MAC Takes Out An Unfired AR-180

2015-03-30 02_00_56-Firing the Armalite AR-180 Rifle - YouTube

I certainly won’t pass up a chance to post about the AR-18; the rifle has a uniquely 1960s-chic about it that I can’t resist. The marriage of unadorned stamped steel and black polymers makes for a rifle that looks like it’s ready to be carried by a special operations trooper in some desolate and ungodly hot backwater, in the seemingly unending struggle against Communism.

Tim of the Military Arms Channel owns an AR-180, the civilian semi-auto variant, which he has kept in its box since he bought it. Until he made the below video, Tim says he had never shot the gun before. So naturally, his fans set him straight on that account:

We at The Firearm Blog love covering the AR-180. In February, The AR-180-centric blog AR180s.com was our Blog of The Month. That same month, Phil Hirsh, author of The Guns We Left Behind, wrote an article for the site giving his take on the sheet-steel Armalite. Lastly, less than two weeks ago, Alex and Patrick took a look at the AR-180 as part of their TFBTV segment on rifles that were commercial failures.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Why do you think that the AR 180 wasn’t fielded in many militaries? Is the AR 15 a better design overall? Also, do you think that the gas system is better than the AR 15?

    • DW

      AR-18 derived designs were fielded by many militaries, similar to High Power derived pistols, but unlike the HP AR-18 isn’t as well “polished”, had many flaws (ironed out in different ways in derivatives and more flaws added on the SA80) and a older brother that happened to be AR15. No the AR15 when it came out wasn’t a better design, but many more revisions were made before AR18 became a thing. I don’t know if the gas system is “better” but you don’t see DI ACR/G36/T65K2/SAR21 and won’t see short-stroke guns converted to DI anytime soon

      • The AR-15 was quite a bit less fragile; I’d say that was a significant advantage.

        • Esh325

          I can’t think of a more fragile rifle design than the early AR15/M16. The original type of aluminum they used had to be changed to another type because of corrosion concerns. The receiver and barrel had to be reinforced because of durability concerns, hence the M16A2. Plus I would also say that early plastics weren’t quite as durable yet.

          • MPWS

            Another one was the signature chargin’ handle which was changed to current dental-self-helper. Did anyone knock themselves tooth out yet?

          • Have you handled an original AR-180? The stock latch and takedown pin hole are both pretty concerning.

            In my personal experience, I’ve seen a lot more pre-A2 AR-15s than I have AR-180s, but I’ve seen a lot more broken AR-180s than broken pre-A2 AR-15s. Why do you think that is?

          • Esh325

            Sure the AR-180 probably wasn’t the most durable rifle, but it still wasn’t truly a completely refined design unlike the M16 which was actually issued in great numbers even with durability problems.

          • I agree with that – but you said you couldn’t think of a more fragile rifle design than the early AR-15. Well, I can. I can think of lots, and the AR-18 is one.

      • Esh325

        What’s interesting is that so many people say the Stoner gas system is perfectly reliable and nothing wrong with it, yet I see no other new rifle designs that use it. You see a ton of rifles that take the bolt,magazine, and trigger mechanism from the M16 but why not the gas system? It’s not like there’s still a patent on it.

        • MPWS

          I am glad you are saying this – nobody copied AR-15 thereafter. This is NOT intended to rail against current mainstay U.S. Army piece but it is to denote the undeniable. Yes, no one wants to be so foolish.

          • Lots of people have; saying your rifle is “PISTON DRIVEN” is easier on your marketing department, and a lot of designers also think DI has cooties.

          • ostiariusalpha

            No one used the AR-15 gas system for one simple reason: Colt owned the patent on the design & would have sued the crap out of anyone that encroached on their cash cow. ArmaLite had to change from internal piston after they sold the AR-15 design rights to Colt, so Stoner came up with the short stroke piston design to transform the AR-12 into the AR-16, the 308 predecessor of the AR-18.

          • Esh325

            Honestly, I still don’t think that’s the reason because even when the patent expired, nobody bothered to use that design.

          • Military Arms Channel

            I’ve heard this as well, however it’s interesting to note that Armalite didn’t invent the DI system of operation. The Hakim and MAS-49 both used DI gas systems and came years before the AR10/M16 (which Colt ultimately bought the rights to). The MAS-49 wound up being the French service rifle from 1951-1979. The Hakim was a licensed copy of the Swedish AG42 Ljungman, which as the name implies, came about in the early 1940’s.

          • ostiariusalpha

            What makes the Stoner design different from the MAS and Ljungman direct impingement systems was that the gas doesn’t push on the bolt carrier; instead it is directed onto the back of the bolt, which pushes it forward & actuates the bolt cycle in a direct line with the barrel. This is very much an innovation, as it minimizes recoil tilt, and it was very much worth protecting to it’s patent holders.

          • Military Arms Channel

            Two points. 1) Patents are only good for 20 years. and 2) as the MAS49 and Hakim show, there are other ways to use the DI system without employing the bolt/carrier expansion chamber concept. There are countless ways around patents, especially in this instance. Stoner was a genius and could have easily come up with an alternative DI system that avoided stepping on Colt’s patent had he so desired. I believe Stoner voluntarily moved away from the system, but of course this is pure speculation on my part.

          • ostiariusalpha

            1) That 20 years is time enough to suppress development of internal piston guns and give momentum to the short-stroke systems that came out in the late ’70s and afterwards.
            2) That’s a slight underestimation of how difficult it is to actually improve on what the Stoner DI is doing. The older DI systems, while lighter than their contemporary battle rifles, deal with tilt by primitively using heavy bolt carriers constrained by rails of heavy steel receivers. That kind of added weight would never fly on a modern small arm. Even Jim Sullivan, who probably knows more about the fundamentals of the AR than anyone else alive & with Surefire backing his redesign to enhance the guns operation, hasn’t tried to mess with how the internal piston works.

          • DW

            Well, there ARE AR-15 clones apart from them M4gery that don’t “look” like AR15s: Iran’s KH2002 comes to mind, though it’s difficult to know how these fare. So yes technically people did copy AR15’s DI system and made a “different” gun.

          • Esh325

            That’s like one rifle out of hundreds.

        • Really? How about POF, Knight’s, etc, not to mention all the new DI AR-15s that have been introduced.

          • Esh325

            Those are still AR15’s/M16’s. They aren’t new deigns.

          • So wait – any new-production AR-type rifle (even if it’s in .308, and clearly not an AR-15) that uses DI doesn’t count because it’s “still an AR”, but all the piston-operated ARs “do count” as new designs because they have pistons…

            I think the question you’re asking is the result of the parameters you’ve set, there, bub.

          • Esh325

            They trace their heritage back to the original 1950’s design. That is why they don’t count as “new designs” in my mind.

          • Then there simply are no new designs, mate.

    • SpazC

      They were both developed by Stoner at essentially the same time. The AR18/180 was designed for militaries that had lesser manufacturing capabilities. Stamping is a lot easier to tool up than cnc milling aluminum. ( Mac even mentions this in the video)

      Essentially its a good gun, it just didn’t get bought up. Capability alone isn’t indicative of success. Ar’s were not NEARLY as popular as they are now before the AWB. Now CNC’s cost fractions of what they did 20-40 years ago. These days you can find a serviceable AR for under 600 new, something that was not really available in the late 80’s.

      • John

        War is also the ultimate proving ground.

        Between the time U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and the time U.S. troops left Afghanistan and Iraq, the M16 and M4 rifle went from being an adequate military tool to a cultural and political icon. The entire idea of a universal rail system, upgrades for every little thing, the introduction of Magpul, the theory behind reflex sights and barrel lengths, the capabilities of ammunition and marksmanship training, etc., all of it came from experience and research gained during wartime.

        The AR-15 in 2015 is not the same as the AR-15 in 2000 for that reason. And it’s definitely not the same as the AR-15 in 1970.

      • if you were buying guns in the 80’s; how was the AR recieved by gun owners? What were peoples’ atitude towards it?

        • Esh325

          I don’t believe AR15’s were nearly as accepted back then as they are today.

          • tirod

            AR15’s were so unloved that the 3Gun competition was .308 only. So all you saw were M1A’s, Garand’s, a few HK’s and even rarer FNFAL’s which were pricey.
            When competitors wildcatted AR15’s with .30 cal bullets in necked out brass they were summarily shown the door – SSK took the concept and found it had suppressed capabilities, then AAC ran off with it as the .300 Blackout. While the AR finally made it into 3Gun the alternate calibers never will because of cost. At best the ammo is twice as expensive yet it’s not twice as accurate or reliable. 5.56 does the job.
            Nodak is looking at producing a variant lower for the AR180 in aluminum, and the usual suspects are all clamoring for an upper. Remains to be seen if it can grow legs and be profitable, tho. Personally I’d set it up by reverse engineering one with quality improvements and leave it as a kit builder. Start with flats and go from there.

      • The AR-18 was developed six years after the AR-15.

        The AR-15 was not CNC milled; it is forged and then minor finishing operations are done on milling and broaching machines.

        CNC milled receivers came much later.

      • Esh325

        Is there still a cost and speed in fabrication advantage with stamp sheet metal designs anymore with advancements in CNC machinery? From about after WW2 to the early 90’s it was relatively common to see assault rifles and smg’s made from stamped sheet metal, yet today you don’t really see any new designs using stamped sheet metal. The AK-12 is the only rifle that comes to mind.

        • SpazC

          It honestly depends on where in the world you live and what is going on there. There are plentiful videos to be watched of AK’s being stamped out by hand in the Middle East and South Asia.

          In terms of cost:

          For governmental use/contracts in more developed nations, CNC’s are cheap enough to be used for nearly every project these days. You are also seeing an increased reliance on polymer both for cost and weight savings.

          In less developed nations you can still see AK variants being produced today.

          For private, non governmental, and even illicit uses stamping out frames still seems to be an easier method. Look at Australia’s illegal firearms, there are lots of stamped frames and pipe frames to be found.

          In terms of speed, stamping will almost always win.

          There just isn’t an urgent demand like we have seen in the past world wide.

          During and after WW2 stamping was prevalent due to insanely high demand for weapons. This continued on through Korea, Vietnam, and the rest of the Cold war where the super powers were flexing their muscles while arming their satellite nations / allies.

          When you’re not at constant war, you time to produce slower with tighter tolerances…. when you’re sending thousands of comrades to their deaths daily, you churn out any and everything you can to send lead in the other direction.

          • Esh325

            That is a very good point. Certainly the climate has changed where today we have relative peace where the demand for weapons is not as high as it use to be. H&K went completely away from the stamped sheet metal designs to polymer.

          • Blake

            & if you look at the regions of the world where stamped weapons are still being produced, it’s the ones closest to conflict zones…

      • ostiariusalpha

        Credit where credit is due; Jim Sullivan & Bob Fremont did all the work to adapt the AR-15 from Stoner’s AR-10, and Art Miller did the same to derive the AR-18 from the AR-16. Eugene loved the .30-’06 and really liked the .308, he had no interest in any silly microcaliber.

    • I think the AR-18’s timing was poor. In the mid-’60s, you just had NATO standardization not ten years earlier; if a nation was under normal circumstances reluctant to give up their standard infantry rifles so soon, they doubly were for a new rifle in a non-standard caliber, when doing so would act outside NATO standardization agreements.

      Those nations that weren’t a part of NATO would most likely be either too poor to buy new weapons, or already interested in Colt’s AR-15. The AR-18 was also primarily a “kit build” gun, intended to be exported in pre-fabricated condition and then stamped to shape and welded in the receiving country. This business model didn’t end up working so well, especially given that Armalite was a relatively small company.

      As for which is the better design, they are both good, though the AR-18 as such is quite a bit more fragile than the AR-15, with failure points at the stock latch and hinge pin. I would consider the AR-15 a better design overall, but that’s not to say the AR-18 does not have merit.

      • Esh325

        What’s also interesting is that the European countries weren’t able to get the same success with 5.56×45 rifles as they did .308 rifles. H&K and FN dominated the rifle market at one point, but didn’t see much success in the 5.56×45 market like the M16 did. I believe the M16/M4 is the most produced rifle in 5.56×45.

        • Probably so. The European countries were a bit late to the game, since they clung to the NATO standardization agreements.

    • spotr

      Along with the other reasons listed here, I also suspect that Colt (who bought the DI gas system patent rights from Armalite), had better lobbying connections in the military and congress for their M-16.

    • Steve_7

      The SA80 is basically a bullpup AR-18.

  • RocketScientist

    Tut-tut good sir! I say, this is quite offensive to my delicate english sense of propriety. You colonials never learned any decorum. Aren’t you aware that some of the people we oppressed for centuries actually had the audacity to think they should be allowed to rule their own island, and used this very gun to try to accomplish that?? I do not know what passes for civility in south-canada, but by jove here in albion we have the queen to enforce standards of proper speech and an offensive missive such as this would be grounds for civil action. Good day to you sir!!!

    • Cal S.

      And so insensitively close to St. Patrick’s Day! Entirely unnecessary and offensive!!

    • Bellend

      • RocketScientist

        Well that was a very clever, well-thought-out reply. Care to engage in a conversation about actual issues? For example what in my light-hearted mocking post did you object to? Or maybe there wasn’t anything, and you just really like thinking and talking about penises?

    • Grindstone50k

      clappingrock.gif

    • dan citizen

      Harumph!

    • Caolainn

      As a woman of the republic and a mother, can I ask you to please not equate the IRA to the decent caring people of my nation! Their actions have never been anything but self serving brutality! often against their own! and too often against the innocent! This may be fun for you to make mockery of what you clearly don’t understand, but those who have lost, do not find it funny. We need peace and progress not hate fuelled propaganda.

  • MountainKelly

    Just need to see them restart production

    • They have tried. It failed. Again.

      • MountainKelly

        Without the original production prints (or even with them) it’s a heck of an undertaking. Assuming Howa isn’t cooperative, I’d still love to see a few more firms try on their own. It’s a good design and, besides its historical significance, something worth seeing churned out again.

        • You mean like the 180b? Yes, that worked super well.

        • Scott P

          The AR-18 is a niche rifle and always will be.

          Like Alex C. said they tried to bring it back to only have it fail again. I know you are going to say “but, but AWB” which is baloney when if anything the AWB skyrocketed black weapons to popularity never experienced before so even during that period there were people experimenting with new designs and improving upon old ones so the fact the AR-180 failed not once but TWICE should be give one a hint to let it go.

          You have to think about the overall gun market and it is content with the AR-15 as well as other newer mainstream designs. Heck there are many gun owners who still have no idea the AR-18 exists and think the AR-15 was the only gun Stoner built. Not only that you have newer systems adopting some AR-18 components which they improved upon so why go back to the AR-18 for the sake of nostalgia or for some sense of “undeserved, under-appreciated” justice?

          • Panfried

            To be fair, the AR-180B was an injustice to the AR-18, and hardly a revival. While I don’t think it would give AR-15s a run for their money, if they re-released it in more true to the faith of the original it may find a niche market for those with “AR-15 burnout”.

          • MountainKelly

            I just like variety. I’d be very happy to see companies making more repros like the stoner 63, ar180, or other rare cold war guns. Not because they’ll be incredible shooters but because they’re fascinating pieces of history and originals are rare.

            Buddy just built an A1 style AR (IN 5.45 no less). Maybe I’m just nostalgic

          • Anon. E Maus

            There’s always the MPAR 556. Has some problems but I get the impression they’re going to revision that.
            It’s basically a simplified AR-18.

          • Panfried

            My hopes are that they get rid of that disgusting handguard; or at least provide a new option for it. I wouldn’t mind a “classic” styled model with a plastic forend that resembled that of cold war rifles.

          • Hank Seiter

            I’d love to have a Stoner 63. I handled one at a gun show once and it had the various change-over uppers. It’s a very rare bird. The dealer was Class III and he said he shot it in it’s “assault rifle” role but not in it’s belt-fed machinegun role even though he had the upper to do that. He probably got around to doing that, too.
            Unfortunately the Robinson M96 was a failed attempt at attempting to reproduce the wonderful attributes of the Stoner 63 but then the creator left it high-and-dry when sales didn’t take off. The same guy is in the process of doing it again with yet another weapon system, I hear.

          • MountainKelly

            Aye the xcr was neat.

          • MountainKelly

            Yeah the B seems silly. At least nodak makes steel lowers to replace the polymer

      • Hank Seiter

        Yes, with the AR-180B. No market, partly because they took a good design, cheapened it and ruined it. Kind of like the M-60 pig which was suppose to incorporate the best of the MG42 and FG42 … it did neither.

  • MPWS

    You do fine this time without ‘Irish’ connection…. but yet, you just cannot help yourself to get a pinch of political subject into it. No politics; GUNS, my friend!

  • gunsandrockets

    It is interesting to watch the slo-mo of the ejected cases bounce off of the AR-180 bolt handle.

    My old school Colt AR upper flings cases almost straight back. No wonder later versions of the M16 added a case deflector bump to the upper receiver. Interestingly, ejection pattern dramatically alters with lighter reloads, as cases leave the port almost straight out 90 degrees off the bore line with loads doing 2,750 fps from the 20 inch barrel.

  • guest

    … with me little armalite!

    Ps: leave it to the americans to over-complicate even a stamped, piston driven rifle. Lol.

  • C.

    Tim is his actual name?! All this time I thought his name really was Mac.

    • Tierlieb

      Yup, and to make it more confusing, a lot of articles for Mac’s “The Bang Switch” are written by a guy named Matt, which confused a lot of people in the beginning – especially since their politics are not always the same

  • The most recent article is still up—

  • Keep it civil.

  • M

    Ah, the AR-180 is on my list of to-buys. Another cold war rifle that comes to mind (that I also occasionally have the urge to pick up) is the Daewoo K2

  • The CAL was expensive, but it’s definitely one of my favorites.

  • janklow

    lovely, lovely guns

  • Will

    It had the potential to be a really good rifle….THEN they put that STUPID folding stock on it.
    That made it a huge POS, in my opinion.

    • RickH

      Nothing wrong with a folding stock, it’s all in the execution.

      • On stocks, I feel:

        – Folding

        – Strong/durable

        – Light

        Pick 2.

        • Doom

          The Arsenal AK Poly Folders, and even the Triangle folders fit all 3 of those categories, AK folders are really nice. well, at least the poly and triangle folders, the underfolders and single rod type folders suck for comfort and/ or strength.

          • They’re not as light as fixed stocks; they add about half a pound with the receiver block.

            Typically, the stock bit itself is not what adds weight, but the mechanism for folding it.

          • Doom

            eh, id say 8 ounces on the back of the rifle isnt too bad of a trade for a strong comfortable relatively light folding stock.

  • Blake

    Great vid; always liked the straightforward no-nonsense MAC presentations.

  • Blake

    At least they were able to evolve it into the FNC

    • The FNC and CAL aren’t really that similar.

  • RocketScientist

    You’re doing a GREAT job of refuting my characterization of the english as stuffy, condescending and humorless (and in your case penis-obsessed). Also, you let your hand show… I got so under your skin that you went back and re-read all my other Disqus posts? Man, take a break, and calm down. Go out for a walk. Have a cup of coffee (sorry, tea). Get off the internet for awhile.

  • Caolainn

    Your Pride is a fiction, your connection to my land a delusion, the IRA are scum! no better than the Irish Mafia. Scum who have consistently acted against the will and wish of the Irish people, who have used force and terror against any who oppose them regardless of nationality. Your subjectivist nonsense is nothing but Ignorance of the subject at hand. Your rant at my self identification is quite laughable and simply serves to identify you as being as Irish as a sushi

  • Mark Are

    I have a “Patents Pending” AR180 that I purchased back in the late 70’s. It has extra parts, about 7 magazines, an original AR 180 scope, a current adapter plate with a picatinny rail that I picked up from Armalite and even an original OEG red dot sight! Who wants it? Find me on Facebook. Mark Arnold Reynolds

    • Mark Are

      Turns out after I looked it has a COMPLETE spare parts kit, 10 30 round magazines, 2 20 round magazines and it is a Patents Pending Costa Mesa Serial number is S2xxx and I even have THREE of the original green canvas ARE 180 slings!

  • Hank Seiter

    This is a coincidence. I recently acquired an unfired (Sterling) AR-180 and couldn’t resist the temptation to put at least a 20 round magazine full through it to properly zero it and enjoy some not-so-old tech. So let’s just call that little exercise an extended proof-testing session.

    The AR-180 essentially felt like my Daewoo, being piston operated and all. I have another (Costa Mesa) coming in a la Gunbroker and that’s the one I’ll put some real mileage on. Also, the dealer called me just yesterday and said he had a new-in-box Armalite scope and mount from the same seller that is proprietary to the AR-180. Did I want it, too? Well, YEEEAAAAH!

    Anyway, I did shoot five rounds of Danish M855/SS109 through it (the last five rounds in the magazine) and the 1:12 twist was just enough to give me acceptable accuracy out to 100 meters but the AR-180 definitely liked the 55 gr. M193 much better. Not a single hitch in feeding or extraction but I’ll need to put a thousand rounds through the Costa Mesa AR before I can firmly conclude that this interesting Stoner system is as good as knowledgeable military gun experts say.

    BTW, I wished there was a separate bolt release a la AR-15/M-16 but with the high mounted bolt handle a quick crossover slap by the weak hand puts the rifle into battery quite nicely … shooting gloves work best here, btw. It’s cleverly designed with the two bolt guide rods also acting as retention pins for the upper handguard so that after preliminary disassembly the handguard easily comes off for any servicing of the piston/rod assembly … and that’s a pretty clever piece of design, too.

    I’ve yet to fold the stock and shot because I think such a shooting position is too gimmicky. For instance, I’ve never shot my SCAR with its stock folded though the first thing most shooters will do when I offer them a chance to shoot my SCAR is to fold the damn stock. Rambos. Now if you were an airborne ranger or SEAL … I admit that feature would come in handy.

    A heads-up. Armalite/Sterling AR-180 magazines can run you between $100 and $200! Yikes. And yes, you can convert AR-15/M-16 mags (both mil-spec aluminum and Pmags) with relative ease, the most difficult part being properly locating the slit on the offside for the AR-180 mag catch. You also have to bob the back shelf on the follower which catches the bolt stop by about 3/16 of an inch and possibly dremel-out the backside on the mag body just a bit where the follower catch shelf is located so it properly presents itself to the AR-180s very interestingly engineered bolt catch assembly. And you may have to massage the AR-15 catch bumps on the other side of the magazine to get it to easily fit and drop free from the AR-180 mag well.

    The simplest and cheapest solution is buy the IMI Polymer AR-15/M-16 mags which only cost $11 from Cheaper than Dirt or as low as $8 at some other online gun accessory stores. It already has the mag catch slit manufactured into the body and all you have to do is remove that 3/16 extra material off the bolt catch shelf which in the IMI’s case is actually a finger of material on the back of the follower.

    • Steve_7

      Yikes, I was using a Sterling AR-180 mag as a doorjab at one point. Today’s junk is tomorrow’s collectible…

  • Gerald

    What caliber is this rifle??

    • Military Arms Channel

      .223 / 5.56mm

  • Steve_7

    Accuracy testing? No, let me take this rare rifle and put some crappy Russian ammo through it…

    • Military Arms Channel

      Wolf is not a Russian company. The Wolf ammo used is Taiwanese brass cased military spec 5.56mm (M193) ammo. It’s more accurate and cleaner than much of the US produced M193 I’ve used. Wolf is an importer, not a manufacturer.

      • Steve_7

        Well I know it’s a US company, but on their website it specifically said their rifle ammo came from the Tula factory, I assume the sanctions caused a change of supplier. I’m sure you’ve read that test of Tula ammo on the luckygunner website, there’s no way I would use it in anything remotely valuable after reading that. Thanks for the update though.

        • Military Arms Channel

          Wolf hasn’t dealt with Tula for over 3 years now for their Russian steel cased ammo. Their Gold line has never been steel cased and is sourced from all over the globe, heck they even source some of their ammo from Lapua.

  • Wyatt

    Hey buddy, the 1980s telephoned, they want their long rant back.

  • ‡Jackson Rulesya‡

    change out that horrible draconian handguard and yippie I want …….