Firearm Showcase: The Winchester Lightweight Military Rifle at the Cody Firearms Museum – HIGH RES PICS!

In January, just before the 2017 SHOT Show, I got the opportunity to travel to Cody Wyoming to visit the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, to see some of their rare firearms and bring photos of them to our readers.

Today’s firearm is a “might-have-been” that really is impressive. In the late 1950s, the US Army was performing trials on lightweight, small caliber high velocity firearms, including the very earliest versions of the AR-15. To compete against what would later become the archetypal “black rifle”, Winchester submitted a very impressive sub-5lb weapon which externally resembled the M1 Carbine. In fact, the Winchester Lightweight Military Rifle (WLWMR or LMR) was not based on the WWII-era carbine, but actually on the series of weapons developed during that same time by convict-turned-gun-designer David Marshall Williams. Although to my knowledge Williams himself was not directly involved in the development of the LMR, it is a very close mechanical copy of his carbine and G30 full-caliber rifle designs, even down to features like the safety. Although the LMR looks like it’s chambered for .223 Remington, like the early AR-15s, it is in fact chambered for a slightly different round, the .224 Winchester E2, which used an almost identical case but with a shorter bullet and shorter overall length than .223. In fact, .224 Winchester E2 rounds chambered and fired just fine in AR-15s, and in early tests both guns were fed with the same ammunition!

Handling the LMR was really a treat; the rifle lifts off the table like it has antigravity on board. A very lightweight action design (common to all of Williams’ pattern guns) plus a fluted pencil barrel made the LMR feel much handier than its size suggests, creating a similar feeling to picking up a large pumice stone.

Alas, when the AR-15 proved to be the better gun in trials, Winchester dropped further development of the LMR. Just think what a success it could have been if they had, with commercial LMR variants hitting stores in the mid-1960s, beating the (heavier and much less elegant) Ruger Mini-14 by a decade!

If you’re interested in seeing more of the Cody Firearms Museum, I highly recommend taking a trip out to Cody, Wyoming to see their awesome and extensive collection. They have over 7,000 firearms, about 4,000 of which are on display. In particular, if you have an interest in Winchester firearms and their history, Cody is the place to be. If just a visit isn’t enough for you, then check out the museum’s 79-page book, which highlights some of the finest pieces in their collection!



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 is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at [email protected]


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  • Jared Vynn

    Wonder how the barrel would be accuracy wise and if it would hold up for sustained fire. Looks like the barrel band is part of the gas block.

  • Bigg Bunyon

    Much more comprehensive article in a 2016 NRA rag. I forget which month, but if you’re an NRA member (hopefully you are) you know the article.

  • The .224 Winchester E2 cartridge was hobbled from the start as it had to fit in Winchester’s existing prototype rifles. It was too late to redesign the rifle’s action for a longer cartridge, fabricate new prototypes, and still meet the delivery schedule for CONARC. While the .224 Winchester E2 cartridge could feed and fire in the ArmaLite AR-15, the longer .222 Special (.223 Remington) cartridge could only be single-loaded in the Winchester rifle. So a great deal of the US Army’s early comparison testing of the AR-15 was conducted with the .224 Win E2 cartridge, and not the .223 Remington. I often speculate that the .224 Win E2’s short-ogive, flat-base projectile masked the cold weather accuracy issues later seen with the AR-15’s original 1:14″ rifling twist and the long-ogive, boat-tail projectiles loaded by Remington.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/91aa7a1eeb5e2c9f5a1bea274d70cc99ce8bf069889a97d0441c5e89f9b2861f.jpg

    Another point of interest is that the throat dimensions of the .224 Win E2 chamber appear to be closer to the military’s 5.56mm specifications than the SAAMI specifications for the commercial .223 Remington.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/068967f9986e18cb8b8a09b3f2facab25e66382a7673122d06b79fbb0e7eacf3.jpg

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4c50fb98f1dd23873719c28032fcbb91e5795dbf1982aa57f9221b6c93b7061e.jpg

    Between 1961 and 1963, Springfield Armory contracted with Winchester to rechamber some of these rifles to fire the flechette ammunition being developed for the SPIW program, such as the Frankford Arsenal XM144 and the Winchester XM144-WE3 and XM144-WE4. This was separate from Winchester’s own efforts to develop a SPIW candidate. I suspect that this was done to provide a control platform for testing the flechette ammunition outside of single-shot barrels and the “Blue Sky” tech of the SPIW candidates.

  • iksnilol

    Wonder how much weight you could shave by going with carbon fiber and aluminium wherever possible.

    • Jared Vynn

      I’m guessing a pound or two, up to a kilogram. Would be interesting to see one with an ultra lightweight barrel like what Taccom3g has.

      • iksnilol

        So you could have a rifle that weighs about what a loaded full size pistol does?

        That’s… that’s amazing, really.

        • Jared Vynn

          I may be generous in my estimates, but just the stock could save you at least 10 oz using carbon fiber, probably more if you went with a skeletonized stock. You would get even more weight savings switching more components from steel to aluminum or titanium though.

          • iksnilol

            That’s what i was thinking, use aluminium where possible, if not, then titanium. Then use a sleeved pencil barrel.

          • Jared Vynn

            Would make for a great backpack/hunting rifle.

          • iksnilol

            Would be a decent anything rifle.

            And if you downsized and chambered it for 5.7mm it would be good for homedefense for weaker individuals.

          • Jared Vynn

            I would favor 22tcm, simply as it would be easier to convert as you could use the same bolt. Would be great for youth and weaker/inexperienced shooters.

    • All of the non-dynamic components on the LMR are already made of aluminum or wood… Although you could probably give the rifle the Sako Carbonlight treatment if you wanted, though I think that would only drop the mass down by a pound at most.

      • iksnilol

        So only possible weight reduction is the stock? Hmmm… bullpupping could save some additional weight weight, since you avoid the big stock mass.

        Still, sub 2 kg for a 5.56 rifle is fantastic.

        • The bullpup layout typically adds weight due to the increased architecture, it doesn’t decrease it.

          • iksnilol

            Typically doesn’t mean always, my dear bearded comrade.

            You could use a skeletonized bullpup stock, then a lightweight electrical trigger.

          • How would that be lighter than a hollow carbon fiber stock?

          • iksnilol

            Well, you don’t have the paddle section that’s the rear of the stock past the pistol grip.

          • Which is a very low-mass unit, especially if made of hollow carbon fiber. Instead of this, with a bullpup layout you now need major structural components to house the trigger forward of the receiver, you need raised sight mounts, and some kind of cheek protector attached to the receiver. All of that would surely be heavier than a simple ultralight stock unit.

            I’ve done a few design studies on bullpups, and each one has indicated that, all things being equal, a bullpup will be heavier than a comparable conventional rifle.

          • Jared Vynn

            Did you do any studies with striker fire style bullpups?

          • Yes.

      • Jared Vynn

        Skeletonize the stock on the butt and you could get a few more ounces of weight savings.

  • SGT_B

    I wonder what the patent status is on this rifle. Could an enterprising individual/company start manufacturing new versions of these? Could we chamber it in something more versatile such as 6.5 Grendel?

    • Any patents on this design would have expired a long time ago. The Winchester Lightweight Military Rifle is nearly 60 years old.

    • Old Vet

      You took the words right out of my mouth. Would love to see it on the Grendel caliber myself.

  • UnrepentantLib

    Dropping further development of the LMR has to be one of the great corporate missteps. Ruger proved there’s a market for a traditional military style rifle, especially considering the core civilian market at the time was the generation that grew up after WWII with affection for the M1 rifle and particularly the M1 carbine. As a military rifle the LMR would probably have been shunted to niche roles, like arming paramilitary police, since the trend was to the “assault rifle” format. But if perfected it would probably have been a big seller.

    • I agree, I think they really dropped the ball with that one.

      • I suspect a certain amount of Fudd logic was involved: “Why would any sportsman need more than 5 rounds?” and “Why would any serious shooter want an inaccurate semi-auto to hunt woodchucks?”

        • ostiariusalpha

          They did have that model in a sporter stock, but the proponents of the sporter model may have lost influence to the fudd faction when the rifle failed against the AR-15. Colt was also looking like it would dominate the civilian semi-auto market with the SP1, and Winchester might have judged that the profit margin just wasn’t there to justify any further investment. Ruger’s production costs were lower than Winchester’s (and its owner less risk averse), so the Mini-14 was put out into the market while Winchester vainly struggled to find a different wonder gun that would be hugely successful and save the company’s finances.

          • Winchester gave up on the LMR long before the Colt SP1 was released in 1964. As for the Mini-14, please remember that it wasn’t available on the civilian market until the early/mid-1970s.

        • Stephen Paraski

          All the surplus stores sold M1 Carbines and many hit the woods in MI, even with a 5 round law.

    • gunsandrockets

      Hey, I wish Winchester had sold the LMR to the civil market. But I respect the hard headed business decision Winchester made to end the project.

      Consider what the civilian market was like at the time Winchester dropped the LMR. Several companies were already doing a profitable business building up inexpensive M1 carbines from milsurp parts. And those parts didn’t start running out for almost ten more years.

      And would the Winchester LMR even been able to compete against the Mini-14? Winchester probably would have had to sell the LMR at least 50% more than the price of the Mini-14 to make a profit. I doubt the various police units which bought Mini-14 would have been willing to pay so much more for the LMR.

  • TJbrena

    How soon can we expect the next installment of the Light Rifle series? It’s been over a year.

    • I am glad to see people are still asking! So here’s the story with Light Rifle…

      The first four articles were created using secondary sources, chiefly Canfield and Stevens. Essentially, I created historical narratives that closely mirrored the ones presented in their books, selecting information between them for what I thought was most accurate. This is an involved process that I found took approximately 2.5 months to complete properly, given the other responsibilities I have for this site.

      Light Rifle V has become different. Originally, V was going to cover the development of the 7.62mm NATO caliber from the .300 Savage, but I found a problem. This narrative was so dry and boring that I hardly wanted to write it, much less did I think anyone would read it. Plus, they could have gotten a much more thorough treatment of the subject from HWS III, which came out a couple of months after I started work on LRV.

      So I scrapped that version of LRV, and spent some time thinking about what I was going to do instead. I started revisiting the classical narrative regarding Colonel Studler, with which I found a few flaws. This has become a project in and of itself, and I am currently engaged in research in primary sources for that.

      Even though development has taken a long time, I am more excited for LRV than I have ever been. I think I’ve got something really groundbreaking here, a fresh take on the story that hasn’t ever been released before, and which is more complete and accurate than any previous narrative. I can’t promise when it will be done (I never do), but I think it’ll really be something when it is.

    • And just to let you know I’m not leading you on, here’s a piece of LRV that has already been written:

      In 1935, Studler returned to the Office of the Chief of Ordnance again, and soon after applied for a 3 month leave to visit Europe to study the factories and small arms developments there. Upon his return, he wrote a report of his tour, which so impressed his superiors that he was chosen to become Ordnance’s London liaison in 1936. He was, it seems, uniquely suited to this role, as The Ordnance Department: Planning Munitions for War recounts:

      “But the number of Ordnance officers qualified by experience who also had the necessary command of a foreign language and who had private incomes large enough to meet the expenses of a tour of duty abroad was small; in fact, between 1920 and 1940 there were only nine, and between November 1930 and May 1940 only two— Maj. Philip R. Faymonville in Moscow, and Capt. Rene R. Studler assigned to London.”

      From 1936 to 1940, Captain Studler traveled throughout Europe, studying the weapons of foreign powers as part of his position as the London liaison. By the time the Battle of Britain broke out in July of 1940, Studler, now a Major, was one of the most experienced and well-educated weapons experts in the Army. According to Colonel Raymond Lee:

      “There are few, if any, other ordnance officers alive who have had such opportunities for first hand study and comparison of modern weapon development and use as Major Studler has enjoyed.

      “For this reason, I recommend that his opinions be given prompt and serious consideration by those authorities who are now making decisions of great magnitude and long range importance to the future of the U.S. Army.”

      Lee’s recommendation of was apparently taken on board, and in 1940 Studler was recalled from Europe, promoted to Colonel, and made Chief of Ordnance’s Small Arms Division. As Chief, he would spend the next 13 years overseeing some of the Army’s most innovative and successful small arms programs, but this period would also be one of great contention and controversy.

  • john huscio
    • No, the LMR is a very direct derivative of Williams’ 1941 carbine and 1943 G30R rifle. The ZK-420 was developed post-war.

      The ZK-420 was heavily influenced by the M1 Garand, as was Williams’ work in the early ’40s, hence the resemblance.

  • B-Sabre

    As a military rifle, I have to think the fluted barrel would cause problems in extended engagements, particularly in hot climates. I’d like to know if it made it to tropical environmental testing and how it did.
    That is a beautiful rifle, and I’ll take two in 5.56×45. Or one in 5.56 and one in .300 Blackout.

  • Klaus

    Sexy little carbine for sure.Is it possible someone at HK saw one of these because the SL6 looks a lot like this particular example.

  • Wolfgar

    The problem with the development of the Winchester LMR was the same that plagued the development of the AR-15, the Infantry board range requirements were increased to 500 yards. At that time, Winchester actually was a head of Armalite with their rifle development. Winchester had to withdraw for ballistic improvements and was not ready for the March 1958 Infantry Board trials. Chamber pressure problems led Winchester to the same conclusion as Stoner, they made the neck longer and used a different powder which was not even their own but DuPonts which the Armalite rifle was designed around. The irony is “Olin” Winchester was forced to choose IMR powder for the224E round while the Armalite which was developed around the DuPont IMR powder was switched to “Olin Powder” Winchester during the Vietnam war causing the problems with that rifle.

    • Daniel Watters sets the record straight on the propellant controversy in this post: http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2015/01/09/jim-sullivan-m16-vietnam/

      • Wolfgar

        Yes, nothing new in Daniel Watters report. They were forced to meet their 500 yard requirement without surpassing required chamber pressures.The LMR was found to have high breech pressures with a hot round using Olin ball powder and had to switch to IMR powder. Armalite and Winchester agreed on a common cartridge size so the 222 special would function in either rifle. The Winchester round now called the224E2 had to be loaded deep in the neck to fit in the existing gun design.

        • Wolfgar

          The Winchester round made the AR-15 test results poorer than would have been with the 223 special round. The better bullet design in the 223 special had much better performance at long range. The Winchester round also had a considerable number of primer cups loosen up “50%” in the AR-15 compared to the Remington loaded 223 special which had zero.

  • I love the T25, and there was sort of a scaled down variant, the Springfield .224 rifle by Albert Lizza:

    http://i.imgur.com/RLTjFcd.png

    Now, it’s not exactly a T25, because it uses a rotating bolt instead of a prop lock like the BAR, but it supposedly did derive a number of features and the general design from it.

    • Vincent

      -love the T25
      Ah, a man of fine taste and an interesting pic!
      I’m curious, would you have kept the tilting bolt or gone the rotating bolt route like Mr. Lizza had you been the one to design it?

      Also looking forward to an eventual article about the story of Earle Harvey’s brainchild and all the twists and turns during it’s development.

      • I think the locking block design that Harvey used is very interesting, not sure I would have made the swap to rotary.

  • I would buy it. If it ever becomes ‘available’ I will be happy to run it !!

  • Stephen Paraski

    What a beautiful piece of Art. The 1st half of 20th century produced beautiful, graceful products, and the warmth of that wood.

  • nate

    i bet that if Winchester redesigned this rifle to fit the .223/5.56 cartridge and sold it today, it could find a niche in the market place right along the mini 14. the market place is really saturated in ar-15’s and i think people want something a little different, plus you might be able to make this one CA legal with out too much effort