Many consider them to be the Cadillacs of Kalashnikovs. The Valmet line of AK-type rifles are not only the first civilian AKs imported into this country, they also set the bar high in terms of quality and features.
Finland was one of the first countries outside the Iron Curtain to adopt a Kalashnikov-based service rifle. Smuggling Soviet-licensed AK-47s out of Poland in the mid-1950s, the Finns went to work refining the design to their own tastes. The result, called the Rk 62, was adopted as Finland’s service rifle, and more than half a century later the rifles are still soldiering on with the Finnish Defence Forces.
The Rk 62 was produced by two companies, Valmet and Sako. The state-owned Valmet was formed when several heavy industrial factories merged to form Valtion Metallitehtaat (State Metalworks), a name shortened to ValMet. Along with rifles, Valmet produced tractors and aircraft.
By the late 1960s, Valmet was looking to export firearms to expand its market. Though the company only succeeded in selling rifles to the governments of Qatar and Indonesia, it also exported semi-automatic-only Valmets to the European and American civilian markets.
Seven models of the Valmet AK were imported into the United States by four companies. These included the Model 62, a semi-automatic version of the Rk 62, a stamped-receiver Model 71 that mimicked the AKM, and the Model 78 with its RPK-esque long barrel and bipod.
Valmet also exported two unique AK designs. The Model 82 bullpup was developed for Finnish airborne troops, and the Valmet Hunter was an AK action mated to a hunting-style stock. The Hunter was chambered in .223 Rem., .243 Win., .308 Win. and .30-’06 Sprg., and it came with a scope mount on its receiver dustcover.
The most prolific Valmet import was the Model 76, which was chambered in .308 Win., 7.62x39 mm and .223 Rem., the latter being the preferred cartridge, as the Russian round was uncommon in the United States at the time. The Model 76 could be had with milled or stamped receivers and either a fixed wood or plastic stock, or a folding tube stock.
The Valmet Model 76 was produced from 1976 to 1986. In 1987, the firearms side of Valmet was privatized and merged with Sako. In 1989, AK-type Valmet models were banned by name from U.S. importation.
The high-quality fit and finish of the Valmets and their refined features, such as night sights and wooden furniture, kept the rifles popular with shooters and collectors. Two things that hinder Valmet owners are the lack of spare parts and magazines. Although 7.62x39 mm Valmets use standard AK magazines, the .223 and .308 Valmet magazines are proprietary and not interchangeable with any other AK magazines on the market. As a result, original Valmet magazines in these chamberings are very pricey, with pristine examples going in the $150-$300 range.
The Valmet Model 76 pictured was imported by Valmet, Inc., of Elmsford, N.Y. and has the “beer keg” logo on the left side of the receiver. Allegedly, these rifles were made for the Indonesian Coast Guard and then diverted to fulfill American civilian demand.
This rifle is in excellent condition and still has its original box, sling and manual. As stamped-receiver, fixed-stock rifles in .223 Rem. are the most common Valmets, the rifle is valued at $2,000. Less common Model 76s, such as those with milled receivers, folding stocks or those chambered in 7.62x39 mm can approach five figures. Are they the best AKs ever made? Valmet collectors are voicing their opinions with their wallets.
Gun: Model 76
Manufacturer: Valmet, Finland
Chambering: .223 Rem.
Manufactured: 1976 to 1986
Condition: NRA Excellent (Modern Gun Standards)