Testing 4 vintage 10-meter air rifles
by B.B. Pelletier
Well it’s Friday again, and it’s time to have some fun. When I tested the TF 79 competition air rifle, I mentioned that I also shot several vintage 10-meter rifles the same day, just to make sure I was still able to shoot a good group. Well, we heard from a lot of readers who apparently like these oldsters just as much as I do, so I thought I would take today and report on how they all did.
I’ve owned most of the better-known classic 10-meter target air rifles over the years, but I didn’t hold onto them because I was always chasing some other dream. Long-range accuracy or big-bore prowess were always competing with these quiet target rifles, and there’s only a finite amount of money to go around. So, over the years I’ve both shot and given up some real vintage beauties.
A couple years ago, I decided that I had to always have at least one vintage 10-meter target rifle on hand at all times for when those assignments — like testing target pellets — came along. At the Little Rock airgun expo, I searched for an HW55 — a rifle that I knew from experience would be right for the job. Well, there was one in my price range. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was a very rare version of the HW55 that not too many collectors have ever seen. It was the HW55 SF, the only HW55 ever made without the positive barrel latch on the left side of the action. In reality, it’s just an HW50 with a target sight, but Weihrauch had marked the barrel as an HW55, and I was able to find a listing for the model in a vintage catalog from Air Rifle Headquarters. Technically, it’s a 55, even without the barrel latch, because the manufacturer says it is.
I’ve owned most of the better-known classic 10-meter target air rifles over the years
That rifle sparked a renewed interest in vintage 10-meter target rifles; and over the course of the next two years, another four guns have come into my possession. They are, in order of acquisition, a Walther LGV Olympia, an HW55 Custom Match, an FWB 300S and, most recently, an FWB 150. The 150 is off to the airgunsmith getting overhauled right now, but the other three are on hand and are part of today’s testing.
From the comments I received, I knew that I would not only have to report on how these guns shoot, but also on their particular weaknesses, because many of you seem to want to acquire one for yourselves. Today’s report is not meant to be a detailed report on each of the rifles. There is no time for that here. I’ve already reported on the HW55 SF and the Walther LGV Olympia in separate reports that you can read, so there are only the FWB 300, HW55 CM and the FWB 150 yet to get their own three-part evaluations at some time in the future.
I’ll shoot four of the five target rifles for you to compare their accuracy against what you’ve seen from the TF79, not to mention the Crosman Challenger PCP and the AirForce Edge. Be sure to read the reports on the Crosman Challenger PCP and the AirForce Edge, too. And, also, please know that Crosman made another target rifle called the Crosman Challenger 2000 that was a CO2 rifle with a Benjamin 397 barrel. That rifle was never as accurate as the Challenger PCP, but you can easily get confused by the similar-sounding names.
The HW55 SF
As I mentioned, this was the airgun that kicked off my renewed interest in vintage 10-meter target rifles. As you can see in the picture, it’s just a simple breakbarrel that happens to have a target sight. In its day, which was around 1968, Weihrauch was making the finest breakbarrel rifles they ever produced, so there’s a lot to this rifle that you won’t see in an airgun made today.
The HW55 SF was an unexpected find. It was supposed to be a work-a-day test-bed rifle. Instead, it rekindled old interests.
Also, because this is a model 55 in the eyes of the manufacturer, they installed the special target version of the Rekord trigger. While the standard Rekord trigger is something to behold, the target version has a much lighter trigger return spring and can be set to release safely at just ounces of breaking pressure. So there’s not much difference in feel or performance between this trigger and the one found on the FWB 300.
Nearly all HW55 rifles have this locking lever for the barrel on the left side of the gun. It’s the most easily recognized feature of this model.
Only the rare HW55 SF is without a barrel-locking lever. The baseblock is marked “HW55.”
So, the old 55 likes inexpensive RWS Hobby pellets, too. What a plus! Sometimes, that’s exactly how it goes. I also shot RWS R10 Heavy pellets, but they weren’t as accurate as the H&N Finale Match Rifle pellets. The rifle is a bit buzzy when it fires, which I don’t like. But the accuracy is almost too good to do anything to the powerplant except use it as it is.
The two weaknesses an old HW55 can have are a bent mainspring and worn seals. The early seals were leather and can be handmade by the owner, but later guns used the synthetic HW50 seals that seem to last a long time. If the breech seal is synthetic, there’s a good chance the piston seal will be, too.
Walther LGV Olympia
The next rifle I tested was the Walther LGV Olympia. This old classic was one I bought from collector Tom Strayhorn, at what I thought was a super price. Tom sold it so low because of some finish loss on the forearm, but color me purple if that matters one iota! I’m a shooter. While I like a good-looking air rifle, if it shoots well it can look like a dog. Besides, I don’t think this one looks that bad! Finally, there’s a real advantage to my low standards!
Isn’t the Walther LGV Olympia a gorgeous air rifle?
The LGV has a beautiful firing behavior. It’s smooth and free from vibration. I like the way the heavy rifle cocks, as well. It’s so smooth that it’s like watching a bank vault door operate. The trigger is the equal of the HW55 target trigger.
The Walther LGV series guns have two flaws. First, they tend to crack their stocks at the pistol grip where the wood grain is aligned wrong for strength. Second, all of them were made with seals that crumble in time, but the replacement seals of today seem to last forever. So, check on the grip and seals before buying. Most airgunsmiths can work on an LGV because it isn’t too intricate.
HW55 Custom Match
This is a rifle that deserves a complete three-part report of its own. Although I’ve owned it for several months, I haven’t shot it that much. I know I got some good groups from it in the past, but to tell the truth, it was the ugly stepsister in this test. The firing behavior is harsh and jarring — not at all what I expect from an HW55. It feels like the rifle was tuned by someone who only wanted power. I think I need to open it up and calm it down.
The HW55 CM represents the finest technological advance of the entire series of rifles.
I have so much to say about the HW55 CM because it represents Weihrauch’s high-water mark with the 55-series rifles. Even rarer than the Tyroleans that everyone covets, the CM was around for only a very few years at the end of the half-century-long production run of the HW55. It was the finest “buggy whip” they ever made, though my rifle needed some fixin’ to get to that point.
An embarrassing target! These H&N Finale Match Rifle pellets should have grouped in less than half this space. I really need to tune this rifle to reduce the harsh firing cycle. I also shot the gun with the R10 pellets but won’t show it because it’s even worse than this one.
Compared to the other rifles, the 55 CM feels thin and spindly. It has the thinnest barrel of all; in this crowd of heavyweights, it’s a definite pipsqueak. The lower-grade 55 SF feels so much more substantial. Of course, that’s not how it’s supposed to be, and I think the harsh firing behavior is causing me to project bad feelings on the rifle. I really need to calm it down. When I do a separate report, I’ll tune the rifle and hopefully get it shooting like it should. If I can’t, this one will have to hit the road.
The 55 CM has the same flaws as the other 55 rifles. Mine has a leather breech seal, so I assume the piston seal is also leather.
The last vintage rifle is the one all the others are always compared to — the venerable FWB 300S sidelever target rifle. It features a sledge anti-recoil system in which the powerplant slides a fraction of an inch on steel rails in the stock when the gun fires. The shooter senses only the slight rearward movement of the rear sight, but absolutely no recoil.
Feinwerkbau’s 300S is the standard against which all vintage target rifles are compared.
This is another rifle that will get a separate three-part report sometime in the future. I got it from Mac at the Roanoke airgun show last fall. Bought it for cash right off the table after looking at it for one whole day.
This rifle shoots good groups in spite of the person on the trigger. You almost can’t make it do otherwise. Together with the LGV Olympia, it’s the easiest 10-meter spring rifle to cock. I can’t wait to see what the FWB 150 feels like because this one has prepared me for a winner!
The FWB 300S is real prone to break at the wrist. And the seals will wear out. In this case, the No. 1 repair station in the U.S. is Randy Bimrose. I wouldn’t use anyone else.
The bottom line
I had a wonderful time shooting these four veteran target rifles. Each has its own personality and feel, but they all were at one time the best air rifles in the world.
It’s very relaxing shooting these old guns, because I don’t have to work hard to get good results. The lower velocity comes with reduced recoil and lower noise that makes the whole experience one worth repeating many times.
If I were to pick winners at this point, the FWB 300S would be the overall leader, followed by the LGV Olympia as the best breakbarrel.