Back in the 1980s, Springfield Armory gave Americans access to some of the best guns the world had to offer. Here are four of the greatest.
What Were Springfield Armory's Best Imports:
A prolific gunmaker, Springfield Armory is also an inexhaustible importer. Most obvious to modern shooters are the XD pistols, the Croatian-made HS2000, which makes up the lion’s share of the company’s handgun catalog. Successful as the line has proven, it’s really just the Johnny-come-lately.
Early in Springfield Armory’s history, it raked in a number of imported guns, some of which are out-and-out classics. We look at four of them today. By no means do they account for every gun the company introduced to the U.S. market, but there’s a case they’re among the best they ever sold. Those shooting in the 1980s should more than catch the drift.
Born in Spain, refined in German, made in Greece—this truly European rifle might be Springfield Armory’s greatest import. The SAR-3 was an out-and-out gem, putting a sporter Heckler & Koch G3 (read semi-auto Model 91) into your hands at a fractionof the Teutonic titan’s price. Thing is, you weren’t settling going Greek. Turned out by the thousands for the Hellenic Armed Forces, H&K keep tight reigns on how Greek arms maker EBO made them. Under the watchful eye of German engineers and using H&K tooling, the SAR-3 almost doesn’t deserve the moniker clone. It’s dang near the original rifle made in a different country.
So, what do you get in the G3 … er, SAR-3? Aside from bruiser 7.62x51mm NATO chambering, the meat of the gun is its roller-delayed blowback action and modularity. The former gives the gun the utmost reliability—it will chew through .30-caliber clean, dirty or otherwise. If you shoot it a lot, plan on dirty, at least to the degree of an AR. The latter aspect isn’t so much a matter of upgrading, say like the AR again. Instead, the feature makes it a simple and intuitive rifle to get apart and access to every nook and cranny of the rifle. No stretch to say, it’s a snap to troubleshoot in the field.
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Springfield Armory had brief run with the SAR-3, importing it from 1985-1989, offering both fixed and folding stock models—both with 17.5-inch barrels. Its market brevity was fueled by the early- to mid-1990s Federal Gun Legislation, culminating in the 1994 “Assault Weapons Ban”, which put the kibosh on the SAR-3 as a pure G3 Clone Springfield continued to piece together a version of the rifle, the SAR-8. The ugly twin, was essentially the same rifle, however, in a thumbhole stock and shipped with a 10-round magazine.
Dotting grainy photographs of fighting men in the African bush, the “Right Arm of the Free World” was captivating. Steeped in the romance of deadly conflict in faraway places, come the 1980s the FN FAL was next to impossible procure. Not that demand tapped out the market. FN Herstal cut off the supply of its semi-automatic version, leaving aspiring soldiers of fortune high and dry.
Door closed, Springfield Armory smelled the opportunity to open a window and did as much with the SAR-48. Brazilian made by FN-licensed Indústria de Material Bélico do Brasil (IMBEL), the 7.61x51mm NATO rifle was as true to the original as if it rolled off a Belgian assembly line. Piston, grips, stock, the whole shebang was authentic, built to FN specs and overseen by the legendary gunmaker’s officials. In short—sans select-fire—it was a FAL.
Mystique aside, the attraction to the FAL—thus the SAR-48—was its tried-and-true design, born from the mind of John M. Browning protégé Dieudonné Saive. A staple of nearly all NATO countries outside of The United States for the better part of the mid-20th Century, the FAL proved itself in nearly every climate across the globe. It was temperamental in deserts, where it was reported to have jamming issues, otherwise, the design was rugged and reliable—the same traits endearing the SAR-48 to American shooters. Much of what made the rifle tick like a clock was its gas-operated short-stroke piston and tilting breechblock, which facilitated smooth and nearly unfailing cycling.
Variety the spice of life, Springfield Armory offered several variations of the SAR-48 between 1985 and 1989: 21-inch barreled Standard Model, 18.5-inch barreled Brush Rifle, 18- and 21-inch Paratrooper rifles and 19-inch Heavy Barrel “Israeli” Match model. A few notables on the variations. The Paratrooper rifle featured a folding stock, in turn, its recoil spring is mounted in the top cover of the receiver. The Heavy Barrel SAR-48 was hung with the moniker “Israeli” for obvious reasons, it was constructed with Israeli military parts mated to an IMBEL receiver.
The “Assault Weapons Ban” of 1994 also hit the SAR-48, but Springfield Armory responded in kind with the SAR-4800. Essentially the same rifle, it was clunked up with a thumbhole stock.
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Part of its bag for the better part of its existence, Springfield Armory is synonymous with affordable and well-made 1911 pistols. This might lead some to question why an import—a German import at that— of the pistol would warrant attention. The simple fact of the matter, the Omega isn’t your every day, ordinary 1911.
Cutting similar lines to the All-American design, West German pistol-smith Peters, Stahls GmbH’s Omega breaks from a typical 1911 in several ways. Predominantly, it’s link-less. Instead, it uses a Sig Sauer locking system, in which the ejection port and barrel chamber are used as the locking mechanisms. Unfamiliar with it? Look at nearly any modern, non-1911 pistol and likely you’ll have a first-hand example. Additionally, Peters, Stahls’ used dual extractors. Novel enough tinkering in and of itself, but not the defining feature that makes the pistol an utterly unique addition to a collection.
The Omega wasn’t just one pistol, it was many: .38 Super, .45 ACP and 10mm. Spurred by Germany’s onerous gun laws, the pistol is essentially a handgun switch-barrel and requires little more than swapping barrel, recoil spring and magazine to jump calibers. Pretty ingenious, but required a lot of gun to get the job done—some 40-plus ounces of it. While the one-gun-to-rule-them-all idea is pretty slick, American shooters in the mid-1980s were only enamored with one—the perfect 10. Minted only a few years prior, the hot .40-caliber captivated the shooting public, but there were few options chamber thus that didn’t run a mint. In steps Springfield Armory.
In all, Springfield offered two barrel lengths in the 10mm Omega, 5 and 6 inch. In both cases, they boasted polygonal rifling and you could get either with porting. A little something to tame the snappy round, if 2 1/2-pounds of gun wasn’t enough. Omegas aren’t especially difficult to find still and dogged shopping can net you one for around $1,000. Buyer beware, threat yours with kid gloves, Peters, Stahls closing down means there are precious few replacement parts.
Did Italy get the evolution of the M1 Garand right? Not to invite jeers and gnashing of teeth from M14 faithful, but the Beretta BM-59 sure makes it a firm maybe. Particularly given the country didn’t drop eight figures making the Garand select-fire and adding a box magazine. Just saying.
Anyhow, this elegant offshoot of the “World Greatest Battle Implement” is even a whizbang in semi-auto and still among the most sought after Springfield Armory imports. Maybe because the better part of most rifles are genuine Beretta. Springfield assembled and sold them in the late 1980s, many with original Beretta receivers. However, no stranger to Garand receivers themselves, when the real McCoy wasn’t available they used their in-house M1A parts. Either iteration, from a collectors standpoint, is considered correct.
Technically chambered .308, the Springfield BM-59 is fully capable of digesting military 7.62 ammo. Sugar to military arms fanatics, the semi-auto version is a dead ringer for the real thing, boasting all the bells and whistles. There are a lot of those on a BM-59. Flash hider/grenade launcher, flip-up grenade launcher sight, bayonet lug, 19-inch barrel and folding bipod, just to name a few. Of the more interesting facets is the rifle’s winter trigger. External the trigger guard, the implement folds down to behind the guard making it capable of firing in heavy winter gloves.
True to the Beretta line, Springfield Armory imported several variations including the Alpine (19-inch barrel, pistol grip and folding stock), Paratrooper (18-inch barrel, pistol grip, QD compensator) and Nigerian (standard specs, but with pistol grip). Needless to say, interest in the BM-59 has accelerated over the years, and so has its price. Rarely found south of $2,000, some variations demand much, much more.