What is the attraction of replica airguns?
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- Today’s report
- Replicas used for training
- And, there is more!
- Engraved Colt Single Action
- And then…
- One more reason
Before I begin let me tell you that I won a Slavia 618 in an Ebay auction and it is on it’s way to me now. I bought it because so many readers have talked about that model over the years and I have never even shot one. In my youth I owned a Slavia 621 (622?) breakbarrel for a short time. I found nothing outstanding about it and it eventually got away from me.
Many years later I acquired a Slavia 631 that I did like and shoot a lot. But it had a hinky automatic safety that turned me off so much that I — well, the truth be told, I don’t know what happened to that rifle. For all I know I may still have it laying around somewhere. You can read about it in a 2011 two-part report than was supposed to have a part 3 that never got written.
But many readers have written about their love of the Slavia 618. Every time I drone on about the Diana 27 they respond with the Slavia 618. So, I broke down and found one on Ebay. It wasn’t expensive and the seller says it’s shooting well, so we shall see. If it needs attention, the parts are also available on Ebay, so we will have even more fun!
Reader Yogi prompted today’s report with his comment to yesterday’s post.
“I do not understand the fascination with realistic replica airguns? In the 60’s they would put fiberglass bodies on VW chassis. The cars looked like junk and drove like junk! Anybody remember Fiberfab? Replica airguns remind me of Fiberfab.”
That remark got my creative juices flowing. I didn’t want to try to change Yogi’s opinion, because he is entitled to think any way he wants. I just wanted to give my thoughts about what people see in replica airguns.
But reader Chris USA responded to Yogi’s remark with this,
“I was not old enough to drive until the mid 70’s,…. but I remember the “dune buggies” with fiberglass bodies over a VW platform. Pretty cool I thought and still do. There is a couple on nice ones running around in the local town. One is painted tangerine metal flake and the other peril-ized purple. I could overlook performance and handling issues just to have one.”
To that remark Yogi went one step too far when he responded,
“Chris,Watch the “Thomas Crown Affair”! A well fabricated Meyer Manx is a completely different animal.”
So, Yogi, your statement proves that you do understand why people like certain replicas. You just don’t happen to care for replica airguns.
What we are talking about today is the subjective topic of personal taste. Ain’t no accounting for it — that’s for sure! As the Grinch would say,
“One man’s toxic waste is another man’s potpourri”
which he told his dog, Max, was some kind of soup.
Replicas used for training
I have written a lot about the Hakim replica pellet rifle that was made by Anschütz in 1954 for the Egyptian army.
Anschütz made the .22-caliber air rifle trainer for the 8mm Egyptian army Hakim battle rifle. This one has a gorgeous replacement walnut stock and handguard.
Well, instead of going from the firearm to the airgun replica, I went the other way. I owned many Hakim airgun trainers and so I bought a Hakim firearm.
The Hakim battle rifle was a semiautomatic rifle that was chambered for the 8mm Mauser. The Egyptians built that rifle based on the Swedish 6.5mm Ljungman semiautomatic rifle whose design and tooling they purchased after WW II. Something like 70,000 Hakims were made and it is referred to as the “poor man’s Garand,” because it was the Garand that inspired the armies of the world to want semiautomatic battle rifles following WW II. The airgun trainer was a way for the Egyptian troops to practice with a rifle of similar size and shape without expending the costly 8mm firearm ammunition.
My 8mm Egyptian Hakim battle rifle.
Hakims have risen to very high levels of value in the past several years — especially if their bores are not corroded from firing military ammunition, as so many were. I stumbled onto one in pristine condition years ago at a gun show and the seller had no idea of what he had. I got it for a very reasonable price. However, owning it gave me the opportunity to shoot it and I can tell you with authority that it is NOT like the M1 Garand in any way! It’s not that accurate, it’s parts are too finely machined to withstand any sort of dirt and it ruins the brass cartridge case when it is ejected after firing. BUT — I am still fascinated by it because it is such a rare and wondrous thing! Yogi, that isn’t meant to change your mind, but it does explain my fascination for the Hakim air rifle.
And, there is more!
It doesn’t end there, either. Because the Egyptians didn’t stop with just an air rifle trainer for their Hakim. No — they also purchased a 10-shot .22 rimfire Hakim trainer from Beretta!
Beretta made this 10-shot semiautomatic trainer for the Hakim battle rifle.
The .22 rimfire Beretta trainer is quite rare. I have no idea of how many were produced, but as an interested collector I have only seen two. The last one sold on Gun Broker recently for just under $1,700!
So, what we have with the Hakim is a precision-made battle rifle that lacks real-world reliability for combat (it cannot take the dirt and sand that field use creates), and its two trainers that are very much desired by collectors! Yogi, I don’t know what to make of that, but there is an attraction.
Engraved Colt Single Action
I grew up in the cowboy era. My heroes were the Long Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers. And they all carried Colt single action revolvers. So I was interested in Colt single actions.
I read Guns & Ammo as teenager and poured over pictures of single actions in the articles. And the prettiest ones were those that were engraved. I learned the names of the 19th century engravers and also the names of the top gun engravers of my own time — the 1960s. Alvin A. White was probably the best-known of all 20th century gun engravers, but I also knew of Heidimarie Hiptmayer and others of her ilk. Ironically, a man I now call my friend was and still is one of America’s finest gun engravers — Scott Pilkington. But I digress.
As beautiful as engraved single actions are, I never could afford one. Today a new Colt single action retails for more than $2,000. An engraved one will easily top $4,000, and, if the work was done by an engraver with a world-class reputation, you can double that again. If the gun of interest was engraved by A.A. White, add a zero at the right. There is no way I can afford to own a gun like that, and even if I had that kind of money there is no way I would spend that much for one! But, Yogi, that doesn’t quench my desire.
And then Pyramyd Air, in their infinite wisdom, decided to have a few of their Colt Single Action airguns engraved! I think Edith and I may have had something to do with their decision, because I remember us talking about the possibility. And, when Edie saw the stars in my eyes as I related my childhood fascination with engraved single actions, she made certain that one came my way.
Are they hand engraved by world-class craftsmen? Certainly not! There is no way you could get one of them to touch a piece of work for as little as these engraved airguns retail for! Are they as good as an Alvin White engraving? Again no. No more than the pace car of an Indianapolis 500 race is as fast as the race cars on the track. No doubt the engraving is somehow done mechanically though they do say it is done by hand, so there is some uniqueness and pride of ownership. But automated tools are the only way it could be done and keep the cost as low as it is. The fact that the outer shells of such airguns are made of metal that’s softer than steel no doubt helps a lot.
My engraved Colt SAA BB pistol is very attractive.
My neighbor, Denny, who has made walnut display plaques for several of my guns told me he thought the Single Action Army was the most beautiful handgun that existed. When I showed him this engraved model, I saw the same excitement in his eyes that I had as a youngster. So it wasn’t just me. It was a matter of taste, and Denny and I share a similar tastes for this handgun.
One more reason
We have now looked at two good reasons why replica airguns are attractive to some people. The first was their historical use, such as the story of the Hakim trainers. The second was a matter of personal taste — such as engraved Colt single actions. Or, in Yogi’s case, a Meyers Manx over all other dune buggies in the world.
But there is one more big reason to have a replica. Either you cannot get the gun that it copies — such as living in a restrictive community, or the gun it copies is simply too rare to allow for handling and even operation. Such is the case with the FP45 Liberator pistol of World War II. Made by the Guide Lamp Division of General Motors at a delivered price of $2.10 per unit, the Liberator was an unrifled “zip” gun that was designed to be dropped to resistance fighters — for their use in capturing their own firearms from enemy military forces.
One million FP45 Liberator pistols were made for $2.10 apiece by the Guide Lamp Division of General Motors in World War II.
I once owned a genuine Liberator, but I never fired a round from it. Good thing, too, because the crude weldings would quickly give way, and the pistol would be destroyed. About a million were produced, but not so many remain. Only a few were ever distributed; most were unused and destroyed after the war.
So many collectors were interested in the Liberator that, instead of the real thing at $2,500-5,000, a working replica is available from Vintage Ordinance in the box with instructions for just over $650. This one is made from better steel and has a serial number and a rifled barrel to comply with U.S. law. It looks quite similar to the original but is made far better and is actually intended for limited use.
Yogi, you buy this replica because you don’t want to damage an original and because this one is legal to own and safe(er) to fire. No, it’s not an airgun, but about 20 years ago I told Wolf Pflaumer, the founder of Umarex, that this would be a great pistol for what was to become his “Legends” line.
That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!