Serial Number A00261, made in beautiful downtown Pasadena sometime around 1973, at a guess.
This very early AutoMag is on the block at GunAuction.com. Here’s what the seller says:
AUTO-MAG, Original Pasadena model in 44 AMP caliber, all stainless with one mag. Serial number A 00261,this model is generally regard as having the most quality as all components were milled from Carpenter 455 steel stock. firearm probably has been fired but not recently due to rarity of ammo, 44 mag bullet in pictures are for size comparisons only . This firearms popularity rose from being in movies as the gun Clint Eastwood used as dirty Harry in ” Sudden Impact ” (1983)as well as Burt Reynolds in ” Malone ” in 1987.
6 1/2 ” with hard composite grips with no cracks or chips, stainless shows a few handling marks, good bore and one magazine. Must be sent to FFL,Money order preferred, shipping $ 30.00 USPS
via AUTO_MAG Original Pasadena , 44 AMP 44 AMP For Sale at GunAuction.com – 13310225.
This is a rare example of early production; most Auto Mags were probably made in the el Monte facility in the 1980s, although there were perhaps a dozen attempts to restart production. Some details look a little beat up, of the “neglected” rather than the “abused” strain of “beat up”:
Despite the description of the parts as all milled, the cocking piece there is obviously a casting.
But the muzzle crown looks good:
Many more pictures at the auction listing. It’s not a like new piece, but would probably take to a light polish well.
Several things killed the AutoMag, the first being that it was even more unwieldy and fiddly than the Smith Model 29, the second that it was far more expensive than the equivalent-capability Smith, and the last being that it used oddball ammunition that was only intermittently available. (You could, and most AutoMag shooters did, make it from .308, .30-06 or any early-20th-Century Mauser caliber rifle brass, like the 7×57 or 7.92). But the biggest limitation on a weapon like this is what we call the general problem of superlatives in weaponry.
It’s a theory we’ve been thinking about that deserves a post of its own, but we’ll start it off here:
The General Problem of Superlatives in Weaponry
Generally, the weight and size of weapons are distributed around certain imaginary centerpoints of size and of weight.. Rifles stick close to 10 pounds loaded, indeed, infantry arms do, all the way back to the Roman pilum or Macedonian sarissa. Service pistols are two to three pounds and have four to six inch barrels, whether they’re Colt 1851s, 1911s, or tomorrow’s Next Great Thing. (Smaller pistols are made for undercover use, but only so small: Compare the size and weight of the Remington 1878 .41 RF derringer, the Model 36 Chief’s Special, the Walther PPK, or today’s, say, Smith & Wesson Shield or the new Glock 43).
Yet pistols and rifles have been made much larger, and much smaller, in pursuit of superlatives. The thing is, having the biggest pistol — which the AutoMag was, when it was new — is not an unalloyed good. It’s great for Hollywood (it’s big, shiny and has attractive lines, like a lot of the impractical things, and people, in show biz). But the whole idea of a pistol is to be a handy weapon.
We’ve been thinking about this since reading the book on animal armament. Extreme weapons, whether they’re an AutoMag, a Liliput, an 18″-gun naval monitor, or the long canines of Smilodon (“saber-toothed tiger”), tend to be self-limiting for all the same reasons that a “normal” size, caliber, recoil, weight envelope of such weapons has evolved.
Developed by a rotating roster of California entrepreneurs, most of whom lost their shirts on the project, the AutoMag was an evolutionary extreme — like Smilodon, again. It came in .44 and .357 versions, both made from rifle cases, the .357 necked down. The design objective for the cartridges was to match the performance of the Model 29 in an autoloading pistol.
Unlike the later Desert Eagle, no attempt was made to cycle the rimmed .44 S&W Mag. round in the auto pistol. Instead, a rimless version of the cartridge was designed. The casing was a little longer, but the overall length of both cartridges was the same, meaning that the same bullet (.429″) would be seated a little more deeply in the casing. The image at right shows a .44 AMP (l). next to a .44 Magnum.
The most famous name associated with the AutoMag (apart from Clint Eastwood, who directed himself wasting corrupt cops with it as “Dirty” Harry Callahan in Magnum Force), was probably California pistolero Lee Jurras, a household name in the gun culture at the time. Probably half the Automags we’ve seen have had Jurras carved exotic-wood grips.
The AutoMag has a great trigger, and great sights (for a stainless gun; you need to soot them or something) and is a blast to shoot, and very interesting internally. The rotating bolt is lifted right out of Johnson/Stoner rifle practice, but the gun works by short recoil, the barrel and bolt housing group recoiling a bit. Takedown is with a lever à la Luger or Nambu — very easy. It is a single-action auto pistol with a right-handers’ only safety (sorry, Ian). Despite its size, the single-stack grip works for most hands — it’s easier to reach the controls than on a Beretta M9.
The barrels interchange, and that’s all required to change calibers from .44 AMP to .357 AMP or one of several wildcats developed for the gun.
The early models were reportedly more dodgy in function that later AutoMags — it’s not a GI 1911 or Glock, that’s for sure, but it’s reliable enough for the sort of non-critical tasks it gets (fun shooting and some hunting). It is difficult to scope compared to a .44 Mag revolver and shares that handgun’s problem of eating all but the sturdiest scopes; in fact, it might be worse, due to the cycling of the barrel and bolt housing group.
In some ways the AutoMag was a solution seeking a problem. It wasn’t the best for hunting, it was impractical for self-defense (unless you had the size and dress code of that other 70s product, Darth Vader), it wasn’t a target shooting gun. What it was, was a very photogenic but expensive plinker. It was a Ferrari, a BD-5J, a Donzi racing boat; if you were a teenager you were consumed with lust for it, and if you were an adult, and the lesson of your last Ferrari tuneup bill hadn’t chastened you, you bought it.
If you were a canny gun store owner, you put one in your case just for the traffic it brought in to buy Ruger Mk IIs or a box of shotshells. It’s not like it would sell quickly, but people would come just to see it, and then they’d buy what they really needed — the same role that Corvette had been playing in Chevrolet showrooms for about 30 years at the time.
Like Smilodon, the .44 AutoMag today is extinct as a product, and in both cases the cause is the same: they were maladapted for the environment of evolutionary competition. But if you’re the sort of person who would stake a Smilodon in your yard and toss it a daily goat to stay on its good side, the AutoMag just might be for you.