Who really designed the Automag pistol?

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The Automag was a revolutionary pistol when it was invented. It is recoil operated and uses rotating bolt similar to the AR-15. Despite the gun being a commercial failure (it cost far more to make than the sale price), it was the inspiration for the Desert Eagle and the Wildey autoloader pistols.

The original Automag which chambered the .44 AMP. From Gunbroker.

Jeff Cooper attributed the design to gunsmith Max Gera, although his name did not appear on the final patent. After a falling out with the boss he sold his share of the company and, after a brief stint at Charter Arms, fell off the face of the Earth. Even his daughter had no idea where he was until earlier this year, after three decades in obscurity, when he contacted the author of a book about the AutoMag. Bruce Stark interviewed Max in April and it is a fascinating read

First, who is Max Gera ? In the March 1970 issue of Guns & Ammo magazine, Jeff Cooper twice credits Max Gera as the designer of the Auto Mag and refers to him as Auto Mag Corp.’s Design and Engineering Manager. Max was also named as co-inventor of the Auto Mag on the first patent application which was later abandoned. Max’s name didn’t appear on the final patent.

In October of 1970, Max sold off his interests in the Auto Mag and left Harry Sanford.

After Auto Mag Corp. declared bankruptcy in May of 1972, Max was blamed by some for causing Auto Mag to fail. These were mostly just rumors. However in a letter to Deputy Ed Lippert in July of 1972, Jeff Cooper of Guns & Ammo explained why Auto Mag Corp. went bankrupt. The letter blamed Max and typified the type of rumors that were flying around at the time. Max has asked me to remove this letter from this work as it is inflammatory, libelous and damaging to my reputation.

The above photo is of an AutoMag that was auctioned off earlier this year by the son of Harry Sanford, who owned the company that made the pistol. He claimed to be the brains behind the operation and that Max was just the machinist. His son obviously also thinks so. From the auction

You guys that have been watching these AutoMag auctions and have probably been wondering when will it end. Well, it does with this one…with the exception of one gun which we are trying to get from a family member that may never show up. This is the last AutoMag from the Harry W. Sanford estate.

The guy that read Col. Coopers article in 1958 about a .44 magnum rimless cartridge. In the 60′s, as I was a kid, I hung out with Max Gera. He had some thoughts on my Dad’s idea of an M-16 rotating bolt magazine pistol in .44 Mag. He started some machining on a crude milling machine and I was there when he shot his first shot in a hole in the back of my Dad’s gun shop. They were on there way.

Max had different ideas. He was bought out and my Dad brought some partners in. It was some wild times. Every gun guru in the world was flying in to see this new pistol. The first AutoMag rolled off the production line about two years behind schedule. They were beautiful — all hand-machined and fitted. They were the best AutoMags ever to be made.

So who really designed it? I think we will never really know. There seems to be much evidence that Max was the designer, but in business rarely does the brains really get the credit, usually it is the guy who paid the bills … or at least that is my experience.

By the way, that pistol was auctioned off for over $6000! Some more photos of it …

Many thanks to Ken for the link.


Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


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  • SpudGun

    I’m going to have to side with Harry Sanford on this one. Rarely would a gunshop’s resident smith go to the owner and say ‘Give me thousands of $$$ so I can make a new pistol.’

    And while Max may have been the engineering and design brains behind the project, the evidence suggests that Sanford came up with the initial concept and the capital to develop the system.

    Obviously, this is just speculation as I don’t know all the facts.

    • http://Auto-Magx.com Max Gera

      I just ran into this website. The question on “Who really designed the Auto-Mag?” has a simple answer: I DID!

      Harry was a great promoter and salesman, but he was not a designer or an engineer. The entire concept was mine without any input from Harry.

      On the contrary, Harry’s only idea was to make a large 1911, which by the way, was what all the other guns he made afterwards were: The Roman Numeral Auto Mags.

      My first idea was to make a large P-38. I started by welding two P-38 frames together. This evolved into a rotary bolt pistol that after 3 or 4 prototypes became the Auto Mag.

      My name was on the original patent application, which was rejected by the patent office because it was too similar to the 1898 Schwarzlose pistol. (Which at the time, neither me nor Harry even knew it existed)

      When I started working on it, it was precisely because I was Harry’s gunsmith that the design preceded because it wasn’t costing Harry anything. Only after the first prototype was tested, the big money became necessary.

      So, there you have it. I still make barrels and other accessories, including shoulder stocks for the Auto Mag.

      Max Gera

  • http://www.kagogi.mee.nu/ Veeshir

    I had a chance for a used automag for around $1500, I kinda wish I had bought it but I was on my way to order a Wildey so I didn’t.

    The difference is that I can always get a Wildey, but I don’t know when I’ll see another Automag.

  • Ken

    If I had the dough Id get one. Ever since I had a model of this gun when I was a kid i found it to be inspiring. A Wildey is also on my list.

  • http://www.thegunzone.com/556dw.html Daniel E. Watters

    FWIW: The Automag is recoil-operated, not gas-operated.

    Here is the US patent:

    http://www.google.com/patents?id=Gpg-AAAAEBAJ&printsec=abstract&zoom=4#v=onepage&q=&f=false

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com Steve

      Daniel, thanks! Wow, I had always thought it was gas operated.

  • Victor Chapman

    I have an early Pasadena model (serial number A00557) in like new condition that I am tryind to sell if anyone is interested. Victor

  • Chad

    I would probably be interested in your Pasadena, Victor. Do you have the complete set up (manual, bottle, case, wrench kit, etc.)?

  • Victor

    Chad: I have the case and I downloaded a pdf version of the owner’s manual. No bottle or wrench kit. Give me a call (407.257.2394) or shoot me an email at vchapman1 [at] cfl [dot] rr [do]t com if you want to chat. Take care.

  • Raymond

    I have an Automag. I’ve owned it since 1971, almost 40 years. I have never fired this gun. To my knowledge, it has never been fired. History to follow. Original plastic carry case with Automag logo, original box of 50 rounds of Automag ammunition, original oil bottle and contents, original plastic bag with allen wrenches, Serial number 2xxx.

    Anyone with one of these ‘originals’ knows that the foam inside the carry case disintergrated years ago.

    This is “NOT” a second or third generation TDE or High Standard model.

    History:
    I purchased this gun from a friend who had two of them in 1971, the ‘other’ Automag he and we fired at the range. Since he had two Automags, he never fired the one I purchased. He sold both Automags when he had the oppertunity to buy two sequence seerial numbered Automags. I purchased the “UNFIRED” one he owned and put it ‘away’.

    I’m thinking about selling this gun. And at this moment in time, if I do sell it, I want $4,500.00 (Four Thousand Five Hundred Dollars) for it. This price is not subject to discussion at this time.

    Understand something, this is a ‘unique’ and original gun. I’ve had it for almost forty years, keeping it and willing it to some that has no clue what it is really is, is okay with me.

    If you collect, you know how truely rare this gun, in this condition is.
    If you think it’s overpriced and I’m the village idiot, that’s fine with me.

    Contact me at Kcajyar [at] hughes.net and I’ll discuss anything you want to know.

    Respectfully

    kcajyar

  • http://www.biskun.com/hobby/ Bruce Stark

    Great article. The Auto Mag book is, “Auto Mag the Pasadena Days” by Bruce Stark and is still available for sale by Bruce at littlekitty16 [at] roadrunner.com.
    The web site http://www.biskun.com/hobby/ has a few more articles by Bruce including the complete interview of Max Gera.

    ATB……………..Bruce Stark

  • http://www.biskun.com/hobby/ Bruce Stark

    I wrote “First, who is Max Gera ? In the March 1970 issue of Guns & Ammo magazine, Jeff Cooper twice credits Max Gera as the designer of the Auto Mag and refers to him as Auto Mag Corp.’s Design and Engineering Manager. Max was also named as co-inventor of the Auto Mag on the first patent application which was later abandoned. Max’s name didn’t appear on the final patent.

    In October of 1970, Max sold off his interests in the Auto Mag and left Harry Sanford.

    After Auto Mag Corp. declared bankruptcy in May of 1972, Max was blamed by some for causing Auto Mag to fail. These were mostly just rumors. However in a letter to Deputy Ed Lippert in July of 1972, Jeff Cooper of Guns & Ammo explained why Auto Mag Corp. went bankrupt. The letter blamed Max and typified the type of rumors that were flying around at the time. Max has asked me to remove this letter from this work as it is inflammatory, libelous and damaging to my reputation.”

    It is easy enough to credit me for this as well as crediting Walt Sanford for his writing.
    Otherwise……….ATB……………..Bruce Stark

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com Steve

      Bruce, thanks for your comment.

      My apologies for quoting you but not mentioning your name (although I did link to your website). That has been fixed.

  • Rick

    I am reading about early models of the 44 auto-mag. I also have owned one for nearly 40 years. Mine is serial number 11, which was a pre-production model issued to one of the original employees when they started producing this gun. Sadly, the rest of the kit has deteriorated and been lost over the years, but the gun is still in excellent condition. Just curious what this one would be worth.

  • Andrew

    Looking to buy a Pasadena AutoMag but 4.5K is out of my league. I’m just looking for a good used shooter.

    Anyone got one for sale?