Playing Taps for the Bugle: Forgotten Weapons Sends Off the Famous FAMAS

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The French next generation rifle competition is coming to an end, the two finalists, one from Belgium and the other from Germany, and the incumbent is set for replacement over the next few years. Before either the SCAR or the HK416 are inducted as the new arm of France, let’s take a look at the last French-designed standard rifle to serve in that capacity, the innovative and distinctive FAMAS. Fortunately for us, Ian of Forgotten Weapons has done just that, with a half-hour long video on the rare imported civilian version, the MAS 223:

The video above does a very good job illustrating just how sound a design the FAMAS really is. Unfortunately, today the technical merits of the FAMAS’s design seem to mostly ignored. In several respects, such as receiver architecture, action design, barrel and hardware mounting, the FAMAS was very ahead of its time, and even ahead of some bullpup rifles today. A 1960s design, the FAMAS features a winter trigger guard, ambidextrous controls, user-changeable ejection requiring no extra points, lightweight “backbone” type construction, integrated rifle grenade launcher, free-floated barrel, and an isolated bipod assembly.

On the other hand, the FAMAS has had far from a trouble-free career. Largely due to funding issues, the FAMAS retained a 1/12 twist barrel that was designed for 55gr ammunition derived from the earlier M193 round of the pre-A2 model M16s, and these barrels created stabilization issues with NATO-standard 62gr ammunition. As well, the FAMAS also has a typically French military trigger, that is to say, not a good one.

LBO60-J-F2-L

LBO60-J-F1-L

Image source: Rock Island Auction Company

 

Still, the FAMAS is an extremely significant design, being one of the very first successfully adopted bullpup rifles in the world, and a very advanced design for the period. Today, though, innovations particularly in the accessory world have made the FAMAS less than state-of-the-art, and since production stopped around the turn of the millenium, the French rifle fleet has become old.



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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  • TDog

    Would’ve loved to get my hands on one of these. Maybe someone could get a license to produce a civilian version of these?

    • BrandonAKsALot

      It likely wouldn’t be worth it if it had to be licensed. Plus, lever delay, like roller delay, can be finicky and you have such a wide range of .223 cartridges, it would take a lot of time to refine it to work with most. It’s a very cool design though and you can see influences from HK and the FN all over it. The receiver itself looks very similar to the FAL.

      • Sermon 7.62

        Some companies like DS Arms should make not just FAL but also Valmet and FAMAS. And AK47.

    • kingghidorah

      The’re out there, imported by century years ago.

      • KestrelBike

        One was on gunbroker half a year ago, for about $13,000.

      • TDog

        I believe the number imported was less than two dozen. The prices are so not within my range!

        • KestrelBike

          See, I read awhile back that ~1,000 were imported, which is still almost 5x as much as the estimate that Ian makes in the video.

          Years and years ago, I had read a forum post somewhere where supposedly the guy was at a gun show and one seller had a dozen of them stacked in their boxes, and he was trying to get rid of them for $800/ea. The forum poster lamented as he remembered walking past them with a scoff saying something like “who would want a french rifle?”

          • TDog

            I’d read it was less than two dozen. Regardless, I haven’t found any that folks weren’t asking an arm and a leg for… 🙁

          • Steve_7

            It was twenty-ish, that’s right, I spoke to Century about it years ago. Also, there are two prototype semi-auto SA80s that were imported in 1989, one is in the ATF reference collection, the other is in a private collection.

  • John

    Right now Chapuis is the only company making civilian firearms in France, I think.

    • Paul Joly

      That isn’t the case, the list is actually quite long.

      • Tritro29

        Long comme le bras.

    • Anonymoose

      Did Manhurin go out of business? I’ve seen a lot of MR73s being sold by milsurp companies lately.

  • Minuteman

    SCAR or HK416 is pretty much a toss up. BMW or Mercedes, neither of them is Audi 😉 Anyway, you can’t really go wrong with either of them. Personally, me being an AR-15 guy, the G38 would have my vote as I’ll always prefer an AR variant of some sort and it needs less after market to get it squared away (Geissele trigger, Lantac muzzle brake and Magpul/BCM furniture, and perhaps some Battle Arms Development tweaks). The SCAR is less perfect and needs more retrofitting, yet you can bet the SCAR will win the contract as the French are much closer with FN and their Belgian brothers in arms than with H&K and the Germans. Politics and sentiment will play a huge part in this bid. FAMAS needs to go asap, replacement is long overdue.

    • iksnilol

      As much as I like German cars I really have a bad image of the BMW, Mercedes and Audi.

      BMW: breaks’a’lot
      Mercedes: driven by old people who forgot they’re 70+ years old (and people who tihnk they’re better than you but it is they and not you who took a house loan to buy a car)
      Audi: driven by people who can’t drive (I mean, following the traffic laws and rules is optional when driving an Audi).

      Of the 3 I’d go with BMW, simply because rear wheel drive is fun.

      Digression aside I think Famas just needs to be modernized IMO… y’know, produce specimens that aren’t 30 years old.

      • Minuteman

        I wouldn’t know about your AO, but in my neck of the woods not at all. Quite the opposite! Driver profiling aside, Audi WHIPS BMW and Mercedes. Just compare the interiors alone. Audi is hands down superior in each and every way and puts BMW and Mercedes to shame. Anybody who knows cars will tell you that. BMW and Mercedes are overpriced and overrated, and they’re ugly as sin. Audi screams class, I don’t drive any other brand.

        OT: There’s nothing to modernize as they’re simply shot out and the tooling for spare parts doesn’t exist anymore, which is the exact reason the French want to bin the FAMAS all together.

        • Tritro29

          Again maintenance is still current, it’s the production that doesn’t exist in form and would cost too much for a one rifle/one army order. It’s not the Cold War anymore…

          • Minuteman

            Production is needed for parts. When you eventually run out of parts, you’re shagged. There’s really no point in keeping alive a rifle or any other means of war that simply is past its prime and for which the industrial infrastructure to support it for many years to come no longer exists. You cannot keep a production line open forever and have to move on to something new sooner rather than later.

          • Tritro29

            … Describe how the Famas is past its prime when compared to the likes of AR-15 or the M2HB or the AK? The FAMAS issue is one of political will and economical capital, not one of industrial capability. Simply put, no one wants to resume production and have to hire people and guarantee contracts for 5 years and them drop them again, politically it would be too costly and economically a folly for a government contract. This is made worse by European regulation that doesn’t allow, in-house selection or government subsidized contracts. In other words, even if France was to chose a local design or to restart the FAMAS line, it couldn’t without having the EU throwing a tantrum.

            So moving to something new is actually adopting a rifle that is older in principle than the FAMAS? Are you really understanding the issue here?

            It’s not a simple quality issue, it’s a whole can or bureaucratic and economic worms.

          • Likely creating a more modernized version of the FAMAS would cost substantially more in R&D, tooling, employees, pensions than purchasing a off the shelf firearm from an arms company.

            The real problem is timing of the switch; within the next decade we’re likely to see the new LSAT cased telescopic polymer ammo and/or the use of smart grenades/smart sights – effectively making the new rifles they’ve purchased sub-optimal.

            Basically they are about to adopt Blackberry’s when Iphone’s are a few years away.

            It would make more sense to keep the FAMAS, and just purchase 10-20K new rifles for their SF and foreign deployed troops, and save the complete re-armament for once LSAT/ Smart Grenades come into service.

          • Tritro29

            While yes a new breed of ammunition is also to be implemented, the most problematic part is that the OTS rifle will have to be adapted to their Felin, system both present and future.
            This is a reminder on why somethings shouldn’t be left alone too long, otherwise then up costing an arm and a leg.

        • iksnilol

          I dunno, both my brothers drive Audis. I’ve driven their cars and I’ve seen their driving, not impressed at all. I think we should have an open season year round on Audi drivers. To be perfectly honest, WV and Skoda beat the “holy trio” any day of the week for normal purposes. I’d only give an advantage to BMW due to rear wheel drive being nice (if you like to drift through hairpins or like driving super fast).

          I was thinking producing new specimens with picatinny rails and modern materials/manufacturing. That’s what I meant by modernizing.

          • Minuteman

            Maybe that’s their driving, my driving is perfect. In all those years I’ve never caused havoc.
            Depends on what you mean by ‘normal’ purposes’. I drive my Audi everyday and it is my standard. As for those other brands, they aren’t even comparable, not in a million years. VW and Skoda are lower end brands. Audi is a high end/luxury brand. Totally different segment of the automobiles market. As for driving superfast: I’ll take on any Beemer with an A4 TFSI Quattro. Let alone A8. Audi is the best car on the planet and everybody who knows cars knows it. The quality and innovation is beyond anything else out there and they’re to hell and back reliable. I’ve never had any problems in all my years of driving Audi’s.

            Copy. I’m not a fan of bull pups though, I prefer an adjustable lop and the ergos of the AR. They feel most natural to me.

          • iksnilol

            Luxury brand AKA handles like crap, I’ve seen rowboats with better agility. Too long, too heavy, too wide. Handling is everything. I’ve beaten cars with twice my horsepower in a couple of street races due to that. Then again, Norway is full of curves. Straightways are for people who can’t drive. My brothers Audis are in good condition. A6s both. But Audi people in general are horrible drivers: tailgating, crossing lines and zones and being generally a nuisance on the road (especially with all that pre-corner braking, like for the love of Christ just let go of the gas for a moment instead of braking like a madman before every corner).

            If I had the money for a fast car I’d get a Subaru Impreza sedan. 90’s model with 2 liter engine. No turbo, maybe a supercharger but not a turbo. Turbo isn’t smooth and is only really good for economy and straightways. Normal purposes = not driving fast (80-90 km/h), y’know, normal people. Those who break before corners and stuff.

            Also, no offense, but anybody who says they’re a perfect driver obviously doesn’t know much about either cars or driving.

            Bullpups can have adjustable LOP, just nobody has done it properly yet though 🙁

          • tb556

            Why does the “best car” company have to lie about it’s engines and defraud its customers?

          • CruisingTroll

            In all those years I’ve never caused havoc.

            This, sir, is highly unlikely, although it would come as no surprise that you would think such. The vast majority of havoc that a driver causes occurs BEHIND them, and thus they generally remain blissfully unaware. Disregard is your statement includes an implied wink… 😀

          • Sermon 7.62

            New 2016 Skodas are great.

          • iksnilol

            I stick to the 90’s and early 2000s. Anything past 2004 is usually no bueno for me. New cars are way too heavy.

            Sure would be fun to afford a 2016 Skoda, though.

          • Sermon 7.62

            I like 90’s cars, too. And most of things from the 90’s.

          • iksnilol

            I think that was the time when we had the best balance of performance and safety. Todays cars are “too” safe, in the regard that the added bulk and weight of their safety makes them… at least for me, less safe.

  • Anonymoose

    Best part is that it was used by my waifu. <3

    • 40mmCattleDog

      Meryl <3

    • Dickie

      Wanted one ever since playing that game. O and a HK MK23!!

      • Anonymoose

        Don’t forget about the PSG1, the Deagle, and the M60. You could also get an MP5SD in the PC port of MGS1.

    • Rock or Something

      I was always curios to why they chose the FAMAS in Metal Gear Solid since the enemy were supposedly renegade “Special Forces” units on an American Nuclear Base.

      • Anonymoose

        They chose it because it was futuristic-looking and looked cool blocky PS1 rendering. We don’t use PSG1s or deagles either.

  • Giolli Joker

    I’ve always loved the FAMAS as a kid, when recently I realized it was a retarded blowback I liked it even more, now this video really heightened my interest.
    Great job from Ian and interesting and underrated rifle.
    The fully free floated barrel really surprised me: pretty rare on bullpups.

    Estimated Price: $8,500 – $12,000
    Ouch!
    But I’m glad I can’t bid…

    • gunsandrockets

      Lot’s of fascinating engineering on that rifle. And yeah, that free floated barrel was the greatest surprise.

    • HollowTs

      As soon as they scrap them the parts kits will show up here. Just be patient. I want one too.

    • Daisuke0222

      Same here. I lusted after this rifle when I was a kid. Something about its design always appealed to me. Still does, TBH, though I wouldn’t want to have to run only steel cased 55gr.

  • tony

    The closest I can get my hands on is the airsoft version, well…

    • DIR911911 .

      for me it’s MW3

  • John

    Did TFB get confirmation from the French military about the finalists?

  • iksnilol

    As much as I like to badmouth the Famas I really do like it. + it works well with steel cased ammo… con: it works slightly less well with brass cased ammo.

  • Raoul O’Shaugnessy

    Well, they could upgrade it with an integral rail system, quick change barrel, and bring it into the 21st century by making it out of polymer.

    Or as we call it, the AUG.

    Seriously, they could license build it and call it the ‘French AUG’ – the FrAUG!

    Thank you, thank you..I’ll be here all week. Tip your waitress.

    • Minuteman

      Face lifting the FAMAS is pointless because they’re simply worn out and the tooling base for parts has been dismantled long ago. It needs to be replaced, period.

    • Tritro29

      They did all that. It’s called the Famas Rev/Valorisé. They also went further with the Famas Surbaissé.

  • As far as the rifling twist is concerned, don’t forget that France was not an official member of NATO between 1966 and 2009. The FAMAS was adopted prior to the ratification of STANAG 4172, and compatibility was not an immediate concern given France’s lack of NATO membership.

    • Anonymoose

      Heck, until 1977, 5.56 wasn’t even NATO standardized, and the 55gr loadings were just a suggestion by the US. The HK33, Galil, and FN CAL originally had 1/12 twists, and the AUG (which was probably the first actual “5.56 NATO” rifle, since it came out in 1977 along with STANAG 4172) only had a 1/9, which won’t stabilize NATO-standard tracers, same as the FAMAS G2, which also has a 1/9. “STANAG magazines” have always been just a Draft STANAG,so the G36, CZ805, most of those Warsaw-turned-NATO countries 5.56 AKs, and a few other newer rifles still don’t use them, or take a modular magwell to use them.

      • FWIW: The FN SS109 and L110 were not selected by NATO until 1980. The 1-7″ twist was effectively mandated by the adoption of the latter. Presumably for the 1-9″ twist barrels, FN once offered an alternative tracer design, the L102, which would have split the difference in visible trace between the L95 (M196 equivalent) and the L110. In contrast, the US submissions to the NATO trials, the XM777 Ball and XM778 Tracer, were designed for a 1-12″ twist so that the legacy M16A1 would not require rebarreling.

        Moreover, Austria wasn’t a NATO member either.

        • Steve_7

          Yes that’s right, SS109 will work with a 1/12″ barrel, it has a shorter bullet than the M196 tracer. I don’t know where this myth started that it doesn’t, there were even US Army trials were they shot loads of SS109 out of M16A1s and as I dimly recall they said it was more accurate than M193 at certain distances.

    • Wu-Tang

      France never left NATO. It merely left NATO intergrated command but was still a part of the command structure.

  • Cal.Bar

    Leave it to the French…. how can you win a war with the bayonet on TOP of the barrel!

    • iksnilol

      To be honest, bayonets in general don’t make sense in the config we see them in. A bayonet against humans should be placed horizontally instead of vertically. So as to go between the ribs on a human (and not a horse like it was originally made to).

      • Or just a straight up spike bayonet for durability and penetration.

        • iksnilol

          Or that, but I like to use my bayonet for non stabby purposes as well.

          Y’know, gotta cut the pepperoni someohow.

  • The Raven Returns

    Got a chance to run a few mags, through one of these, years ago.

    Not really to my liking.

  • Sermon 7.62

    I find it sophisticated and interesting.

  • Sermon 7.62

    This rifle is superb. Just needs an over-the-barrel suppressor to complete the look.

  • Steve_7

    The trigger pull on the FA MAS isn’t that bad, I would go so far as to say it is the best trigger pull I’ve ever used on a bullpup. Definitely better than an AUG or an SA80. Much better balanced as well, not butt heavy. As for the magazines, the G2 might use STANAG mags but holy crap is the magazine release stiff and the mag well is super tight. It’s a real bear to reload it. Never had a problem with brass-cased ammo in a FA MAS either, I’ve heard of casehead separations but imx they work fine with regular ammo.

    Also, can we put this myth to bed that a 1/12 twist cannot stabilize SS109? I used to shoot it out of my SP1 with no problem. The 1/7 twist is for the L110 tracer. The old M196 tracer has a longer bullet than the SS109 bullet. No-one argues that the M196 tracer isn’t stabilized in a 1/12 twist.

  • Joe Moore

    it really would not be difficult for an American company to start making these, as well as the British L85, in limited numbers. They would definitely sell. I would be very interested in both the L85A2 and FAMAS G2.