Collecting airguns: Modifications and refinishing 5
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- It’s a Tucker!
- Dig in or knuckle under?
- What about it?
- When not to modify
- What about an FWB 124?
- The end
Today’s topic will be controversial. Many of you will feel that this isn’t any of my business. If you own something you have the right to do anything to it that you like — including destroying it. I would agree with you on that. If it’s yours, it’s yours to do with as you like. But it isn’t that simple. If it was, there would be nothing to say.
Let’s say you have inherited a vintage car from your favorite rich uncle. It was made in 1948, and it has some lines that you think are cool, but others that you don’t care for. You want to do extensive bodywork and also to lower the suspension several inches.
The engine needs a rebuild, too, and it’s not a common engine. A local shop estimated it will cost $50,000, just to rebuild it! That’s because they say they will have to make many of the parts. You don’t want to do that, so you have decided to install a modern engine of a type to be determined later. The engine in the car right now is a massive 589 cubic inch flat 6.
It’s a Tucker!
Oh, and one more thing. Your car is a Tucker Torpedo. That is a rare car with only 51 made in 1948 and just 47 remaining today. The last one to sell publicly went for a hair under three million dollars at a Barret-Jackson auction in 2012. Ah — but that was for a run-of-the-mill Tucker — if such a thing exists. Your car is one of just five that were built with this extra-large engine. There’s no telling how much it’s worth.
A 1948 Tucker Torpedo.
Now — what do you think about modifying the car?
Dig in or knuckle under?
This is where the curmudgeons will dig in their heels and swear that if they owned the car they would do whatever they wanted. They would dare the world to tell them they are wrong. Yes, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel could use a second coat of paint! And, while you’re are it, the water in the public bath is getting cool. Throw another pile of those ancient manuscripts from the Library of Alexandria on the fire!
Many of us, however, would have to admit that if we owned something this rare it would be our duty to conserve and preserve it for future generations.
What about it?
But really, what about modifying or even just restoring a vintage airgun to its original glory. What’s wrong with that? Depending on the airgun — nothing — or everything. Let’s get specific.
You want to restore your old Crosman 101 multi-pump pneumatic. The metal parts are all painted, so who’s to say they aren’t original when you finish? And what if they aren’t? Crosman 101s abound. Guns in shooting condition sell for as little at $100. Nice ones can go for $200. This is not an airgun you can mess up.
A Crosman 101 is not so rare that a good refinish won’t improve it.
In fact, a refinish done well will increase the value of an airgun like this. It can take a beater $80 gun (one that doesn’t hold and has a poor finish) to the $200 mark.
But, you might want to stop and think before you pay another $300 to have a custom Tyrolean buttstock carved for your 101 that’s just been resealed and refinished. It won’t add a penny to the value and it puts you $300 upside-down in the gun. At the very least keep the original stock and don’t modify the rifle in any way that prevents it from being reattached.
If you just want it that way, that’s your business. However, don’t suppose other folks will feel the same. I have seen rifle stocks carved from extremely expensive wood that looked good enough to eat. But they were shaped like electric guitars and put off a large part of the shooting public. Do something like this only if it’s what you want, because you may meet with resistance when sales time comes.
Let me get specific. I once owned a Falke 90 air rifle — a rare gun of which fewer than 200 were supposed to have been made in the 1950s. My gun was not working when I got it and was in NRA Horrible condition. A blog reader named Vince got it working again, and then I sent it to a stockmaker to have the damaged stock restored. He did a beautiful job, in my opinion. You can read about it here.
That was a partial restoration — the wood but not the metal. Was it “worth it?” Well, before the work was done, the airgun didn’t work and was ugly to look at. After it was refinished, it shot well and looked okay. Fewer than one-sixth as many of this air rifle were made as Colt Walker revolvers (200 to 1,500). Yet the Falke 90 is not well known today. You have to give the potential buyer a history lesson on the company before there’s any interest. The Colt Walker is well known.
Refinishing a Colt Walker is an absolute no-no, no matter how far gone it is. That gun is a piece of history, as we learned in Part 1 of this report. Refinishing a Falke 90? You would be lucky to find anyone who even knows what it is, let alone someone who’s interested in the original finish. Sure, if it’s a nice gun to begin with, don’t refinish it. But a dog like mine can be made to bark another day with little risk. I lost money when I sold that rifle at the 2016 Texas Airgun Show, but when you consider all the blogs I got to write and the feature article I wrote for Shotgun News, for which I was paid, the “loss” wasn’t that hard to suffer. And the buyer got a great deal.
When not to modify
You have a Feinwerkbau 300, but the stock is too short for you. For some strange reason the pull of your rifle is only a little over 11 inches. You decide that a 3-inch piece of wood can be added to bring the pull out to where you want it. It’s your air rifle — what’s to stop you?
Unfortunately, nothing. What you have ia a rare FWB 300 Mini, and you are about to wreck it to create an FWB 300S that is worth several hundred dollars less. There are lots of FWB 300S rifles for sale. Find a Mini! Oh, and yours is also left-handed. Poor you! You can sell that rifle and buy a pristine right-hand FWB 300S that’s like new in the box, and it’s just been resealed. With the money left over you can buy another fine airgun.
But hack up that Mini stock and you have lost hundreds of dollars. A left-handed FWB 300 Mini is both rare and desirable — not only as a collectible, but as a shooter. It’s not that old — maybe 20 years or so. But it’s something that was never made in quantity and also something that shooters today will treasure.
What about an FWB 124?
Few spring-piston airguns have been modified/customized as often as the venerable FWB 124. Shooters love the light cocking and smooth action (if tuned) the 124 offers, and so they modify it left and right. I remember a time 15 years ago when the 124 was just taken off the market, you could buy factory stocks for a song. Everybody was taking them off and installing their version of an airgunner’s dream. Only one of those replacements has any value that’s guaranteed. That was an outsized stock made by Air Rifle Headquarters (the original ARH — not the company that’s doing business today) in the early 1970s.
People criticized the long cocking slot of the 124 factory stock because it allowed the rifle to buzz when fired. ARH had a custom stock made that was several inches deeper in the forearm. The cocking link was entirely contained inside the forearm, so no slot had to be cut. It looks outlandish when you see it, but it’s also so rare that I have only seen one. There probably aren’t 50 in existence, and that’s just a guess. I say that because the 124 was already an expensive airgun in the 1970s ($144.50 in 1973) and this stock added 90 dollars to that price. It was called the FWB 120 Custom when the pistol grip was checkered.
FWB 120 Custom from the old Air Rifle Headquarters is a rare bird! The forearm is inches deeper than the one on a standard rifle so there doesn’t need to be a cocking slot — everything is contained inside the large forearm! Sorry for the poor photo. it was taken from an old ARH catalog.
If your custom stock isn’t that one, it needs to be a classic design if you want the rifle to have value. And, don’t throw the factory stock away !
Today’s report is a controversial one, because it touches on taste, which is very personal by definition. If your collecting is just so you can have what you want, then most of what I have said about the money side is meaningless. Just promise me you won’t customize any Tucker Torpedoes or refinish any Colt Walkers.
But if you collect with an eye towards reselling at some point, my arguments should be considered. I am the type of collector who never had enough money to buy everything he wanted, so I worked my way through things as I could. I had to consider the money side all the time.
I know I haven’t touched on everything in collecting, but most of the major topics have been addressed. Unless there is something you feel I’ve left out, this will be the end of this topic.