AR180 Rifle: Crude Gun, Incredible Legacy

The Armalite AR18 and its civilian counterpart (the AR180) were marketed as affordable alternatives to more expensive designs of the period. While the rifle failed to take off or find a lucrative military contract, the gas system (or elements of it) has been used in many different designs.
In this video we do some shooting with the rifle and take a look at what it made its gas system so enviable.

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Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.


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  • PK

    You say crude, I say “brutalist aesthetics”. They have a certain beauty all their own, although much of it may be my bias for simple solutions to complex problems, including simplification of manufacture.

    • UnrepentantLib

      “Minimalist.”

    • Sam P

      Where’s the concrete?

  • Jose

    The Howa version of the AR-18/AR-180 is considered the best of the variations made of this rifle. The quality in its manufacture was excellent; pity that it was short lived, the Japanese government didn’t allow further exports to the U.S. market, because of the pacifist and anti-war nature of it’s constitution (which was implemented by General Douglas McArthur during his tenure as Administrator of the Occupation Government of Japan.) It’s legacy lives on in the Type 89 rifle, which incorporates elements from the AR-18/AR-180

    The AR180B, from Armalite, improves the original in many aspects: the use of the AR-15 trigger group; a lower receiver made of synthetic materials; and the magazine housing designed to use the AR-15 magazine (the original magazine of the AR-18, through similar to the AR-15 design, wasn’t compatible); and they can be interfaced with the original weapon. The 1994-2004 ban; and the raising popularity of the AR-15, also doomed this design. It will be a long time before somebody brings back the AR-180 (The Vulcan Arms version doesn’t count because it’s a junk gun, worthless).

    • lowell houser

      I wouldn’t necessarily call the use of AR15 components an improvement. The point of the gun was so that it could be made cheap while matching the AR15 in performance. AR15 components have to be investment cast, which absolutely does not help small shop builders.

      If anything the Leader Dynamics T2 is the better evolution of this design because it reduced the tig welding required to only the trunion, and it I were to redesign it now I would use locator screws and put tabs on the trunion to butt up against the receiver to make the gun entirely spot welded. It would also simplify barrel changes.

      Really what needs to happen is not a FFL07 making these brand new, but a small manufacturer making parts kits for the 80% crowd that are already used to folding and spot welding sheet-steel for their AK builds. Probably have to design the trunion to use standard AR barrels. Or redesign the trunion to be a barrel extension replacement for the AR15 barrel.

      • lowell houser

        As for the reliability of the design, see if you can talk Ian and Karl into doing a mud test on it. I doubt it will do any better than the AK, which was reduced to a bolt action rifle. That opening behind the bolt carrier would probably allows too much dirt in. Eliminating the reciprocating charging handle and adding an AR15 style foward-assist would probably help out lots.

        • LCON

          the killer on the AK was the open spaces of the receiver AR18 has a proper dust cover I would bet it to come closer to the AR15 in survival.

          • Colin s

            If it had an FN FNC style dust cover I think it could be just as good as the AR15…
            Has Ian ever done a mud test with an FNC?

    • The AR-180B is a piece of garbage, unfortunately. It was my first real black rifle.

  • Swarf

    Looks better than the AR15

  • gunsandrockets

    AR-180 was ahead of it’s time with its integrated scope setup.

    • That was by no means a new feature. The German G43s and FG42s had that feature as standard, as did soviet Tokarev rifles.

      • gunsandrockets

        Of course. And also preceded by rifles like the MAS-49/56 and the M14.

        But the AR-180 scope setup was more practical. Low and centrally mounted and not interfering at all in feed or ejection, cleaning or disassembly.

        • The FG42 scope is just as, if not lower.

          • gunsandrockets

            I have yet to hear anything which convinces me the AR-180 scope system was NOT ahead of its time.

            Obviously you disagree. I can respect that too.

          • jay

            Quit hating on your AR-180! Some of us like em. No it’s not the first, or the prettiest, or even german engineering. But still loveable. Kind of the ak of the m16 world. So Alex, are you supporting Texit? If it happens, you know a lot of us freedom lovers will be migrating. I hope to leave everything of kalifornia behind me. And embrace my families past (lubbock and the pan handle). Maybe see you on the range?

  • Roy G Bunting

    The biggest problem with the AR-180 was that it was never modernized. Imagine it available in various barrel lengths and with a Picatinny Rail standard on top of the receiver. Then imagine an aftermarket assortment of different buttstocks, pistol grips and handguards.

    It would take a significant iteration to have a free float hand-guard, but it could be argued that there is a value to cheap and light plastic handguards.

    • “Imagine it being much heavier.” 😉

      • DW

        Improved materials

        • What materials would you use that did not exist in the 1960s?

          • Joshua

            Polymer obviously…*rolls eyes*

          • DW

            Or rather, manufacuring techniques and design know hows that didnt exist back then.
            And we end up with G36/ACR/some other semi successful AR18 derivatives lol

          • Which are all heavier than an AR-18…

  • James

    I like for some one come out make quality up date version of this rifle. Issue in past build quality on rifles been very crude compare and any Ar15 that are being made now. Yes I know up price these rifles cost more make them does Ar15 this days. There was last issue last company make these rifle where not selling enough keep make them compare to Ar15 they where making at time. I like see if one this well made enough up date how would compare to Ar15. But I know right with way thing are that is gone ever happen.

  • guest

    Very ironic: the rifle that has a gas piston system, a folding stock and a more rational location for the charging handle is eventually what the AR-15 rifle is being developed into, however having a completely different base model it means fighting against features that were built in as opposed to having different ones from the get-go.

    • Joshua

      What?

  • borekfk

    Ichihachi!

    • LCON

      Upolite!! my new best friend… 😛

    • The_manBEar

      da fuq

  • Dickie

    Anyone else have a problem with the sound not matching the video

  • James Shivers

    Really think the AR180S would be the SBR/full automatic I would get if I ever find one. Not sure if any of them exist outside a museum.

  • Edeco

    Weird logo… I mean, a pegasus, ok, but crosshairs over its abdomen? o.O

  • The_manBEar

    holy trigger slap batman

  • Ben Loong

    I wish I could find more examples of the AR-18s built during the brief period when Elisco owned the rights.

    The only one I’ve seen has been this scanned photo toff a display at Villamor Air Base back in ’92 posted by someone at the Timawa forums.

  • Louis Bethel

    Colt’s are timeless, but there are much better 1911’s available now.

  • Bill

    Had three. Loved them all. Sure miss the Howa:(

  • Mike Fassari

    During the infamous SLA shoot-out, in Los Angeles, the LAPD SWAT officer (just in front of the front porch) was armed with an AR180 (I spoke to the officer). He quickly burned thru his pre-loaded magazines and was out of the battle. His team mates threw loaded magazines to him, but they were all carrying M-16’s or AR15’s and te again es didn’t fit. This incident led to the standardization of arms for LAPD SWAT.

  • leewardboy

    We had a Howa – bought it for $160 used with a couple 20 round mags and a Sterling 40 rounder. Reliable, fun, could be extremely accurate if shooter could manage the gritty trigger. It was a hoot to shoot with folded stock out of moving jeep – couldn’t hit anything but fun! This was about 45 years ago. Briefly had another Howa – trigger was still lousy. It was an early one with the SN# on the upper and a restamped AR18 lower. I gave it to a very good friend who was moving to a more firearms friendly state. YMMV

  • Eric Blatter

    The only thing wrong with the design is that the internal parts are also of stamped and folded sheet stock. It they were cast the rifle has few other faults.

  • Kevin Gibson

    The 180 is a joy to shoot. It’s the rifle that failed on 3 continents, but to be honest, it never had a real whole-hearted chance. Legislation basically killed it as an export weapon manufactured in the US, so it was sold to companies who could offer it for sale abroad. But none of those companies really put any meaningful effort into development of the rifle to address it’s weaknesses (parts breakage, and a horribly wobbly stock). But it remains one of the most significant designs in the past 50+ years.