There are a number of things that were unique to the Remington Model 870 when it first appeared. The quick removable and completely interchangeable barrel system, the fire-control (trigger group) mechanism that could be removed with the mere punching out of two pins, and a couple other innovative features made the Model 870 unique for the times. All these have remained through the years, but there were a couple very unusual features that have not survived the test of time.
The first of these was what Remington called the “Vari-Weight” plug system that was offered for the 12-gauge shotgun only. This was a metal plug that weighed around ¾-pound and could be inserted into the magazine tube to increase the weight of the gun and move the balance point forward. The early Model 870s, particularly the standard grade AP models, were fairly light, listed at 6¾ pounds. It was not unusual to get a gun that weighed even a bit less, depending on the density of wood and the barrel length. This was great for upland hunters, who always look for a lighter gun. But, for waterfowlers and clay target shooters, the gun was too light. By adding the Vari-Weight plug, the gun’s weight increased considerably and made the gun more nose heavy at the same time, an important feature for both these sportsmen. But Remington quietly dropped the Vari-Weight plug offering, which had come standard with all 12-gauges, in the 1960s, about the time the standard AP model was dropped.
A modified form of the old Vari-Weight plug was revived for the smallbore 28-gauges and .410-bores, when Remington came out with its scaled-frame guns, in 1969. They were first offered as a matched pair of skeet guns and had weights that would attach to the magazine cap to increase forward weight. In actuality, this system had been available much earlier, when Remington introduced its small-framed Model 11-48 autoloader in 28-gauge and .410-bore. When the small-framed 870s came out, Remington simply adopted the same system to the new pump guns. However, as it had been with the 12-gauge, this practice was also stopped after a while.
Another feature offered for small-frame guns, as well as for the Model 870 LW 20-gauge, was the lightweight Honduras mahogany stock and forearm. The small-framed guns stocked as such weighed about a ¼-pound less than the later walnut-stocked guns. No doubt Remington stopped the practice of stocking in mahogany due to cost, but, in doing so, a truly delightful lightweight gun disappeared from the line. Of course, some would argue that a quarter of a pound isn’t much and, indeed, it is only about four ounces so involved. However, in a truly lightweight gun, four ounces can make a major difference, and many believe that the old Honduras mahogany stocked small-gauge Model 870s had superior handling qualities compared to the slightly heavier walnut stocked versions. Today, if you can locate one of these small-framed Model 870s with mahogany wood, they will cost at least 25-percent more than the walnut stocked versions.
The Vari-Weight plug system for 12-gauge guns, the external weight device, and the Honduras mahogany wood for the small-framed sub-gauges were unique features of the Model 870 that no other guns from other manufacturer offered. They were useful, and many liked those features. However, it’s clear that Remington felt they weren’t cost effective, that they weren’t popular enough to justify their continuations, and, so, they were dropped.
~ From Gun Digest Book of the Remington 870 by Nick Hahn.
According to the author:
This work is meant to entertain and inform at the same time; it is not an academic study of the Remington Model 870, but rather a tribute composed of bits and pieces of information, anecdotes, and personal accounts about a remarkable shotgun that has now surpassed its production beyond 10 million. It is about a shotgun that is found in all corners of the world and in the hands of the rich and the poor. It is about everybody’s shotgun.