The Last Swiss Battle Rifle: SIG-Manurhin 542 (in .243)

After the failure of the SIG 530 rifle (a gas operated, roller locked design), SIG looked for a much simpler rifle design, in both operation and manufacture. Wheat they came up with was fundamentally AK-like, with a two-lug rotating bolt in a very AK-like carrier and a long stroke gas piston. The upper and lower assemblies of the rifle were both made of sheet steel stampings. The whole design is very easily disassembled, economical to produce, and reliable in the field. The main focus was on a 5.56mm version with hopes for Swiss military adoption (which would indeed come to pass). However, as a way to hedge its bets, SIG also scaled the rifle up slightly for a 7.62mm NATO sized cartridge, and designated this the SG 542.

Swiss law prevented SIG from selling rifles to foreign military powers, so instead SIG licensed the design to Manurhin of France. They made both military and civilian copies of the 540 and 542 between 1978 and 1988. The civilian copies were in .222 Remington and .243 Winchester, as French law heavily restricted civilian ownership of military caliber rifles at the time. Only a few were imported into the US, and this example from Larry Vickers’ collection also includes a very scarce original SG542-marked Hensoldt scope and mount.


  1. Designated military calibres were Categorie 1er, requiring authorisation to purchase. I believe you could buy full auto in this group, having seen them advertised in Cibles magazine. With a ten round magazine, this would be Cat. 4, sold freely to anyone over 18. There were a lot of .243 and .222 versions of rifles to facilitate ease of legal possession.

    The old French laws were very interesting in what was subject to authorisation, and what was sold freely.

  2. Another fine video on another obscure rifle!

    May I tell you how to do your job? Hah! Hah!
    Since today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada, I was half-expecting you to present a blunderbuss – or whatever other hunting rifle was carried by the Mayflower Pilgrims when they landed – in Massachewsetts in 1620.
    May I suggest that you present a Pilgrim rifle on American Thanksgiving Day?

    Enjoy your Thanksgiving

    • What is this rifle thou speaks of? No BS,it would be several decades before German settlers introduced the rifle to the area of the future USA. John Adams, writing in 1775, had no idea what a rifle was; New Englanders carried smoothbores.

      • In fact, the Pilgrims most likely had matchlock military-pattern muskets. They were about the only weapons they could afford. Wheellock pistols would probably have been carried by the military contingent (Miles Standish and etc.).

        As for flintlocks, starting from the Netherlands as they did, they might have had either Dutch snaphances or even some Spanish miquelet lock types, the latter probably pistols intended for cavalry. But those would likely have been “budget busters”.

        The actual arms used by the Pilgrims have long been obscured by tradition, myth and bad though well-intentioned artwork. It would be a good subject for an entire book.



  3. I’ve read that India had similar prohibitions on military cartridge firearms getting into civilian hands. The report I saw said that this was to settle concerns about military supplies being stolen for black market sale. Hence a civilian could own a .45, but nothing in .380/200.

    • .450 caliber rifles were prohibited in British India, even Express rifles. Hence such things as .475s. .58 caliber weapons, such as .577 Blackpowder Express and the later .577 Nitro Express were prohibited as well.

      The reason was that bullets and moulds for those calibers could be used to reload ammunition for both .577/.450 Martini-Henry and the older .577 Snider-Enfield rifles, both of which were known to be in the hands of Hindi and Muslim revolutionists, Afridi tribesmen along the Frontier, and etc.

      Why make things easy for them?



  4. If we talk about the acceptability of the design, then SIG540 is rather a synthesis of FN CAL and the Garand bolt.
    This is where the similarities with AK end.

  5. Any semi automatic assault rifle(no full auto) in a nonmilitary caliber (7/08 243 and 222 were favorites)were freely for sale in France till 1992.You just had to be 18 and rich
    if they were in .223 308 or any military caliber and this included military bolt guns such as the lebel springfield etc they were in 1st catagory
    clips were full load ie 30 shots. Silencers were unregulated and I remember many a happy afternoon in the garden with a friends silenced ar15 in .222

  6. As a happy owner of one of these, the magazines are interesting :
    10 and 20 rounds share the same spring, making it difficult to load the 10th round on the 10 rounder. The 30 rounds magazine has a guided spring that follows a path in the bent metal sheet because unlike the 10 and 20 rds it is curved, quite a beast, 22″ long,the bipod is barely usable.
    Strangely mine is fitted with a flash hider but that might be something added after.
    The gas block has quite some slack (half a millimeter) but is usual on used weapons of this type according to other owners. Maybe a shim on the cut on the barrel can fix that.
    Some journalists of a french firearms magazine (AMI n° 11 juillet/aout 1980) tested the military versions (.223 and .308) and even launched rifle grenades ! A french company makes reproduction resin rifle grenades (40mm APAV).
    The .223 version was used in Lebanon by french forces, mainly marine infantry because the MAS 49 was totally surpassed by the AKs of the other guys.
    I’ll be happy to share scans of the magazines (in french) I have about that firearm and its variants.
    Reloaders glued a piece of rubber at the end of the ejection port to avoid brass to be massacred, the ejector, a protruding piece of metal of the bolt rails inside the receiver is a lot back in regards of the ejection port, the brass will inevitably bounce against the top cover and be barely usable.
    Some last word : hunting cartridges with heavy bullets will make it explode. If the cartridge doesn’t fit in the magazine, feeding it manually is a terrible idea : the bullet will be seated back by the rifling and the chamber on the .243 WIN is quite tight, two parameters leading to over pressure issues quite rapidly. An article mentions firing 90 grains and 100 grains bullet without problems.

  7. There is a full-auto Manurhin 542 in .308 coming up for sale in Kessler’s auction (Switzerland) in 2 weeks.

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