You can get an Vietnam era rifle without getting bronzed, it turns out.
If you can afford a collection of service-type rifles, and have checked the key World War II blocks, two of the most iconic weapons are the guns of the Vietnam War: the M14 carried by the Marines and some Army units in the war’s earliest years, and the M16A1 carried by most US soldiers from 1965 on, and by the ARVN from 1970. Here’s examples of M14 clones that you can take home: an early M14 clone with an interesting history (thanks to OTR for sending this one in), and a rare M21 that was a deliberate “contract overrun” the manufacturer made for himself while producing a short run of snipers for a Special Forces unit.
Tomorrow, look for low-production M16A1 clones from a new vendor. If you’re well-off and generous, either would make a nice gift for the Vietnam Vet in your family.
The M14 was developed over 12 years at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, and what the taxpayers got was, basically, a slightly larger M1 with a larger box magazine, a slightly more compact (but ballistically equivalent) cartridge, a fairly useless select-fire capability, and a much better (from weight and accuracy standpoints) gas system. It was the last hurrah of the Springfield Armory (and its high cost for low innovation was one of the things that sank Springfield with the too-influential SecDef, Robert S. MacNamara). But the men who carried it (especially, the Marines who trained with it) loved the gun.
It was quickly adapted to target shooting by Marine and Army marksmanship units, and continued in this role for many years after the adoption of the M16A1 due to public (and competitor!) belief that the M16 design did not have the accuracy potential to be competitive at High Power or Service Rifle competition. (Someone who has only competed in these events recently might be surprised to hear that; now, the old Garand action guns struggle to compete with modern ARs). It was target shooters, first, who demanded competition-legal M14 clones. Former servicemen who’d used the rifle in training or combat were also a demand nexus.
M14: An Early Semi Clone
Before there was an M1A, there were other attempts at making semi commercial M14s. In fact, Lee Emerson, in Volume 4 of his M14 Rifle History and Development, Fifth Edition, lists no fewer than 19 manufacturers. The high-visibility and high-volume producer has certainly been Springfield Armory, Inc., of Geneseo, IL and Texas. But prior to 1989 significant quantities of Chinese rifles (marked Polytech or Norinco) were imported, Smith Enterprises and LRB Inc. have and continue to make high-end M14 clones, and numerous smaller builders have come and gone.
One of the earliest was A.R. Sales Company, which shared a location in South El Monte, California, with later M14 producers Federal Ordnance (Fed Ord) and National Ordnance. According to Emerson, 225 receivers were manufactured by A.R. Sales. Marked “Mark IV” (there is no sign of Marks I through III), and with 200 serial numbers from the range 1 to 225 and all 25 from 226-250, they were mated to surplus M14 parts by A.R. Sales’s armorers. A.R.’s (and Fed Ord and Nat Ord) receivers were investment cast and finish machined.
This rifle is Serial Number 34.
Because there was no selector or provision for one, the unsightly notch in the wooden M14 stocks was fitted with a plug carved to match. (This approach would later be used by others, too).
Is that a little bit of touch-up on the finish?
This A.R. Sales rifle was produced, shipped and sold in 1972. The auction is a model of how to set up a GunBroker auction (except that there’s no “M14” in the title for search convenience!): there are 68 (!) photographs, including close-ups of every feature and flaw in the rifle, and the complete provenance of the gun, which is proven by documents.
Amazing. The seller says this:
A letter from I.I. Karnes of A.R. Sales to customers and potential customers said that you could hold your position for an order with a $15 deposit. All rifles had National Match barrels (this one certainly does) but they weren’t glass-bedded or NM accurized.
Opening bid is $2,650; high for a generic M1A type clone, perhaps, but the originality and provenance of this rifle must tempt any American service rifle collector. If you want a lot of M14 clones, you ought to have this one; and if you only want one, why not make it one with a story?
M21: A One-Off
Smith Enterprise built a series of M21s for the newly-forming 1st Special Forces Group in 1984. Ron kept one as a personal rifle, sold it to another M14 enthusiast some 20 years later, and it’s now for sale again.
These rifles were marked with the SF Crest before being heat-treated. All but Ron’s with this mark went to 1st Group. (Why mark a firearm with an OPSEC violation? Your guess is as good as anybody’s on that). All the others had selective fire provisions, so this is the only legit crested M21 that will ever be on the private market.
We believe that these were originally configured like the 1980s M21s we fired, with a Leatherwood ART II scope in a GI mount. This one has been set up since 2005 with a Leupold Mark IV (NTTAWWT, it’s what the Army did after the ART II).
This is a very high-end collector rifle and the seller expects a very high price.
Originally, we meant to cover some new M16 clones as well, but we found more to say about these M14s than we expected. Look for the ’16s tomorrow or Thursday morning.