The invention of rifling: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

The history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Nobody knows when rifling was invented
  • What is rifling?
  • The first rifling
  • Gunpowder leaves dirt in the bore
  • Minie Ball
  • Trapdoor Springfield development
  • Ballard rifling
  • Airgun rifling

Nobody knows when rifling was invented

I’ve been reading about guns for 56 years and the one subject that has always baffled the experts is rifling. When was it invented? By whom? What gave them the idea? One thing is certain — the Wiki piece on rifling is entirely fabricated. It says “Rifling was invented in Augsberg, Germany, at the end of the 15th century. It would be wonderful if that were true, but the fact is nobody knows where, when or why rifling came into being. To be fair to Wiki, I have read other accounts that claim people in the 1400s were thinking of spinning a ball for stability in flight because they knew the fletches on arrows stabilized them the same way. The truth is, though, no one knows for certain when rifling came into being. It is entirely possible it came from several locations around the same time.

What is rifling?

Rifling is a set of parallel raised ridges called lands and grooves that run down the inner bore of a barrel. Today these lands and grooves run in a spiral path relative to the bore’s axis, but that wasn’t always the case. The purpose of the grooves and the lands that stand up between them is to spin the bullet to impart gyroscopic stabilization as it flies through the air. I will talk more about the specifics of that stabilization as this report progresses.

Rifling

Cross section of a rifled bore.

The first rifling

Back in the 1960s I read somewhere that the first rifling was straight. The lands and grooves ran parallel to the axis of the bore. This was an attempt to keep the bore of a gun clear of deposits, so the gun could be shot longer before cleaning was required.

Gunpowder leaves dirt in the bore

The gunpowder of that era is what we call black powder today. It generates a residue of no less than 55 percent of the solid mass of its initial volume. Some of this is seen in the dense smoke that comes out of the muzzle. The rest of the residue is in the form of deposits that remain in the bore of the gun. A black powder gun can get so dirty that you cannot ram a ball down the bore in as few as 5 shots.

Early shooters compensated by loading smaller balls as the bore clogged up, but that solution wasn’t good. Cleaning black powder deposits from the bore of a gun takes many minutes and requires the use of water. Water left inside the barrel will ruin the next powder charge that gets loaded. So the barrel had to be thoroughly dried between cleanings. A better solution needed to be found.

Straight scratches that run down the inside of the bore were tried, in the hopes that the deposits would collect in them and leave the main bore free for more shots. It must have worked to some extent, because many gun makers started doing it. Then someone had the brilliant idea to cut the scratches in a spiral. That made them longer than the length of the bore, providing more space to hold gunpowder residue. And when they did that it wasn’t long before they noticed a marked improvement in the accuracy of the barrels rifled this way. What I am describing now took many years to unfold. It wasn’t an overnight phenomenon. But it did catch on, and then it began to evolve. Rifling took on many shapes over the next few centuries, as inventors tried every possible thing. The width of the lands and grooves was varied to see what worked best.

rifled bore

This early Kentucky rifle (1730-1750) had wide lands and narrow grooves that were deep. It didn’t work too well.

rifled bore

Here’s some aggressive rifling!

As the centuries passed, barrel makers learned that the lands were what spun the ball (all the bullets were still lead balls at this time). Someone (in Prussia ?) discovered that a ball that was inside a tight-fitting thin leather patch would be easier to load, because the ball could be smaller than the bore and the patch would make up the difference.

That idea came to the American colonies within a few short years, where it rapidly evolved into the famous Kentucky rifle that shot a patched bullet — a round ball enclosed in a tight-fitting cloth patch that filled the rifling and spun the ball. The patch cleaned the deposits from the bore both at loading, when it was rammed down the barrel, and again when it was shot.

The Kentucky rifle was a huge advance in firearms because it allowed the use of smaller bullets (balls), because of the tight-fitting patch. A longer barrel allowed the rifle to extract all of the energy that was in the gun powder, so the rifle shot harder than ever. And it was also more accurate. Accuracy, speed, power and economy of powder and lead. These are all the things that the Kentucky rifle brought to the table. And rifling continued to advance.

Minie Ball

If it seems odd to call a round ball a bullet, it must also seem odd to call a conical bullet a ball, but that is exactly what the Minie Ball is. Claude Minie and Henri Delvigne came up with a bullet in 1849 that had an iron cup in its base. The bullet was smaller than the rifle’s bore, so it loaded easily, but when the gun fired, the iron cup was driven into the base of the bullet, expanding it to fit the rifling tightly.

Later it was discovered that the bullet would expand if the base was simply left hollow. That simplified its construction. The Minie Ball is one of the earliest successful conical bullets and the hollow base variation of it was widely used during the American Civil War, where it took rifling to the next level. Military leaders learned that conical bullets were far more accurate than plain round balls at long distances. The Civil War has several instances of sniper kills at greater than a half mile distance. These were not with Minie Balls however.

Minie Ball

These are not true Minie balls. They are a second-generation bullet that has a hollow base to expand into the rifling. They are fast-loading and keep the bore cleaner than patched balls.

In truth conical bullets were already in use among riflemen before the Minie Ball arrived on the scene, but the success of that projectile helped everyone realize the day of the conical bullet had arrived. After the Civil War the United States military embarked on a program to develop an accurate breechloading rifle that used the new self-contained cartridges. I may have to write a separate report about the development of the U.S. Rifle Model 1873, which is better known as the Trapdoor Springfield. Its development lasted over 8 years and went through several iterations of designs before settling on the final rifle and cartridge. It is the work on the cartridge, however that interests us today.

Trapdoor Springfield development

The 45 Government cartridge that is best known today as the 45-70 came from a scientific investigation of ballistics that the world had never before seen. Individual riflesmiths may well have known everything the government discovered on the 45-70 project, but this time everything was well-documented and the data were made available. The height of the lands and the width of the grooves was taken into special account, as was the rate of twist the rifling took. Things we dismiss as passé today were revealed and discussed in depth for the first time.

This rifling twist rate is a topic I will come back to in a future part of this report. It was a topic of discussion even during the days when the patched ball was being shot, but when the conical bullet came to the market it got extremely important overnight.

Ballard rifling

Charles Ballard, the inventor of the rifle by the same name, did not necessarily also invent the specific type of rifling that bears his name. The name is more associated with those Ballard rifles that were made during the time the Marlin company owned the Ballard name.

Rifled barrels that have Ballard rifling (low thin lands and relatively wide grooves) are considered the best in guns from 1880-1950. Only special rifling like that by Pope and Schalk are considered superior, and those barrels are always hand-cut.

Peabody rifling

This 1870s Peabody rifle barrel is bored with Ballard rifling. The lands are thin and low and the grooves are wide.

If you research Ballard rifling, don’t get confused. Today, because of the association with the Marlin company, everyone compares it to Marlin’s Microgroove rifling that is even shallower. But Ballard rifling was the shallowest kind of standard rifling in its day.

The timing of the technological advancement in rifling could not have been better, for smokeless powder was about to hit the scene. With it came velocities that were almost double those that black powder gave. Faster bullets meant more kinetic energy, allowing bullets to be made smaller and lighter. Calibers were decreased and the distances rifles shot accurately took a huge leap forward. Rifling had to keep pace with everything.

Airgun rifling

You must be wondering what all of this discussion has to do with airguns? I have been talking strictly about firearms today. Well, airguns have taken many of their design cues from firearms, and rifling is among those areas in which they have been influenced in a major way. I will begin the discussion of airgun rifling in the very next part of this report, though there is still some way to go with firearms.

61 thoughts on “The invention of rifling: Part 1


  1. It’s the back-story that can make anything interesting. Great history lesson. I love to hear how technology, and other things, have evolved.

    I have a question for you, BB. I’m curious how far I am being left behind. To this day I have never owned, shot, or even seen a PCP in person. That seems odd given my fascination with all things air, but it’s true.

    If you have any idea, how many PCPs are out there? What proportion of airgunners use them? Are precharged pneumatics becoming very popular or are they still rare? Just wondering how far out of date I am and wondering how the sport is progressing. Will they be the majority airgun of tomorrow or akin to the tech wonders of early airgunning?


    • Rco1234,

      I second your question(s) to B.B. Like you, I have never even seen one. With the hand pumps, or going the whole auto pump, air tank route, I don’t see the air gunning public in general (mass) ever embracing them on the large scale that the other air gun types have enjoyed over many years. But yea, your right,….pick up a P.A. catalog and it can be pretty easy to feel like you are missing out on something or being left behind. IMO

      Sticking with the (springers) for now.


    • Rco1234,

      I think you want to know what the percentage of PCP owners might be, compared to all who shoot airguns. The ratio of those who own PCPs compared to those who don’t own them but do own other powerplants.

      I can’t tell you that — nor can anyone else. But what I can tell you is there has been a marked increase in the number of people who are trying the PCP powerplant for the first time.

      In my opinion, the Benjamin Discovery was what did it. It made the PCP affordable, and it also made it much easier for a new person to get into the PCP world.

      Just as important, though, the Discovery also changed the world of airgun manufacturers. Until the Disco, manufacturers were content to charge $1000 for their PCPs and to let buyers figure things out for themselves. If they sold a PCP for under $500, it was okay that it leaked air and had no kind of technical support. The Disco changed all that.

      Because of the broad acceptance of the Disco, Crosman took the same road with their Marauder. Instead of making it in the traditional exclusionary way, they bent over backwards to make it as user-friendly as possible, and to offer technical value that was previously unheard-of. And it doesn’t stop there.

      I was at AirForce last week and saw a new PCP that’s going to do very well in the market. Why? Because it offers the same things the Disco and Marauder do — great value and great technical performance at a reasonable price. It’s not a black rifle, either. It has a wood stock and is a repeater. This will be received very well by the marketplace.

      Hatsan PCPs are another example of this new way of marketing. They offer accuracy, power, repeating operation and a great price. Gamo PCPs are another example.

      All of this has come to pass since the Benjamin Discovery first showed the world what airgunners want. The overwhelming success of the Disco pushed the corporate suits aside and told everyone what the customer really wanted.

      So, in answer to the question of how many shooters shoot PCPs, I will say it this. There are still the impulse buyers who buy one cheap spring airgun from a discount store, take it home and are dissatisfied with the performance. Airgunning loses most of those people forever. Maybe a couple of them investigate things a little farther and maybe they discover the REAL world of airgunning that all of us reading this blog know about. If they do, many of them become serious airgunners.

      Of THESE people, a very large number will own a PCP at some point. That is the serious marketplace that I see from my perspective, and it is the crowd I write for. The ratio of THESE people who own PCPs to all SERIOUS airgunners who don’t is growing rapidly.

      B.B.


      • Everyone is different. For me, I have a number of air rifles. They are all either Old Pumpers or Springer’s. I have nothing against PCP rifles but at this time they just don’t offer any big advantage for me. PCP’s seem to cross the line into what I can easily do with rim fire or center fire rifles. The Pumpers and Springer’s are accurate, quite, and easy to use around the house. So, at this time I’m staying with them.

        Mike


        • Mike,

          Some of us live in areas where you can’t shoot a firearm in your backyard, and so are limited to air rifles, yet want the accuracy and power to be somewhere in the neighborhood of a rimfire .22. A PCP is a pretty darn good substitute. And with a box of .22 shells running $5.00 per 50, versus a few pennies for a .22 pellet, it’s a fairly cost-effective substitute if you shoot a lot (I’ve saved about $105 in ammo cost over the last year, based on my quick calculation, but that’s about 1500 shots worth of ammo, YMMV). And the nice thing is, my PCP will shoot about 40 shots before needing a refill, so I don’t have to carry the pump around. Like you say, everyone is different.


      • B.B.,

        All good points. No doubt, the PCP is growing,…otherwise there would not be so many offerings from so many mfgr’s. I am “serious”, but in reality, not as serious as some here. One thing for sure, stick around here,….and you will see just how high the bar can be raised in all aspects of airgunning. That is a good thing.

        I do hope I can go PCP someday. I know me though,…it will “all out” and the best I can afford. After that, I doubt there will be ever going back. Plus,…as a newbie,…I feel that I need to “earn my stripes” first with some quality springers. Yea, they are harder to perfect. Chris


    • RCO and Chris,

      Golly Gee Whiz! Where do you guys live?

      I can certainly understand not wanting to invest large sums of money into the equipment necessary to feed PCPs, but never having seen one?

      I have two PCPs myself, an Edge and a Talon SS. I use a hand pump for these. I do not see me buying a compressor, tanks, etc. as I do fine without them. I can fill my Talon SS and get over 40 shots before I need to put more air in it and I get over 100 with my Edge. My Talon SS is more powerful and more accurate at longer ranges than just about any sproinger out there. If you want to shoot “long range” with any real accuracy, you pretty much need to go to PCP.

      Having said all that, my next air rifle will likely be a sproinger. Then I might think about another PCP.



        • You gotta get to an airgun show! That’s the first time I saw one besides the 2400KT I converted. And now that I have a pump their prices feel much more doable. Marauders and Disco’s everywhere and Mike from Flying Dragon had at least 50 of his conversions left to load at the end of the show. I’ll be back next year and will be saving as well as having a table and if I get lucky I’ll have a few for sale myself
          That way I will have a place to sit inside.


      • R.Runner,

        Country, rural, small(ish) town. The local Wally offers about 8 springer/gas rifles and a few pistols. 1 gun store, besides Wally. No dive shops and the local fire dept. did not even return my e-mail. Oh well.

        Hopefully I will go PCP one day. Just not now. Still need to get (steady) sub-1/2″ groups at 30 yds. with the springers first. Then the 50yds. At my current rate,…that may be a few,……Chris


        • Chris,

          What you will likely find is with a sproinger, 30 yards is about it unless you step up to the more expensive ones like the TX200. That is why so many are going to PCPs.

          Should you decide to give the PCPs a try, I would recommend you try the Discovery in .22 with the hand pump. It is relatively inexpensive, has a 2000 PSI operating pressure making it easy to fill and is pretty accurate. There are also after market parts and kits that will allow you to upgrade it into a real performer that is equal to many of the finest PCPs on the market.


          • RidgeRunner,

            I do have a TX200 and an LGU, both in .22. I am just seeing 1/2″ groups at 25 and 30yds with both. But,..that is more due to me being a new shooter, and not the TX or LGU. Yes, I am sure that the PCP’s,… without all the “rock, rattle and roll”,….it would be easier to get off a better shot. Chris


      • RR

        Sometimes I think about getting a PCP but I’m a backyard shooter with limited space so I don’t see a real advantage. I shoot max 25 yards how much tighter can my groups get with a PCP vs a top tier sproinger at that distance? My .177 cal HW50S shoots 3/8″ groups, the .177 cal 460 Magnum and .22 cal 34P shoot between 3/8″ and 1/2″ at 25 yards. If I feel the need to get below 3/8″ well there is always the TX waiting in the wings calling my name. If I hunted or had more room maybe I would get something like your Talon SS but for now I am passing on the PCP party.

        David


        • That actually sounds like a good excuse for a Crosman Challenger or any of the 10m pistols, B.B. got a cool little Co2 pistol to check out at the show, looked a little like the Compact he just reviewed or a AR-6 without the cylinder but said he probably won’t be able to review it here but maybe in the Shotgun News.
          I just wonder what it is, I tried going by memory and busted.


        • David,

          I understand. Most of my shooting is done with a 1906 BSA with open sights and my Izzy. I have the advantage of being able to set up an 100 yard range on my place, so I “need” more than a sproinger will give me. That is why I am building up a Talon SS in .25.

          Having said that, very likely the next one I buy will also be a TX200. 😉


    • PCPs are not akin to the tech wonders of early airgunning, PCPs ARE the tech wonders of early airgunning. It is most likely that the very first airguns were in fact, PCPs. Airguns with onboard pumps (MSPs) did not come for many years later, and spring piston airguns didn’t come along for a few hundred years after that.

      If you have ever shot an MSP, the sensation is not much different than shooting a PCP. The main difference is that instead of pumping several times for each shot, you pump (an HPA pump) many dozens of times at once for however many shots your PCP rifle is set up for– or you don’t pump at all, if you are using an SCBA tank or compressor to charge your rifle.

      The second big difference between MSPs and PCPs is the amount of refinement. Lots of people seem to be willing to spend big money on PCPs with very refined mechanisms, finishing, triggers, stocks and bluing, whereas their seems to be little to no market in the current day for MSPs with these features.

      I own 4 PCPs. They are all great guns. But I much prefer springers. After springers, I prefer MSPs (Sheridans, 1377s) In a distant 3rd, I like PCPs ahead of CO2 guns. I like my airguns to be the self-contained marvels they are supposed to be. The need for auxiliary pumps, airtanks, or CO2 bottles ruins the magic.



  2. B.B.

    Great article! If you get a chance could you please do one on the Chinese cross-bow. I understand that the only metal parts were the trigger and they were interchangeable! I am sure that you know tons more. Your article on the
    European cross-bow and this one, made me think of it.
    Thanks,
    -Yogi


  3. Greetings BB and Fellow Airgunners
    What a pleasant surprise to see the subject of today’s blog being barrel rifling. The use of lands and grooves in a rifle barrel are essential for consistent placement of a projectile. I too have not come across any definitive conclusion of when, and/or who started using a rifled barrel for superior accuracy over a smooth bore barrel using black powder. Considering the clear advantages of a rifled barrel, one would think a definitive date would be a relatively simple to pin down.
    At any rate, I am looking forward to your opinions, and ideas concerning this fascinating subject. I am especially interested in how the number of lands and grooves in a pellet gun barrel affects accuracy. I would like your opinion on the Mac1 USFT’s 2 land barrel being as accurate as the 12 land Lothar Walther barrel. Both barrels appear to have consistent accuracy, yet are so radically different in their design. Do the number of lands and grooves really matter in an airgun? Then we have FX’s Smooth Twist barrel. Most people who use this system swear by their accuracy and consistency. Maybe Gunfun1 can comment on his experience with his FX Monsoon? With so many configurations to choose from, we are truly living in interesting times concerning our wonderful sport of airguns.
    Ciao
    Titus



    • Titus
      Both FX guns I had where very accurate guns.

      From what I gather from reading about the smooth twist barrel the smooth part of the bore was to allow the pellet to accelerate faster. Then when it hits the rifling in the barrel it helped form or size I guess I should say the pellet.

      FX sells barrel blanks. I have thought about getting one in the past and machining it to fit inside a Crosman steel breech then putting it on a 2240 pcp conversion. I’m thinking that design of the smoot twist would pick the velocity up on a 2240.

      I still may try that after I get off the overtime at work. Just ain’t got much time right now.


  4. Titus
    It may be that its not when the pellet spins in the barrel as in from the very start of the barrel or at the last two inches or even how fast it spins but rather that it just spins at all that really matters.

    im do know there are many numerous twist rates even in guns of the same calibers to match projectile weights so my interest is how and why they determine what twist is the best for which projectile or velocity of projectile.

    BD


    • BD76,

      Interesting,….twist rate to match the projectile weight,…and I would assume,… muzzle FPS. That kind of goes against trying all diff. weights and types of pellets,..to see “what does best”. That would be interesting to nail that one down,..(twist/weight). Chris


      • Chris
        Check out any gun web site and look at all the different barrel twist rates for the AR platforms and the weight bullets the different twist rates are designed for as well as velocities.

        That is what I was mainly referring to since they have at least three different twist rates just for the .223/.556 caliber depending on the chosen bullet weights and velocities you intend to use most such as a 1/9 twist rate for 55 grain bullets and 1/7 twist rate for bullets from 62 to 77 grain. Then you have the may other calibers that the same platform use that all have their preferred twist rates for intended projectiles and weights.

        BD


      • Chris
        In the AR platform at least is seems to be standard convention that the heavier the bullet the faster it needs to be spun to maintain its stability in flight so it would seem to be the same with pellets but then they have far different CDs so that may throw a wrench into the works as well as I am in no way anywhere near an expert in the science of rifling other then what I have read and been told.

        BD



          • Chris
            Yes I believe firearms are much more advanced in term of the science of rifling, but then you have far more choices of projectiles in firearms than in air guns so the need is also greater to have far more different rates of twist in a firearms rifling than a air gun.

            Air guns have basically a Diabolo shaped pellets and some dumbbell shaped pellets (JSB 10.34s) and then the more bullet shaped slugs of the big bore guns whereas firearms have a multitude of various shapes of projectiles to deal with and find the best twists in rifling in which to shoot and stabilize those projectiles shapes so every bullet or pellet requires it own unique rifling to allow it to perform at it very best.

            BD



  5. B.B.

    Most or all BB guns today are smooth bore according to everything I have read here and elsewhere. I think the given reason is that stainless steel BBs can damage the rifling of rifled barrels. Is there any interest in developing more durable rifled barrels for BB guns?


    • Charles,

      First of all, I have never seen or heard of a BB made from stainless steel. Steel BBs are made from low-carbon steel and then plated with zinc or copper.

      Second, why would stainless steel harm a bore? Stainless is usually softer than most high-carbon steels, but no steel BBs are ever hardened beyond work-hardening during the manufacturing process, as far as I know.

      Steel airgun barrels are fully durable enough for steel BBs as long as their rifling is made correctly. True there would be wear after 100K shots or so, but who besides the military does that?

      B.B.


      • B.B.

        Thanks for the clarification. I’m not sure why I thought BBs were stainless steel. In guns with rifled barrels that shoot both lead pellets and BBs, have you observed better accuracy shooting BBs versus BB guns with smooth bore barrels?


      • BB
        I did that with my 68 model 1400 Crosman 22 cal pumper as a 8 year old up till my mid twenties so 2 years ago when I got back into air guns and pulled it out of the closet to start shooting again. While it shot very hard it was not accurate at all and further inspection revealed that there was no rifling left in the barrel and that is with just lead pellets being shot thru it although there was likely well in excess of 100,000 thousand pellets put down its barrel in over ten plus years of use and abuse as a very young hunter.

        So I can say from experience that rifling does and will wear out with enough rounds being shot out of a barrel as the original barrel looks just like a shotgun barrel.

        BD


  6. I just wanted to say how much I appreciate all of you regular posts. They are always interesting, and informative. The work you put into these blog posts really shows. I have read through most of the write ups you have done on this blog, and I have really enjoyed most of them.

    Has the new season of American Airgunner started yet? Do you know when those will be uploaded to youtube?
    I binge watched all of the old episodes of it on youtube.



  7. Out here in Western Nebraska, the 4H shooting teams and schools use PCP Daisys. But other than a few individuals who have privately-owned examples of the same model (so they can practice at home with the same equipment used in competition), I have never seen anyone use a PCP gun.

    The self-contained aspect of spring-piston guns makes them attractive for people in thinly populated rural areas. While most all ranch or farm machine shops have low pressure air compressors, they cannot generate the type of pressure a PCP needs. Volunteer fire departments are thinly spread. Scuba shops are almost non-existant.

    I have three MSP guns, all simple Daisy’s, but they are noisy to pump and tiresome. They do shoot with zero recoil, an advantage over springers.

    Les


  8. BB,

    Great article, looking forward to your take on the Springfield rifle development. I just finished a book called “The American Rifle – A Biography” by Alexander Rose, and he goes into the political side of things pretty deeply, which is interesting. But I was looking for a more technical description, so it’s neat (for me at least) that you are going to talk about that here! BTW, Mr. Rose’s interpretation of who invented rifling pretty much matches your own, although he does note that the accepted location of its development and approximate timing of it matches what wikipedia says, if only because that is where the earliest written descriptions of it exist.


  9. This is great. The first question that occurs to me is one that I’ve had for awhile and may seem trivial, but it nags at me. When the bullet “catches” the rifling, does that mean that the rifling cuts into the bullet to a depth equal to the height of the land + the depth of a groove? Cutting even that much into the surface of a bullet seems like a lot.

    Interesting how no one knows the origin of rifling, but I suspect that it was probably developed independently within a pretty time interval. People will talk or at least imitate what they see, and historical documentation cannot keep up with word of mouth like that. So, it’s hard to imagine any other process. As a comparison, nobody knows who was the historical Robin Hood or if there even was such a person. I read a long and detailed study of this by an Oxford professor. His best guess was that the figure seemed to emerge independently in ballad traditions. It referred to a common type of forest-dwelling outlaw. But even if the story was inspired by a single person, it was rapidly layered over by different versions and other inspirations so that the final story is bigger than any one person.

    Buldawg, your tool description reminds me of Clint Fowler, my first M1 gunsmith. He told me that he hardly ever had guns sent back to him because he always did the job right. I persisted with his gun for so long because I couldn’t believe that he was wrong, but apparently my op rod spring was installed incorrectly. So, maybe I was in the unlucky 1%. 🙁 However, my sessions with the repaired rifle indicate that he did very good work otherwise.

    You’re inspiring a post-script to the car conversation. Your tools gathered over 45 years remind me of a line in Clint Eastwood’s film, Gran Torino, where he tells his sidekick “Toad” that he has gathered his tools over 30 years. One can’t help but think of Clint’s M1 and his “Get off the my lawn” comment. And that leads inevitably to his Ford Gran Torino. So, it’s all connected. The question is what is the significance of this car which is not nearly so well-known as the 57 Chevy? I had never heard of it.

    The thematic significance is clear enough. This is supposed to be an artifact of America’s manufacturing heyday and all the values which went with it. Clint is a part of this with his repair skills, and he is unclear about his legacy. It turns out that the proper heirs are not what he calls his “spoiled rotten family” but the immigrant Hmongs. In some ways, they are not Americans. In some ways, they are the most American as immigrants. Some of them represent the criminal dregs as well but no worse than indigenous criminal elements that Clint has to fight off. I’m not a fan of the later intellectual Clint as much as I am the original spaghetti Westerns, but this one is kind of intriguing. It would suggest that we’re on the right track with the M1 and the 57 Chevy.

    But what’s there to know about the Gran Torino model which, as Clint says, everyone is after for various reasons?

    Perhaps car models are not just symbolic as in this case but have a deeper, more material connection to a culture like I was trying to divine with my psychic experiment. Maybe it is a manifestation of a kind of zeitgeist or cultural character. Consider that on a YouTube video on best combat rifles, the M1 is described as the “Cadillac” of semiauto rifles. That’s exactly what it feels like. A big car whose semiauto action is like an automatic transmission. It’s not hard to imagine bolt-action rifles as manual shifts which still seem to be a favorite in Europe long after the appearance of the automatic. And if the Lee-Enfield has the fastest bolt-action maybe that’s no accident either. When my family took a driving trip of England, we were astounded at the Brits zooming around their tiny, twisting medieval roads in their manual cars like race drivers. We asked them why they were in such a hurry, and they just said that they wanted to get where they were going. Others offered that they were under more stress than Americans and were letting off steam. My own theory is that they just love working those gear shifts the same way they loved working those Lee-Enfield bolts. Anyway, zeitgeist is speculative and unprovable but could still be true. 🙂

    Matt61



    • Matt61
      Les answered the question of the Gran Torino quite well below as it was more of an exterior trim package than anything else although it could be equipped with the 351 Cleveland engines or even a 429 engine but it was a mid to late 70s smog engine car so even the big 429 was only making just shy of 300 horsepower so it was by no means a muscle car even though it had gobs of torque to get going from a stop it just would not reach its true potential due to the current pollution standards that zapped all respectable power from the engines of the day.

      As Les said it was one of the body styles used in NASCAR at the time since it was the intermediate sized vehicle in Fords lineup that was allowed in NASCAR racing at the time.

      For Clint it was more of just a long standing love affair with that particular cars style and likely just his last new car bought in his life in the movie and yes it was significant that in the end it was the neighbors son that was given the car as if you look at Americas history we are all immigrant in our ancestry here unless you are a Native American Indian. So as long as you came to this country to assimilate into the culture of America and truly embrace our life styles and culture then in my opinion you/they are as American as I am since I am from Welsch heritage with a family crest for my last name.

      BD



  10. I don’t want to derail this blog again. But the Gran Torino was an early 70’s development of the Ford Fairlane intermediate size car from 10 years previous. “Gran Torino” was really an interior/exterior trim option on the base Torino. The Torino was the body type Ford raced in NASCAR at the time.

    I really like the Trapdoor Springfield comments. I have a nice one that I can’t afford to shoot.

    If anyone wants to see the effect of rifling, go to a range and dig up a bullet. You will see the spiral grooves. You can even see the grooves on a fired pellet, but you can only see them on the edge of the base.

    I don’t think a rifled BB gun would be more accurate (than a smooth bore) because a steel BB would be too hard to engage the rifling. The rifled BB guns are the ones designed to shoot either BB’s or pellets. Even FMJ ammo is encased in copper so rifling can be engaged.

    Les


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