WARNING: Severe, exceedingly obscure, fascinatingly trivial, yet amazingly fun history lesson follows! Approach with extreme caution.
Webleys are the iconic English military pistol. They’ve been around since 1887, and continued in Commonwealth and U.K. military service until withdrawal in 1970. The most famous of the Webley series was the Mk VI dating back to World War I, all of which were factory chambered in the oddball .455 Webley (most have since been rechambered for reduced pressure .45 ACP loadings). Worldwide there are probably tens of thousands of these things still being used in former colonies of the British Empire.
Well, this certainlylooks like a Webley. And it’s even stamped “WEBLEY PATENTS” above the trigger guard:
And it’s stamped as a “MARK VI” along the backstrap:
The “broad arrow” stamps are a nice touch as well. The “broad arrow” was used as a British property stamp, and those “broad arrows” are all over this weapon. And I do mean all over it.
Indeed, this weapon even operates like a traditional top-breaking, self-extracting Webley revolver. You can see in the sequence below how this thing elegantly breaks open at the top. Then, as you continue to rotate the barrel-cylinder assembly away from the frame, the star extractor arm extends to eject cartridges from the cylinder. Finally, continue even farther and the extractor arm snaps back into its recessed position, ready for the user to reload the cylinder with fresh rounds.
I believe Smith & Wesson pioneered this break-top, self-extraction concept back in 1870 with their S&W Model 3. If there is an earlier version, I’d love to hear about it. And, yes, I am aware of the break-top 1858 French Divesme, but it used a manual extractor rod to push cartridges out from the front one at a time rather than an automatic self-extractor to pull out of them simultaneously from the rear. At any rate, this Smith & Wesson-style extractor is now more closely associated with Webley revolvers.
As you may have guessed by now, looking at all the bizarre “broad arrow” proof marks, there is something decidedly amiss with this “Webley.” But there are other clues, such as nonsensical “English” stamps:
Well, let’s take look at the serial number for some additional clues:
But, wait. What’s this stamped above the trigger guard?
So, which is it? Is the serial number 1950, or 195018? Being on the cautious side, and noting that the frame usually bears the serial number, the gun store went with 195018 on the ATF Form 4473. Probably a good move, as I’m pretty sure that’s the number it would have been imported under. Although… there is no import stamp, so it’s very likely a G.I. bring-back from…. Any guesses yet? I’ll give you a clue. This had to have wound up in the duffle bag of someone returning from a recent combat zone which would in the past have been under the United Kingdom sphere of influence (hey, it is after all a WEBLEY, right?). And the logical suspect would be…
I’m sure some of you have probably guessed by now that this an infamous, and here in the U.S. a very rare and much sought, “Khyber Pass clone” from somewhere along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. These clones are still made today by local gunsmiths operating their own metallurgic furnaces, casting and forging parts copied from abandoned relics of conflicts from long ago. In other words, this is a poor copy of a Webley revolver made at the hands of some backyard smithy. He then embellished his work of art with fake stamps meant to convey a place of origin on distant soil this gun never saw.
The only question remaining is which side of the Kyber Pass did this gun originate? Was it the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan, or was it Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province? My gut tells me Nangarhar, but who knows? It’s a mystery, and likely to remain as such.
This particular example of a Khyber Pass clone is not something I’m ever going to test fire. The cylinder lockup is sloppy, and that’s an understatement. The metallurgy is suspect enough that I wouldn’t trust it to handle even the weak .38 S&W “Short“ for which it is supposedly chambered. Which, by the way, is a round for which the Mark VI was never chambered. Yet another clue that something is amiss.
I hope you enjoyed today’s Fun Firearm Friday, which closes out Revolver Week here at the blog. Next week we return to travel, with my first week-long ever review of a single cruise ship. And what a ship it is — 226,963 Gross Tonnage, 5,479 double-occupancy passenger capacity (6,780 maximum capacity), 2,300 crew, and seven distinct “neighborhoods” throughout this behemoth.
Meanwhile, if you found today’s article interesting and would like to know more about these Khyber Pass gunsmiths, here’s a nice, informative article for you to peruse:
We’re finishing up “M” Week at the blog. Monday was Mosin. Wednesday we ran with Marlin. Today’s “M” is for Ruger’s MPR version of their AR-556.
I finally gave in to the AR-style rifle bug. But give in I did, after a lot of research. I had no desire to ever travel this road again, and I didn’t want to make a mistake, so I studied for months. Along the way I discovered a lot of information that directed me towards today’s subject — the Ruger AR-556 MPR (Multi-Purpose Rifle).
What were the other contenders, and how did I finally arrive at the AR-556 MPR? Let’s explore that for a moment, bearing in mind that my choices won’t necessarily align with your choices.
I’ll start with a brief look at the original AR-15 designed around the .223 Remington round. The .223 Remington was developed for the commercial varmint rifle market back in 1957, and by 1963 the first rifles chambered for this round became available. Eugene Stoner got involved when Remington invited him to scale down his existing ArmaLite AR-10 to handle the .223. The result was the ArmaLite AR-15, which like the AR-10 uses a unique direct gas impingement design (okay, not technically correct, but “direct impingement” is the popular name for it) that directed gas directly into the bolt carrier to cycle the weapon. Mr. Stoner set the barrel length at 20 inches/50.8 cm to make full use of the propellant in the .223 Remington, as barrels shorter than that length resulted in incomplete ignition of the propellant before the bullet exited the muzzle. That 20 inches also allowed for an optimal “rifle length” gas system, which would reduce recoil, thus lessening the stress on the bolt and buffer, and introduce less gas-fouling into the bolt carrier. Keep that in mind, as shorter barrels result in a shorter gas system, more recoil, faster bolt speeds causing more stress, and hotter gases getting introduced into the bolt carrier.
About this time the U.S. Air Force were looking for an alternative to their M1 and M2 carbines, and the Army were considering something easier to handle in full-automatic than their M14. This led Colt to purchase the rights for Mr. Stoner’s AR-15 from ArmaLite (contrary to myth the “AR” in “AR-15” stands for ” ArmaLite Rifle, not “Assault Rifle”). Colt then further developed the now “Colt” AR-15 into the M-16 chambered for the M193 cartridge. The M193 (not to be confused with the later similar NATO 5.56 mm round developed by FN in the 1970s) is basically a 55-grain/3.56 gram version of the .223 Remington. After some trial and error, Colt settled on 6-groove rifling with a 1:12/ 1:30.48 cm right-hand twist optimized for the lightweight 55-grain round.
Yeah . . . just try to find a rifle-length gas system on an AR-style rifle today. There are some out there, but you’ll pay for it. The rage today is to go tacti-cool and get the barrel length down to the legal non-NFA minimum of 16 inches/40.6 cm barrel. That’s because the military’s current M4 version has a ridiculously short 14.5-inch/36.8 cm barrel and, hey, everybody wants that military look regardless of how the rifle performs in most civilian applications. (Again, don’t take offense; I’m describing my preferences here, not necessarily your preferences.)
But remember what you give up for the modern Battle-of-Fallujah look — that rifle-length gas system goes by the wayside. That gets you incomplete burning of propellant; which in turn results in a reduction in muzzle velocity and energy; increased muzzle flash from the still-burning propellant blasting out the muzzle; increased bolt speed with the additional wear-and-tear that entails; and more fouling in the receiver from hotter, unburnt gases. Sorry, but I’m just not seeing any real advantages here for civilian applications. It’s not as if I’ll be using a shortened AR-style rifle with a carbine-length gas system in an urban warfare environment, or even to protect the homestead. In an AR-style rifle I’d rather have the longer range, lower recoil, and all the other advantages that a full-length gas system affords.
Again, that’s my choice meeting my needs. When you go shopping for an AR-style rifle, you need to evaluate what works best for you. And if you like what I’m about to describe on the MPR version of Ruger’s AR-556 but want a shorter barrel, you’re in luck. Ruger also makes the MPR in a 16.1-inch version (Model 8542). You can also get the MPR chambered for .350 Legend (Model 8532) and .450 Bushmaster (Model 8522). Unfortunately, if you want .300 AAC Blackout, you must go with Ruger’s standard AR-556 (Model 8530) or get the “pistol” version (Model 8572) with an even sillier 10.5-inch/26.7 cm barrel.
Here is the list of contenders that in the end were vying for my dollars:
SIG Sauer M400 Tread: SIG has discontinued anything longer than a 16-inch barrel; you pay for the SIG name.
FN 15 Military Collector M16: 20-inch barrel available; but lacked a lot of features for an MSRP of $1,749.
Colt: The original; you can’t go wrong with the Prancing Pony, but only the expensive M16A1 Retro Reissue offered a rifle-length gas system . . . at $2,499 MSRP!
Springfield Saint: Barrel maxes out at 16 inches.
Smith & Wesson M&P 15 Competition: This one comes closest yet to the MPR:
Pros: 18-inch barrel; rifle-length gas system; two-stage match trigger; 15-inch free-float M-LOK compatible handguard; full-length rail; adjustable buttstock.
Cons: Heavier than the MPR; MSRP is $700 higher than the MPR with nothing to show for the additional cost.
First, the relevant technical statistics for the Ruger® AR-556® MPR (Model 8514):
Caliber: 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington (other calibers available; see text)
Length: 35 to 38.25 inches/88.9 to 97.2 cm
Length of pull: 11.1 to 14.4 inches/28.2 to 36.6 cm
Capacity: The MPR comes with one 30-round Magpul PMAG® Gen-2 MOE magazine (a pet peeve of mine; come on, Ruger, you can do better than just one magazine)
Owner’s Manual: Of course
Safety lock: Cable type key lock
Box: Cheap cardboard, of course
Now let’s take a look at the rifle. First off, that scope you see mounted does not come with the AR-556 MPR. Indeed, since this rifle has a free-float barrel, it does not come with a sight of any type — not even the usual combination gas block/front sight most associated with this type of rifle. As such, you’ll have to cough up some money upfront to fix that. The scope you see mounted here is a Vortex Crossfire II 1-4×24 with Vortex’s V-Brite red dot.
Also not included was the two-point sling you see pictured, nor the M-LOK Quick Dismount (QD) rail attachment. The MOE SL buttstock does however have a QD attachment point, in addition to a slot for your sling if you prefer.
But no matter what sight you choose to mount, there’s nearly 20 inches/51 cm of slot “rail” estate along the rail atop the MPR’s flat upper receiver. Go with iron sights, red dot, red dot with magnifier, low-power scope, high-power scope, night scope, or even optics co-witnessed with iron sights if you wish. The options are limited only by your imagination and your wallet.
Now, what about Ruger’s claimed 4.5-pound/2.04 kg Elite 452 trigger? Turns out they fudged on that one. The pull worked out closer to 4.17 pounds, but I’m not going to quibble when it’s to my advantage. The actual five-pull average came in at a mere 4 pounds 2.7 ounces/1.89 kg. Trigger reset is so miniscule I had trouble measuring it, but my best eyeball guesstimate puts it at around an eighth of an inch, or about 3 mm.
I’ve yet to fire the AR-556 MPR, so I haven’t even had the opportunity to sight in the Crossfire II. But I can tell you how I perceive the handling characteristics thus far. The MPR is well balanced and easy to handle. It’s both light and comfortable to carry, and quick to get on target when the sling is properly adjusted. All controls are just where one would expect on any AR-style rifle, so there are no surprises here and they are all easy to manipulate . . . if you’re righthanded; none of the controls are ambidextrous.
Fit and finish I would rate as good. The MPR certainly looks good. There was one minor flaw in the hard coat anodization on the edge of the magazine well (see below). But that’s a quibble. It’s not worth the time and effort for a trip back to the mothership for a rifle that is meant to be used.
A word of caution: make sure you disassemble your MPR and check for copious amounts of lubrication. One of the things I really appreciate about Ruger is that they way overengineer nearly everything they make, but they also love to overlubricate. In the case of this MPR, there was far too much lubricant inside the bolt carrier and on the tail of the bolt. I hate to think how much carbon would have cooked onto those surfaces if I hadn’t wiped them down. Other areas were positively dripping with lubrication as well, but that’s been remedied.
Overall, I’m impressed. But then I’m also a novice in the AR market, so there’s that. Perhaps I’m just easily impressed. But I don’t believe that’s the case here. For all the features Ruger threw into this AR-556 variant, the MPR is an impressive rifle at a price point hundreds less than anything comparable in a nationally known and respected brand.
That concludes this week’s firearms series. If you’re not a fan, do not despair.
Next week this blog returns to travel the photography. That series will start in Ireland, head transatlantic with a stop in Ponta Delgada in the Azores, continue into Key West for some sunset photos, then head over to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza on the Yucatán Peninsula.
Weight: 6 pounds, 8.55 ounces (104.55 ounces)/2.96 kg
Caliber: .38 SPL/.357 Magnum
Capacity: 9-round tubular magazine
Trigger pull (measured by author; average of five): 2 pounds, 14.8 ounces/1.328 kilograms
My impressions upon handling the rifle: The lever action is stiff, bordering on mediocre. The rifle appears little to have been very lightly used, so this may be a break-in situation. The 1894C has a superlative, crisp trigger with no take up whatsoever, and it breaks consistently at just under three pounds. The crossbolt safety (if you’re into such things on a lever action) is easy to manipulate, positively blocks the hammer, and allows for safe decocking of the rifle. I may very well decide to take the Marlin out to the range and compare it against my Rossi R92 (Winchester Model 1892 clone) in the same caliber.
A little history on Marlin and the Model 1894:John Marlin founded the Marlin Fire Arms Company in 1870 in New Haven Connecticut (the company would in 1968 move to nearby North Haven). In 1881 Marlin expanded from single-shot rifles into the lever-action market, and in 1888 Marlin engineer Lewis Lobdon “L.L.” Hepburn revolutionized the concept with a lever-action rifle that ejected cartridges through the side of the receiver rather than via the top.
In 1893 Mr. Hepburn continued to improve and strengthen his design, resulting in two new rifles — the Marlin Models 1894 and 1895. The Model 1894 with its solid-top/side-eject concept was an immediate hit in cold inclement environments such as Alaska and Canada, as the absence of an open-top ejection port prevented snow, rain, leaves, dirt, and other contaminants from dropping into the rifle. The design had the added benefit of being much stronger than the competing Winchester designs of the era.
The Model 1894 differs from Marlin’s Model 1895 in that the 1894 is chambered in pistol calibers, while the 1895 was designed for more powerful rifle cartridges. In the Winchester world, it would be like comparing a Winchester Model 1892 (pistol calibers) to a Winchester Model 1894 (rifle rounds — although some past 1894 rifles were chambered in .44 Rem Mag and other pistol calibers).
As a quick aside, today’s Model 1895 rifle is not quite the same as the original, which was discontinued in 1917. The reintroduction of the Model 1895 name in 1972 is based upon the Marlin 336 rifle dating from 1936, which further improved upon Mr. Hepburn’s 1893 developments.
Marlin’s history has been a bit convoluted since 2007. It was in that year that Marlin fell into the evil clutches of the equity firm Cerebrus Capital Management via their holding company Freedom Group. Freedom Group would eventually try to hide this evil nature by changing its name to Remington Outdoor Group. But true to form, Remington collapsed into bankruptcy last year, taking with it Marlin, which had already been mismanaged into oblivion beginning in 2008 (more on that shortly).
We’ve seen this scenario playout before with the iconic American brand Colt’s Manufacturing and Colt Defense. Then we have Winchester Repeating Arms Company; lever-action rifles bearing the Winchester brand are now manufactured in Japan. Yes, I despise predatory equity management firms, and I feel that’s with good reason.
Fortunately, Remington’s recent (and entirely too predictable) bankruptcy has resulted in Marlin coming under the umbrella of my favorite U.S. firearms company — Sturm, Ruger & Co. If anyone can rescue and restore this historic brand, it’ll be Ruger.
On an unrelated side note: we can all breathe easier knowing that Colt’s Manufacturing now belongs to Česká zbrojovka Group (Czech armory Group — CZG), a company that understands the firearms business. It would have been better in my view if Colt had remained an entirely U.S. company, but at least this way Colt shall survive and prosper.
So, what has all this to do with a Marlin 1894C that dates to 2009? A lot if you’re a collector. Remington (a.k.a., Freedom Group, a.k.a., Cerebrus Capital Management) purchased Marlin in 2007, and took over both ownership and management the following year. Production initially continued at Marlin’s North Haven, Connecticut plant, using experienced Marlin craftsmen who understood the designs they were handcrafting, and who collectively had generations of experience among them.
Marlin’s workers were also unionized. See where this is going now? Yep. In March 2010 Remington announced it would be closing Marlin’s historic North Haven plant, ending 141 years of continuity and experience. In April the following year, the Marlin plant was closed. The unionized craftsmen were terminated. The manufacturing equipment for the lever-action line was boxed up and shipped to a Remington facility in Ilion, New York. Manufacture of other Marlin rifles transferred to Remington’s Mayfield, Kentucky facility. And inexperienced, non-unionized workers began misassembling firearms they had no clue how to put together.
Quality collapsed, of course. Marlins went from being coveted rifles to a bad joke, with unsuspecting consumers supplying the punchline. Eventually, Remington employees would start to turn things around a few years later as they gained experience with the nuances of the designs. But Marlin rifles never fully regained the quality they once exhibited, and the reputational damage was by then complete.
Which brings us to today’s Model 1894C. And this is a weird one. The serial number indicates that the rifle was made in 2009. Production continued at the North Haven Marlin plant at least through the end of 2010, with the doors being locked one final time in April 2011. The barrel displays the North Haven roll mark. The fit and finish, particularly the mating of the walnut stocks to the receiver and barrel, scream Marlin quality. So, too, does the deep, rich bluing of the metal on both the barrel and the receiver.
But then there’s the proof mark. If you have a Marlin with a “JW” proof mark, then you have a true Marlin-made Marlin. If your serial number doesn’t start with “RM”, then you have a true Marlin-made Marlin. On the other hand, if you have a Marlin with an “REP” inside an oval-shaped stamp, or the serial number starts with “RM”, then you supposedly have a Remington-made Marlin.
But what if your rifle’s serial number isn’t prefixed with “RM”, the “91” at the beginning of the serial number indicates the rifle was made in 2009, the rifle has a barrel displaying the North Haven roll mark, the fit and finish all give the appearances of a clean, well-made North Haven example, yet your rifle bears the dreaded “REP” on the right side of the barrel? What do you have? Is it a Marlin, a Remlin, a Marlington, or an insidious Remington cleverly disguised as a quality Marlin?
So, what exactly is going on here? Well, there are several possibilities. Toward the end of production, North Haven produced receivers with serial numbers in the “92” (2008) “91” (2009), “90” (2010), and even a few in the “89” (2011) range.
Notes for determining the manufacture date from the serial number:
For serial numbers starting with 27 through 00, just subtract those first two digits from 2000; example: 2000 – 22 = 1978
For numbers 99 through 89, subtract the first two digits from 2000 then change the first two numbers in the result from “19” to “20”; example: 2000 – 91 = 1909; change 19 to 20; final result = 2009
Manufacture dates prior to 1973 used various other schemes)
Sometime in 2011 serial numbers changed from “89” to the “RM” format. “RM” stood for “Remington-Marlin”. Marlin barrels may have changed prior to that, and it appears Ilion still used the North Haven roll mark for a time after Ilion took over at least some of the manufacturing. As to when precisely that occurred, I’ve not been able to discern. Additionally, some North Haven receivers and barrels were shipped to Ilion for final assembly, which would explain very neatly the “REP” on today’s example. There is also the possibility that North Haven sent completed rifles to Ilion, whereupon the “REP” stamp was then applied, but I somehow doubt that is the answer. I believe it’s probably more likely that North Haven transitioned to the “REP” stamp prior to operations moving to Ilion, but I cannot substantiate that as fact.
So, bottom line for the collector:
“JW” is the proof mark you want for maximum value.
Pre-crossbolt safety is also a big plus among lever action purists. For that you must get a Marlin made in 1982 or earlier.
“93” on the serial number (2007 manufacture) gets you out of this who-made-what-when mess altogether. Freedom Arms made the purchase of Marlin that year, but it wasn’t finalized until 2008.
“92” (2008) means you still definitely have a North Haven rifle, and it most certainly will have a “JW” proof as well. But that’s also the year Remington stepped into the mix. Things started getting dicey, I’m sure, and morale probably started falling at North Haven.
“91” (2009) — You’re probably still good, but watch out. Hopefully, you have a “JW” proof, but even so quality will be hit-or-miss with the decline in morale. Inspect that prospective acquisition carefully before laying down cash.
“90” (2010) is the year Freedom Group decided to eviscerate whatever was left of North Haven morale by telling the workforce to train their replacements and prepare for unemployment. At this point any incentive to provide a quality build had long since evaporated.
“89” (2011) — By now I’m going to say you might as well have an “RM” serial number. Who the heck knows what was going on in North Haven by then?
“RM” means you’re too late. You may have a shooter, or you may have a major gunsmithing project.
I’m not disappointed in this “91”. Not even close. It appears to be a quality rifle. Most, if not all, the parts are North Haven. I do wish it sported the “JW” proof, and if I knew then what I know now that “REP” stamp might have given me a bit more pause. I balked at the time only because the consignee didn’t bring into the gun shop the original box. He said he didn’t know where it was. I passed to the consignee through the shop owner a low-ball offer for the rifle without the box, and a slightly higher “incentive” offer if he located it. The incentive worked. The owner found the original box and took the latter offer, which was still below his initial asking price.