The first time I seriously considered purchasing an AK-47 rifle was back in the mid 1990s. President Clinton's Federal Assault Weapons Ban had just been signed into law, and many of us felt motivated to find semi-automatic rifles with a greater-than-10-round magazine capacity and buy them up before they disappeared.
The relatively limited number of AK rifles available in the area where I lived were uninspiring. Yes, they were reasonably priced, chambered for the battle-proven and readily available 7.62x39 mm cartridge, and 30-round magazines were still in stock (though the prices were moving up quickly). But the plywood stocks looked slapdash at best, the accuracy was questionable and the actions felt rough. With no way to tell a 'good' one from a 'bad' one, and the lack of an in-country manufacturer to turn to if the gun was a lemon, the AKs were left behind as I moved on to other products.
For the most part, the AK-47 and its spin-offs have remained a relatively low priority on my shooting list over the years. I learned more about the history, design, and operation of the rifle and came to respect it, but my shooting resources continued to be funneled in other directions. But not too long ago I learned about a line of AK variants that caught my attention. They were the American-made, milled receiver Centurion 39 line of rifles from Century International Arms. Century imports a wide variety of surplus and new-manufacture firearms, but the Centurions are assembled in the company's Georgia, Vt., facility using an American labor force and home-grown components. While handling these rifles at SHOT Show earlier this year, it was easy to see that Century had resolved many of my concerns about the platform. One of the latest additions, the Classic model, was tested for this review.
Although the Centurion C39 Classic pays homage to the original Mikhail Kalashnikov design in both its outward appearance and operation, Century has made some noteworthy changes and improvements. Like the original rifle, the semi-automatic C39 employs a reliable long-stroke gas piston system to cycle 7.62x39 mm cartridges. But what immediately sets this rifle apart from the imports crowd is the quality of its fit and finish, and the American flag stamped on the left side of the receiver. The wood-to-steel and steel-to-polymer joints are nice and tight, and the rifle remains quiet when shaken.
This version of the C39 sports a 16.10" chrome-lined barrel, although un-chromed models are available for a lower price. The muzzle is fitted with an exclusive combination muzzle brake and flash hider with unusual chevron-shaped vents. It does a good job of reducing muzzle rise and reducing felt recoil. The gas block does have a milled-in sling support, but the bayonet lug is absent, as is the cleaning rod usually found below the barrel. The lug was left off so that the rifle could be sold in states that forbid them while the rod was likely excluded as a cost reducing measure.
The iron sights look like the typical AK variety with a protected post in the front and a notched rear tangent calibrated for 100 to 800 meters. The front post is still adjustable for height but the windage adjustment has been moved to the rear sight blade. A small set screw placed directly below the rear sight notch can be loosened to move the blade left and right. This allows for a more precise adjustment without the need for a front-sight tool. The rifle does not have any rails for mounting optics. This limits the sighting options to the factory-installed iron or trading out the wooden gas tube guard for a railed one to support a scout or red dot scope.
While milled receivers are more expensive to produce than stamped ones, they provide greater rigidity, durability and tighter tolerances. This receiver starts out as an 11-lb. billet of 4140 ordnance-grade steel that is whittled down to just 1.50 lbs. when completed. Unlike some milled receiver AKs, which can cost upwards of $1000, Century has listed this rifle with an MSRP of $849, which translates into real-world prices in the $700 range.
The C39 has a set of controls and furniture that have been modified to make the rifle more comfortable to work with. The skeletonized bolt carrier cycled much more smoothly than some of its imported compatriots right out of the box. The safety lever has a reduced level of tension so it is easier to move up and down, and the magazine release is wider. The narrow profile black polymer grip features a finger-grooved front strap, checkered side panels and thumb grooves on both sides making it comfortable to hold for small and large hands alike.
The G2 trigger group, laminated wood stocks, and 30-round magazines are provided by The American Parts Company, Inc. (Tapco). The G2 trigger provides a definite step up in performance with a smooth trigger pull that broke cleanly at 3 lbs., 11 ozs. The laminated wood Timbersmith handguards and shoulder stock are well-made, handsome and available in a blond, brown or gray finish. The shoulder stock features a grooved, steel butt plate, a rear sling mount, and features a 12.75" length-of-pull (LOP). It's held in place by a single screw through an upper receiver tang and two screws mounted through a lower tang. While the addition of a lower tang provides plenty of support for the stock, it does limit the number of aftermarket stocks that will fit the rifle.
The C39 Classic arrived with two of the black ribbed polymer Tapco Intrafuse 30-round magazines. I've heard mixed reviews of the Intrafuse but the AR-15 models I've worked with have proven to be reliable. So, I contacted Tapco and asked for a few extra magazines to work with. What I got was a box full of 5, 10-, 20- and 30-round magazines with smooth and ribbed sides in various colors. I ran them all in the course of testing ammunition that ranged from imported steel-case ball to premium brass-case hunting loads. Other than one failure to feed in the first 20 rounds fired, all of the Tapco magazines worked swimmingly. I also managed to wrangle up a couple of the Magpul 30 AK/AKM MOE model PMAGs, and they ran without a hitch as well.
After an enjoyable time spent sighting in and working off the bench, the C39 Classic was set into a bench rest for formal accuracy testing. The five 5-shot groups were fired into targets set at 100 yds. using the factory-installed iron sights. The AK-47 is not known for producing tack-driving accuracy, and this rifle was no exception. However, it did produce better groups than some examples of the breed and it did shoot consistently with group sizes hovering right around the 3" mark. Winchester Super X 123-gr. soft points turned in the best single group of 2.55" with an average of 2.83". Federal American Eagle 124-gr. full-metal jacket rounds averaged 3.06", followed by Red Army Standard 123-gr. full-metal jacket loads at 3.30".
Century International Arms has successfully reproduced the rugged reliability of the AK-47 in the Centurion C39 Classic while making marked improvements to the platform's controls, quality and appearance. Without the means to attach an optic to the rifle, the C39 is limited to applications appropriate for iron sights. If you want a tacti-cool milled, receiver AK with more rails than you can shake a rifle-mounted flashlight at, Century has one in the Centurion line. But if you like the sleek lines of the original AK, then the Classic is the way to go.
Century International Arms Centurion 39 Classic
Manufacturer: Century International Arms
Model: Centurion 39 ClassicAction: semi-automatic rifle
Caliber: 7.62x39 mm
Receiver: milled billet 4140 steel
Finish: matte black parkerized
Stocks: Laminated Black Wood, Blond and Brown Available
Grip: checkered black polymer
Sights: AK-type adjustable
Barrel: 16.10", chrome-lined; six groove, 1:16" RH
Overall Length: 37.38" (listed as 37.38")
Length of Pull: 12.75"
Weight: 8.20 lbs.
Capacity: Accepts AK-47 magazines
Twist: 1:16" RH
Accessories: two Tapco Intrafuse 30-round magazines, owner's manual