Brownells BRN-PROTO AR15

A Working Piece Of History You Can Own
; .

The new BRN-Proto is the spitting image of Gene Stoner’s first prototype AR15. Lithe,
svelte and cool, this nifty little rifle is a great addition to any seasoned collection.

“In The Beginning, God Made …”

Thus begins what is, in my opinion, history’s greatest piece of literature. The inspired prose following defines humanity’s place in the universe, elucidates our timeless plight, and then illuminates the subsequent path to salvation. However, all this incredible stuff started with a single phrase. Everything of significance has to start someplace.

At risk of flirting with blasphemy, Brownells has recently come out with a spot-on reproduction of the very rifle which started the whole “black rifle” craze. Sporting historically perfect retro features along with Information Age reliability and performance, the BRN-Proto is the gun for which geeks like me have been clamoring for decades. The BRN-Proto is a fully functional representation of Gene Stoner’s first prototype AR15. Just hefting the thing is like stepping into a time machine.

The family resemblance to this rare original 1950s-era Dutch AR10 from Will’s collection is obvious.


The M16 rifle has served with distinction as the primary weapon of the United States military for more than half a century. No other American shoulder arm even comes close. The M1903A3 Springfield certainly earned its acolytes, and the M1 Garand is considered a holy icon by its fanatical disciples. However, for raw years of service and number of bullets tossed downrange nothing holds a candle to the M16.

Early detractors decried the diminutive 5.56x45mm cartridge a “Poodle Popper.” They thought the adoption of a .22-caliber military round was a sure sign of the coming apocalypse. However, several zillion dead terrorists later, I think we can all agree this zippy little cartridge will reliably do the deed.

The M16 brought with it unprecedented firepower. Weighing about two-thirds what its predecessor the M14 did, this tidy Space Age gun remained controllable on full auto. In its evolved form, the M16 was also quite reliable if properly maintained. Now fast forward half a century and we have hung a lot of ancillary weirdness onto this lithe little rifle.

Today’s M4A1 can dispel the darkness and offer precision mid-range target engagement at speeds previously unimaginable. However, all this Information Age awesome spawns from some common evolutionary material. To appreciate what Brownells has done we set the way-back meter to 1958.


The new BRN-Proto is the spitting image of Gene Stoner’s first prototype AR15. Lithe,
svelte and cool, this nifty little rifle is a great addition to any seasoned collection.


In 1958 the tiny little Armalite Company submitted 10 AR15 rifles for analysis by military testers. They also included 100,000 rounds of ammunition and a hundred 25-round straight box magazines. Those early AR15 rifles were simply scaled down versions of the 7.62x51mm AR10 guns then in production under license by the Dutch firm Artillerie Inrichtingen. Like those early appendages up top nestled within the carrying handle.

The results of these trials showed seven Infantrymen armed with AR15s could produce the same volume of fire as 11 troops packing heavier M14 rifles. They could also carry twice as much ammunition for the same weight. Everybody involved seemed thrilled with the little guns except the guys who made the serious decisions. They saw the little toy-like plastic weapons as excessively radical in a world still defined by stained walnut and parkerized steel. In frustration, cash-strapped Armalite sold the rights to the AR15 to Colt for $75,000 and a 4.5 percent royalty on guns produced.

Colt took the first prototype AR15 chassis and tweaked it to make it more easily manufactured. This meant moving the top-mounted charging handle to the familiar T-shaped version we all know and love today as well as equipping the gun with triangular polymer handguards. Along the way the front sight base grew a bit and the furniture went from brown to black. The new Brownells BRN-Proto AR15 now brings all the pre-M16 1959 awesome right to your gun safe.

The bolt carrier is hard chrome plated like the originals and is locked rearward
by a trigger inside the carry handle.

The lower receiver has to include the Brownells manufacturing info, but it is otherwise spot-on.


Many have tried, but nobody else has even come close. The charging handle on the BRN-Proto is indeed a trigger set within the carrying handle akin to the 1956-era AR10 which spawned it. The round forward hand guard is brown and pirated from the AR10 just as was the original. The bolt carrier group is hard chrome-plated and the muzzle sports a proper three-prong duckbill flash suppressor. The powers-that-be at the time said this open-ended design caught unduly on brush. However, it remained mighty handy for prying the wire off of ammo crates.

The gun obviously runs via a direct gas impingement system. Brownells even whipped up some 25-round straight box magazines to make the reproduction complete. When first you heft the BRN-Proto AR15 you really can see what all the fuss was about.
The markings on the left side must include Brownells’ identifying information but the receiver is otherwise perfect. The slab-sided lower receiver includes the little plus sign on the right like the originals and the magazine catch is left unfenced. For the gun nerd truly committed to his craft, you will note the forward pushpin is not retained within the receiver and the aft portion of the assembly includes the roll pin hole originally designed to stake the buffer tube in place. The fact I notice stuff like this goes a long way toward explaining why I have so few normal friends.

The handguard slip ring isn’t tapered and the buttstock lacks a cleaning kit compartment. Both sling swivels pivot as they should. I think the brown plastic furniture seems to create a pleasant aesthetic dissonance when compared to the slate gray finish on the metal bits, but perhaps I am overthinking it. My wife opined the doodoo-colored stocks made this the ugliest gun she ever beheld. I suppose opposites do indeed attract.

This little gun feels absolutely anorexic when compared to a modern M4. The forearm is skinny and the gun lacks all the harsh Picatinny corners and detachable widgets defining modern tactical weapons. There is a sleek sensuality to the piece. The BRN-Proto AR15 just oozes retro cool we all seem to crave so these days.


Magazines have evolved considerably as well. These box mags developed from left to right.

How Does She Run?

It is amazing how maneuverable these unadorned black rifles were back in the beginning. The gun swings like a Ruger 10-22 and carries about the same. Throw it across your shoulder on a sling and you can almost forget it’s there.

The controls work just like those on the M4 and the 25-round box magazine lasts almost as long as do the modern polymer versions from Magpul. The mags do not drop free but it does loosen up over time just like the originals. The bolt release is right where it should be.

The iron sights are period authentic and hearken back to a previous era when combat weapons were much less sparkly. The front sight post is twist-adjustable for elevation, while the rear is a flip-up sort with two different apertures adjustable for windage. Both sights may be moved with a bullet point.

Takedown and cleaning offer no surprises. The vertical charging handle is indeed a cool twist. Just like the originals, keep the BRN Proto tidy and it should outlive you.

Despite its retro pedigree, the BRN-Proto would still be a fine choice should you find zombies staggering up your little cul-de-sac. The top-mounted charging system precludes the addition of an optical sight to the carrying handle. However, it is comparably accessible from either side and handier than the later sort.


The open-tipped duckbill flash suppressor is period authentic.


Running the BRN Proto is like stepping back in time. Meticulously researched and perfectly executed, Brownells fills a slot in the AR15 pantheon which couldn’t otherwise be obtained at any price. Now, however, American collectors can add one of these previously unobtainable rifles to their own collection at a reasonable cost. The gun runs as well as much more modern iron yet reliably turns heads at the local range. I just love mine. MSRP — $1,624

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