Monday, February 19, 2018

Small Arms Maintenance, the M16, and Brownells “Retro” AR-15's.

Copyright 2018 by Michael H. Maggelet

As a nuclear weapons specialist, one of my five additional duties was unit armorer. While stationed in central Germany in the late 1980’s, myself and two fellow gun nuts (excuse me, armorers) maintained our shop’s stock of M16 rifles. These ranged from early issue Colt/Armalite stamped Model 601’s, and a decent number of Model 602’s and 604’s. It was interesting to field strip, inspect, clean, and then reassemble these rifles and note the differences in the versons, since the 601’s dated back to the earliest Colt production in Air Force contracts of 1963 and 1964. These rifles were supplied to the US Navy SEAL’s, advisors in Viet Nam, and to the USAF.

  Surprisingly, the rifles in our shop were not well worn, and retained their parkerized coating. There were a few that had typical AF “preventive maintenance” which consisted of a few dabs of black paint. Our 601’s did not have the original brown fiberglass furniture painted green (some were painted black), but had the early black non-trapdoor buttstock, standard nylon triangular handguards, and early three prong flash hider.  
  Internally, the early rifles all had chromed carriers and bolts, large firing pin, and machined firing pin retaining pin. A few I remember did have the early Edgewater buffer. All other features were typical of the 601, including dimpled take down pins, which I verified referencing a 1982 copy of “Small Arms of the World” by Edward Clinton Ezell. I wish I had copied some of the serial numbers down for future reference. On a more interesting note, we had five GAU-5/P's on order, however the first Gulf War in 1990 pretty much put a damper on that acquisition.
  The 602 and 604 rifles were a combination of parts, with some minor differences due to replacement by Combat Arms Training and Maintenance (CATM). All had birdcage style flash hiders.  Our limited maintenance included monthly inspection and cleaning, since many of the bores were not chrome lined, and we only called CATM when parts were damaged. A case in point was a damaged handguard which was found after an exercise, with a missing tooth in the handguard. Instead of handing the replacement handguards to me, the CATM specialist insisted that he replace them, and I had to sign this individual into a restricted area, escort him, and then sign him into the armory where he replaced the handguard (with my help), and of course escorting him out of the area. A simple task which I could have performed in a few minutes, but took more than 30 minutes from our schedule.

  I don’t recall any failures to feed, nor jams when we qualified after arriving in Germany. Just about everyone in our shop shot “expert”, at least by Air Force standards (standard silhouette, all rounds in the 10 ring and you were an "expert marksman"). This included firing twenty 5.56 rounds at 50 yards on semi in the standing position (right and left barricade), prone (right and left shoulder), sitting, and kneeling.  I was one of the unfortunate few who had a hot brass land inside my BDU shirt compliments of the shooter to my left, resulting in a nice 5.56 case shaped burn on my neck. We did not qualify when I was in basic in 1980, since it was “too hot” at the range (100 deg Fahrenheit temps on Lackland AFB/San Antonio, Texas that year). Also, the rifles in basic used .22LR adapters, and not the standard 5.56x45mm round.

  One of the highlights was a German/American friendship shoot, where we fired Bundeswehr weapons to include the P8 pistol and MG 3 machine gun (I don't remember the rifle, perhaps the G3). One individual in our shop received the German "Schutzenschnur" marksmanship badge. 

  While many gun enthusiasts have changed parts of a civilian legal AR-15 to resemble a semi-auto Model 601, the supply of original parts now is extremely difficult to find. Parts such as chromed bolt carriers, bolts, takedown pins, and lower and upper receivers are reproduced by Nodak Spud of Minnesota, and by Brownells of Iowa. 
   Brownells has recreated the early Model 601 with some minor variations.


Model 601 characteristics                          Brownells BRN-01


Furniture is molded fiberglass,                     Polymer, light green.

Painted an OD green.                   


Edgewater buffer.                                         Standard AR-15/M16 buffer.


Chromed bolt carrier and bolt.                     Chromed bolt carrier and bolt.


Dimple on selector switch.                           Has M16A2 indicator notch on right                                                                                side of selector.


Dimples on take down pins.                          604 type pins.


Steel lined bore.                                             Chrome lined bore. 


  With the cost of a Colt AR-15 SP1 Sporter rising significantly (one 1964 specimen sold for $4,000), acquiring Brownells civilian legal, semi only variations of the Model 601, XM-16E1, M16A1, or XM-177 may just be the thing for you. That, or their version of the 7.62 NATO AR-10. 

Retro Black Rifle- website on various models and variations of the M16, starting with the Model 601-

Brownells Retro Rifles


Brownells website-


USAF training film on the M16, 1967-