they have also had to fight to overcome the stigma associated with the name of the company they now own.
Due to the spiraling popularity of the 1911 pistol, it seems that almost every manufacturer of handguns has decided to become a player in the 1911 marketplace. This is a win-win situation for buyers. There has never been a time where you’ve had so many choices, not only of manufacturers, but also in options and pricing. Add-ons, like extended safeties, highly-visibility, low-profile sights, and beavertail grip safeties were, up until just a few years ago, only available at considerable added expense from the benches of working pistolsmiths.
The “new” Auto-Ordnance Corp. first tested the market with a basic mil-spec 1911, and we reported on that pistol in a past issue of On Target. It was a huge improvement over the “old” Auto-Ordnance offerings, but the tarnished image associated with A/O continued to plague them, and the decision was made to focus attention on the Thompson brand.
The Thompson Custom is the company’s latest offering. Built on a cast frame, and with a slide machined from bar stock, this stainless 1911, chambered in .45 ACP, has the features most seasoned shooters are demanding on their guns. The slide features cocking serrations fore and aft. Front serrations were first added by custom smiths to aid hand cycling a pistol with optical sights attached, but they are now de rigueur for many shooters, aiding in press checks to verify a loaded chamber. The low-profile black sights are dovetailed into the slide top. Both front and rear are serrated, and provide a crisp sight picture. The ejection port has been lowered and flared, and a full-length guide rod is installed. The barrel, throated for hollowpoints, exhibited the best upper end fit we’ve seen in a production pistol. Happy accident or not, the hood fit into the slide recesses was almost light tight on the sides and the rear. This assures that the barrel will return to exactly the same position in the slide, shot after shot – one of the key ingredients in accuracy. The underside of the slide has a cutout for a firing pin block safety plunger that will be instantly recognized by owners of Colt Series 80 1911s; it’s a dead ringer. More on the Series 80 safety system will follow.
The frame has 20 LPI checkering on the front strap in three-quarters coverage. Instead of edge to edge, only the front gripping surfaces are checkered. A nicely-made polymer mainspring housing has molded checkering to complement the front strap. The Thompson had a narrowed, lightened hammer to both reduce lock time and to prevent frame interference as it falls. The beavertail grip safety has the tail narrowed; though strictly cosmetic, it’s still a nice touch. The insurance pad, on the other hand, is totally functional; it helps ensure full depression of the grip safety. A clean bevel on the radius of the mag release makes the gun a little more hand friendly. Razor sharp edges in this area are common, and a pet peeve of ours. An extended mag release is installed just below a slotted, lightened, short trigger with overtravel adjustment.
The frame feed ramp was polished to assist reliable feeding. A slightly extended ejector makes sure the empty brass clears out; the moderate length is beneficial when ejecting a live round. The edges of the magwell were beveled to aid positive insertion of fresh magazines. The 7-round magazine supplied with the Thompson Custom is manufactured by the same company that makes magazines for the entire Kahr line-up of pistols. It features a rounded steel follower, a welded-on baseplate predrilled for a slam pad (not included), and witness holes for verifying round count.
Most shooters insist on an extended thumb safety, finding the abbreviated style used on mil-spec style pistols too short and too narrow for positive manipulation at speed. The Thompson addresses this concern with a safety that is extended not only in length, but also in width. This is sure to get approval from those who use a “thumb-over-safety” grip. Dark brown laminated grip panels with a centered medallion bearing the Thompson name and logo set off the matte stainless of the pistol, and are fastened with Torx head grip screws.
The trigger pull measured 5.5 pounds and was gritty when we first received the gun. A thorough cleaning of the fire control and firing pin safety components went a long way toward smoothing the pull. When fully cleaned and lubed, the trigger settled at 5 pounds even, with a small amount of creep and no overtravel. The job of the safety parts in this pistol is to prevent the firing pin from striking the primer unless the trigger is pulled. This system-cloned from the Series 80 Colt pistols-is street proven and has been in use for years. Proper timing of the parts is absolutely critical for reliable function. The firing pin block, activated by the safety levers, must clear the way for the firing pin to have an unimpeded strike on the cartridge primer by the time all of the slack or pre-travel is taken up, at the beginning of the trigger pull. Mistimed pistols will exhibit damage to the blocking plunger and firing pin, and misfires can occur from light primer strikes. Uninformed adjustment of the trigger overtravel screw in some pistols adds to the problem, since this inhibits trigger travel and the amount the blocking plunger can be moved by the actuating levers. In our test pistol the overtravel stop could be tightened to the point that the hammer wouldn’t quite fall, but the firing pin was completely clear to move. That’s exactly how it should be when the system is working as designed. Oh, and contrary to popular opinion, excellent trigger pulls can be achieved in Series 80-style pistols.
The Thompson Custom proved a reliable performer during test firing. The only problem noted was one failure of the slide to lock back on an empty magazine, an anomaly we couldn’t duplicate again during our session. Accuracy was beyond good. The Thompson exhibited stunningly small group sizes, no matter what loads were run through her. There were no clear-cut winners in the ammunition used, although a group of five at just under an inch, from 25 yards with Remington UMC 230-grain FMJ, is certainly noteworthy. With the new ownership and their commitment to quality, this nice-looking, accurate, reliable pistol should go a long way toward redeeming the name and helping restore the Auto-Ordnance/ Thompson company back to its rightful place in history. See the Thompson Custom 1911 at your local gun shop.
|Thompson Custom 1911
.45 ACP Ammunition
|Black Hills 230-gr. FMJ||798||325||1.15″||1.72″||1.39″|
|Winchester 185-gr. ST HP||976||391||1.18″||2.06″||1.54″|
|Federal 230-gr. TMJ||733||305||1.25″||1.99″||1.61″|
|Remington-UMC 230-gr. FMJ||787||316||.96″||1.93″||1.42″|
|Velocity is the average of four 5-shot groups, measured with a Beta Chrony Chronograph, set 10 feet in front of the muzzle. Groups were fired from a sandbag rest at a range of 25 yards. Abbreviations: HP (hollow point); FMJ (full metal jacket); ST (silvertip); TMJ (total metal jacket).|
At the NRA Museum, Tommy Gun Devotees Can Zero In on a Classic
Style, The Washington Post, March 22, 2004
By Stephen Hunter (Washington Post Staff Writer)
At 2:23 p.m. on Nov.1, 1950, news suddenly arrived at the Secret Service office in the East Wing of the White House that across the street, men were trying to “shoot their way into Blair House, where Harry Truman was taking a nap.
James Rowley, agent in charge of the White House detail, responded with four words, spoken, one imagines, rather forcefully: “WHERE’S MY TOMMY GUN?”
You have to admit: He had a point.
Fortunately, Rowley didn’t have to pull the trigger that day, and the agents at Blair handled their emergency with dispatch and heroism. But Rowley’s cry reflects almost a half-century’s worth of loyalty by American police and military men toward Brig. Gen. John Taliaferro Thompson’s baby when things got shaky and high quantities of firepower were necessary.
It also reflects a half-century’s worth of fascination in popular culture, where the Thompson submachine gun became an icon. Bogart carried one in “Sahara” and “High Sierra,” Edward G. Robinson took a lungful of T-gun product and it was, Mother of God, the end of Rico in “Little Caesar.” Dillingers, both in life and on film, let fly with the subgun’s rat-tat-tat. Then, when the guns became a military standard in World War II, they surfaced in just about every movie made about that conflict, most recently and most famously in the hands of Tom Hanks as he saved Private Ryan.
Photo by Gerald Martineau-The Washington post
The actual things themselves have long since vanished from police or military gun vaults, replaced in our fabulous modern age by lighter, faster, uglier, plasticized, teflonized, ventilated thingamajiggers, high on efficiency, low on romance. Most of the old tommies were junked or sold off to Third World militaries that have by now junked them. The few operating survivors escalated exponentially in value-especially after a 1986 federal law froze the number of automatic weapons in the country-and therefore disappeared into private collections, where high-end aficionados could admire them over a glass of fine port in front of the fireplace after a hard day clipping coupons.
So if you called out, “Where’s my tommy gun?,” the answer would be: “In your local millionaire’s mansion.” But today it’s different. Mr. and Mrs. America, your tommy gun is in the National Rifle Association’s National Firearms Museum just outside Washington, along with 59 of its buddies, in an unprecedented gathering of specimens of the American instrument that made the ‘20s roar, the ‘30s rock and the ‘40s roll.
In fact, it’s probably the largest gathering of Thompson submachine guns under one roof since the night of June 5, 1944, when U.S. paratroopers smoked and joked, then cocked and locked, in various British hangars before climbing into their transport planes and jumping into Normandy early the next morning.
The $2 million exhibition, which showcases the best and rarest of the guns in private ownership as organized by the Thompson Collectors Association, is in the museum’s William B. Ruger gallery , under the formal name “Thompson: On the Side of Law and Order,” which happens to be the motto of the gun’s manufacturer, the Auto-Ordnance Corp. A purist might argue a better title would be “Thompson: On the Side of Law and Order, Most of the Time,” for much of the gun’s famous deployment was rooted not in behavior but in misbehavior. Another kind of purist might wish that the gun’s serious mythologizing in popular culture had been more rigorously examined, even if the museum just did close its spectacular exhibit on movie guns, “Real Guns for Reel Heroes,” which examined this issue in detail.
Still, if you have a fondness for these old American beauties-and who doesn’t, no matter their position on the dreaded gun issue-this is the place to go. It’s arranged, as one might expect, chronologically, taking the weapons from first models to standards to later World War II-issue simplifications and finally to the semiautomatic replicas on the market today. It exhibits not only the guns themselves, 60 of them, but also their accouterments, their memorabilia, their accessories, their cleaning implements, all the little gewgaws and gimcracks that make the typical detail-obsessed gun collector dizzy with pleasure. For anyone else with a casual interest in firearms as historical objects, as works of industrial design and as reflections of aesthetic sensibilities, the impact of so much hardware in such a little space will knock you almost as woozy.
And, of course, if you study American guns, you quickly run into a familiar figure: That would be a flinty entrepreneur who shrewdly applied a realpolitik analysis to the word, figured out an unsatisfied market niche and developed a product to fill it. That’s true of most industries, but particularly of the firearms industry, where guys named Colt and Winchester and Smith and Wesson and Marlin became small-scale industrial barons by understanding that a growing nation needed lots of good guns. It was certainly true of the aforementioned late benefactor Ruger, who manufactured guns for the common man to such a degree of success that he was able to endow handsomely the NRA’s museum with its impressive exhibition space.
And it’s certainly true of Thompson, West Point grad and firearms expert, who watched in horror as the World’s infantrymen were slaughtered like hogs on butcher day on the Western front in World War I. He saw the need for-and the market for-a light, powerful, battle-reliable weapon that would make fire-and-maneuver war fighting possible and spare his own nation’s soldiers the ignominy of the trenches. He set about to make it happen.
Thompson himself didn’t invent the gun (though he did invent the term “submachine gun”). He found a moneyed investor (Thomas Fortune Ryan) and thereby raised the capital to assemble a first-rate design team. But the two primary engineers-Oscar Payne, of the unschooled genius type that also figures prominently in firearms design, and Theodore Eickhoff, a gifted mechanical engineer-surpassed even their sponsor’s grandest hopes. They invented a classic.
The gun they came up with, in its final form, was reliable, accurate, light enough (it weighed about 10 pounds), relatively easy to manufacture, powerful. And it was one other thing, almost accidentally: It was beautiful.
As a consequence, the Thompson, like a few other guns, a few automobiles, a few paintings, a few symphonic bars, a few first paragraphs, became a phenomenon that transcended its design and utility. It was an example of what might be called charismatic harmony, a choreography of slopes and flats and slants and angles as executed in brilliantly machined steel and elegantly finished wood that compels simply by the nature of its grace. That, as much as anything, is why it lasted and why even when better, cheaper, lighter weapons became available, both the real-world operators and their cinematic coefficients preferred to stay with the Thompson.
The exhibit has some rarities: It has two of the company’s first, but false-start, products, .30-caliber semiautomatic rifles that were meant to replace the Army Springfield and predated the famous M-1 Garand rifle of World War II fame by two decades. But the boys found that their mechanism worked most efficiently with a .45-caliber pistol cartridge, to which they committed early on. Three of Auto-Ordnance’s prototypes or pre-Thompsons, including Serial No. 7, which was designed in 1919, are displayed. They demonstrate that even at the inception of the project, Thompson’s designers had come across that signature profile, the modern, rigorous angularity of the bolt housing (usually called a receiver) in counterpoint to the graceful thrust of the two wooden grips, the pistol grip under the trigger group and the foregrip, under the finned barrel. When put into production, a stock was added, which reiterated the line of those two sculptured handfuls of wood, which gives the whole thing a pleasing unity. It’s not parts: it’s a whole. It’s somehow rakish and ergonomic at the same time. Grab me, shoot me, the gun seems to yell.
The whole thing leaps to hand, and points beautifully. Held to the shoulder, its sights present themselves smartly. It’s heavy enough to absorb much of the bite of the recoil of the powerful cartridge.
A particularly nifty stylization is the drum, a circular magazine set in front of the trigger group, holding either 50 or 100 cartridges. The drum gives the gun a signature uniqueness so essential to classicism. Like a Coke bottle or Mickey’s ears, it’s an almost universally recognized symbol of a certain something American. Kilroy was here, it tells the world.
The guns Thompson first produced arrived in the marketplace too late to warrant the large-scale military contracts he had dreamed of, since the war to end all wars had ended itself. But, of course, it hadn’t ended wars: Smaller, elite units saw the genius in the guns. The Marines used them in Nicaragua, the Navy gunboaters in China, the gangsters in Chicago and the directors in Hollywood.
The funny thing is, Thompson didn’t get rich. In fact he nearly went broke, and by the time the company was taken over, in 1939, by another financier, it boasted “a large debt, few assets, no production facilities and very few Thompsons in stock,” according to notes by Tom Woods, president of the Thompson Collector’s Association, in the exhibition catalogue.
That may be true, but for many, the between-the-wars editions of Thompsons were by far the finer variants. In those days, American guns were built (as were most American industrial products) with almost fetishistic care and elegance. The tommy guns were no exception, particularly a run of them manufactured on contract by Colt in the early 1920s. They had a lustrous blue finish of highly polished metal (the Colt polishers were famous). These were the classic “gangster” Thompson guns, with all the pizazzy works. They had finely machined Lyman adjustable stocks, the double vertical grips raked at that 38-degree angle and the Cutts compensator at the muzzle, which gave them such a sinister look and figured in so many Warner Bros. street and nightclub dramas. The thing looked great in a movie star’s hands, particularly if he had a pug-beautiful New York toughie’s face, a Camel dangling from the corner of his mouth leaking a filigree of smoke, dead calm eyes and a fedora a-tilt on his carefully oiled hair. The movies had discovered the power of the cool Bad Man, and then the bad-but-finally-good guy who finds redemption in the last reel. The tommy was one of the stations of the cross on the way to this spiritual deliverance.
But that was on-screen. In reality, it was the war, not the brothers Warner, that saved the Thompson from extinction. Though not a new design, it was judged new enough by a Department of War desperate for exactly the usage Thompson had envisioned two decades earlier. Moreover, it was simpler to gin up production on an existing design than to start over. As the factories churned them out, they simplified to save on manufacturing costs. The elegant Cutts compensator was no longer required, nor was the adjustable sight. The guns were no longer elegantly blued but roughly coated with tough phosphate, so they were a dull gray. The expensive-to-machine fins were jettisoned. From 1941 to 1945, more than 1,750,000 were produced, and they saw action everywhere, particularly where high-contact units were used, such as Marine raiders and Army rangers and paratroopers. The Marines who hit the beaches of the Pacific inlands loved them especially. In fact, one of the most famous photos from World War II features the gun: A Marine polishes off a Japanese sniper with his, while nearby a Browning automatic rifleman continues the advance. That’s fire-and-maneuver at its purest.
But for years, on the collector’s market, these wartime expedients, dubbed the Thompson M-1 and M-1A, represented the low end of the game because they weren’t up to the standards and the fame of the prewar beauties. Then Steven Spielberg made “Saving Private Ryan,” and he turned the collecting pyramid upside down: Now the cruder war guns, used so heroically by Hanks, skyrocketed in value. Unless you win a lottery or sell a screenplay, you’re probably not going to get into that market. They start at about $12,000 and accelerate quickly to the high 20s. And that is if you can find one for sale.
So the guns are and will remain the province of the rich, with the time on their hands to go through the lengthy process by which legal acquisition of a Class III (that is, fully automatic) weapon is possible. For the rest of us, the temporarily assembled legion of tommies at the National Firearms Museum will have to suffice. I don’t know about you, but in my book there’s nothing more dazzling to the eye and the imagination than a room decorated in a style called “Early Thompson.” Is this a great country or what?
The National Firearms Museum is open seven days a week and is at the NRA’s headquarters, 11250 Waples Mill Rd., Fairfax, near Exit 57 of Interstate 66.