I have a confession to make. I have quite a few AR-pattern rifles and my interests in them have always leaned heavily toward the latest and greatest. I have another confession to make. For the most part I still do. I am a techy guy and I like techy stuff.
However, when I was working on a couple of optics articles for Guns and Ammo’s Retro magazine, I took a closer look at Vietnam-era M-16s and there is definitely some nostalgic appeal there. Now, the articles I did were on the Occluded Gun Sight (OEG) like the ones made by Armson and on the first night vision scope. The original night vision is out of my reach, but Armson OEG is in production, so I started conceiving a retro build.
At around the same time, I decided to review Brownells’ new 3-18×50 MPO scope, which is really growing on me. That is when I discovered that Brownells really put some time an effort into supporting the retro replica market. They have a bunch of AR variants that seem to be rather faithful reproductions of many originals including some prototypes that I have barely heard of. To people who are into retro builds none of this is news, I am sure, but it was news for me.
Also, it turned out that Brownells sells a re-incarnation of the original Colt 4x scope made by the original manufacturer. Me, being a nerdy optics guy, I kick off gun reviews based on what optics I want to look at, so between Briwnells’ Retro and Armson OEG, that was enough for me to start making detailed plans.
Originally, I was going to procure the pieces and build one up from scratch, but now I am sorta questioning that plan. As much as I like working on guns, I am not convinced I can do better than Brownells has done and if I procure good quality components, I am not at all convinced it will be cheaper.
To be entirely honest, the variant I am really curious about the the BRN-PROTO Rifle with its vertical charging handle, but that will not work with carry handle mounted optics, so I will file this one away into the “some day” folder. For a bit there, I was just going to buy one of Brownells’ retro builds and be done with it, but then I stumbled onto something that changed my mind.
The original M16 had a 1-14″ barrel twist. Most of Brownells’ retro models utilize a 1-12″ twist to make the bullet a little more stable at distance. All of the complete 5.56 rifles they have are bult with that barrel twist.
However, as it turned out, one of the complete uppers they have utilizes a 1-7″ twist. While it is not historically accurate, it is imminently more practical for me since I have quite a lot of 5.56 ammo of all manner of bullet weights and I would like to be able to shoot whatever ammo happens to be on hand with this retro build.
With all that in mind, my plan is as follows:
- Get a complete upper assembly from Brownells with 1-7″ twist when it is back in stock.
- Get retro appropriate grip and stock
- The rest I can procure locally. I’ve built enough lowers over the years that I probably have enough pieces in the spare parts bin to complete a couple of lower assemblies. All I need is a mil-spec stripped lower receiver.
I think that will be retro enough for my purposes.
Lastly, Brownells is not the only game in town for this kind of stuff, but they seem to have the most extensive assortment of relevant pieces. JSE Surplus seems to be another good source and, of course, a few minutes of searching the web will yield a ton of information on different retro builds.
Generally, there is so much information out there on AR-15s and how to select the right components that it is sometimes difficult to filter through the BS. If you are new-ish to ARs, I strongly recommend checking out the AR-15 article series on Everyday Marksman website. Matt knows his stuff. Except for those time when he disagrees with me. Then, he is just plain wrong.