Old promotional videos and literature aren’t just entertaining for their nostalgic qualities, but also as important tools for the historian. Features being marketed in a video or pamphlet give the viewer decades later a marker for when those had been introduced, and the characteristics emphasized in such articles give a window into the way the winds were blowing at the time it was made. This weekend, we take a look at a Colt promotional video from 1993, on the then-new M4 Carbine:
There are a few things worth noting in the video:
- Reference is made to the NATO rifle trials, where the organization once again failed to standardize on a weapon. The Colt video claims that the M16 proved to be “the most reliable and effective weapon evaluated.”
- Colt advertises both SAFE-SEMI-AUTO and SAFE-SEMI-BURST fire control groups, saying the former is available in the M4A1. However, the rifle shown with the fully automatic fire selector is the fixed carry handle variant, not the flattop that the video later specifically designates as “M4A1”, so even Colt may have been confused as to exactly what terms meant what.
- The M4 advertised here is the original carry handle variant, not the later flattop. “Colt-ology” of this period is a little murky, but essentially these are Model 727s but with the “fat” double heat shield handguards. Later in the video, the flattop is shown “for use by special forces” under the name “M4A1”, which later would designated the fully automatic flattop variant, specifically.
- The M4s in the video all have the transitional type polymer CAR-15 contour stock, not the later “M4” stock.
- Compatibility with the M16A2 is emphasized in the video, and initially the M4 was marketed as the “M16A2 Carbine”, before being type classified “M4”. In practice, compatibility with the M16 is fairly modest, as barrels, receivers, gas tubes, buffers, buffer tubes, and stocks were all different than the M16A2 in the mature M4 Carbine.
- The sliding buttstock is not advertised to have intermediate positions – and it may not have had them. At the time, it was common in SOF units to take two-position buffer tubes, size them to the shooter by moving the stock to an intermediate length, and then mark and drill a new position for the stock. However, in The Black Rifle II the author mentions that the nylon buttstock was developed with the four-position buffer tube, but one assumes that if the intermediate positions were present they would be advertised in the promo. Later, the familiar six-position tube was introduced.
The M4 proved to be a runaway hit for Colt, and its success secured another two decades of solvency for the beleaguered and mismanaged American gunmaker. The M4’s design itself, though not without its detractors, has stood the test of time, and it remains one of the most important individual weapons designs of the 20th Century.