Is the AutoMag Curse Over? The New Auto Mag 180-D

Historically speaking, the AutoMag 180 pistol has been a reaper of investors. Between 1971 and 1982, no fewer than six different companies went bankrupt trying to make a profit building Auto Mags. However, we may have finally reached the end of that streak…

In 2015, all the existing tools, parts, and IP related to the Auto Mag was sold to a new company (Auto Mag Ltd). Similar to the previous companies lured in by the glamour of this massive handgun, these new owners saw the list of existing parts (including several hundred frames) and figured they could assemble and sell a few hundred guns and make a nice return. Also similar to previous companies, they completed the deal and then discovered that those existing parts had major problems. Fundamentally, the Model 180 was simply not a mature design.

Where the new company has taken a new path is that they have spent the past 7 years reengineering the whole gun to fix its shortcomings. They have made a couple dozen design changes, although without changing anything fundamental in the appearance or operating principles of the gun. They have done things like lighten the firing pin, strengthen the locking lugs, tweak the magazine geometry, and so on – the changes that should have been make back in 1971 before the first example was ever shipped.

I came into this review with pretty low expectations – so many people have tried and failed to make a proper Automag that I really didn’t think Auto Mag Ltd would be able to pull it off. And yet to my happy surprise, it seems that they actually have. The gun ran flawlessly for me (match footage coming tomorrow) and was actually a lot of fun to shoot.

35 Comments

  1. I ordered a new Automag a few years ago paying for it in full when I ordered it. I gave up waiting (2 years) and requested a refund and received it. folks to deal with and are well intentioned. Meanwhile I bought an original .44 (Pasadena) and a .357 (El Monte) and have reloaded and shot hundreds of rounds through them without more than a stuck fired casing or two. I found keeping the guns clean and properly lubricated was all they needed.

  2. I allways liked the Auto Mag because it just looks cool. In my opinion it is one of the most beautiful if not the most beautiful production handguns. I’m glad that it is back in production, I think I will buy one once I can afford it (…). At the moment it is not that expensive for what it is.

  3. The Semi-AutoMag… towards what use would anyone buy a magnum semi-auto handgun? Just because it carries the “magnum” moniker? What advantage does it have over a 10mm or .40 or 9mm? Bigger holes in paper at longer range?

    • It is a rifled carbine in a pistol package. Please do a ballistic comparison between the ballistics of the rounds mentioned and the .44 Mag shot by this hand cannon, then get back to me.

      • Correct. The purpose of the Auto-Mag or really any Magnum pistol or revolver is to have the equivalent of a carbine that can be carried in a holster.

        The advantage of the self-loader over the revolver was supposed to be (1) more rounds without reloading (a reasonable idea if facing dangerous game) and (2) less felt recoil. The fact that the AMP was noted for its recoil might indicate that the bolt was opening too late in the operating cycle.

        The .44 AMP’s dominance is mainly due to the old belief dating to black-powder days that “bigger bullets= better bullets= more stopping power”. Contrary to Col. Cooper, the .357 AMP was not “a seeming waste of the pistol’s engineering”, but the best all-around cartridge for the gun, as it could push relatively heavy .357in bullets to “intermediate caliber” rifle-like velocities. Yes, it could accelerate a 160-grain JSP to .30-30 WCF MVs, or for that matter a 125-grain to close to 7.62 x 39mm territory.

        One often overlooked “tactical” feature of the AMP was that by pushing the safety lever down past “fire” to what would be the “hammer drop” position on an H&K USP, a forward extension of the safety engaged a rearward extension of the bolt release, which tripped the bolt release to let the locked-back bolt run forward to chamber a round.

        This feature would seem to be more of a “combat” type idea than one you’d expect on a gun for hunting or silhouette shooting, making some of us wonder just exactly what Harry Sanford had in mind when he “updated” the 1916-vintage Grant Hammond design.

        Although if the first six or seven rounds hadn’t put the quietus to, say, an obstreperous black bear, the fastest possible reload would seem to be something very desirable in the circumstance.

        cheers

        eon

        • Correct. The purpose of the Auto-Mag . . . is to have the equivalent of a carbine that can be carried in a holster

          He would be if it were true. If Ian’s numbers are accurate (my quick search seems to confirm them) any AMP advantage over common and much more practical 10mm is underwhelming, negligible, and solely attributable to the absurdly long barrel.

    • “(…)what use would anyone buy a magnum semi-auto handgun(…)”
      https://modernfirearms.net/en/handguns/handguns-en/u-s-a-semi-automatic-pistols/amp-auto-mag-eng/ claims that Production pistols with model numbers 180 and 280 were made in .44AMP caliber, models 160 and 260 were made in .357AMP caliber. The key niche for such monstrous pistols was the handgun hunting (sport rather popular in USA), as well as silhouette shooting. Latter application needs sufficient momentum at strike to reliably activate target.

  4. I am glad to see that somebody took the time to do the final tweeks to make this the gun it always should have been. I always wanted one, mostly because of Dirty Harry. Thanks for another great video Ian!!

  5. Ian seems to have left out the Webley-Mars in his list of massively oversized powerful handguns.

    Looks like the new magazine and firing pin might solve some issues in the older guns, and perhaps the new cocking piece will fit? W/ the lengthened lugs, I can’t imagine the new bolts would fit unless perhaps a new bbl was fitted? Assuming the new owners used the same threads & are willing to sell small parts in direct competition w/ their new gun.

  6. Who is making the ammo? early automag ammo was made in Mexico because no American mfr was interested in such a niche market in the 70’s. There were huge issues with quality and availability at that time. AUtomag Corp also experimented with .41 and .357 automag chamberings with the .44amp necked down to the smaller diameters-anyone know anything on those development results?

  7. Hmm – Mack Bolan never seemed to have a problem with his…it very reliably “opened up a third eye” in the foreheads of mafia thugs.

  8. Finally this icon is heading somewhere. Now it needs enough customers to pay for the cost of development plus some profit. I appreciate the detailed review by Ian.

    Does anybody know what it the asking price? I bet they will be sold in sets with different caliber barrels.

  9. Seven years of tweaking…

    What is arguably a fundamentally flawed design.

    I’ll start my argument with J M Browning’s combined slide and breech bolt.

    The Browning slide and bolt has all of the combined mass cycling all of the way.

    Momentum = mass × velocity

    Lots of mass means that Browning’s slide doesn’t need to be travelling as fast to be able to complete its cycle reliably.

    Lots of momentum allows the slide to overcome difficulties like sticky extraction, dirt in the action, poor feeding, getting fully locked and into battery again… more easily and reliably.

    Slower cycle allows more time for the magazine spring to raise the next round fully into position for feeding.

    A look at any and all of the pistols with a slide that stops part way and a seperate light bolt.

    Whether it’s a Schwarzlose, a Borchardt, a Luger, A Mauser 96, a Lahti…

    Will start to show either accelerator (all but the Mauser), or early un locking for the Mauser.

    Painfully stiff magazine springs, to lift the cartridges within the short cycle time – especially true of the Lahti.

    And often a reluctance to go fully into battery unless the bolt is allowed to go forward at full speed.

    There’s also the safety aspect, that it is very difficult for a properly constructed (so not a Walther P38 or a Beretta!) Browning slide to escape from the back of the gun to go party with the firer’s eye socket.

    The big Wildey, LAR and AMT Browning type pistols arguably use a better approach to design

    All of that said, I do wish the current owners luck.

    • Excellent analysis! It looks cool as a novelty, but (besides the flaws you noted) the cartridge seems like more trouble than it’s worth. 10mm double stacks in a reasonably human-sized grip, has a variety of factory pistols and ammo, and gets the same velocity from a bullet just 20gr lighter. In fact, since 10mm is tested in standard barrels and .44AMP most likely from this long one, it’s quite possible the (apples to apples) energy is the same.

    • Beretta solved the (quite fake) “problem” of the slide decades ago. It’s not possible for the Slide of a 92F/M9 to escape from the back of the gun.

      • My original point was that pistols with a seperate breech bolt, tend not to have the security against the internals coming our the back, and hitting the firer in the face, compared to pistols with a proper Browning slide.

        And I qualified that by excluding Beretta and Walter P38 slides.

        The problem with Beretta slides snapping, may have been patched now,

        but,

        Beretta slides snapping was hardly a fake problem.

        Iirc, several pistols in one depot snapped. There were projects to produce an enclosed slide and there was substitution with SIG Sauer pistols.

        There’s also the not so fake matter that the problem was ongoing in the first decade of this century

        Compared to Browning having cured the problem of his slides coming off the back of his pistols a century earlier.

        Beretta may have addressed the problem in current military inventory

        They still have a legacy of around a previous half century of pistols using the slide with thin rails and two dirty great stress raising locking cut outs in that already stressed area, and no cheese headed screw to stop the back of a snapped slide coming off and getting friendly with the firer’s face.

        Going deeper into the question

        What were the problems that Walther and Beretta engineers were trying to address by using the seperate locking block and a cut away slide?

        Were these real problems?

        Or were they imaginary problems?

        Why were they not using already established principles which by that time, were already out of patent?

        • Actually pistols with a separate breech bolt can be very secure against the internals coming out the back, and hitting the shooter in the face.

          The slide “problem” was caused by firing thousands of rounds that developed pressure in excess of proofloads, so yes, I would call it quite fake, and the modification that makes impossible for the slide to leave the frame had been made in the ’80s, so decades ago.
          They have a legacy of around a previous half century of reliable and appreciated pistols. None of them had been known for any particular weakness, until someone started firing thousands of rounds that developed pressure in excess of proofloads from one of their models. Mind that, in the Joint Service Small Arms Program all the Browinig designs suffered of frame breakages in the life-cycle test. The Beretta didn’t.

          Why doing things differntly from another design would require a “problem” to “solve”? Who decided that Browning’s system was “estabilished principle” and not one of many designs that could be bettered? It’s not like there should be a “problem” if people don’t do things the way you like.
          Since the 92F won the Joint Service Small Arms Program, that was the estabilished principle.

    • No accelerator on the Nambu (that should need it more than the others, due to the underpowered cartridge), I can’t see one in the Schwarzlose 1898 and the slight acceleration the unlocking causes on the bolts of the Borchardt, Luger and the Glisenti is more a side effect than something necessary for the pistol to work (it comes handy when the same system is applied on more powerful bottlenecks cartridges, that need an accelerator).
      The real purpose of the accelerator, and that’s why we see it on short recoil machineguns, whose bolts certainly don’t need to be heavier to work, is to start extracting the case from the chamber when the barrel is still moving, so that, when the barrel stops, the case isn’t snatched from the chamber, suddenly passing, in respect to it, from “0” to maximum speed, since the too abrupt extraction can damage the case and even cause case head separation.
      In the case of the Automag it also reduces felt recoil (and extends the life of the frame), since part of the energy of the recoiling barrel is transfered to the frame before the end of it’s travel.

  10. I’d say it’s been all CAD / CAM / CIMed / SPCed and SIX SIGMAed to hell and back and certainly CNC machined, eliminating all possibility of human error.
    Seriously, stainless metallurgy, particularly for firearms applications is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was 50 years ago. I wish the organization nothing but success. The AutoMag has been the mythical Unicorn since I was an adolescent, and if it’s been perfected I’m glad for anybody who can afford one.

  11. I owned a TDE Automag in .44 AMP, 6.5″ bbl for about 6 or 7 years, and mine ran reliably, was accurate and overall very satisfactory, until one day, it slam fired after dropping a round in the chamber, and releasing the bolt. Just as you mentioned, the too heavy firing pin set off the round before the breech was fully closed. No injury resulted but the frame ring supporting the bolt rotation pin was cracked. I sent it to a gunsmith recommended by the most well known Automag “expert” of the day, Lee Jurras, and that gunsmith delayed, and delayed, and kept the gun, ultimately disappeared and could no longer be contacted by mail of phone, half a continent away, essentially stealing the gun, not repairing it, unfortunately.

    I’ve ordered a replacement just today. I hope it performs as well as my original.

  12. Is the AutoMag Curse Over?

    No. While the curse of the prior renditions being lousy firearms may be over, whereas they have certainly dome well in improving the reliability and quality, what a terrible time to release an expensive, novelty firearm with narrow interest combined with an esoteric cartridge that is not readily available unless you reload, and even with that, there is scarcity of reloading components and surely to be an insufficient supply of cases unless someone brings them to market in meaningful volume. The .44AMP is a mistake and dead-on-arrival; no other firearm is chambered for it, and it’s not something that can be commonly found. They should have chambered it in something that can be found in other firearms, such as the .458-SOCOM, .458-WinMag, .50AE, etc., that would generate greater interest and ammo readily available in support.

    Their overhead costs are likely staggering in this current situation of supply-chain shortages and lag times, FED interest rate increases that really hurt growth companies who operate on loans and/or rely on their suppliers who may be operating on such loans, as well as they will be up against the worst inflation levels in over 50 years, and approaching the worst recession impact in U.S. history – which will assuredly curb consumer spending on goods like this.

    So even if they have cured the current offering of all its past problems, the very reason I never bought one in the past (but did buy Wildeys, Desert Eagles, and LAR Grizzlies) they will be up against so many other external forces beyond their control that this will once again be a short-live venture.

    I wish them all the best – just not seeing it happen.

    • “(…)insufficient supply of cases unless someone brings them to market in meaningful volume(…)”
      Wait… is not .44 AMP case crafted by chopping 7,62 x 51 NATO case? Is supply of latter low?

      • Correct – however without extrapolating on every facet in my earlier post, my point is that this still presents an esoteric approach to creating the ammunition needed, and still relegates the gun to a small niche of shooting enthusiasts like you or me that will take the time to do just that.

        And in the past, the brass suppliers did not embrace supplying ready-made .44AMP cases. Maybe someone like Starline will pick it up, but they typically only do so if there is enough demand first; a chicken-and-the-egg situation. Will enough people buy this new rendition to create demand for ready-made brass for manufacturers of ammunition, which leads to over-the-counter ammunition? Likely not.

        For this to be successful for the general consumer, and not just a few sales to die-hards willing to craft their own ammo, it requires ammunition that is more readily available over the counter.

        Now add to the fact that reloading components (particularly primers) are in a shortage/inflated cost in order for you to build on the cases you created, and the company is entering the market at the worst possible time.

        • Converting AutoMag to different cartridge seems to be not easy task, according to http://www.amtguns.net/articles/bruce-stark/auto-mag-cartridges/
          The author and Ed O’Neil approached Harry Sanford about him making up some Auto Mag barrels to shoot it. Harry said no. We approached Bob Barbasiewicz and he agreed to make up ten 10.5″ barrels chambered in .45 Win Mag.

          The .45 Win Mag cartridge had a case length of 1.198″ and an overall length of 1.575″. The shorter overall length adds to chambering problems. Any feeding problem results in the cartridge getting caught sideways in the receiver.

          In July of 1980 the factory, AMT, made up two experimental .45ACP magnum barrels to test the .45ACP Magnum and .45 Win Mag cartridges. One barrel was 8.5″ and the other was 10.5″ long. When using Winchester .45 Win Mag ammo, it was determined that the barrel would have to be 10.5″ long in order to develop the velocities required to cycle the gun. When .45 Win Mag cartridges were shot in the .45ACP Magnum chambered barrel, case separations were quite common.
          So I found that they did not attempted to change caliber understandable.

  13. As a range officer, I have witnessed several owners of a .357 Desert Eagle and I tend to assume that .44 Auto Mag owners are of the same mould.
    This type of gun is in my experience typically bought purely as a boost to the ego of the new owner.
    Then the new owner realizes that shooting them is, well, unpleasant. Not to mention the difficulty to hit anything worth mentioning (fault of the user, not the gun). The search for a less recoil prone “match” load begins.
    In the end, the gun (and sometimes its proud owner) quietly ceases to show up on the range.
    Note the use of the male gender “owner”. I never observed a woman (excellent shots among them) being interested in this class of handgun.

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