Rifles > Historical

Firearm Ideas That Failed

For every firearm design that flourished and went on to fame and fortune, several others arrived with great fanfare only to fizzle out at a very young age. Here are a few examples of underachievers.

From Gyrojets that fired miniature rockets to a hunting rifle with an on-board computer, many seemingly harebrained ideas have actually made it into the firearm marketplace. But those revisited here didn’t get far before they were scuttled due to lack of consumer demand. What? Your gun doesn’t fire Trounds? Read on.

Standard Arms Model G Semi-Automatic RifleStandard Arms Model G Rifle
Many firearm enthusiasts know the Model 1917 Browning Automatic Rifle was the first gas-operated rifle to be adopted by the U.S. Government. Few are aware of an earlier rifle with an action of the same type designed for sporting use. Patented in 1906 by Morris F. Smith and manufactured by Standard Arms Co. of Wilmington, Del., it was called the Model G and was offered in the then-new Remington family of rimless cartridges in .25, .30, .32 and .35 calibers. A port near the end of the barrel channels propellant gas through a valve into a long cylinder, which was often mistaken by those not familiar with the rifle as a magazine tube. A piston inside the cylinder is connected to dual action bars which in turn are connected to the breech bolt. Turning the valve to its “off” position prevents gas from entering the cylinder, allowing the rifle to be manually operated as a slide action.

One can only speculate on why its inventor chose to give his rifle the capability of both semi-automatic and manual operation. Smokeless propellants had been in common use for only a short time, and a possible reason was the lack of uniformity in factory ammunition available at the time. The two Model G rifles in .25 and .35 Rem. I have owned operated reliably with handloads loaded to maximum pressures, but a reduction in velocity of 100 to 150 f.p.s. caused both to malfunction. The velocity of ammunition exposed to extremely cold weather during an early 1900s hunt could easily have been lowered by that much. Adding to the rifle’s problems, propellant fouling buildup in the gas cylinder eventually leads to malfunctions. Poor maintenance may have also contributed to a reputation for unreliability.

The Model G has a top-ejecting action and an internal box magazine of five-round capacity. Cartridges are loaded through a hinged floorplate at the bottom of the receiver. Like other hunting rifles of the day, it easily takes down into two shorter pieces. A two-position safety lever is located inside the trigger guard. Machine work on the interior and exterior of the action is remarkably good given the tool and machining techniques of the time. The rear sight elevator, buttplate and slide handle are ornate brass castings.

Why the Model G failed to win the hearts of America’s deer hunters is easy to understand. Its competition, the recoil-operated Remington Model 8 and the blowback-operated Winchester Model 1907 were not as ammunition-sensitive and required less-frequent cleanings. A second variation called the Model M did not have the gas system and was capable only of manual operation. It had to compete with Remington’s Model 14 pump-action and, since I own one of those as well, it is easy for me to understand why hunters chose it over the Standard Arms rifle.

MBA Gyrojet Pistol and Rifle

 

MBA Gyrojet Pistol and Rifle
Despite being promoted by its manufacturer, MB Associates of San Ramon, Calif., as the firearm of the future, the Gyrojet’s time in the limelight proved to be nothing more than a dim flash in the pan. Rather than firing ammunition of conventional design, it used a rocket. Various diameters were said to be in the works but 13 mm received the most publicity, and it is the one I actually shot.

The round-nosed body of the rocket was hollow and made of drawn steel. At first glance it looked like an oversized .45 ACP cartridge. During assembly, a propellant charge was inserted into the body of the rocket and its rear end closed off by pressing into place what was described as a nozzle plate. At the center of the plate was a conventional pistol primer and positioned around it were several small vents. The barrel of the pistol had no rifling so the vents were angled to cause the rocket to rotate about its axis as propellant gas flowed through them during firing.

Rifles, carbines and pistols were built, all appearing to have been constructed from a toy erector set like I received at Christmas as a kid. The pistol was about the size of a Colt M1911 and weighed around 25 ounces. Rounds fed from a magazine inside the grip. The rear-facing, internal hammer was positioned at the bottom of the receiver just above its trigger and, when the trigger was pulled, the hammer traveled to the rear to strike the nose of the rocket. This drove its primer against a fixed firing pin, thereby igniting the propellant charge. Forward movement of the rocket cocked the hammer, readying the gun for the next shot.

Whereas a bullet fired from a cartridge of conventional design reaches its peak velocity inside the barrel, the rocket traveled through the barrel rather slowly and did not reach top velocity until fuel burnout at about 20 yards. This and poor accuracy are but two of several reasons why it failed to pass either military or civilian acceptance. On the positive side, manufacturing cost of the “throwaway launcher” was said to be less than a dollar, recoil was quite low and the report was more of a mild “whoosh” than a harsh “bang.” Those and a high “wow” factor for the 1960s was about all the Gyrojet system had going for it.

Daisy-Heddon VL Single-Shot RifleDaisy/Heddon V/L Rifle
The first successful attempt by an American at making ammunition with the propellant attached to the base of the bullet rather than enclosed by some type of case was the Rocket Ball patented by Walter Hunt in 1848. Variations of the idea later appeared from others, but the first one I shot was introduced in 1969 by Daisy/Heddon. Basically a piston-driven air rifle designed to handle caseless ammunition, it was called the V/L in honor of its Belgian inventor, Jules Van Langenhoven. The ammunition consisted of a small propellant charge attached to the base of a 29-grain, 0.224-inch diameter lead bullet. Its muzzle velocity was 1150 f.p.s.

Pulling a long lever housed in a slot at the bottom of the fore-end of the rifle compressed its spring and retracted the gas piston and cylinder, thereby exposing the chamber of the barrel. After a round was single-loaded directly into the chamber, pushing the lever moved the cylinder forward to seal off the breech end of the barrel while the piston was held back by the sear. Pulling the trigger allowed the piston to move forward, and the rapid compression of air increased its temperature to about 2,000 degrees. As the required level of pressure inside the cylinder was reached, a check valve at the front of the cylinder opened, allowing the super-heated air to enter the chamber and ignite the propellant.

There were a few shortcomings. Removing a round from the chamber required either firing it or opening the action, inserting a cleaning rod into the muzzle of the barrel and pushing it out. The ammunition duplicated the performance of the high-velocity .22 Rimfire Short, yet it cost more than the more popular .22 Long Rifle. At $29, the standard-grade rifle with its plastic stock was considerably more expensive than single-shot .22 rimfires from other companies and more than some repeaters. The Daisy/Heddon creation was interesting but, as sales would eventually prove, it had more things going against it than for it.

Smith & Wesson Model 53

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9 Responses to Firearm Ideas That Failed

SP Clark wrote:
May 14, 2014

There were a bunch of firearms used in Total Recall (the movie). Sig Sauer, S&W, H&K, Beretta on the conventionals list, Chiappa's Rhino D50S pistols & TDI'S vector subgun on the weird-looking side. My own nomination for this subject would be the autoloading revolver and rifle offered up by Mateba from Italy a decade or so ago. Do a search & you'll find 'em out there still....

Chris Seung wrote:
April 29, 2014

My first semi-auto shotgun was a Winchester Model 59. My Dad bought it for me as a reward for getting straight A's in grade school. He also shot a model 59. I still have it and I also have my Dad's Model 59. They are great for hunting pheasant, quail and doves. The reason why Winchester quit making them is because they could not handle magnum shotshells. The aluminum receiver would crack. Anything else, including high-base pheasant loads, would not damage the gun. Recoil was negligible because there was a spring loaded piston in the stock that reduced recoil by over 50[%]. I still shoot my Model 59's and continue taking pheasant and quail with them. It's been reliable for over 50 years!

Ernesto wrote:
April 25, 2014

I think you mean the Claridge Hi Tec by Goncz company, Jay. I own the carbine version and its definitely very strange and rarely does it work. Looks cool though.

Erich D wrote:
April 25, 2014

The Mid-Century Modern design of the MBA Gyrojet shows us how boring, uninspired and entrenched the firearms industry is. Build something like this on a common platform and lets see how it sells! My favorite gun in my safe is a Savage Arms pistol model 1907. It's design has an Art Nouveau look. If we want to counter the 'ugly gun' movement this would be another way to do it!

Michel wrote:
April 25, 2014

Hopefully the new rifles will meet the same end as the old Remington EtronX rifle...

Dan M wrote:
April 25, 2014

Let's hope that the RFID microchipped gun that the 'Justice' Department wants to force on us ends up on this list as well.

Robb F wrote:
April 25, 2014

Had a 6 inch Model 53 for a while. Only had the .22LR cylinder with it. Guessing a previous owner might have ditched the .22 Jet for the reasons mentioned in the article. Accurate as heck though!

Jay Michaels wrote:
April 25, 2014

There was another hand gun that failed to grab the publics attention, but none-the-less was used in the Arny Schwartznegger movie, 'Total Recall' I met the inventer trying to sell the guns at the L.A. fairgrounds one summer, (when it was legal to have gun shows back in 'the good old days') but for the life of me I can't remember the name of it. Sounded kind of Polish, as I recall. Can someone come up with the name?

Tom H. wrote:
April 22, 2014

It seems to me that radically innovative firearm designs often have to be popularized by military use before they are accepted as normal by consumers of sporting arms, although there are many exceptions to this generalization especially among shotguns. When an individual considers buying into a new gun design, he has to wonder whether other gun owners will also accept it. Otherwise he could be stuck with a discontinued model from a company that has gone belly up. That is what I thought about when the owner of my favorite gun store showed me a Boberg with its reverse-feed mechanism. I wasn't interested.