Handmade Auto-Revolver at RIA

This very odd one-off pistol first appeared in a 1958 Golden State Arms catalog, with no description of its history or mechanical design. I have often seen it referred to as an automatic revolver, but this is a misconception – what appears to be a cylinder is actually a rotary magazine, akin to a Ruger 10-22.

I should add that Mongo, in the YouTube comments, pointed out something I should have considered – it looks like the missing piece contained a locking block that would hold the bolt and barrel assemblies together during the recoil travel. That makes a lot of sense, I should have realized it myself. 🙂

 

22 Comments

  1. Been intrigued by this for years — great that you could get your hands on it, Ian, and thanks for posting!

    Any idea on the calibre? A revolver cartridge of some kind, I take it?

  2. In terms of functionality design of rotary magazine contains drawbacks of both revolver and automatic pistol – the normal automatic pistol are thinner due to lack of wide rotary magazine and the revolver can fire normally cartridges with lighter powder charge when cartridges like that will not cycle automatic pistol.
    But at least can be used as post-apocalyptic or steam-punk movie prop. I even suppose that this is rather decorative piece and the gun function is only secondary.
    Do you know magazine capacity of this design? How this magazine was supposed to be loaded.

  3. Thank you, Ian! I’ve seen this one before but this is the first time I’ve ween it “worked”.

    The same pistol shows up in Vol. 1 of Improvised Modified Firearms by Truby & Minnery (1974 ed.) in the chapter on “Do It Yourself” weapons, along with the prototypes of John Foote and “Carbine” Williams.

    From the demonstration here, I have a few observations;

    1. The magazine system is almost certainly copied from the rotary magazine of the Mannlicher-Schoenauer bolt-action rifles.

    2. The feed system is reminiscent of the long-recoil Gabbett-Fairfax “Mars” prototypes, minus the necessity to draw the cartridge backward from the magazine to feed. It qualifies as a “short-recoil” system on this count alone.

    3. Other than (2), the overall system is very like that of the Frommer “Stop”. The main difference being the positioning of the recoil spring(s). Again, a short-recoil system that is mechanically arranged similarly to a long-recoil system, for some weird reason.

    4. The missing piece on top was almost certainly the locking block assembly, as stated. The transverse “cut” in the back end of the bolt top was very likely for a Walther P.38 type rear sight, that was anchored to said locking block, and helped retain it in the bolt.

    5. The locking block undoubtedly retained the firing pin, resulting in an arrangement much like the slide of said Walther P.38. I’ve seen P.38s lose their upper dust covers under recoil due to broken spring fingers, or just loss of tension in same, resulting in the cover, rear sight, and loaded-chamber indicator going for a trip minus the rest of the pistol. I suspect a similar accident befell this fellow.

    6. As to time period, the layout and mechanism make me think that it is probably about 1890-1900 vintage. At that time, auto-pistol prototypes with revolver-type frames were common, due to military and other authorities wanting pistols that retained the “feel” of a revolver in the hand. At least one, illustrated in Pistols, Revolvers, And Ammunition by Josserand and Stevenson, looks more like a single-shot horse pistol, with a Mauser rifle-type magazine in its wooden stock ahead of the trigger guard. It fired an unknown bottlenecked round of about 8mm bore.

    7. The 0.45in bore does not guarantee American origin. It could also have been chambered for one of the 11mm to 11.5mm Continental revolver rounds of its day. To judge by the magazine proportions, I’d take a SWAG that the original round could have been either the “short” 11mm used in the later version of the big-bore Gasser revolvers (after they determined that the 11mm carbine round was a bit too much for its mechanism), the .455in Webley, or even the 10.6mm German M1879/83 “Reichsrevolver” round or the Italian 10.4mm. I wouldn’t rule out the .44 S&W Russian, either. Again, just a guess.

    That’s all I’ve got, take it for what it’s worth.

    😉

    cheers

    eon

    • If the rimmed cartridge is used it is probably answer why the rotary magazine was used – the rimmed revolver cartridges in box magazine are prone to jam and therefore automatic pistol for these cartridge are very rare. So far I know only factory produced automatic pistol for rimmed cartridges was S&W Model 52 – note the capacity of only 5 rounds.

      • Using a rotary mag theoretically could improve reliability.. but even just in recent years I’d imagine the .357 and .44 Mag Desert Eagles, and the Automags, would’ve outsold the Model 52 easily. Heck, Coonan .357’s are past the 5000 mark.. and Kel-tec’ve probably pumped out ten thousand PMR-30’s…

        I do have some memory of reading of Webley and Scott semi-automatics of the early 20th century that chambered rimmed cartridges, though I don’t believe this sort of thing was a ‘feature’ as much as something they ‘had to do’ to win contracts. They probably had the right idea back then..

        • In 1940, when the staff from FN Liege showed up in first the UK and then Canada with the necessary data, jigs, etc., to build the FN P-35 pistol in 9x19mm, the British Ordnance Procurement Board initially insisted it be redesigned to fire the 0.380in revolver (.38 S&W) cartridge. On the principle of not having two different cartridges in the supply chain.

          And oh yes, at least one “expert” demanded it be made in 0.455in Webley revolver for the Royal Navy.

          I don’t know if cooler heads prevailed or somebody further up the chain of command simply put their foot down, but the FN went into production at Inglis in 9x19mm, which pleased its main users, the Kuomintang Army, the Commandos, and SOE, all of whom had 9x19mm SMGs already. And of course, the British had captured literally millions of rounds of Italian-made 9x19mm in North Africa (intended for the Beretta M1938 SMG), so there was no purely logistical reason to mess with the P-35’s design anyway.

          Procurement has been one of the most dangerous enemies of the soldier in the field. His own army’s procurement, that is, because all too often pet theories and private empire-building guide decision-making, rather than the actual needs of combat.

          cheers

          eon

        • “I’d imagine the .357 and .44 Mag Desert Eagles, and the Automags, would’ve outsold the Model 52 easily. Heck, Coonan .357′s are past the 5000 mark.. and Kel-tec’ve probably pumped out ten thousand PMR-30′s…”
          I must add that I was concerning only automatic pistol which could be used as a service sidearm. The .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum automatics are too heavy for service use and the .22 WMR is too weak for service sidearm. I admit that I make error saying that S&W Model 52 was only produced automatic pistol for rimmed cartridges.

      • There was also the Colt Gold Cup National Match version of the 1911, which in addition to .45 ACP and .38 Super, was also made in .38 Special Mid-Range Wadcutter.

        Unlike the .45 and Super, the .38 MRWC was a straight blowback, and it also held only five rounds in the magazine, which was entirely adequate as it was intended for match shooting in which five-shot strings are shot.

        As Jeff Cooper once said, the .38 MRWC Gold Cup is a superb arm for its intended purpose on the target range, and utterly useless for much of anything else.

        cheers

        eon

  4. The moving barrel extension only makes sense with a locked breech

    The bolt is also too light for blowback operation with a .45 cal round in the .45 ACP or .455 Webley revolver or auto performance range.

    as you point out, there may have been a lift up flap on the top of the bolt, locking into the barrel extension.

    There also appears to be room for a Mauser C96 style locking block or a Glisenti/Nambu style delay lever, below the bolt.

    If the designer had been aiming for blowback operation, with a moving barrel to take some of the stress of the extractor and the extraction groove of the cartridge case, In the manner that one of the Clausius pistole appears to be trying, and in the form used in the Kimball and the .38 Spcl 1911 National Match,

    Then the designer would have aimed for as light a barrel as possible, rather than encumbering it with the extra inertia of the barrel extension.

    It would be a great gun for an old style sci fi movie

  5. The frame, grip, and trigger guard look to be of different finish, workmanship, and material than the slide, barrel, and magazine. Were the lower parts taken from a commercial pistol and the upper parts grafted onto them? If this is so, then identifying the original pistol might help to set a limit on the age bracket for this item.

    • If this is frame from commercial revolver it has carefully welded piece of metal in place where originally was cylinder – the magazine is much more nearer to front than cylinder in typical revolver – in typical revolver back surface of cylinder is over trigger.

      • It looks like it could be a modified Dimancea revolver frame;

        http://31.media.tumblr.com/3213fb25347d95d24c90d9a0bed19c32/tumblr_n4lxe3hs6B1s57vgxo3_1280.jpg

        With the side-pieces cut down to allow for an exposed hammer.

        While designed by a Romanian Army officer, most of the Dimancea revolvers were made in England by Tranter. This again might point to a European origin for this pistol.

        The rearward extension of the Dimancea frame would also allow for a longer “slide rail” length for the rear bolt assembly, compared to more conventional revolver frames. Compare it to the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver;

        http://thearmsguide.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Webley-Fosbery_1837-620×350.jpg

        Which recoiled the entire upper assembly on the lower frame like a dual-recoil artillery piece, to rotate the cylinder by a fixed stud and a series of Mauser type “zig-zag” tracks in the cylinder. Half a century later, the Pancor “Jackhammer” automatic shotgun prototype used a similar arrangement between its operating rod and its “cassettes”.

        The structure of this widget seems to have some features in common with the Spanish Zulaica automatic revolver;

        http://guns.wikia.com/wiki/Zulaica_Automatic_Revolver

        Which dated to 1905. I suspect this arm is earlier than that, as I previously stated, sometime around 1890 or so.

        cheers

        eon

  6. The grips (especially the semi-circle of wood at the top of the grip) reminds me of the grips on a S&W 1917. It was probably made by someone who tinkered with guns to have repurposed the grips from a 1917.

    It would be interesting to know how the side plate(s) are held on, there do not seem to be any screws in the usual locations for revolver side plates of that era.

    The guns of this genre, the ones where a lot of skill and access to machinery went into them, would have a strong possibility of being side projects coming out of defense plants during the WWII era. All firearms plants were devoted to war work and there was nothing new available in the civilian market. That could have encouraged someone with good machining skills to borrow some time here and there on the machinery at work to make one, and if you’re going to make one, may as well try something new. I’d further speculate that it was done by a machinist, not an engineer. An engineer would probably make a somewhat crude proof of concept and then turn it over to a machinist to make a proper prototype. It could have been done by a gunsmith–likely a good number of them went to work in tool and die shops at defense plants during the war.

    The spring loaded extractor would make more sense handling a rimless cartridge, so 45 ACP makes some sense in that regard.

    • The frame plates are held together by screws or rivets? In 5:33 and 6:40 it looks like rivets but I’m uncertain. It so it would make disassembly much more harder than screws.

  7. It seems as if;

    – The missing part is a lock piece working on “Rising Block” principle instead of common “Falling”,

    – This part is located in the slide travelling fully backwards instead of common short travelling barrel extention. Absence of that piece causes those two parts to act separately.

    – The hammer is cocked by the short travelling barrel extention, not by the slide and during this action, rotating hammer body cammes the lock piece upwards as releasing the slide for its backward travel.

    – Firing pin is also absent and it might be contained within the lock piece.

  8. My thoughts are that this pistol *SEEMS* to have some commonality in terms of function with the Mauser C-96 family. The locking mechanism that’s missing is a disappointment in terms of ever fully knowing how it would have worked. That piece is probably in someone’s junk drawer and they have no idea what it is/was for. Alas.

    Fascinating though, and my thanks for taking the time to examine it for us!

  9. Your historical research is fascinating. You are also doing a great service for society by cataloguing this information. The maker of this item is long deceased. I am reminded of the saying that when a senior citizen passes away, it is akin to a library burning down. Midwinter cheer to you.

  10. It seems as though the revolver source for the grip-trigger-sideplates could be identified. That might help narrow the time-frame.

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