What makes them last?
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
• Starting with the Beeman R1
• Then came the TX200
• Benjamin 392
• Why do they last?
• Power and accuracy
• A great trigger
I was overwhelmed by comments and spams yesterday morning. I worked from 7:15 a.m. into 10 a.m., just cleaning out the spam filters and answering questions. So, the accuracy test I’d hoped to conduct had to be postponed until another day. I needed a report that didn’t take a lot of prep time, so I found this one in my book of blog topics.
Starting with the Beeman R1
Why do certain airgun models seem to last forever in the market, while others come and go so fast? Why, for instance, has the Beeman R1 lasted from 1981 until today — a run of 34 years? What makes that airgun so special, while other rifles that were very nice in their own right disappeared so quickly?
Nothing about the Beeman R1 stands out as classic today, and, yet, that’s the secret of its success. When it was new in 1981, it was the most powerful modern air rifle you could buy. It achieved 940 f.p.s. in .177 caliber from the factory. Within 2 years, that went up to the magic 1,000 f.p.s. The mere thought of such awesome power from a pellet gun sends boys like me to bed with visions of springs and pistons dancing in our heads.
It took me a decade before I finally got my R1, but I was just as thrilled then as the day I first saw it in the Beeman catalog. It is a huge air rifle — much larger and heavier than a Winchester model 70 deer rifle! And Beeman packaged it so well in that double-wall cardboard box that the first opening was like a movie premier! Some companies understand that and still package their airguns that way today. Umarex/Walther comes to mind. Other manufacturers do not package their airguns as well and they don’t make the same lasting impression. Theirs are the guns that come and go so quickly.
I was so impressed by the R1 that I actually wrote a book about it! I was awed by everything that rifle had/did/was. But when I shot it at 50 yards, I got 3-inch 5-shot groups. Of course, those were the days before I knew about the artillery hold, and my appreciation of pellets was pretty much based on price, alone. I bet I could do much better today.
The R1 is the rifle I used for my 13-part blog report titled Spring gun tune. It seemed like a natural for that role because it disassembles so easily. Yes, I still have a lot that’s nice to say about the Beeman R1.
Then came the TX200
Hot on the heels of the Beeman R1 came the TX200 from Air Arms. I was fresh from finishing the R1 book; and if any air rifle ever deserved a book of its own, the TX200 did. But I was still hurting from the R1 book. It would take 7 years before Edith and I broke even on our investment for that book. I did start a book on the TX, but I never got very far.
If the R1 was groundbreaking, then the TX200 was planet-shattering! It still is today! I owned the Mark II that needed a tune to do well. But when the Mark III came out, Air Arms’ work was done. That’s a rifle that needs nothing — right out of the box! The TX has been with us since the late 1980s, so there are 25+ years of success behind it — and it’s stronger than ever today.
Compare that to the ill-fated Tech Force 99 underlever that went through many iterations — each one “fixing” all the flaws of the earlier models! That’s the rifle that I used to shoot my couch in an ill-fated 25-yard accuracy test! Sure, you could almost buy 3 TF 99s for a TX200, but why would anyone want to? I’m sorry if I’m stepping on toes right now, but this is how I feel. And, I note that the TX200 is still in production. Remember — this is a report about why some airguns last longer than others.
I could go on and talk about the FWB 124 or the HW77, but let’s now turn our attention to some other classics — starting with Benjamin’s ever-popular 392. If the R1 has had a long life, then the 392 is Methuselah! In 1992, it sprang from the ashes of the 342 that started life in 1969. And the 342 was just a modernized 312 that began back in 1940! That’s a run of 75 years! I hope Crosman remembers to honor that record this year!
The 392 is an underlever multi-pump pneumatic that now stands alone, since the Sheridan Blue Streak was discontinued in 2013. It brings variable power and accuracy to the shooter at a remarkably affordable price. Yes, there’s also a .177-caliber 397 if that tickles your fancy, but it has always stood in the shadow of its larger brother.
The 392 is not an easy airgun to make! The automated machinery that solders the barrel to the pump tube is large, complex and costly to operate, and I’m sure, some day, the bean counters will declare it to be too much trouble and cost. They’ll be right, because sales are not what they were 20 years ago. But there will never be another machine to take its place.
The rifle is comfortable, in that it slows down the action because of needing to be pumped for each shot. Many shooters, including me, find that very relaxing. A Benjamin pneumatic has been on the market continuously since 1899, and the 392 proudly carries the banner today.
I could have picked several other CO2 rifles, but the 1077 seems to embody what I’m trying to say in this report. It’s not an expensive airgun, but it is accurate. It’s made with a lot of plastic, yet it endures. The trigger starts out stiff and hard and breaks in after thousands of shots to become buttery smooth. It is an air rifle that has endured the test of time.
Whenever I want a gun to shoot fast and accurately, a 1077 is invariably the gun I select. I own 2 of them and haven’t a thought of getting rid of either one. In fact, I fell in love with this gun again when I tested the 1077 for you last year.
Why do they last?
So, there you have some airguns that have lasted. Now, the question becomes: Why? Let’s say that you’re a new-hire engineer working at Crosman. Wouldn’t you like to develop a model airgun that was still in production on the day you retire? Think what that would do for your career! “Don’t mess with Simmons — he’s the guy who invented the Backyard Blaster! The front office thinks he’s golden!”
To hold the public’s attention a gun needs to feel good! It needs to hold you back when you grasp it. There’s a lot of room for advancement in this department, but the new Walther LGU is an example of a feel-good air rifle. The P08 pistol is another good example
Power and accuracy
People want both power and accuracy. The TX200 Mark III has both. So does the Condor by AirForce Airguns. It’s hard to argue with success, and hitting the target is the very definition of success for a rifle.
A great trigger
How many times have you read about a trigger being compared to a Rekord trigger? So often, I’ll bet it piqued your interest in the Rekord. Just how nice are they, you wonder? That’s what sells airguns, and that’s what keeps them current and on the market.
No one ever said, “I hope this trigger weighs 8 lbs. and is as creepy as an IRS audit!” Shooters like good triggers, and will forgive other sins to get them.
In short, what keeps some airguns fresh and alive are a combination of good attributes that all contribute to performance. Nobody buys the second time on price, alone! “I just love that Slumgullian restaurant! The food tastes awful and the service is bad, but the prices are so low!” Nope — they don’t do it! Not even the ones who say they do.
Airgun makers who are selling on price, alone, are playing a lethal game of craps. Every time they rename a product and spend a few thousand on new box graphics and stock paint, they’re betting the future of their company. Sooner or later, the odds catch up and people get fired. All the while, the few companies that produce real quality are on the sidelines, quietly working hard to fill orders.
Sure, the boards of directors will sometimes reward the flash-in-the-pan geniuses who were lucky enough to catch an unanticipated swell of sales. But they’ll more often hand pink slips to those who were there when it was discovered that the emperor was really naked! Playing the price game with airguns is like playing hopscotch in a minefield.
The market really isn’t that difficult to figure out. To sell John Brown what John Brown buys, you have to see the world through John Brown’s eyes.