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AMT Automag II

AMT Automag II
The First Successful Self-Loading Pistol
In .22 WMR Is Still A Peach.

Harry W. Sanford was one of those bigger-than-life entrepreneurs who strode into the firearms business, developed an incredible variety of advanced designs and then crash landed in an avoidable lawsuit.

Sanford is best known for his massive, stainless steel, rotary bolt Auto Mags in .44 and .357 AMP calibers which grabbed the public’s attention while flashing across the big screen in Clint Eastwood’s 1983 thriller Sudden Impact. Less glamorous, but made in much larger quantities at a price point the average shooter could afford, were his familiar AMT produced Backup, Hardballer and Automag II, III, IV and V stainless steel handguns plus a myriad of other pistol and rifle designs under a variety of corporate monikers.

Roger Renner, AMT’s former quality-control engineer, who now fashions sleek, underhammer big-game rifles was most helpful in giving me some insight into Sanford the man. Sanford was primarily an idea man, although he was totally at home in a machine shop. He would develop a concept for a new firearm and then hire engineers and machinists to flesh it out and build it. He had a passion for building original designs and was fascinated by the Kimball automatic pistol, chambered for the .30 M1 Carbine cartridge, which appeared on the market ever so briefly in the mid-1950’s.

Renner observed Sanford was also a stubborn man and not prone to take advice from those working for him. A case in point was his insistence on using type 17-4 precipitation hardening stainless steel for the major components of his firearm designs. It is a high strength alloy, but when used for both the frame and the slide of a pistol, for example, the parts tend to stick to each other and gall easily. The solution recommended to him by the engineering staff was to change the alloy of either the frame or the slide and eliminate the problem. He would have none of it and insisted on using a mixture of lithium grease and oil to keep his Auto Mag’s popping.

Similarly, Sanford was apparently averse to studying competitors’ products and their design solutions before charging off on a design of his own. The development of a new product was more or less a trial-by-error process at the AMT shop.

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The AMT Automag II .22 Magnum (above) is a hard-hitting handgun for varmints and small game.
The profile II (below) is that of a slim, sleek, single-action hunting pistol.

Nevertheless, Sanford’s designs are some of the most interesting ever developed. The Automag II is a case in point.

As far as I know, the Automag II represents the first successful .22 Magnum pistol ever produced and marketed to the general public. What makes the design even more timely is currently High Standard has returned the Automag II and the .380 AMT Backup models to the marketplace.

The Automag II features a retarded blowback action. Visually, it looks like a sleek stainless steel blend of an open framed Beretta and a 1911 Colt. It is sleek. The frame is only 0.79-inch wide while the width of the grip is 2 inches. It feels like a nice, slim M1911 in my hand.

The Automag II was originally offered with three barrel lengths: 3-3/8, 4-1/2 and 6 inches. The model pictured here has a 6-inch barrel, weighs 32 ounces and has an overall length of 9-1/4 inches. Frankly, a .22 Magnum needs a 6-inch barrel to approach anywhere near its inherent potential as a hunting cartridge plus, even with a 6-inch barrel, the muzzle blast will pretty much awaken the dead. The fireball at the end of the muzzle will also light up the night sky. I can’t imagine touching off the .22 Maggie in a 3-3/8-inch barreled model Automag.

Some of the interesting features of the original, single-action Automag II are a 9-shot, stainless steel magazine with a release at the heel of the grip, a fully adjustable 3-dot sight system by LPA of Italy, a hammer-blocking safety at your right thumb which is pushed “Up” to disengage, a squared-off triggerguard, a trigger measuring 5 pounds on my Lyman electronic scale (but feels lighter), a last shot hold open on the slide and a M1911-type slide stop. Anyone familiar with fieldstripping the M1911 will have no problem with the disassembly of the Automag II, and if you have any doubts, YouTube has some great videos of the whole procedure, in addition High Standard can supply you with an owner’s manual.

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Similar to the M1911, the Automag incorporates a barrel bushing and recoil spring plug (above).
Sanford’s operating base (below) was Arcadia Machine & Tool in Irwindale, Calif.

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Some of the interesting features of the original, single-action Automag II are a 9-shot, stainless steel magazine with a release at the heel of the grip, a fully adjustable 3-dot sight system by LPA of Italy, a hammer-blocking safety at your right thumb which is pushed “Up” to disengage, a squared-off triggerguard, a trigger measuring 5 pounds on my Lyman electronic scale (but feels lighter), a last shot hold open on the slide and a M1911-type slide stop. Anyone familiar with fieldstripping the M1911 will have no problem with the disassembly of the Automag II, and if you have any doubts, YouTube has some great videos of the whole procedure, in addition High Standard can supply you with an owner’s manual.

What is intriguing to me is the caliber. The .22 WMR, as debuted in 1959, was designed by Winchester to do one thing well—to kill something. It’s not a plinking round. It’s not a target round. It’s not cheap. It uses jacketed hollowpoints, and in its present array of loadings, it’s better and more accurate than it’s ever been in the 55 years of its existence. I’ve used it on small antelope in Africa and on coyotes in the Back 40. The little Maggie is one terrific cartridge.

Having said that, an original Automag II can be choosy about its ammunition. I recently tested nine different industry loadings. My Automag II would only function perfectly with three: Remington’s 33-grain V-Max (1,439 fps), CCI’s Maxi-Mag 40-grain JHP (1,305 fps) and Winchester Super-X 40-grain (1,322 fps). Firing 5-shot groups at 25 yards from a rest, I found the most consistently accurate of those three choices were Remington’s V-Max (2 inches) and CCI’s Maxi-Mag HP (2 inches). If I had my choice between those two, I would select the Remington since it produced nicely rounded groups while the CCI load tended to string.

One of the “musts” when shooting any of Sanford’s 17-4 stainless models is to keep the sliding parts lubricated to eliminate galling. I don’t think brands of lubricants are as important as just making sure you lube it. Personally, I like Brownell’s “Stainless Slick” and “Slide-Glide Lite.”
Holsters? Try a US military .45 1911 shoulder holster.

And what was the straw that broke AMT’s back? Sanford decided to clone the Mark II Ruger. Bad idea. Ruger sued AMT on the basis of a common law trademark violation and won, driving the company into bankruptcy.

Fortunately for us, High Standard is making available again the classic Automag II and the classic, pocket-sized “Backups” under the “AMT-Houston” banner, and they’re making them better than ever before.
By Holt Bodinson

AUTOMAG II
MAKER: HIGH STANDARD MFG. CO.
5151 Mitchelldale, Ste. B-14
Houston, TX 77092
(800) 272-7816
www.highstandard.com
Roger Renner
www.rjrenner.blogspot.com
Amt automag ii
Original Maker:
Arcadia machine & tool (amt)
Irwindale, California
Action Type: Retarded blow-back
Caliber: .22 Magnum
Barrel Length: 6 inches
Overall Length: 9-1/4 inches
Weight: 32 ounces
Finish: stainless
Sights: Fully adjustable
3-dot, Grips: Polymer
Retail: $845 (High Standard)

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  1. When you say “better than ever,” what’s better? Did they change the alloy of the frame or the slide to eliminate galling? Are they better machined? Are they more reliable, so the new ones can function with more than 3 out of 9 loadings of ammo?

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