Winchester Mystery Prototype: Melvin Johnson does Project SALVO?

This rifle is a Winchester semiauto prototype that has no documentation I could find in any source. So, today we will take a look at what we can possibly extrapolate from its various features. It will be a fun exercise, and if any archival record of it ever comes to light we will get to see if any of my guesses were anywhere near correct…

For the record, my best guess is that it was made in the early to mid 1950s under the direction of Melvin Johnson as a testbed for a flechette or multiple-projectile cartridge design for the US military.

Thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum for allowing me access to film this mystery rifle! Check them out here:


    • Ian said it was .30 caliber, exact cartridge unknown. And he looked down the barrel, and saw some residue. He refers to it as a rifle. I do not recall seeing that during several visits to the Winchester factory museum in the 1960’s.

  1. There are certainly shotgun features. The shape of the bolt carrier and the trigger mechanism suggest the Winchester 1200/1400 series, which appeared post ’64.
    Apart from the multi lug bolt, it does not appear to have anything in common with the Model 100 rifle which would have been a contemporary.
    There is no magazine catch, but there is a rectangular opening on the rear of the magazine housing. Perhaps the magazine had the catch, like the Johnson/Madsen magazines.

  2. Certainly with a rotary bolt that locks into the barrel and not the receiver (such as was incorporated into the 1964-introduced Model 1200 pump shotgun which replaced the Model 12 (1912-1957) whose bolt did not lock inside the barrel) I can imagine Winchester toying with experimental box magazine rifles derived from an existing shotgun action.

  3. First, semi-auto shotguns have action bars (not just pump actions) like this mystery rifle. The Remington 74/740/7400’s are very shotgun-esque. So I would say it does owe it’s lineage to a shotgun.
    I’m going to guess it’s probably a one-off, not a prototype for some project. Someone was allowed to tinker and came up with this. Maybe the guy thought it’d be better than the M14, maybe a competitor to the Remington semi-autos? Who knows!
    The pistol grip shape reminds me of the VZ58.

    • “The pistol grip shape reminds me of the VZ58.”
      This detail got my attention too, although here the curvature is taken bit too far. I prefer straighter grip; even on vz.58 it is curved more than it needs to be.

  4. That trigger assembly certainly looks like it came from a Winchester 1200, which would date the piece to 1964 or after. The gap is where the slide release would have been on a pump action shotgun. The bolt design bears a strong resemblance to the 1400 series autoloading shotgun with a heavily beefed up bolt head and locking lugs. The action bars (what little we see of them) suggests the gas system may have been cribbed from the Model 100 series rifle, and the rather chunky forearm tends to support this in my mind. Not sure what they were trying to accomplish, but based on the trigger group alone I suspect this piece actually dates from the mid to late 1960s. Great video, and a fascinating piece!

    • Same thoughts here.

      Fascinating thing, though. I can’t see what role it would be intended to fill that wasn’t already filled by something better, except as a competitor of some kind to the Remington 740/7400 series.

  5. Shame oh shame… this should have stayed in New Haven where it was born! Part of old factory could have been turned into museum. This is too far to go for those who live on the east side.

  6. This is my favorite kind of content, rampant speculation about something really different, new and interesting. I wonder what the twist rate is, would that differ from a standard .30 rifle if it is indeed a multi projectile project?

  7. Seems really well finished to just be a proof of concept. Yet would have a hard time seeing a military adopting it as it appears to be a bit impractical for field stripping.

    What retains the magazine?

    • The nice finish could still be proof of concept, if the concept was to build an inexpensive 7.62 rifle from existing parts. Raid the shotgun line for receivers and whatnot, use leftover sights and furniture, make a new barrel and bolt, and we have an inexpensive 7.62 NATO military rifle. They may have used an existing .308 barrel from a sporting rifle as the starting point for the barrel….
      The business case becomes the problem. Winchester would have to compete with the FN FAL and the British SLR variant, and later the CETME and G3. A new rifle from Winchester, or a rifle adopted by militaries worldwide? Hard to justify the investment in further development.

  8. I watched this with my father who worked at Winchester as an engineer from the mid 70s until they closed the New Haven plant. He looked at it and said “looks like a Browning”.

  9. I agree that this is more likely from the mid 1960’s. The trigger group appears to be a stock unit from a Winchester 1200/1300 slide action shotgun. The semiauto 1400 did not have the action release cutout that is the empty slot behind the trigger. The 1200 was introduced in 1964, at essentially the same time that divides the ‘pre ’64 and post ’64 Winchester firearms.

  10. If I had to bet my guess would be it’s an experimental sporting rifle designed to compete with the Remington Woodsmaster which is based on the Remington 1100 action. I can’t see an experimental military rifle from that era that isn’t select fire. Had they liked the results it probably would have hit the market with walnut stocks. They used the green plastic because they had it and it was easier to mate up with a mistreated shotgun receiver than wood. That’s my guess

  11. That one’s been looked at a couple times, Historical Firearms misidentifies it as a Winchester SPIW variant, Nathaniel F. on TFB thinks it might be some flavor of Light Rifle prototype that apparently wasn’t documented. Definitely ’60s Winchester, that green fibreglass furniture is just like their SPIW entrant. My guess is it’s something that fell out of the juncture between Project SALVO, the Garand replacement trials and the SPIW.

  12. I really like this rifle. It looks as if Winchester wanted a piece of the 7.62mm battle rifle market, and were trying to see how easy it would be to adapt existing parts.

    I am not sure how robust it would have been for military use. The magazine looks like it was held in by friction, and there is a big opening for dirt behind the charging handle. Both of these issues could have been addressed. But the take down of a civilian shotgun, driving out pins, is not something a military would want. On the other hand, it could have had a good civilian and police market. In the 1960s, most NATO battle rifles were selective fire. so a semi-auto might well have proved popular.

    I’d like to see this on the market.

  13. Does no one think the fore-end is cribbed from the FAL, vents and all? Suggesting in turn a short-stroke impulse on the action bars, because it needs to vent gas up front?

    An extension spring as the main recoil spring strikes me as an audacious bet, and not a bad idea to both save space in the receiver and avoid heat distortion of a piston-wrapping recoil spring.

    Thanks to all the other detectives in this thread.

    • Dear D: It seems you’re on to something, but the 100 came out in 1961. So the shotgun trigger group of 1964 was borrowed from this (or was already in development), not the other way around?

  14. Is it just pure coincidence that the museum tag on the left side of the receiver includes the model number of a Remington shotgun?

  15. The prototype for the bolt and this trigger group was in its first forms , PRetty sure That particular trigger group sear surface is closer to the 100 than the 1200, WE will need Ian to open up the action to confirm. the widths of the individual surfaces on the bolt, and compare. This bolt design originated with the 88, (1953 development, 1955 release) and then was slightly modified for the 100 a few years later. the long model 100 type springs were also a clue, and is slightly modified in this weapon/incorporation.

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