Breathes there anyone with soul so dead that he doesn't enjoy a good Marlin .22 semiauto?
I didn't think so. Twenty years or so ago, Marlin's advertising liked to state that the company's Model 60 .22 was the best-selling .22 autoloader in history. I didn't doubt it for a minute. The Model 60 was such a clean, simple, hot-damn little rifle that it was difficult to imagine that anything could ever displace it.
If you consider the Model 99 of 1961 to be the first Model 60 – even though it wasn't called the Model 60 yet — it's easy to believe that for a good, long while, the Marlin Model 60 outsold every other .22 semiauto.
Then, dagnabbit, Bill Ruger came along in 1964 and upset the apple cart with his 10/22, which went on to become the most popular .22 autoloader of all time. I have nothing but admiration for the 10/22, but I'm sure some of you will understand me when I say that deep down, I'm a Marlin .22 man. And the Marlin .22 that tickles me the most is the original Marlin Model 70P Papoose takedown rifle.
Origins of a Classic
The Papoose has its roots in Marlin's Model 99, a tube-fed autoloader that made its debut in 1961. The Model 99 was an enormous improvement from its immediate predecessor, the Model 89.
The Model 89 featured a machined-steel tubular receiver along the lines of Remington's Model 550, and it weighed in at a relatively hefty 6 pounds. Its successor, the Model 99, used a stylishly streamlined alloy receiver to achieve a weigh of just 5 pounds, a reduction of almost 17 percent from the Model 89. And more than that, the Model 99 just looked modern. What more could a child want?
In no time, Marlin had blown out the Model 99 clan to include a nearly overwhelming variety of tube- and magazine-fed .22 autoloaders: the models 99C, 99DL, 99G, 989, 989M2, 990, 990L, 95, 49, 49DL and on and on — not to mention their counterparts in the economy-grade Glenfield line.
These guns had minor cosmetic and functional differences, but they were built on the durn-near-foolproof Model 99 chassis. I've owned a boatload of these little rifles, and they've all been utterly reliable and more accurate than I can hold. For example, I had a first-year Marlin 989 .22 semiauto — a cute little M-1 Carbine lookalike — that I topped with a cheap 4X scope. I could hit golf balls with it regularly at 100 yards when I got the elevation dialed in. That is no exaggeration.
And as Jim Schlender and a dozen others will be only too happy to tell you, I am a lousy shot.
In 1967, Marlin renamed the Model 99 the Model 60. (The magazine-fed version of the tube-fed Model 60 was named the Model 70. Same gun, different feed system.) Strictly speaking, this is the gun Marlin promoted as the best-selling .22 semiauto of all time.
For the next 19 years, Marlin kept on grinding out the Model 60 to the delight of children and non-children everywhere. Then, in 1986, a wonderful thing happened: Somebody at Marlin looked down and noticed that the Model 60's Spartan simplicity lent itself to a takedown design. Well, why not?
Armalite had introduced its AR-7 takedown semiauto .22 way back in 1964, and maybe it was time for Marlin to offer its own takedown autoloader. All you'd have to do would be to split the Model 60's breech right at the head of the chamber, thread the receiver, and put some sort of retaining gizmo on the barrel assembly. Voila and bingo! The Model 60P Papoose was on its way.
“Papoose?” Yes, Papoose. I suppose the name stems from the fact that you could sling the little Model 60's carrying case over your back and tote it around somewhat in the manner of an American Indian mother carrying her child. Frankly, I'm surprised the PC crowd didn't sue Marlin for using the word in this context. Maybe they did. If so, Marlin stood firm, which gives me just another reason for liking the Model 70P — I mean the Papoose.
The Papoose made quite a splash when it debuted in 1986. Layne Simpson, writing in the 41st edition of Gun Digest, was enamored of the little rifle: “The new Model 70P Papoose,” Simpson said, “is a 7-shot takedown version of Marlin's best selling Model 70 autoloader. Its 161/2-inch barrel is detached by turning a threaded sleeve at the action face. It weighs a mere 31/2 pounds. Standard equipment includes a 4X scope and padded case, the latter with built-in flotation cells in case the gun falls overboard. Considering its low price, I expect this little takedown rifle will sell like syrup at a pancake show.”
Simpson wasn't kidding about the price. In 1987, the Papoose had a suggested retail price of only $135.95, “with 4X scope, mounts and case.” That bit about the scope is a little confusing to me. Of the three new-in-box Papooses I have owned, none came with a scope.
By 1990 or so, Marlin was no longer advertising the scope, but if the 1980s-vintage Papooses came with scopes, I got gypped!
There's something top-secret-sounding about the padded case's “flotation cells.” You and I might call them cellular polymer inserts or, more simply, just sewn-in pieces of foam rubber. They make the bright red nylon case buoyant, but be aware that the case's zipper isn't necessarily watertight.
The Papoose came with the case, the spanner, an owner's manual, a seven-shot blued or nickel (depending on vintage) magazine, and maybe the scope and mounts — although as I've said, I've never seen a new-in-box one with the scope. It was a nice little package, notwithstanding the Papoose's “walnut-finished hardwood stock,” which no one could ever mistake for walnut.
Assembling the Papoose was so simple that even a child could do it. In fact, I've seen a child do it. Just pop the barrel into the receiver (it goes in only one way, guided by the extractor cut in the chamber) and tighten the sleeve. Marlin supplied a spanner wrench for that purpose, but in my experience, if you tighten the sleeve with your hand and stop just short of the white-knuckle point, you'll do fine.
Then pop in the loaded magazine, cycle the bolt handle, and you're in business.
How accurate is the Papoose? With its barrel and chamber supported only by that threaded sleeve, you'd think accuracy would be terrible. You'd be wrong. The Papoose shoots quite well enough for its purposes, being on a par with most other Marlin .22 semiauto plinkers. If you're not getting 2-inch groups with your Papoose at 50 yards with iron sights, you'd better tighten that barrel sleeve some more or consider buying a scope.
In 1993 or so, Marlin morphed the Papoose into the updated Model 70PSS Papoose. The Model 70PSS had a synthetic stock with swivel studs, a manual bolt hold-open, an upgraded rear sight, a hooded front sight, a stainless barrel and nickeled trim. Those last touches no doubt enhanced the Papoose's water resistance, but they detracted from the original Papoose's endearingly dopey appearance. The nylon case was also changed from red to blue as part of the gun's overall facelift.
I keep my latest Model 70P Papoose cased in the trunk of my car and sprayed liberally with water-displacing aerosol lubricant. So far, it's never let me down. It still has its inspection stickers on the butt, duly signed and executed by a Marlin technician named Eric.
Eric, if you're reading this, congratulations on building a fine rifle. And could you check and see whatever happened to my three scopes?