Gordon Ingram’s Westarm .308 Battle Rifle

In the late 1970s and early 80s, Gordon Ingram came close to producing a military rifle in one of the most convoluted international arrangements I’ve yet heard of. Prototypes were made in Italy using British raw castings, to be tested in Somalia as part of a project to build a rifle factory there with Dominican Republic expertise from the San Cristobal armory. Somalia actually ordered a large quantity of rifles in 7.62x39mm, but Ingram prototyped the design in .223 and .308 as well.

Mechanically, the rifle was essentially a scaled-up M1 Carbine with a long stroke gas piston instead of a gas tappet. The production guns were select-fire, but the handful or prototypes brought into the US were semiautomatic only, to meet import requirements. In .308, the rifle used FAL magazines, while the .223 ones used AR magazines and the 7.62x39mm ones AK magazines.

Unfortunately for Ingram (but predictably), the project fell apart as the result of financial corruption among the many interested parties. The Somali government ended up payout out something like $5 million US and all they got for it were 10 unreliable prototype rifles.

32 Comments

  1. The “cat” number on an Italian firearm isn’t a patent, it’s in reference to the Italian national firearms catalog that was in existence from 1976 to 2011 that listed guns that were determined not to be weapons of war and available for sale as having sporting uses.

  2. Wow, what a whacko story… I am stretched to the max in expectation of Blackhawk-down popping up…. (I write this in real time).

    Btw, after looking at some videos of Chinese involvement in Zambia (I know, different country) I was struck with racial tolerance of Africans; apparently lot more than you would expect. Let’s wish this was the case in the United States. Anyway…. let’s see what comes out of his.

    • Somali is far more a culture than an ethnicity. There are dark skinned pointy features Somali graziers, Bantu featured farmers, and fishing clans who appear to have been of largely Portuguese descent

      The area that gets called Somalia (used to be divided between Britain and Italy), is only a fraction of the area that Somali people live in.

      About half of the land area of Kenya, and the Ogaden area of lowland in Ethiopia are mostly inhabited by cultural Somalis, even in the big cities in Kenya, there are sizeable Somali populations.

      I did some work in an area where Somali graziers and Bantu farmers come up against each other, in Kenya.

      The Bantu people who I was working with, had a very low opinion of Somalis

      Not for racist reasons, but because they’d fought a bush war with them in the 1990s.

      They did trade with the Somalis – and the Somalis had a reputation for being able to get you absolutely anything that you wanted and were willing to pay for.

    • The United States Army, for the last several decades, has been a non-racist meritocracy. Under the current administration, that may change.

  3. Now, to the gun – yes the concept is dated, but design conduct, irrespective of functional finesse, is excellent. Shame it did not work out. My immediate attention based on what Ian says, would be op-rod dwell (time from piston actuation to cam engagement). Well, everyone has to start somewhere, right?

  4. This is a very cool design …. I’ve never seen this gun before, though I’m a big fan of Mr Ingram’s other more conventional firearms. Thank you Ian!

  5. Googling “C.O.M. Westarm” or “Westarm Fucile” you can find several pictures of the sample n.33, on sale in Italy some year ago, with a far nicer “civilian” stock and a flash hider.

  6. That would have been a good fit for Ruger back in the day. Played to all of their strengths in manufacturing and stylistically it fits in with the 10-22 and Deerstalker carbines. Missed opportunity.

  7. When you plan to move production to Somalia, for ‘stability,’ you’re well on your way to another firearm development trainwreck.

    • At the time, that wasn’t so crazy. Lots of left & right-wing dictatorships were not yet on their last legs in the 1970’s. The bi-polar world kept a lot of places surprisingly stable. We now know what Lebanon & Somalia were going to become, but at the time this wasn’t insane, just difficult. And the tri-caliber design w/ surprisingly correct magazine choices would have done very well during the last US AWB.

  8. That’s a surprisingly good looking rifle.

    I’m not sure why the Soviet Client regime of Said Barre was looking for something different to an AK or Vz58? even in its final days, before the clans dismantled the centralised state.

    The grandiose plans of a doomed dictator who was trying to avoid the reality that was rapidly catching up with him and his regime?

    As a sporting rifle, it would probably be fairly good. A sort of Universal Ferret, on steroids.

    As a potential military rifle, it has all of the mechanical flaws of the Garand family;

    Too little weight in the bolt carrier and op rod

    Gas system under the barrel, resulting in the operating rod having to go around a corner.

    No obvious plans to mount optics on the receiver casting.

    Almost all of those problems were addressed forty years earlier with the AK

      • At least pin is nested inside the stock.

        “Very economical to produce” – hmmm, not much, AKM is still simpler.

        Maybe or probably the whole show was really orchestrated by corrupt somali officials to siphon the money, new rifle was only an excuse

  9. 1. Wow. A 1955 rifle being developed a generation later. Fail.

    2. Idea of a military Winchester 100, Christ, that thing barely worked as a deer rifle…

    3. Gordon Ingram may lay claim to being the best known and most successful bad small arms designer. His early SMGs were OK, but only ok. The M-10/11 were actually really poor, and would have fallen into obscurity had it not been for (a) Sionics/WerBell, (b) Hollywood, (c) crims converting the “pistols” to full-auto.

    4. Any relation here to the Ruger XG-1?

  10. Very informative and helpful.
    In the sense that a lack of understanding of the simplest mechanics (seemingly competent engineers) aborts a good project.
    The developers of the M14, Ruger and others went through the same rake.
    The long bouncing rod of the gas piston, in the Garand design, is the key to the whole design.
    Unsurprisingly, in none of these imitations of the M1, not a damn thing really worked.

  11. Did it use metric or inch pattern FAL magazines? I assume inch but couldnt see the front lug on the magazines when you were moving them.

  12. Ahhhh. Being one of those old “wood and steel” battle rifle guys, I find this weapon strangely seductive. But like so many seductive things, they look great, and promise much, but just don’t work out when it comes to performance. Trust me on that assessment. I owned a long string of English roadsters. Still, I would love to put a few rounds through it.
    I have to say that the development story is right up there with the saga of the DeLorean.
    Ian, thanks for bringing us another truly Forgotten Weapon!

    • There seems no reason at all these rifles should not have worked, given some development. They are based on tried and tested design principles. Maybe having Somalis do the testing was a bad idea?

      I doubt they would have made many military sales in the 1980s. How many Ruger Mini 14s were sold to armies? However, like the Mini 14, I am sure they would have had sales to civilians, to police forces and to gendarmeries. At the time, a lot of police forces were squeamish about using black rifles, and something made of wood and steel would have appealed to them. Nowadays even the British police parade around with HK MP5s and G36s, and no-one cares. It was a more innocent time back then.

      • “…seems no reason at all these rifles should not have worked…”(С)

        Indeed, this is exactly the same machine.
        And the wheels are in place, and the steering, and even the door handles.
        And such unnecessary parts as the carburetor, radiator and battery can be thrown away as unnecessary LOL.

        These idiots, not having an exact idea of ​​”how it works”, threw the “gearbox” out of the structure, and then wonder “why does it not drive?..”

        • Stiven:

          I am not sure what point you are making.

          This design was not trying to reinvent the wheel. It was taking aspects of the M1 Garand and M1 carbine to make a new rifle. Nothing particularly novel about that. The problem was surely that development was rushed, and then handed over to Somalis who are not noted for their prowess in light engineering.

          I can see nothing in the design which would have been a problem. They could have been decent, reliable rifles, but I do not think they would ever have been taken up by any major armies.

          • “I can see nothing in the design which would have been a problem.”(C)

            You are not alone in this. 😉
            People tend to “look for car keys under the nearest lamp”, while ignoring the obvious but unusual.
            Inquire about the history of the M14. How many long years have passed while these unfortunate wiseacres were engaged in “simple conversion of a rifle for a slightly less long cartridge.”
            And in the end, instead of a simple gas cylinder, they piled up almost another gun.

            Probably, my Google English is so terrible that for some it is still unclear what it is about.

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