Part-Original Colt Armalite Model 601 on GunBroker

A very rare M16 variant, fully transferable, is up for auction on GunBroker. It’s the retro AR guy’s Holy Grail — an original Colt Model 601. It has a low serial number (605), meaning it was one of the first production ARs, making it a gun of notable historical significance. It’s being offered by a reputable seller (Frank Goepfert/Midwest Tactical).

That’s the good news. The bad news? It’s going to be very expensive. They’ve set a buy-it-now of $35K, and the no-reserve auction is already bid up to over $19,000 as we draft this (we suspect it will be higher yet; ordinary M16A1s bid up to this level all the time). And the ugly news? While the gun is described as original in the auction writeup, which we excerpt below, it’s not. Not even close. After the blurb, we’ll tell you what’s missing, and what’s “off” about this rifle.

Colt Armalite model 601. These were the gun that started it all. They are considered the first production M16. These primarily went to military buyers but a few were sold to LE, some of which made it into civilian hands. The 601 is the only M16 on the C and R list! The “01” would be one of my personal top picks for an NFA investment due to the limited number available, the Colt name and the fact that they are a C and R gun. The gun you are bidding on is in nice condition. We have it here on hand. The bore is good, all parts are original and the gun works perfect. The caliber for this firearm is .223. According to the ATF paperwork, Colt Ind. is the maker for this firearm. This will transfer direct to your c3 dealer tax free from our inventory on a Form 3 without delay after payment is made. This is the fastest type of transfer so approval and shipment to your ffl should not take long.

via M16 Colt Armalite Model 601 C and R : Machine Guns at GunBroker.com.

Note how the mag-well bosses in the lower receiver match the upper receiver exactly.  That is a 601 characteristic; by the 603 model (with the forward assist, the one that went to the Army for general issue in Vietnam) these did not align perfectly any more.

While this rifle clearly contains some rare and hard-to-find 601 parts, like the dimpled pins, straight ribbed magazine release and bolt release, and slightly-differently-cut 601 upper and lower receivers, it’s also got a lot of later-AR pollution on it.

The characteristic green-then-black- oversprayed brown mottled fiberglass 601 furniture appears to have been replaced with more durable, but dirt-common, M16A1 furniture.

The early-601 barrel has been replaced by a not-quite-as-rare and distinctly different 1967-vintage chrome-chamber-only M16A1 barrel, a so-called MP-C barrel, and the early barrel, FSB and flash suppressor are not included with this firearm.

This is the C that marks chrome chamber, quite rare in its own right but not correct for a 601:

The bolt carrier group has been replaced by a common M16 or AR BCG.

It’s also been refinished a later, darker shade of anodizing.

Whoever buys this will have to spend thousands (and probably take years, waiting for parts to come on the market, or for repros to be manufactured) to really own a 601 — and even then it will be a restored firearm, not an original. For example, the last set of 601 handguards we saw in really nice shape was five or six years ago, and the guy wanted $1,500 for them.

So how to appraise this semi-601? Its mixmaster status means that it’ll never have the appeal to auction with Rock Island, James D. Julia, or even Poulin unless that long and costly resto is done, and even then, some of the deepest-pocketed collectors will shy away from it (unless it’s described inaccurately or dishonestly… but now the Intertubes know that this firearm, SN 000605, was a mixmaster as of April 2015, and the Internet never forgets).

The bottom line? It is what it always is.

Caveat emptor.

16 thoughts on “Part-Original Colt Armalite Model 601 on GunBroker

  1. DSM

    And how many mint condition, original 1965 vintage M16’s with duck bill flash suppressors and green furniture did the Air Force butcher in their decades long A2 conversion project? Held in mobility storage, inspected every few years and then resealed. These things were brand new, still with the vapor tubes in the black bore barrels…and then chop sawed and chucked in old 55-gallon drums for DRMO reclamation. I couldn’t stand it. We even talked to Colt who were willing to cut us a few straight off the assembly line A2’s with replacement SN’s for a few of the prime examples. We talked to the Air Force Museum. I even wrote my Congressman to try to get the uppers at least to CMP auction.
    Augh, it still makes me sick… That was the worst part of my CATM experience.

    1. Hognose Post author

      The military, especially the Provost Marshals / MPs / Whatever the USAF is calling SPs this week, is all-in on gun control. Even Hasan was not a wake-up call. Even the constant stream of green-on-blue from Afghanistan is not a wake-up call. (Although to be fair, many of those victims have been armed, and all of those incidents have been arrested by “a good guy” (or guys, or guys n’ gals) with guns. And they haven’t learned anything from that, either.

      1. DSM

        The official term since ’97 is Security Forces so that was another oddball transition I witnessed as well. It was initially a concept that involved many more AFSC’s other than the SP’s but it only functionally went as far as a few contingency response units. The 820th was a good unit and for those three of my twelve years I felt like I was really in the military. I would agree, no one in the AF wants a hand in the force protection trade beyond dorm guard in basic training.
        But back on topic, those A2 conversions sent a $10K “good idea” check to some program manager in our Materiel Command. It was a project that was supposed to take but a couple years (mid 90’s) but my stint as NCOIC of our CATM section in ’05 we were still reporting unmodified rifles. Then we had to cull through the vaults to find the 601 vintage rifles because they couldn’t get spare parts (troops were losing the un-captured pivot pins mostly). Those got assigned a special NSN and I heard they got sent to Anniston for disposal later. Who knew that all those little updates to the A1 and then A2 receivers actually had a purpose?

      2. CJ

        I will say this – I’m a USAF Security Forces troop (National Guard, anyways) and since Congress amended LEOSA to include military police types, the Air Force has lead the way on fulfilling the law and generating credentials for valid members. Additionally, it sounds like the determination to carry concealed on base under LEOSA (off duty, not on) will be left up to the base commander, and the information I’m getting is that my particular base commander is leaning in favor. Times are a changin’, sorry for the off-topic.

        1. Hognose Post author

          Valuable information, and good to know that LEOSA applies. The only .mil guys I know who have taken advantage are former CI agents, who are included. (On duty, they were armed and carried creds, but they had very limited arrest powers, as I understand it, not like an MP or other LEO).

          Of course, LEOSA should be supplanted by national reciprocity, but it’s a start. People forget that it was opposed by some, who fear letting LEOs and retired LEOs carry!

  2. McThag

    My speculation on why it’s a mixmaster is greed.

    The original green furniture didn’t add as much value to the complete gun as they do sold on their own.

    Same goes for the 1:14 barrel and chrome-smoothie-all-round bolt carrier group.

    Parting it out then putting 603 parts back on put more money in the pocket of the seller than leaving it intact.

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention the flash-hider with the picture of the barrel markings.

    1. Hognose Post author

      601 would have been a 1:12 barrel anyway, but a bare-steel one, no chrome, with a cast, not forged, FSB. I think I did mention the FH as being something replaced. But they didn’t replace the whole upper, because you still have the 601/602 forge lines match.

      My guess is that someone “updated” it during the long years when it was a “shooter” — possibly when it was still a PD gun. PDs have asked for some really ate-up stuff to be done to their ARs, if they’re dedicated followers of fashion.

      1. McThag

        It was not omitting the mention of the flash-hider just that you didn’t put it with the picture.

        Serial 605 probably did leave Connecticut with an unlined 1:14 barrel, it’s an early enough gun.

        The chrome I was talking about is the bolt carrier and bolt.

        1. Hognose Post author

          Yeah, I had always been told the Army changed them because of the shine, but that’s not the case, documents show that the chrome sometimes concealed cracks and flaws in the underlying steel, hence the change to parkerizing. I forget whether that was ’65 or 66. 601s were earlier than that and all were delivered with satin chrome BCGs, just like AR-10s.

  3. Stacy0311

    Debating whether or not a 601 with a few non-original parts is worth the price is like debating who’s hotter-Jennifer Lawrence with short hair or Jennifer Lawrence with long hair. The answer is: if you had the money, you’d take it either way…….

  4. Two-nail

    Hello, I discovered this website after I was highbidder on the Gunbroker auction in question. The purchase price is a tad under 20K. I am wondering whether I should go forward with the purchase or rescind, based on the inaccurate statement that “all parts are original.” What do you estimate I could easily sell this firearm for? Thanks for any advice.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I think that would have been a good price, even for a standard M16A1 mixmaster. So I don’t think you overpaid. You could look at some completed GunBroker auctions and I bet such guns will be going in the low to mid $20s in the last six months.

      A lot depends on what you want for the gun. Pleasure of ownership? Hole in collection? A fun shooter? (It’s a better shooter with the more common upper and bolt, IMHO… because you’re not risking hard-to-replace parts).

      I do not know why the gun was represented as it was. The seller has a good rep for fair dealing and may not have run it by an early M16 expert. The gun probably has a PD in its ownership history and they never bothered about originality of working firearms.

      I would expect that a year from now you will be able to sell it at a good profit, given historical trends in NFA in general and M16s in particular. And again, you have the option of restoring it to 601 status … long and arduous with original parts which come up for sale seldom. Easier with repro parts; John Thomas at retroarmsworks.com could do it (and would probably be delighted to work on it, although I think he’s only a 01 FFL.

      Want to talk? I can drop you an email.

  5. Two-nail

    Thanks much. I bid because it appeared to be such a screaming deal–which it would have been if the firearm was as-advertised. After learning that it was not original, I told the seller that I was voiding the sale based on the erroneous description. I have not heard back yet from the seller.

    1. Hognose Post author

      OK. Let us know if you need any support in this. Regret that you were not happy, and again, the seller has a positive reputation. He should let you off the hook and relist the firearm with a more accurate description — it’s a mixmaster on an original 601 lower with many M16/M16A1 parts.

  6. Two-nail

    Thanks much. After I brought the problems to the seller’s attention, he readily agreed to cancel the sale and returned my check. He has relisted it with a more accurate description. But I was a little surprised that I received no answer when I asked him if anyone had communicated during the original auction that the firearm was not original. I am therefore curious if anyone on this forum so advised the seller during the original auction? Thanks again.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I did not. Frankly, it did not occur to me that anyone spending ~$20k on a firearm would not do some research on it, but then, none of us knows the scope of what we don’t know. I’ve spent years studying (and cloning) these things.

      I am glad that your check has been returned.

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