Most of this week I was working on some posts about the Model 70 Winchester, my favorite bolt action rifle. I had about half of a long article going when I checked my email today and saw that Rock Island Auction had already finished one. Well that was a lot of work for nothing. Waaa Waaaaah Sad trombone.. So, instead of finishing that first post, here is the RIA article. Or about half of it. Follow the link at bottom to read it all and I will be back with more Model 70 stuff to show you and talk about next week.
From the RIA Gun Blog
The earliest version of the Winchester Model 70 borrowed heavily from its short produced predecessor, the Model 54. Designed by Thomas Johnson and developed in the early 1920s, the Model 54 became the first bolt action rifle made by Winchester and continued production until around 1935. Bolt action rifles had gained popularity in America after World War I since soldiers coming home were well acclimated with them after using their service M1903 and M1917 rifles. Between 1925 and 1941, around 50,000 of these guns were manufactured. The Model 54 came in several different caliber variations with the most popular being .30-30 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield, but customers could also place special orders for other calibers. The gun’s main purpose was for hunting, but was also customized and used in shooting competitions.
The original Model 54 was a dangerous and poorly produced rifle. Originally designed without the necessary gas escape ports, it could present an explosive hazard to its user. This blunder was corrected on later productions of the model, but the gun still fell short with the public. The main reason the Model 54 was never found success was due to the obvious flaws in its bolt and safety design. The wide throw of the bolt and placement of the safety did not all allow for telescopic scopes to be mounted on to the gun which turned away a wide array of civilian and military customers. The trigger was loose due to the cheaper materials used in the gun, causing inaccuracy and a relatively weak action. To say the least, customers were not pleased by the rifle’s performance.
Beyond the shortcomings of the rifle, the fact that it was sold in the Great Depression Era in America also contributed to lower sales. Something had to change in order for the Model 54 to make a profit for Winchester.
Rare Winchester Model 54 Deluxe Heavy Barrel Bolt Action Rifle in 250-3000 Savage Caliber
The Winchester Model 54 was a bust and in the hopes of redeeming their name in the bolt action rifle market, Winchester knew they would need to come up with a firearm that knocked its customers’ socks off. In 1935, attempting to use parts and the machinery purchased for the previous gun, they released a much improved version of the bolt action and called it the Winchester Model 70 rifle. The gun was so well made that it is considered one of the finest bolt action rifles made in America. The first incarnation of the Model 70 hit the market in 1936.
The rifle came in 18 cartridge varieties and additional variations were available through special order. The standard Winchester Model 70 offered a 24”, 26”, or 28” inch barrel. Perhaps the best feature of the rifle that made it superior to other guns was the Mauser two lug extractor bolt with controlled round feeding, which was smooth and made for faster firing. The early versions of the gun were equipped to accept stripper for quicker reloading relative to other options on the market. The entire gun was made from steel and wood. The finished pieces were true works of art.
Elaborate Relief Engraved, Gold Inlaid African Big Game Themed Winchester Model 70 Bolt Action Rifle in .458 Winchester Magnum. Avaliable this December.
Hunters, competition shooters, and other sportsmen took a liking to the accurate and efficient Winchester hunting rifle. The first production run was short lived due to the outbreak of World War II, which changed Winchester’s military production efforts. The U.S. military adapted a small amount of Model 70 rifles for training and some use in combat during World War II, but the government already had on hand thousands of M1903 and M1917 rifles from the first World War, as well as new contracts for thousands of new M1903A3 guns, resulting in little need for another bolt action rifle. In fact, during the Vietnam War, in an attempt to use all available resources, the US government gave troops the Model 70 rifles from World War II for actual use in combat. Despite the advancements in military arms over the last 30 or so years, the Model 70 proved to be an excellent sniper rifle for the Marines with its reliable accuracy and long distance power.
After World War II, small alterations were added to the Winchester Model 70 making the early 1940s era a transitional time for the gun. From the late 1940s to 1963, several different models and chambering adaptations were added. The Varmint, the African, the Alaskan, and the Featherweight are just a few of the variations that came about during that era. Around 600,000 Winchester Model 70 rifles were made in that time span; substantially more than the 50,000 Model 54 rifles produced during its 16 year run. The Model 70 a tremendous hit and the premier bolt action hunting rifle even while it was still undergoing changes.
The “New” Winchester Model 70
The Model 70 was made in the exact same design until 1964, but there was new, less expensive competition emerging in the market such as the Weatherby Mark V and the Savage Model 110. Winchester had to find a way to produce the Model 70 in a cheaper and quicker way while still maintaining quality if they wanted to stay on top. The new gun had drastic changes that made fans of the Model 70 quite unhappy. The most controversial was the switch from the controlled round feed with a claw-like extractor to a push feed bolt with a small hook extractor on the right locking lug. People didn’t trust the little hook would be reliable compared to the claw-like extractor used in the previous design. The original hand cut barrel and rifling was changed to a cheaper and easier process of using a forged barrel. Winchester began to cut costs on the deluxe features by adapting a pressing method instead of cut checkering on the wood of the gun. Some materials used went from steel to aluminum to reduce costs further. One improvement was the anti-bind feature which actually helped the bolt become smoother. The addition was referred to by Winchester as the “guide lug” which was essentially a lug on the bottom left of the bolt that that ran on a track inside the receiver. This kept the bolt at the correct angle to prevent binding.
The changes from the original design to the new production is why the Winchester Model 70 rifle is referred to by gun enthusiasts as “pre-64” and “post-64.” Getting a Model 70 made before these changes occurred is much more pricey and desirable due to age, quality, and nostalgia.
Factory Engraved Gold Inlaid Winchester Custom Shop Custom Grade Model 70 Super Grade Model 70 Bolt Action Rifle. Avaliable this December.
In 1968, Winchester took note of the public’s disdain in many of the changes and started adding back elements of the original rifle throughout the next decade or so. In the 1990s, Winchester released what was called, “The Model 70 Classic” which was a callback to the original Model 70 design and features. The most requested feature was added, which was the return of the controlled feed ejector bolt. The gun was well-produced and some may say an improved version of the original with the addition of the anti-bind bolt feature. The changes Winchester made to redeem the new Model 70 contributed to the rifle retaining its name as the finest American hunting gun.
If you would like to read an in-depth description of the evolution of the Winchester Model 70 and all its variations, purchase a copy of the book The Rifleman’s Rifle by Roger Rule. It provides a thorough overview of all iterations of the Model 70.
Link to read the entire piece and see more pictures below.