There’s a saying that says what old is new, and the popularity of fixed carry handle rifles have made a roaring resurgence whether it’s nostalgia or space for collectors to build something different from the ordinary sea of flat top ARs with an MLOK handguard. One of the most iconic is the Gordon Carbine and 90s era Delta rifles. Now some people are die-hard clone builders and that’s awesome, but the 90s Delta rifles are a style of their own. This summer, I decided to take a deeper look into the Delta-style rifles and build an AR that wouldn’t be out of place in the delta world during the 1990s. Let’s take a dive into the Delta and Gordon Carbine which has truly become a modern-day classic.
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Back in the early 1990s, the United States was wrapped up in a humanitarian mission in Somalia and were mostly consisted of Army Ranges and Delta Force operators. This mission was made famous by the movie “Black Hawk Down” which really brought the Delta Force operators and their gear into the mainstream media and made the Gordon Carbine a cultural icon during the early 2000s. Gary Gordon was a pioneer of his time and was one of the grandfathers of pushing modern optics and attachments onto modern fighting rifles. He ended up giving his life in Mogadishu protecting Mike Durant after his helicopter crashed. He was awarded the Medal of Honor along with Randy Shughart who also gave his life protecting an American pilot in need.
There were some significant differences between the regular Delta operator rifles and Gary Gordon’s carbine. During that time in history, it really was the Wild West. Talking with people like Kyle Lamb and other operators, there was no set standard or specific call outs for these rifles. Certain rifles were 14.5″ with the older style suppressor and collar system that Ron Allen of Allen Engineering still makes today. Back then it was made by Ops Inc but these suppressors were brand new technology and the delta force operators were one of the first to really put it into use under operational testing.
The majority of these operators used 14.5″ barrels and then added the Ops Inc suppressors which created a fairly long rifle. Gary Gordon wanted to keep the benefits of a suppressor but have a shorter rifle for CQB work. What he ended up doing was cutting the barrel down to 12.5″ and flattening the front of the front sight post to but the two-piece clamp-on collar for the suppressor. This may not seem exciting but for 1993 this was incredibly radical for an operator’s rifle.
Accessories And Building Them Today
The amount of accessories and how they were mounted were again wildly different depending on the operator. Some had them taped onto the handguard while others built very crude barrel mounts so they had everything streamlined without adding bulk to the rifle. The original equipment used back in the 90s is fairly difficult to find on the market today. Even if you do find the period-correct equipment, it is usually absurdly priced and oftentimes no longer works. There are great modern alternatives if you’re not interested in being 100% clone correct that bring modern technology with the same nostalgic look.
The carry handle mounts and everything else are still relatively accessible for mixing the old technology with modern alternatives. Using things like the Aimpoint PRO instead of the older style Aimpoint 5000s with a low mount creates an almost identical footprint. Combine that with a modern Streamlight Protac and you have a very similar setup as the 90s operators while having equipment that performs better. Some people think this thought process is absolute blasphemy which is totally understandable. Depending on your timeframe and budget, the options of being either completely clone correct or similar really start to make sense.
I spent a lot of time going back and forth trying to figure out exactly what I wanted as an era-correct-looking rifle. There are a number of different options from creating a regular rifle, SBR or pistol depending on length and configuration. Having something like a 12.5″ weapon in a pistol configuration just feels like it does the system wrong. An SBR is a best-case scenario but the overall time and work that goes into making it a functioning and legal firearm to own. The easiest and quickest way is going the route of having a fully legal rifle length. For my build, I ended up going with a pinned and welded 14.5″ with an Allen Engineering collar and brake system. The 14.5″ setup was exactly what the majority of Delta operators built in the 90s so it’s fairly correct for the time.
Optics and Weight
Some of the newer accessories and optics were easy to find and adapt for the rifle. I found an incredibly old-style light mount and slowly but surely I had everything I needed. Various parts will always be different shades of black depending on where you order them from but a couple cans of flat rattle can paint will make everything better. Once everything gets put together, the rifle really shines as a fast no-frills rifle.
Depending on the carry handle mount, most times you will still have access to your iron sights as well as the optic which sits very similarly to today’s modern 1.93 mounts if not a bit higher. Add a weapon light and you have a very basic but effective rifle system. We really have gotten used to longer rifles with M-LOK handguards extending out which unfortunately adds weight to the rifle. Picking up something like this Delta carbine, it is immediately clear just how lightweight and fast it is.
So to swing back to our original question, why are these rifles coming back into the market and gaining popularity? The simple answer is because they are completely different from modern rifles today and although they may be almost 30 years old, they definitely are still effective in what they were built for. This may not be the best project for beginners, but having the ability to not only shoot with irons but have a higher mount for night vision or just shooting quickly like that. Combine a lightweight capable rifle with such an incredible history behind them, and you have a really special rifle. For these reasons, I truly believe the Gordon and Delta style carbines really are special rifles and deserve to have a spot in history.
Gary Gordon was truly ahead of his time and it really is great to have his legacy live on with the popularity of this rifle system coming back into the mainstream gun community. Let me know what you guys think about this style of rifles. Are they an effective style or are they outclassed by modern offerings? Let me know what you think in the comments below. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me a message on my Instagram @fridgeoperator. Stay safe out there.