Dick Meadows (c.) models what we’re building — sort of.

To successfully build a cosmetically Retro AR-15, you need to plan the build and build to the plan, or you risk committing a Bubba The Gunsmith level atrocity on your firearm.

There are good sources of retro information out there, but the good sources of parts are drying up. This is due in part to a crackdown by the government and ATF on availability of surplus parts, especially barrels. One of the better sources of retro barrels is police guns which are being updated, but the smiths and armorers doing this now realize that these barrels are not scrap, if still serviceable, and price pressures have driven barrel prices up.

You can go insane with fealty to detail on a retro build, which is another reason for a plan — and a budget. Our goal is to build a cosmetic copy of the Son Tay Raid CAR-15. It should build to a lightweight and accurate gun, because it’s a 13-year-old kid’s first (supervised, naturally) build. We’ve got most AR armorer tools so that’s not an issue.

This XM177 (from World.Guns.RU) closely resembles the Son Tay guns. They lacked a forward assist and mounted SinglePoint sights.

This XM177 (from World.Guns.RU) closely resembles the Son Tay guns. They lacked a forward assist and, for Son Tay, mounted Normark SinglePoint sights which were bought from Armalite for the task force.

Thanks to the endless modularity of ARs, we can always modify our Colt Model 630 / early USAF GAU-5/5A clone for greater accuracy. To get it built and out of the planning stage, we need to execute the planning stage first.

So our first tasks are to: decide how accurate the build will be. Thanks to Congressman Hughes and Tax Chiseler Chuck Rangel, we can’t build an MG. Building an SBR is fine and good but no help with a gun that we’ll expect a kid to use. So we’re going to make a compromise there, and use a 16″ carbine barrel. (Other options are to go SBR or go to a shorter barrel with a pinned flash suppressor).

We’re going to make three other concessions to practicality: we’re going to use a non-Colt, non-vinyl-acetated-aluminum stock, we’re going to use a modern barrel with faster rifling, and we’re going to use — at least at the beginning — a generic lower parts kit. We also may substitute an Armson OEG for the correct AimPoint on this build.

Why the substitutions? The Colt stocks are rare and expensive. The original 1:12 barrels are rare, expensive, and won’t stabilize heavier projectiles, including 62 gr. NATO and 77 gr. match. (Current barrels also have improved feed ramps). And original LPKs are harder to come by right now.

These substitutions, except for the 16″ vs. 11.5″ barrel, should be nearly invisible without close examination. They should produce a six-plus pound, naturally handling AR that will exude a Vietnam vibe but digest a wider variety of ammunition.

We’ll keep you posted as we wrench this thing together and take it out to the range.

For background on the raid, start here with an official DOD Doc Dump. Included are a planning/briefing document, an interview with one of only two SF participants without prior Vietnam combat, and a JCS AAR.

For background on the guns, this thread at M4Carbine.net is a good resource, as is the whole site retroblackrifle.com, especially the page on the Colt Model 630, and the retro section of ARFCOM.

This entry was posted in Rifles and Carbines, SF History and Lore on by Hognose.

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

6 thoughts on “Let’s build Retro: Part 1: Planning the build

Samuel Suggs

Great looking forward to the future content. Would it be too much to ask that you post pictures of the intrepid 13 year old master gun smith in the making, working on the rifle?

Hognose Post author

His mother would probably do something newsworthy if we put a recognizable photo online. (And what happens in a few years when some college admissions officer, credentialed but uneducated, blackballs him for his “gun history”? Like it or not we are an oppressed minority in some places). But he’s wicked psyched about doing this.

Samuel Suggs

Oh, well I suppose your right; mother knows best and all that.

P.S I prefer the term persecuted minority.


Sam Suggs beat me to it. We, your faithful readers, will of course want a sitrep of how the kid is enjoying this. 😉


As you probably know from the retro section Brick is the go-to guy for a moderator and it’s really hard to tell a 12 inch and change barrel with a permanently mounted moderator from an 11.5″ SBR .

On the whole, though, the extra $200 for the SBR isn’t too much more.