By Dan Shea
Long time Class 3 dealer Joe Dorsky called me and said- “Hey- do you want to see the lost Armalites?” I can only think of one way to answer that kind of question- first “Hell YES” then quickly afterwards- “What lost Armalites?” and he proceeded to explain. It seems that the original Armalite AR-18 series guns, which are registered transferable machine guns, were in a private collection in Florida for many years and had never been talked about. The owner had recently sold them to Joe, and he had them in stock while he was waiting for transfers to the new owners. I had a photo trip to Florida coming up, so Joe was kind enough to fit me into his schedule for a photo shoot. SAR readers should enjoy this glimpse into the early Armalite AR-18’s- Dan
In 1963 Armalite Corporation decided to concentrate its efforts on a scaled down version of one of Eugene Stoner’s designs, the AR-16. The AR-16 was built in a small prototype quantity, and was essentially a “Sheet metal” gun, whose purpose was to enable end users who were less financially endowed to have a modern Assault Rifle. AR-16 was in 7.62 x 51 NATO caliber (.308).
Stoner had left Armalite and was pursuing the Stoner 63 series of machine guns, among other things. Arthur Miller, a brilliant contemporary of Stoner’s, was also employed in the development facility at Armalite. Miller designed and implemented the AR-18 program with the other design personnel.
AR-18’s have the appearance of being a sheet metal AR-15, but the similarity is really only in two major places. First, the upper and lower have dual take down pins, and the upper can pivot up to access the internals. Second, the bolt has multiple locking lugs in the same style as the AR-15 series. I could list many other “Similarities”, but the basic function of the firearms is different, mostly because the gas system patent for the AR-15 was sold to Colt, and Stoner was working with other designs.
The main purpose of Armalite’s pursuit of the AR-18 series was in the ease of manufacture- most of the work was done with stampings, screw machine parts, and a few moldings and forgings. Machine work was kept to a minimum. This enabled the sales force at Armalite to attempt to get other countries to adopt the system- purchasing a “Turn-key” plant in their own country- that Armalite would supply, outfit, and get income from. This allowed countries with unsophisticated work forces or resources to make a smaller caliber select fire rifle. (HK has many similar plants around the world). Unfortunately for Armalite, the system never reached the worldwide recognition, and the only real manufacturing was done by their own facility, or as semi-automatics by Howa in Japan, or Sterling in England.
Most of us are somewhat familiar with the AR-18 and AR-180 series guns. This article is only intended to show some of the evolutionary examples that had recently surfaced. SAR will be going in-depth into these under-rated rifles in future issues. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this view of the Lost Armalites.
The first AR-18 had a duckbill style three prong flash hider that was custom made
The first 5.56mm sheet metal receiver mimics the AR-15 series upper and lower.
A conical flash hider is added to the carbine version
014 has the barrel shortened another 3”, and new mag well reinforcement.
The “Shorty”, serial number 021, has several custom modifications to it. The first and most obvious is the appearance of a foregrip, then the lack of buttstock is also prevalent.
A buttcap could be easily attached because the AR-18 series of guns is radically different in recoil from the AR-15 series. The AR-15 recoils into the buffer / spring system mounted in the buttstock, and without completely changing that, there must always be a buttstock style extension to house the tube. On the AR-18, because of the recoil springs being in the upper receiver length, no buttstock is necessary and capping it is simple.
The foregrip on 021 is a standard AR-18 pistol grip that has been modified slightly to fit on a custom wooden forearm. The whole assembly is very sturdy, and provides a nice two handed shooting platform.
Other changes included a new flash suppressor cone, and the offset charging handle makes its appearance.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N10 (July 1998)|