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!