BSF S54: a quality underlever of the past
by B.B. Pelletier
Let’s look at an old air rifle that left the world stage several decades ago. The Bayerische Sportwaffen Fabrik (Bavarian Sporting Weapons Manufacturer) or BSF, as it was known, operated for several decades after World War II. They were based in Erlangen, Germany, and the guns they made were approximately equivalent to Dianas, though in some aspects they were the better brand. It was BSF that first broke the 800 f.p.s. barrier with their model 55 breakbarrel. They remained at the forefront of the airgun horsepower races of the late 1970s and early ’80s until the Beeman R1 buried the field. Then, like everyone except Diana, they gave up.
This BSF S54 is a gorgeous underlever sporting air rifle with serious target sights, as well as standard sporting sights. The buttstock is a typical Bavarian style.
The S54 was the top model made by BSF. It wasn’t the most powerful, because quality was not measured in feet per second in its day. Rather, it embodied the finer things of airgun technology such as metal finish, wood, sights and overall smoothness. It was also the largest rifle BSF made, at nearly 47″ overall and 8.8 lbs.! You knew it was a fine rifle just from the finish and the weight. According to the Blue Book of Airguns, the rifle shown here is the Bavaria model S54, and there is also a deluxe version with an American-style butt.
Not that powerful, but smoooooth!
The S54 came in both .177 and .22 calibers. I have seen about six guns in the past 10 years, and all were .22 caliber. I don’t know what to make of that, but apparently the .177 is not as common in the U.S. The rifle was around in 1957 and discontinued in 1986, so it had a long run. I do not know the exact first year it was offered. Cocking was by the underlever, which is not cut from a solid bar, but rather a folded piece of very thick sheet steel. BSF was an innovator in using plate steel to cut the fabrication costs. Their sears, for instance, were not machined from solid stock but punched from many thin sheets of steel that were riveted together! The triggers were stiff and creepy when new, but soon wore into very fine pull weights. This rifle’s trigger breaks fairly clean at less than two pounds.
Because the barrel is fixed, the rifle loads through a rotating tap, with a handle located on the left side of the action. Unlike some taploaders, this one is entirely manual – meaning you first cock the rifle, then open the tap by hand. A pellet is dropped nose-first into the tap, which is then rotated closed, making the rifle ready to fire. There is no safety, as such; but, if the tap is open, the rifle cannot shoot.
The loading tap lever is raised, opening the tap for loading. This is done independent of the rifle being cocked. Notice the sporting rear sight.
What’s with that aperture rear sight?
The S54 is not a target rifle by any stretch of the imagination. When it first came out in the 1950s, it might have been good enough to compete against Weihrauch’s model 55, but it would not win too often. In the 1960s, when rifles like the FWB 150 came out, the S54 hadn’t a prayer of competing. Still, the German shooter loves his sport, so BSF offered what has to be one of the coolest-looking retro aperture rear sights ever made! The one on this rifle has a standard sighting disk of about two inches diameter, but I have seen S54 disks that appeared to be a full five inches in diameter! This sight is 100 percent machined steel and exudes an aura of quality.
It may seem strange to have both a target rear sight and a sporting rear sight on the same rifle, but it is very much a German tradition. I have had several German target rifles that also had a sporting sight. I have been told that there are different sports for the sporting sight, but I’ve never been able to confirm that. Maybe the German makers were just adding value.
Rear aperture sight is big, heavy and clicks like a safe lock when adjusted. It screams quality!
The S54 is not a powerful rifle despite its size and weight. A good one shoots medium-weight .22 diabolos at around 525 f.p.s., and I would suppose medium-weight .177 diabolos at around 650, or so. The loading tap is partly responsible for this, as it lengthens the transfer port, which is the passageway through the tap. That lessens the pressure of the air blast that starts the pellet on its way. However, the benefit of less power is a rifle that’s easy to cock – as this one is! The powerplant is a little on the buzzy side, but a clever tuner can get rid of that and make the gun feel like the proverbial bank vault door!
Nor that accurate!
The S54 cannot keep pace with a Crosman 101 pneumatic, which demonstrates that expensive airguns are not always perfect. Again, the loading tap comes into question as it sizes the pellet skirt, which then slips into the barrel that may be a little larger. A good choke at the muzzle might have corrected this. In those days, chokes were not commonly applied to airgun barrels.
How hard are they to find?
Good luck finding one! These rifles don’t tend to move around very much. There may be more of them than the few I’ve seen would indicate, but this is an airgun that owners hold on to. Although the Blue Book lists a 100 percent gun at only $235, I’ve see 80 percent guns change hands for $500! The quality of the gun is its best selling point, so don’t expect to find a deal in a pawn shop or thrift store. Almost everyone immediately recognizes the quality.
BSF went out of business in the late 1980s. Weihrauch bougth their remaining inventory, parts and tools. For many years, Weihrauch sold the models 55 and 70 breakbarrel rifles. Then, they swapped in their Rekord trigger and turned the model 70, which was simply a 55 with a longer barrel, into the Beerman R8. The R8 lasted for several years before the design was made more producible and the R9 was created. So, in a sense, BSF is still with us today!