Retro Fever Part 1

Getting Back To The Root Of The Family Tree

I love this gun. The look of an original — and the feel of it — is very different from what we’ve come to identify as an “AR15.” Nobody much under 50 can know the shock value of handing someone their first AR15, when it was a first AR15. It was sooooo different. It was the “Army Gun” of a New Army.

I didn’t say it was all that and a bag of chips. It was roundly — and for a large part justly — criticized over some functioning and functionality issues. But it was new and different. And what was technically new and different about it has endured and, I think, triumphed.

Glen’s retro (left) and his Giessele Automatics U.R.G.I., the very latest Special Operations Command contract
gun. After 55 years of evolution, these uppers and lowers can swap and function perfectly. Amazing!

Tool for Turbulent Times

Put into perspective, the AR15 is ballpark 60 years old. Pretty much born same year as I was — 1959. It was created at the onset of a decade soon to be fraught with turmoil, obsessed with change and fearful of it too. It was a symbol, or became a symbol, of a changing world.

Too dramatic? Not really. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think “Vietnam” when they see an M16, or a peace symbol, or hear Credence Clearwater Revival. It brings back the whole flood of the ’60s to me.

And I don’t know anyone who can look all across what’s on the market today and not clearly see the mark Eugene Stoner left (along with cohorts James Sullivan and Bob Freemont — the engineers tasked with reframing the AR10 to 5.56). Oh, and by the way, “AR” stands for “ArmaLite Rifle.”
“SP1” is what Colt’s called its commercial-market semi-automatic AR15; that was the series. The first model was an R6000. Later specific commercial models had other model designations, so SP1 here rightly refers to any “early” AR15. Ultimately I’ll be going into reproducing mil-spec M16 variants.

Glen’s the only member of his local “builders club” who’s ever owned, fired or even seen an original.
Every AR guy should handle and shoot one!

Key To The Kingdom

When I was a kid in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I really wanted that “new gun.” I also wanted a Hemi ’Cuda. Having no drivers license (and not nearly enough money), I gave up on the ’Cuda, but eventually I got my Colt SP1 R6000. Bought it at Skagg’s Drug Store (yep, in 1975 western Colorado you could buy an AR15 at a drug store).

My mother helpfully obliged with the paperwork and I paid the bill — $325 with a Colt’s-brand 3X carry-handle scope.

I shot the fool out of the thing. I also soon learned how to reload ammunition — a coincidence of events that ultimately defined the course for what was to become my career.

A scant few years later, one of the many lamentable misjudgments of youth resulted in the sale of that gun. I’ve been working on getting one back for a good long while now. And I did (and more). That’s what this next is all about. And unlike the ’Cuda — which has been priced out of reach for all but gazillionaires — the feasibility of reproducing a Vietnam-era rifle is financially possible. There has been an upswing in the interest in retro AR15s — clearly evidenced by the availability of new original-spec parts.

Thanks to repro parts, it’s not terribly difficult to build up an early model. Some pieces/parts are original-spec. 
Here’s as close as Glen could come to a “602,” the first  “issued” M16. The mags are original.

Getting Started

First, let’s talk about authenticity. What’s supposed to be there and what’s not (and what has to be there). There’s a level of nitpickiness I had to rise above, and you likely will too. For me, not each and every detail had to be dead-on perfect. There are those who will never be satisfied with their retro-rifle unless it’s pretty much an out-of-the-box or off-the-rack original. I just wanted one to experience it again, to get back to where it all began for me. And I wanted my sons to have the same opportunity. Kind of a full-circle thing.

But right off the bat I have to go into collector-historian mode. There were differences in the various issued M16s and the commercial AR15s (although to a lesser extent than the M16s). So there are differences in building up a history-gun, depending on whether you’re looking for a replica M16 or a replica AR15.

Here’s what they all had in common: Two-piece triangle handguards secured by a flat Delta ring, a carry-handle upper with a windage-only sight, no case deflector, an original-dimension chrome-lined barrel, a front sight housing with bayonet lug, a 5-stop front-sight post, a pistolgrip with smooth frontstrap and an A1-length buttstock (two buttplate variations).

There were also two (three counting prototypes) flash hiders. The forward-assist was variable on the M16, never on the commercial AR15. There were two lower receiver variations (one on the AR15), both different from current specimens, and one of two bolt carriers (only one on the AR15).

All other pieces/parts — in fit and function — are the same as they are today. Sure, small “collector-grade” differences exist in pins and so on, but that’s the level of pickiness I had to get past.

Dang. Buzzer. Time’s up this go-round. I’ll leave this off with a paraphrased line from Cool Hand Luke:

“What we have here is a failure to replicate …” And I’ll remedy this next time. We’ll look at specific parts, match them up and put a few together.

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