In the late 1950s and early 1960s, France was seriously considering joining the NATO small arms standardization. They were equipped with the MAS 49/56 semiauto rifle at this point, and were looking at three possibilities:
1 – Convert the 49/56 rifles to 7.62 NATO. (This was actually tested with poor results; the gas system was not easily converted to handle the much higher port pressure of the NATO cartridge)
2 – Adopt the FAL.
3 – Adopt a new domestic-production rifle in 7.62 NATO.
It was this third option that led to the rifle we are looking at today. After a wide variety of prototypes from all the different French design bureaus, it was determined that the best was a MAS design that used many elements form the FAL. Specifically, the Type 62 used the bolt design and tilting locking system form the 49/56, the short-stroke gas piston form the FAL, the gas cutoff and rifle grenade hardware form the 49/56, the receiver and top cover form the FAL, and a novel striker-fired trigger system. The Type 62 maintained all the capabilities of the 49/56 (including mounting an APX L806 scope) and added a pistol grip, 20-round standard magazine, bipod mount, and full-auto option in the fire control system. About 65 Type 62 rifles were produced, and were tested sufficiently that the rifle was considered suitable for development into mass production.
At this point, however, the larger strategic decisions came into play. The cost of adopting an all-new infantry rifle was significant, and the new design really didn’t do anything except for ammunition compatibility with NATO in the case of a full-fledged land war. The fully automatic function was of dubious utility (both the US and UK would quickly remove the full auto function from their M14s and SLRs). The 7.62 NATO cartridge was very close to 7.5 French in size and ballistics, not offering the reduced size compared to .30-06 or the rimless case compared to .303 British. French high commend decided that the money needed to buy FALs or Type 62s would be better spend on other strategic priorities, like a new medium tank or nuclear missile development. And so when it came to the infantry rifle question, they chose:
4 – Do nothing.
Curiously, the program to convert French machine guns to 7.62 NATO did move forward, with the AA-F1 replacing the AA-52 in the 1960s. But the rifles remained in 7.5 French until the adoption of the FAMAS in 5.56mm NATO some 15 years later.
Many thanks to the IRCGN (Criminal Research Institute of the National Gendarmerie) for generously giving me access to film this exceptionally rare specimen for you! They maintain an extensive firearms reference collection as part of their mission to fight crime and international terrorism.