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Sometimes they get it right: Part 1

History of airguns

This report covers:

  • Gen one Colt SAA
  • P08 Luger
  • One more handgun
  • Long guns
  • The M1 Garand
  • M1 Carbine
  • Airgun Carbines
  • Summary

Today we take a look at those iconic items that transcend taste and live in the world where form follows function — those things that just work! It’s a day to look at the best things that exist — not because of how much they cost but just because they exist.

Since this is an airgun blog I will mention a few of them, but to get the fullness of what I am trying to say I will have to break outside the boundaries of airguns. Some things are so “right” that almost everybody recognizes it.

Gen one Colt SAA

This is an historical blog and there is no time constraint on things that are just right. But I have to start somewhere so I will begin in 1873 with the first generation Colt Single Action Army revolver. Only the first generation was this way, because the firing pin and the grips were changed on the second generation. The grips got slightly fatter and the hammer got a thinner firing pin. The fat firing pin of the first generation hammer will not fit through the hole in a second generation frame that was cut for the thinner firing pin.

That first generation grip fits most people’s hands perfectly, allowing the revolver to rotate under recoil. Now, all single actions have the same general shape, but the Gen I Colt grips were slightly thinner. I’ll admit that the last finger of your hand has to be wrapped underneath the grip because it is too short, but that was the way the Colt was to be grasped. If you knew that, the fit was ideal for most hands. You will even see stag grips that have an indent on the lower front of the right grip panel to allow that finger to do its thing.

SAA
The grips on the first generation Colt Single Action Army revolver were nearly perfect for many hands.

This is where guys with larger hands will argue that the 1860 Colt Army grip that is longer, is also better than the Gen I SAA grip. And for them it probably is. We experience that grip today on all the CO2 replica airguns that are in the SAA style.

airgun SAA
Umarex has brought us many different SAA airguns, but all of them have the 1860 Colt Army grip that is long enough to contain the 12-gram CO2 cartridge.

The point is, like a Radio Flyer red coaster wagon, things don’t get much better than a first generation Single Action Army revolver. No wonder we like the air pistols that are modeled after them!

P08 Luger

Another iconic firearm is the Pistole 08 — the German Luger. They were made in many calibers, starting with a .30 caliber for the Swiss and also a small run of .45 ACP pistols to compete for the U.S. Army contract in 1910. But by far the best-known and most recognized caliber got its name from the German development of the pistol — the 9mm Parabellum, which is Latin for prepare for war.

My Luger is from the early days when they were made at the German royal arsenal in Erfurt. But it looks very much like the last Lugers made in about 1943.

Luger
My Luger was made at the Erfurt royal arsenal during World War I.

The Umarex P08 exists as a BB repeater that not only has realistic toggle action at the breech when it fires, it also disassembles like the firearm. Replica airguns have done their best to keep up with the classics.

P08 BB pistol
The Umarex Legends P08 pistol is a super replica!

One more handgun

A couple weeks ago I was getting ready for church, where I was on security duty for the day. I normally carry a Sig P365 pistol in 9 mm, but that day I wanted something a little smaller to carry in an inside pocket of my cargo shorts, so I got my .22-caliber Walther PPK/S.

What? Not only is my .22 PPK/S not smaller — it’s actually bigger than the 9mm Sig. I was thinking because it is a .22 rimfire that it had to be smaller, but it’s not. It’s exactly the same size as the Walther .380 ACP PPK/S. And that pistol is larger than the P365.

But back to the Walther. The PPK/S isn’t what Walther designed originally to be a compact pocket pistol. That was the PPK or Polezeipistole Kriminal (police pistol criminal, or undercover cop). As we all know, James Bond was issued one in 7.65mm or .32 ACP. The PPK/S was an American version that was a little larger to meet some draconian gun laws for imported firearms. But the real PPK is now produced in this country, and that is okay. Go figure!

Walther PPK
Walther’s PPK was the pocket pistol that started it all.

The PPK and the larger PP inspired many other popular pistols, among which was the Soviet Makarov. It was also the very early start of the larger-caliber concealed pistol, such as the P365 I just mentioned.

Long guns

The most iconic long gun is perhaps the 1898 Mauser whose design was copied (and Germany was paid reparations after the war by the U.S. for copying a patented design) by the 1903 Springfield. The Mauser is a rugged battle rifle, but the early 1903 Springfield went beyond even that, to become a svelte bolt action with legendary balance and handling. As WWII was starting Springfield changed the design to give soldiers better sights and also to lessen the cost to manufacture. It was at that point that the magic was lost. Functionally the 1903A3 Springfield was the better rifle, but in handling it couldn’t hold a candle to the original 1903.

Shop SIG Sauer Airguns

The M1 Garand

When the M1 Garand came out in the late 1930s with the  promise to replace all the Springfields then in service, the Marine Corps clung tightly to their bolt-action rifles. Only after some time was spent with Garands did many jarheads grudgingly admit that it was the better battle rifle — but it never replaced the iconic feel of the original Springfield.

I can’t blame the Marines for how they felt, either, because while they awaited their Garands, many of them in the Pacific theater were forced to use the Johnson — an underdeveloped and ill-conceived semiautomatic battle rifle that couldn’t even carry a traditional blade bayonet because its barrel moved backwards to counter the rifle’s very heavy recoil.

Airgunners say they want an M1 Garand air rifle and I’m sure many believe they do, but how many really do, as in willing to pony up some serious cash, is the big question. The M1A that copies the civilian version of the M14 hasn’t met with a lot of enthusiasm. I think what airgunners really want is an airgun M1 Garand that is all steel and wood and weighs 10 pounds like the firearm, yet costs $150 or less. That can never happen.

M1 Carbine

In contrast to the Garand that had to fight its way into servicemen’s hearts, the M1 Carbine was a hit from the start. Oh, it was criticized for firing a low-power pistol cartridge, but give the choice between carrying the 5-pound carbine and the 10-pound Garand, the carbine won most often with troops that weren’t going directly into battle.

After WWII the M1 Carbine was so popular that millions of examples from more than 30 different makers were made, and it is still being made today. Can’t say that for the Garand, nor for the 1903 Springfield.

Airgun Carbines

Airgunners have enjoyed the M1 Carbine since Crosman first brought out their iconic BB repeater in 1966. I have one that I cherish. But in my opinion Springfield Armory makes the best airgun M1 Carbine of all. It’s not cheap, but it’s reliable and hyper-accurate for a BB gun. When I need an accurate BB gun, that’s the one I reach for.

M1 Carbine three carbines
A Crosman M1 Carbine BB gun on top, the Springfield Armory BB gun in the middle and a military M1 Carbine below.

Summary

Yes, sometimes the designers get it so right that the design lives on long past them. The reason I made this report a Part 1 is because I expect you readers to tell me what I forgot to mention.

38 thoughts on “Sometimes they get it right: Part 1”

  1. BB,

    “those things that just work! ”

    Almost anything designed by John Moses Browning: M1911, M2, M1918 BAR, and on and on.
    Lockheed P38 Lightning, Grumman F9F Bearcat, ME 262 Schwalbe, Lockheed Super Constellation, Boeing 747…
    Porsche 911, Corvette Stingray, MB Gullwing300SL Dodge Viper, VW Beetle (Original,) HD Electra Glide…

    Quackenbush .458LA Outlaw,

    I’m certain there are many more that your readers will come up with!

    shootski

    • Shootski,

      You were doing fine until you switched over to autos. Yes, the original VW Beetle was awesome. The Porsche 911 is nothing but a hopped up Beetle. 😉 As for the rest of them… well, maybe H-D.

      As for the Quakenbush, I would like to own several of his. I looked at that .410 on his site last night. That should be fun.

      Let’s Go Brandon!

    • Shootski,

      None of those fighters were in service for very long (also the F9F is the Panther – the Bearcat is the F8F) because of how fast engine technology progressed. Also, the Lightning was a dog for a while (again, engines).

      Many of the fighters that came into service in the 70s and 80s though are still going strong (F-15, F-16, and the Su-27 families for sure and the Rafale, Typhoon, and Gripen a little later in the 80s/early 90s). If you want older examples, the F-4, the F-5, the A-4, and the Mig-21 are all classics too although they’re all clearly in the twilight of their careers.

      Now, the M113, the T-54/55, the T-72, and the Centurion tank…

      Nathan

      • Channman819,

        You are correct on your points and the F9F was a typo I didn’t catch. Most of the issue was the end of WW2 hostilities and the late rollout of those aircraft and engine development delays for the lightning; same thing happened to the F-4 as well as the F-14 and numerous other aircraft in history. The A-4 Skyhawk certainly was a great aircraft to include the trainer (TA4J) that I got to fly. Most if not all of the Ed Heinemann and Clarence “Kelley” Johnson designed aircraft were iconic.
        For me as a Naval Aviator picking aircraft that are Exemplars is just as difficult as all of us readers choosing iconic airguns!

        shootski

  2. BB,

    great post!

    I was, however, shaken and stirred when I found two typos:

    In the PPK section, that would be “Polizeipistole” and in the Mauser section “reparations” has an “r” too much.

    Stephan
    (Agent 08/15)

  3. BB,

    In the firearm world, I would have had to throw a Sharps in on that pile. To the best of my knowledge there is no airgun replica. Just as well, I would not have bought it anyway. Personal thing.

  4. B.B.,
    Great report! I would put in my vote to add the Thompson…envisioned to protect the ranch, used by cops and robbers alike in the Prohibition days, then serving as a battle weapon in WWII…now copied by Umarex as a historic airgun, so I think it fits the bill.
    Thanking you ahead of time for this great series of reports,
    dave

    • Dave,

      I llike that Umarex Thompson M1A1 too. I want one. But I just can’t bring myself to buy it. It’s those plastic grips. I just can’t get over the fake wood.

      StarboardRower

      • StarboardRower, yes; it would be much cooler if they made it all wood and steel…even though they’d have to up the price a good amount…it would be worth it. 🙂

      • Have you actually seen/handled the Umarex Thompson? I was pleasantly surprised with mine. The plastic isn’t at all like the stock on the Springfield Armory M1 carbine (very slick and plastic-y); it has a rough-ish texture and really does look and feel like hardwood (birch or beech). It might also be lighter than wood, which isn’t a bad thing–a real M1A1 Thompson weighs 10 pounds and the Umarex 7.75. I’m not sure I’d like it as much if it weighed the full 10 pounds.

        • Snake45.

          No, I have not handled the Umarex Thompson. A fair point!

          I agree that that the plastic stock looks good as far as wood grain emulation goes. But I’m just too much of a stickler for wood furniture on something that is supposed to be, well… wood! If it were black composite… no problem. It’s not trying to pretend to be something it’s not.

          I have read the hollow sound of the stock gives it away, from the sling swivels hitting it. Whether sound or touch is the give away, I can’t see this stock being for me.

          I can see the reduced weight being good. That is a good point.
          I would still prefer it heavy like the original, but I can see others liking the reduced weight.

          StarboardRower

          • You are correct about the sling swivels making a hollow sound when they hit the stock. One poster said this bothered him so much he had to remove them. A simpler solution would be to just install a leather or cotton USGI sling, which would muffle that sound completely. Or one could slip on a piece of thin black rubber tubing or something of the kind (even black vinyl or duck tape). Me, I’ve decided to just live with it.

            I’m keeping my eyes open for replacement wood. Some of the gun parts and surplus sites list replacement Thompson wood at fairly reasonable prices, but all are out of stock at the moment. Truth to tell, I don’t think it would be too difficult for a semi-skilled woodworker to make replacement wood stocks in a home shop. It sure wouldn’t be like trying to inlet something like a 98 Mauser or M1 carbine.

            The only thing I really want to change is the pistol grip. The back edge seems to be too fat/wide/long. I’d love to shave about 1/8″ off that back edge. This would be a 20-minute job if it were wood but can’t easily be done with the plastic.

            If you really want the full weight, I think the wood stocks might get it close. I replaced the plastic stock of my AV/SA CO2 M1 carbine with the optional wood stock and it seemed to add about a pound, bringing it up to near exact weight.

            In other words, if you want the Umarex Thompson, don’t talk yourself out of it. Improvise! Adapt! Overcome! You’ll be glad you did. Good shooting to you!

  5. Morning BB and All

    I enjoyed reading today’s blog about these iconic examples of good design.

    I am hoping you all wouldn’t mind advising me on another topic. I just purchased my first spring piston gun that has leather seals. This piece has been in storage for many years, and I would like to rejuvenate the seals before use. I have researched in the blog archives about what oil to use, and it seems BB suggests petroleum based oil for a mid powered springer. Though, I believe I have read where he says silicone oil can also be used. (I have 3-in-1 oil ,and RWS silicone air chamber oil, but would purchase other brands/ types if they are superior- I would love a recommendation for a specific product.) I didn’t see anything on the blog about neetsfoot oil, which I have read is a traditional choice for leather airgun seals (though, perhaps, can shorten a seal’s life span?) I would like to treat this old leather seal as well as possible and wondered if anybody has thoughts on the current best practices. Thanks for any advice.

    -Airman

    • Airman of the Board, I submit that Neatsfoot Oil efficiently softens any leather indeed.

      Certainly it is always readily absorbed whenever I apply it. For example, I like to soak a new leather watch strap in Neatsfoot Oil, to bypass the breaking-in period of an initially rigid band bent around my arm.

      However, some leather is best left firm, eg footwear, bicycle saddles, etc.

      As for oiling an airgun seal, I have no experience. Nevertheless, I would suggest that any liquid / moisture that is accepted and retained by leather (without evaporating too quickly) will keep it soft. I think that the relatively expensive Neatsfoot Oil seems a little over the top, especially when ‘any old oil’ should do. 🙂

      • Hi hihihi,
        Thank you for weighing in and sharing your experience with neetsfoot oil. Good to know it works well for some leather products. I will keep it in mind for future use.
        -Airman

      • Hi BB,

        Thank you for settling this for me. This information will help me get the airgun shooting again even sooner. It feels good to have a trusted source of information and I really appreciate how you take the time to answer our questions and share your expertise.

        Thanks Again,
        -Airman

  6. Long lived small arm designs that we might like to see included? Hmm, let’s see…

    How about two more Umarex’ Legends, like the MP40 or M712 Broomhandle pistol? There must be many cool designs in the airsoft world too. Is there such a thing as an airgun version of the STG44?
    edit: it appears AGM do a realistic STG44 replica.

    Cybergun make a realistic looking AK47 (what a successful design that one).

    A much older design, the ‘pirate pistol’, would be in my list too, although I have yet to see a decent airgun version (Swiss Arms’ CO2 bb repeater looks too much like a toy to me).

    Finally, I would like to see Girardoni’s Girandoni air rifle !

  7. “I’ll admit that the last finger of your hand has to be wrapped underneath the grip because it is too short, but that was the way the Colt was to be grasped. If you knew that, the fit was ideal for most hands.”
    B.B.,
    Here you have hit upon a subject that is near and dear to my heart!
    I shoot all single action revolvers with my pinky tucked underneath; it makes it so easy to cock the hammer for the next shot (if you are shooting one-handed). And I have a number of pocket pistols that only allow me to get two fingers (middle and ring finger) on the grip…and that is perfectly fine! You do not need to have your pinky on the grip; when I see those “pinky extension” magazines, it drives me bonkers! The power of your grip is between your thumb and the two fingers that are most in line with your forearm: your middle and ring fingers. How do I know this? Because I ran an aikido and combat jujutsu school for many years; when manipulating someone else’s hand, your thumb is at one end (usually their wrist), and your middle and ring fingers are at the base of their fingers…your pinky is there, but merely along for the ride.
    OK; I’ll get off my soapbox now. LOL! 🙂
    Take care & God bless,
    dave

    • Interesting theory thedavemyster. There are probably many, many pros and cons to handgun grip lengths. Personally I favour the longer, three fingers’ grip for the extra contact area.

      I used to enjoy the sport of fencing where an ergonomic handle, or ‘pistol grip’ as we used to call it, often gave me the edge (or helped hide my clumsy style). The rigid hand to foil connection allowed me to control the blade not just precisely but also powerfully (to my shame, this sometimes disarmed my sparring partners – very poor form).

      The way I understand it, whatever style (handgun shooting) is easily repeatable and consistent should likely lead to improved accuracy. 🙂

      • “The way I understand it, whatever style (handgun shooting) is easily repeatable and consistent should likely lead to improved accuracy.”
        hihihi,
        Yes, you are quite correct; “repeatable and consistent” are the name of the game. 🙂
        Good shooting to you,
        dave

  8. As I’ve said before, I’d like to see a Garand.

    Agreed with Tom that it should be metal and wood.

    But $150 doesn’t seem like the right price point to me. That seems pretty low. Midgrade would be more like the Air Venturi M1 Carbine, at around $250. Highgrade would be like the Diana k.98 springer, at around $450. One of those tiers seem more like it.

    I’d rather see higher quality and materials. Yes, i am willing to pay for it!

    StarboardRower

    • Have you checked out the Springfield Armory M1A? Yes it looks more like an M14 than an M1 but shooting it is very similar to both as regards weight, feel, trigger pull, and sights. Cocking for single shots isn’t as convenient or fun as CO2/BB but it more than makes up for it in increased accuracy. I’ve been shooting mine for several months now and have grown VERY fond of it.

  9. Nice Luger BB. I have three of them. All are DWM’s, two are all matching (Not the Mags), one is chamber dated 1910, the first year of chamber dates. One has mixed parts, the cannon (Upper Action) does not match the Lower unit. But, it has the best trigger I have seen on a Luger and is reliable and accurate. You have to love that! I don’t know the history on the 1910. But the other two came back with a Father and his Son, One from WWI and the other from WWII.

    Mike

      • I see your Luger has the original magazine. The recommendation is use aftermarket mags if you shoot them and save the original. MEC-GAR makes a great one that works well. As with most things related to shooting, they will be hard to find right now.

        Mike

  10. BB,

    I believe that the draconian law you spoke of in the PPK discussion required the barrel to be lengthened to transform it from a deadly dangerous and therefore, unimportable Saturday Night Special, into a safe gun that bad guys would shun, because it was no longer cheap or easily concealed. You call it draconian, I call it many things beyond that!

    Half

  11. Believe the Gun Control Act of 1968 was responsible for those @#$%!! changes. Recall one of the effects was to force manufacturers to make longer magazines for certain pistols – such as the Walther PPK. It also did away with mail-order gun sales; well, technically you could still order by mail but the transaction had to go thru a licensed firearms dealer. A teenaged FM recalls you could purchase a nice Luger by mail back then for $50-$100 which was good money in the late ’60s but still reasonable. Now, if you find a good one at say a militaria or gun show – prepare to take a LARGE hit to your pocketbook.

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