.22 rifle

This is an advertisement from a 1963 Savage Arms catalog. Their newest .22 rifle was introduced to the American market, but it had two fatal flaws that doomed its success, not due to any technical problems, but due to Savage’s management being out of touch with its customers. This little rifle shoots like a dream!

Since I wrote about a vintage rifle a while back, I’ve had several readers send me notes and pictures about a rifle or shotgun that they want to know more about. Now, follow along with me on this for a moment…this is the trail that a vintage rifle took to get here as I know it. It was manufactured in Massachusetts around 1964. From there it went to Pennsylvania and then to Ohio. It was purchased via an online auction and made its way to Nebraska and then sold at a gun show in Columbus to its current owner.

The owner is a reader of this column and recently contacted me and asked me to take a look at a different kind of .22 rifle that he acquired. It turned out to be a relatively rare rifle, a Savage Model 63. The model number is the year it was introduced, 1963. When it came on the market it sold for $21.95 and for $16.75 more you could get it with a factory scope. It is great little rifle, but it was only stayed in production for six years.

I think the reason the Model 63 was discontinued was that it was a conundrum for the American market… a great rifle and accurate shooter but it was only a single shot and it had a full Mannlicher stock. Americans want rifles and shotguns that shoot more than once and the American shooting public has never fully accepted Mannlicher stocks.

As a firearms company, Savage Arms has an interesting history. The company was founded by Arthur Savage, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica on May 13, 1857. Savage came to the United States in 1893.

Savage was not an engineer by degree, but he did an apprenticeship as a gun maker. He was a quick study and a good thinker. He invented and developed the rotary magazine and a side ejecting internal hammer lever-action rifle which became Savage Model 99.

Few people know that Arthur Savage developed a .45 caliber pistol for U.S. military trials in the early 1900s. The design lost out the iconic Colt 1911 .45 ACP, but his design hung in there with the Colt to the very end. That’s impressive. He took that design and developed a very popular line of .32 ACP and .380 ACP pocket pistols for the civilian market.

Savage Arms grew to eventually become one of the largest firearms arms manufacturers in the world. During World War I, Savage produced Lewis aircraft machineguns and military rifles for the United States, France, Canada and Portugal. After the war, Savage bought J. Stevens Arms in 1920 and A.H. Fox in 1930 and became one of the largest firearms manufactures in the country with three factories employing more than 3,000 employees.

Arthur Savage died in 1941, just as World War II was getting started for America. During World War II Savage Arms produced some 1,400,000 Thompson submachine guns, over a million Mark 4 Lee Enfield rifles and thousands of Browning .30 caliber and .50 caliber aircraft machine guns. At one point during the war, Savage was averaging 55,000 guns per month for the war effort.

After the war, and without the leadership of Arthur Savage, things began to fall apart. To me, the company’s problems illustrated the classic paradox of accountants trying to tell engineers and craftsmen how to do their job. Indecision and marketing missteps plagued the company to the point that two of its three factories were closed by 1960. Problems with management, marketing and production continued. Savage filed for bankruptcy protection in 1988.

Things began to turn around in 1989 when Ron Coburn joined Savage and overhauled the company. Coburn heard all about the problems the company had and everything that didn’t work. After weeks of hearing about the troubles and problems the company was having Coburn asked, “Do we make anything that does work?” The answer was the proven Model 110 bolt action rifle. On the spot, Coburn ordered the company to drop all models and projects except the Model 110.

The work force at that time totaled 479; Coburn cut that 103. Tooling and production processes were modernized and the concept of material flow technology was introduced. Coburn deemed that functionality and accuracy were paramount, but also ordered that the looks of the Model 110 be updated. Rifles were fitted with nicer wood, cut checkering, rubber recoil pads and a better finish that rivaled the looks of other rifle stocks on the market. Savage clawed its way back to financial independence and in 1995, Coburn bought the company. Savage Arms has continued to expand and prosper under Coburn’s leadership.

I’m happy to see an old and respected American firm like Savage Arms, come back from brink of bankruptcy and take a prominent position in the American market. In the last few years, Savage had gotten a good reputation building extremely accurate varmint, competition and tactical rifles, just what Coburn had ordered.

Not many shooters know that for a period of years many of the ultra-accurate heavy barrel rifles used in competition had something in common. They had Savage barrels.

A lot has changed for the company since 1989. Today, a Savage rifle may be the most accurate rifle right out of the box for the price on the market. I sure like mine!

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