Here’s a Different Retro AR-15

The first thing we’re going to say is: it’s pretty. It’s meant to be a stylish upgrade to the Vietnam-era rifle, but it diverges from that not just cosmetically (with the beautiful walnut furniture and decent Cerakote job), but mechanically (with a heavy barrel, late-style generic lower, and .223 Wylde chamber). It’s styled after the XM16E1/M16A1 style gun that was used by the ground combat services in 1965-67.

AR-15 retro wood 04

It’s a gun that’s meant to be fun to shoot and to give an impression of an early AR — or as the seller puts it, a “resto-mod.” If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it comes from the 1990s California classic car scene, where outfits like Mustangs Plus (whose Ron Bramlett, we believe, coined the term “restomod”) would do a cosmetic restoration on a classic car, while upgrading its systems to late 20th-Century standards of safety, convenience and performance with things like disc brakes, air conditioning, five- and six-speed transmissions, and fuel injection.

This is a “resto-mod” build using an authentic Vietnam era m-16 upper receiver, front sight assembly, and bayonet. The lower is a new Delaware Machine AR-15 mil-spec receiver.”

“Delaware Machinery” and “mil-spec” are only passingly acquainted. The DM lowers can be in tolerance, out of tols high, or out of tols low, and sometimes things that should be square are a few degrees off. Most of them do go together alright, and if they don’t, it’s usually just a matter of custom fitting. Still, that’s the other end of the pool from a prestige lower.

One good thing is that there are no large logos on the magwell with this firm’s lowers.

AR-15 retro wood 02

Everything on the Rifle has been Cerakoted except for springs, detents, and the buffer. The wood stock furniture is real American Black Walnut. The receivers, sight base, compensator, and bayonet grips are a blend of Cerakote Graphite Black and Burnt Bronze. The rest of the parts are Graphite Black. Having all parts Cerakoted dramatically reduces friction which means less oil, less fouling, and less cleaning. The rifle has been pre-broken-in and burnished with Sentry Solutions Smooth-Kote. The rifle comes with the bayonet, bayonet sheath, 3 magazines, and a padded soft rifle case.

It is a nice looking rifle. If you only want one sort-of-retro AR, and you don’t think $1,800 buy it now is too much (we don’t know where the reserve is on this auction), maybe it’s for you.

There are numerous departures from retro “restored,” notably the heavy barrel with it’s .750 diameter through the front sight base (instead of the period-correct .675)

One good thing about this build is that the seller (and presumed builder) is providing comprehensive information about the firearm.

Everything is new EXCEPT the UPPER RECIEVER, FRONT SIGHT BASE, SIGHTS, CHARGING HANDLE, BAYONET, and SCABBARD. These parts are deemed to be authentic Vietnam era parts due to their design and forging marks “C H” on the upper receiver. “C H” stands for Colt Harvey forging (Harvey being the forging company used by Colt for the early m16 rifle). It should be noted that all of the components came to me as a complete upper half, which was in pretty poor condition, at the time, requiring the need for an overhaul. As can be seen from the pictures, you can tell the upper has been through a lot; there are dings all over. All parts were thoroughly degreased, sharp raised edges filed down, blasted smooth, and then coated with Cerakote H series finish. Below are the details on individual parts which were used on this build.

AR-15 retro wood 03

RRA Parts Kit
RRA Carrier with Chromed bolt (Also Cerakoted)
RRA National Match 2-stage semi-auto trigger
Stainless Steel Firing pin and Cam Pin
JP Enterprises® 3.5 lb trigger spring kit
KNS Perma Pin
HBAR Match Grade Chromoly Barrel 20″ 1 in 8″ twist .223 Wylde chamber
Bushmaster® rifle length Buffer and spring
M1918 leather sling
Walnut stock set from Black Guns Wood

AR-15 retro wood 01

via Custom retro AR-15 Wood Stock rifle with bayonet : Semi Auto Rifles at

Again, only you know if this is right for you.

And Now for a Bit of Philosophy

The gun is well done; it’s not a Bubba job. But one wonders if some day we will regret these sort of restomods as much as we regret the amateurish and ugly hack jobs that generations of Bubbas have inflicted on Mausers and, now, Mosins. We’ve been meaning to write about this but Tam posted a link to McThag’s impassioned jeremiad (hmmm… was there ever a jeremiad that was not “impassioned”? Methinks we adjective too much) about hack jobs on, specifically, Mosins.

I am sick of seeing Bubba rape kiv/27’s. I am sick of seeing Remington and NEW [New England Westinghouse — rare WWI contract guns. -Ed.) receivers drilled and tapped. I am sick of seeing US marked M1915 stocks shortened and cut for Timney triggers.

Far too often, Bubba makes changes he can’t reverse. Regret comes 20 years later when the supply of old guns dries up and the crufflers start fighting over what’s left. The Mosin that’s $240 on Gunbroker now was $150 last year. It was $70 five years before that.

Already modded guns are listed on Gunbroker for less than $500, and there’s no bidders. In Econ 101, we call that a market indicator.

That made us look at this site, where a Bubba enabler suggests committing all kinds of crude butchery on unsuspecting Russian service rifles.

At one point, he suggests you put your Mosin in a cheap plastic imitation of a sniper chassis stock, because “the look is incredible” (of course) and to save weight. Except the stock he recommends weighs more than the typical birch stick Ivan used, back in the day.

Q: What’s the value of a $150 Mosin in a $140 stock with a $80 muzzle brake and a $30 saw-off-bolt-on 90º bolt handle?

A: About $50.

And that’s why we’re of two minds about the whole Retro Black Rifle Restomod thing. We do believe that well-done smithing has its value, but when collectors enter a market everything takes third place to originality and condition. Now, no gun built from a “parts kit” extracted from a rare Class III weapon is going to be truly original, and an original retro AR is, thanks to the market distortions introduced by a Jersey grifter named Hughes, priced out of the range of most who would like one. So the market is a chaotic mess from the jump.

And with that, we think we’ve argued ourselves around to a position. To wit: it’s everyone’s right to customize their own property any way that suits ’em. We would hope that these customizations were done professionally (like this one), and added real value (like the creator of this one thinks he has done, from the asking price); and that Bubba entertains himself hot-rodding lawn tractors or building a Hemi Gremlin or something. But we can’t stop you from doing whatever you want to do, and we wouldn’t want to live in a world where we could.

And with that, we reserve the right to continue to condemn the actions, abilities and ancestry of Bubba the Gunsmite and all his legions. Fair?

40 thoughts on “Here’s a Different Retro AR-15

  1. robroysimmons

    Conflicted here, I have a Paul Jaeger sporterized 1903, but it certainly is not a Bubba.

  2. Tam

    I have a love for beautifully-done interwar and early postwar sporters on K98, M1903, and M1917 actions.

    Conversely, I see current hack jobs on Finn Mosins or Argentine ’91s and feel sad. I lament the fact that I will likely never be able to spring for a nice, intact 33/40(t) since Cooper groupies scouterized 99% of them in the Eighties and Nineties.

    It’s easier for me to understand the person who chopped a 10-year-old used car into a hot rod than it is the person who did the same thing to a car when it was one of the last intact survivors of the breed forty years later. But in both cases, if it was their car, it was their right to do with as they pleased, even if what they pleased was dumb.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I think we’re in the sort of violent agreement where we could argue the same position at each other all morning.

      We took a British sporter on a 98 action, made by one of the London gunsmiths — I’ve forgotten who, it’s in my notes — in some collossal big-game caliber, in one of the weapons caches we took in February 2003. Along with a lot of obsolete guns — ZB-26s, DPs, First Model AK-47s (the ones that were stamped before they went to a machine receiver), Port Said SMGs (parkerized Egyptian copy of the Carl Gustav M45). But this one, once beautiful, forlorn old sporter was in the same cave. Along with a Canadian Ross rifle.

      It had been badly used and badly stored by Afghans, who have no concept of maintenance, against which it had little rust (arid country). But its worst indignities lay ahead: scrapped as part of some silly UN disarmament show, as if it was the weapons that caused the intertribal, inter-ethnic, ideological, religious and international conflicts that had reduced that sad land to something out of Dante meets Hobbes.

      This is where I tell the story of how I rescued that old sporter from its fate. But I didn’t. I had things to do and people to see. It was still in an even larger and more ill-assorted storeroom of weapons when we handed that location off to a team from the 3rd Special Forces Group.

      1. Boat Guy

        Our boys once found a cache of the usual Warsaw Pact kinda suff; but there in the corner actually wrapped in a cloth and well-preserved was a Mk III Enfield and about 400 rounds of .303. THAT guy worried me a bit…

        1. Hognose Post author

          When we took Enfields, they were usually in $#!+ state and bereft of any ammunition. Conversely, when we took large quantities of ammo, it was usually large stuff they couldn’t practically tote to the hills and shoot at us, like 14.5 and 23 mm AA ammunition. We never took meaningful quantities of 7.62 x 39. They were saving that, to give us one end of it….

      2. Tam

        I think we’re in the sort of violent agreement where we could argue the same position at each other all morning.

        Our positions are entirely simpatico on this issue and I just wanted to pipe up with an amen chorus. :)

      3. Tam

        Incidentally, do please contact me at TamSlickATaolDOTcom. Planning on being up New Hamster way in the very near future and I owe you a beer for all the gun learnin’.

  3. Tam

    (And yet I find myself completely callous to the fate of parts kits like the M16 upper in the post. Once the receiver’s been torched and the thing parted out, someone may as well have fun with the parts, I guess?)

  4. Rick2gun

    Hurrah for Sentry Solutions products. I have used their products exclusively on my firearms for more than ten years. They are reasonably priced and work as well as they say they do and now available on Amazon. The Sig Pro Shop carried a sparse assortment for a while but I didn’t find them available there on my last foray to Epping. I have extended the use of the products from the main body of the firearm to the magazines and feed tubes of my guns. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a failure to feed. Be sure to check the BP-2000 powder product to use on top of Smooth Kote. It works very well on triggers and they call it a trigger job in a bottle. They are a New Hampshire based company in Wilton.

  5. archy

    ***it diverges from that not just cosmetically (with the beautiful walnut furniture and decent Cerakote job), but mechanically (with a heavy barrel, late-style generic lower, and .223 Wylde chamber).***<p.

    There were, I believe, some early Colt 601 or 602 series guns with a heavy barrel, back in the days of the duckbill flash hider and triangle charging handle. TECOM at Aberdeen originally began bullet/rifling twist consideration with a 40-grain bullet @ 1:16 twist, played with a necked-down .30 carbine/.224 barrel not too real dissimilar to what later became Melvin Johnson's 5,7MMJ, and eventually settled on a 1:10 twist barrel….and which the analysts run by SecDef McNamara decided should be 1:14 instead. Dave Perrin, Bill Davis and Larry Moore at Aberdeen/TECOM ran the ballistics testing after getting funding from DARPA [Army Ordnance wouldn't foot the bill, but examples from a USAF buy were turning up in the hands of SF in Vietnam, and they wanted more] Ordnance wanted the twist increased to 1:12 for better stability in cold and dense air in Arctic conditions and with tracers, the same consideration made when the USMC and JSSAP came up with the 1:9 twist/62-grain bullet for the *Marine Improved* M16 of the late 1970s/early '90s.

    I was working at NWSC [then] Crane in the old small arms shop and we got in some early XM16- and earlier- rifles in really deplorable shape, including bullet damage and bloodstains; some had the bayonet lugs ground off, an indication they may have been used with the early XM148 40mm grenade launchers, forerunner of the M203. And among the parts generated from their teardown and rebuild was some front sight bases that were WAY too large for an M16A1 *pencil barrel*. I never measured one at the time, but I'd not be surprised if they were .75 diameter…or larger. A leftover size from Colt's early HBAR or CMG testing? Or earlier, from the Armalite/Fairchild days? I have no idea…but it sure would be interesting to know if the upper from one of those *way early* HBAR Colts ever made it atop a SP1 sporter lower…. If only they could talk….

  6. ToastieTheCoastie

    I have a beautiful Swedish Mauser with all the original furniture and parts. Someone else had drilled a couple holes in the receiver for scope mounts, but other than that it was intact. What a sin it would be to hack a firearm like that apart to “sporterize” it.

    As you point out, people don’t really appreciate historical artifacts until it is too late.

        1. McThag

          Google for swedish mauser diopter sights and you’ll get all there is in English.

          I’ve seen a couple sites in Swede too.

  7. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

    I have a strong hankering for a decent retro A1 rifle but with a fast twist barrel. There is a lot to be said for the rifle you spent years carrying and sometimes cussing. Century had one out a few years ago but the example I handled was loose to the point of silliness. The front sight tower was held on with roll pins and the stock actually had about 1/16 of front to rear slop. Don’t have the time or money or patience for a true retro build and with the bottom out of the market, here anyway, can’t see putting a lot into it.

    As for mosins I’ll post a link to a local “Ultimate Mosin” that seems to have been a labor of love but he ought to know that money ain’t ever coming back.


      i been looking for a few years now for the rare A1 profile Colt export M16A1 barrel in 1/7 twist.

      I plan to install it on my 1969 made SP1 colt AR15

      then I can have my SP1 and be able to shoot 77 grain match ammo or any of the heavier service and self defense ammo in it.

      I almost had one last year but it came up for sale at a time I had no spare cash to spend on it sadly. I may just leverage my pull and get colt to make me one if I cant find an original soon

    1. Hognose Post author

      Re: “Trade for Rem 40X and cash or Win 52D and cash”
      A couple posts later: “taking offers…”

      $50. $55 if he takes the Barska scope off.

    2. Tam

      It’s the Mt. Palomar Edition Barska that puts it over the top. That’s gotta be at least $49.95 in glass on that thing!

  8. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

    Thought you would get a kick out of a repurposed com bloc mg barrel if nothing else.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I dunno where the guy got the idea that the MG barrel would be better, although maybe it is. It’s very heavy, and as a rule of thumb Czechoslovak weapons were better made and more consistent than Soviet or satellite weapons, but comparisons are difficult because the Czechs rejected most of the Soviet patterns and designed their own weapons.

      1. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

        Probably the way to go for a .310-.311 barrel that yer gonna cut down, as opposed to spending big coin on a custom tube in an odd caliber.

    1. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

      For sure, can’t get more retro than that without the charging handle in the suitcase handle. Can’t stand the slick side upper, I wind up slapping air three times.

      I just want a ’80s style A1, should have grabbed a kit when they were around.

    2. Hognose Post author

      Then, it wasn’t retro, it was as futuristic as George Jetson. Except we all have ARs and we’re still waiting for our flying cars.

  9. SemperFido

    I must be the odd one out, but I actually like my two mosins in Archangel stocks. I kept the original wood in case I ever have a hankering to carry a two by four that shoots again, and have not changed anything but the stock. They balance nice, shoot well and the magazines mean less loading time at the range.
    And I like how they look.
    Same with my daddy’s old Marlin levergun. I put a large loop lever on it. Why? It really does work better with gloves, as I found out last weekend while hog hunting and I just like how it looks.
    Is there a slight possibility that some gun purists are much like wine snobs?

    1. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

      Snobbery rears its head from time to time here like anywhere else but as long as you don’t mention a Mosin and Bondo in the same sentence you’ll be ok.

      Anyone else see that all steel and wood casehardened AR somebody was marketing a few years ago? Lilly guilding at its finest.

        1. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

          I thought it was one of his. I should have said case colored previously, it was probably the prettiest AR I’ve seen but mine wind up Kryloned so the fanciest finish I’ve considered is a dark brown cerro base coat that would be pretty easy to get the paint off of when my tastes or the season changes. I missed an A1 clone locally last week, Century gun that had a near new Colt A1 barrel transplanted to it. I figure they can’t have screwed up too bad on an AR since they bought the lowers from someone else. I think a seven twist barrel would be more versatile but all I have stashed anymore is 55gn. I have gone off into 300blk and it provides all the tinker room I could ask for.

        2. Hognose Post author

          Apparently it was not a big market success, a dealer was blowing them out for less than Doug Turnbull was asking on GB about a month ago, both finished guns and case-hardened receivers that were never built into a gun.

  10. W. Fleetwood

    Re McThag:

    Oh Lord, now you’ve done it. Linked in Weaponsman and Tam, both, within a week. Now he’ll be signing correspondence as “Laird McThag of Clan Mosin” and expecting us to doff our caps as his carriage passes by. But of course it will be a hollow thing since there will be no more mountains to climb.

    Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara.

  11. McThag

    There’s not a part on that resto-AR that’s not in production today.

    If someone were to make that out of vintage parts… I’d be upset.

    I run off the hill when the irreplaceable is destroyed. Look for an original R601 furniture set and remember when people were junking the fragile, green AR furniture. How many aluminum carbine stocks got sent to a recycler because plastic was better?

  12. ToastieTheCoastie

    Who am I to question bubba, but why would you sporterize one of these venerable rifles anyway? A serviceable 30-06 can be had for $400.

    1. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

      Why does a man-er, person climb a mountain? Why does a person build an airplane in his garage?

      The trick is knowing what to eff with and what to leave as is…. 91/30 or M-44 go ahead and Dremmel on that bitch-Finn M-39 not so much. I Bubba sporterised a M-44 years ago, $75 and some elbow grease and swapped it for a 10-22 when I got tired of it. Bought two M-39s, one with pristine metal and one with beautiful wood. Swapped furniture and had a beauty and a beast. No Dremmel though.

  13. Ken

    I would kind of like to have a woody AR. I picture it with the walnut finished to look like a nice old Springfield or Garand stock.

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