More than 6 million M1 Carbines were made between August 1941 and June 1945 (6,221,220 to be exact). Intended to be a better personal arm than the M1911A1 .45 ACP pistol for support troops and those encumbered by heavy weapons, the “U.S. Carbine Cal. .30, M1” ended up being the U.S. military’s most-produced arm ever. But try buying one now.
Sure, you can find them, but all-original guns go for as much as $3,500 (for a nice folding-stock M1A1), and even U.S. government rebuilds of fixed-stock guns can go for $800 and up. A host of carbines were provided to America’s allies under various military assistance programs, but most have not returned due to import restrictions. They also cannot be sold to individuals though the Civilian Marksmanship Program.
At a couple of recent gun shows, the best deal I was able to find was a very, very beat-up Inland import with a bore that looked like it had only traces of rifling and an oily, Korean-made stock that was turning to mush. The price: $575, firm. These days, if you want a nice shooter, you end up competing with the ever-growing carbine collecting fraternity. And collectors risk devaluing pristine examples through a lot of shooting.
That’s why, at the SHOT Show two years ago, I was literally stopped in my tracks by the sight of an M1 Carbine resting on the lowest peg of a rack in the Kahr Arms/Auto-Ordnance booth. It had the late parts and ventilated-metal handguard of the IAI M1 Carbine we reviewed in these pages in January 2001.
“You don’t make these,” I said to Frank Harris, the firm’s vice president of sales and marketing, as I turned the gun over and over in my hands.
“We do now,” he replied.
“Plenty of guys will buy and enjoy this gun,” I said, pointing out the late parts and ventilated-metal top handguard. “And good for them. But what you ought to make is a gun that looks just like a World War II gun, a D-Day gun.” I went through the gun part-by-part—flat bolt, flip sight, push-button safety, barrel band sans bayonet lug, etc., etc.—first with Frank, then Sam Wada, vice president of client operations, and finally company owner Justin Moon. “If you have to make new parts anyway, you might as well make parts that guys want,” I advised them.
I arranged for my friend Phil Schreier from NRA’s National Firearms Museum to send his personal, pristine March 1943 Saginaw-made M1 Carbine for Sam and his colleagues to study. (I’ve asked Phil to leave the Saginaw to me in his will in the event anything unfortunate ever happens to him.) Last year at the SHOT Show, Sam took me through the gun part-by-part and let me know the progress of the project. In November 2005, the result of their efforts arrived in a brown cardboard box emblazoned with “Made With Pride In the U.S.A.”
Kahr had been machining receivers for IAI, but after some business difficulties with IAI, Kahr decided to go into carbine production under its Auto-Ordnance name, which fits, as Auto-Ordnance produced receivers and some other parts for International Business Machines during World War II. These original guns were marked “ao” below the serial number. The new guns have the two-line “u.s. carbine cal 30 m1” on top of the receiver’s front and a lightly engraved “auto-ordnance worcester, ma” at its top rear. The serial number is on the receiver’s left, not on the top like the original guns.