Who really designed the Automag pistol?

Steve Johnson
by Steve Johnson

The Automag was a revolutionary pistol when it was invented. It is recoil operated and uses rotating bolt similar to the AR-15. Despite the gun being a commercial failure (it cost far more to make than the sale price), it was the inspiration for the Desert Eagle and the Wildey autoloader pistols.

The original Automag which chambered the .44 AMP. From Gunbroker.

Jeff Cooper attributed the design to gunsmith Max Gera, although his name did not appear on the final patent. After a falling out with the boss he sold his share of the company and, after a brief stint at Charter Arms, fell off the face of the Earth. Even his daughter had no idea where he was until earlier this year, after three decades in obscurity, when he contacted the author of a book about the AutoMag. Bruce Stark interviewed Max in April and it is a fascinating read

First, who is Max Gera ? In the March 1970 issue of Guns & Ammo magazine, Jeff Cooper twice credits Max Gera as the designer of the Auto Mag and refers to him as Auto Mag Corp.’s Design and Engineering Manager. Max was also named as co-inventor of the Auto Mag on the first patent application which was later abandoned. Max’s name didn’t appear on the final patent.

In October of 1970, Max sold off his interests in the Auto Mag and left Harry Sanford.

After Auto Mag Corp. declared bankruptcy in May of 1972, Max was blamed by some for causing Auto Mag to fail. These were mostly just rumors. However in a letter to Deputy Ed Lippert in July of 1972, Jeff Cooper of Guns & Ammo explained why Auto Mag Corp. went bankrupt. The letter blamed Max and typified the type of rumors that were flying around at the time. Max has asked me to remove this letter from this work as it is inflammatory, libelous and damaging to my reputation.

The above photo is of an AutoMag that was auctioned off earlier this year by the son of Harry Sanford, who owned the company that made the pistol. He claimed to be the brains behind the operation and that Max was just the machinist. His son obviously also thinks so. From the auction

You guys that have been watching these AutoMag auctions and have probably been wondering when will it end. Well, it does with this one…with the exception of one gun which we are trying to get from a family member that may never show up. This is the last AutoMag from the Harry W. Sanford estate.

The guy that read Col. Coopers article in 1958 about a .44 magnum rimless cartridge. In the 60′s, as I was a kid, I hung out with Max Gera. He had some thoughts on my Dad’s idea of an M-16 rotating bolt magazine pistol in .44 Mag. He started some machining on a crude milling machine and I was there when he shot his first shot in a hole in the back of my Dad’s gun shop. They were on there way.

Max had different ideas. He was bought out and my Dad brought some partners in. It was some wild times. Every gun guru in the world was flying in to see this new pistol. The first AutoMag rolled off the production line about two years behind schedule. They were beautiful — all hand-machined and fitted. They were the best AutoMags ever to be made.

So who really designed it? I think we will never really know. There seems to be much evidence that Max was the designer, but in business rarely does the brains really get the credit, usually it is the guy who paid the bills … or at least that is my experience.

By the way, that pistol was auctioned off for over $6000! Some more photos of it …

Many thanks to Ken for the link.

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson

I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!

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  • Rick Rick on Sep 12, 2010

    I am reading about early models of the 44 auto-mag. I also have owned one for nearly 40 years. Mine is serial number 11, which was a pre-production model issued to one of the original employees when they started producing this gun. Sadly, the rest of the kit has deteriorated and been lost over the years, but the gun is still in excellent condition. Just curious what this one would be worth.

  • Andrew Andrew on Nov 06, 2010

    Looking to buy a Pasadena AutoMag but 4.5K is out of my league. I'm just looking for a good used shooter.

    Anyone got one for sale?