We have all heard the saying, what is old is new again! Well, there has always been a segment of the AR community who preferred the original Vietnam-era type rifles. Also, since the replacement of the M16/M16A1 rifles with the M16A2 in 1985 led there to be a lot of spare parts that found their way to the commercial market. Now we are more than 30 years since the M16A1 went out of production with a renewed interest in retro guns and an increasingly high demand for what are now obsolete parts.
Many manufacturers have found a niche in this market. For example, Nodak Spud has brought back the receivers of the Colt 601, XM16E1, as well as the M16A1. Another service which has been in short supply is the ability to finish these receivers in the original Colt grey finish. There is no shortage of anodizers in the country, but for one reason or another they have great difficulty with the Colt grey finish. One of the best known is U.S. Anodizing, but they are difficult on doing small batches from individuals. They are more interested in large scale OEM jobs. Recently, I have found a solution through Light Metals in Connecticut. They are excellent at achieving the classic Colt grey finish because they have been finishing Colt receivers for decades. The cost, unfortunately, is not cheap. There are separate costs for anodizing raw, as well as refinishing. You are certainly far better off getting a group together to submit multiple parts for finishing. Lite Metals has a batch minimum.

For smaller parts there is a company called Retro Arms Works. The Founder, John Thomas, has made many of these obsolete parts. In particular, putting the original grey finish on all of the steel components, like the bolt catch, mag release, mag release button, safety. There are many original Colt parts available through Specialized Armament Warehouse, but they cost a small fortune. The Owner, Ken Elmore, has many of the original components, all Colt, but be prepared to give up your first born because they are not cheap!

Brownells is without a doubt the largest supplier of gun parts, tools, accessories, firearms and ammunition stores in the country. About a year or so ago, Brownells began to see the increasing demand for retro components. They got to work on it. First, they released M16A1 upper/lower receivers. The forgings were bought from Nodak Spud, but the machining was done by Brownells. The receivers were excellent, but only one complaint. They were too black. People wanted them to be in the original Colt XM grey. Come to find out more than a year later there were reasons between Brownells and Nodak Spud on why Brownells could not release the receivers in grey. All that was to change with the big news announced at SHOT Show 2018.

At the 2017 Shot Show, not only were the receivers released, but also a line of retro barrels. These were the precise pencil barrels used in those early days. They came as an assembly. They had the original slip ring assy, drilled and pinned front sight base as well as original 1/12-inch twist. They were also chrome plated bore and chamber. These barrels were 12.7, 14.7, 16 and 20-inch barrels. So, no matter whether you were making an M16A1, XM16E1, XM177E2 or M16A1 Carbine you were covered. Soon to follow were the retro A1 birdcage, as well as three-prong and three prong “Duck Bill” flash hiders, as well as a XM177-style looking fake moderator.

Next was the release of the important Retro Stock Kits! There had been a major shortage of M16A1 stock assemblies, triangular handguards and pistol grips. There was no shortage of junk ones but if you were to find decent shape stock kits they were extremely expensive. Brownells introduced a newly produced stock set. The attention to detail was excellent, but use of modern materials was the main difference. They were more of a Zytel-type material. They are offered in black, green and brown. Late last year, some additional parts introduced by Brownells is chrome plated bolt carrier groups, both with and without forward assist serrations. They introduced a polymer type 2 CAR stock as well.

Brownells has never built rifles for sale since the formation of the company. They have stayed true to being a parts company, but the retro line took on a life of its own, and Brownells decided to make history in 2018 by introducing their first line of firearms. Complete retro rifles built of completely new components. Components they designed (recreated) and put into production.

The BRN-601 Rifle (078-000-400)

The Colt model 01 or the “Air Force” model was the first rifle to be purchased by the Air Force. Brownells has paid attention to detail. The rifle is built on the original slab side upper and lower. The front pivot pin is removable just like the original. There is no magazine release fence. The furniture is green like the original. The charging handle has the original triangle shape that would be period correct to the 601. The bolt carrier group is the proper chrome plated/no forward assist notches. The barrel is the 1/12 twist with a “Duck Bill” flash hider. Also, the rifle comes with a period correct steel 20 round “waffle” pattern magazine. I would not be surprised to see this alter in time with additional retro components. This one is on my want list!

The BRN16E1 (078-000-401)

Of all models of the M16/M4, the XM16E1 is my all-time favorite. This would be a transitional model that took the original 601 and had changes made at the request of the Army. This model was the first version of the rifle to be issued to Army personnel in 1964. This was also the model that was carried in the first engagement between US and North Vietnamese forces in the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in November 1965. At that battle it was realized that this was the ideal rifle for the conditions in Vietnam, as well as it put the US forces on a level playing field with the AK47 carrying NVA.
You can clearly see what the Army had changed. First, they got rid of the green for black furniture. Next, they went with the forward bolt assist, an external link to force the bolt closed (big mistake). So now you have the appropriate chrome plated bolt carrier group with the addition of the forward assist notches for use with the bolt closure device. You will also notice a captive front pivot pin. This rifle also has the proper aluminum magazine. The 3-prong flash hider is the much more durable version.

BRN-16A1 (078-000-402)

The BRN-16A1 is a retro of the M16A1 which remained in use until 1985 when it was replaced with the M16A1. This rifle still retains the early stock without the cleaning kit compartment. I would not be surprised to see this change at some point! The main differences between this one and the BRN16E1 is the addition of the full magazine release button fence or BOSS, and the use of the “birdcage” flash suppressor. You will also notice the change over to the manganese phosphate coated bolt carrier group replacing the chrome plating

The XBRN177E2 Rifle

The XBRN177E2 is their version of the iconic XM177E2. Provided on this rifle is a two-position receiver extension manufactured by Brownells, as well as a polymer newly produced type 2 CAR stock. The rifle featured has the tear drop forward assist, as well as A1-style magazine boss. The barrel is 12.2 inches with a pinned-on grenade launcher ring flash suppressor. The standard carbine handguards are also newly produced.

All models have an MSRP of $1,299.99. I've had a few questions on how I feel about this price point, and I feel like this is a good price. I have had several people on my YouTube channel claim that they feel this is too expensive. I think what many fail to realize is these firearms are not made up of current production M16A4/M4 components. These are manufactured with all new components. Brownells has invested time and money to redesign and manufacture obsolete components. Part of this cost is the cost of newly manufactured retro barrels, receivers, bolt carriers, stock assemblies, handguards, etc….

Now this is awesome, right?? But that is not it from Brownells this year. In fact, for as far as I am concerned, the biggest product launch at the SHOT Show is the BRN-10 family of rifles.
Never before has any company embarked on making a version of the original AR10 rifle as it was released by ArmaLite and AI. After the AR15 went into production the AR10 was all but tossed in the scrap heap of Ordnance Corps. That was until Gene Stoner went to work at Knight’s Armament and released his SR-25 in 1994. Since that time, there has been numerous variations of the modern AR10 and some half-done commemoratives, but nobody went full out to release the iconic AR10.

Brownells, in secrecy, and with the help of some other industry partners, went to work on a retro AR10 rifle, and they did it right! The upper receiver is identical to the original version which included the fixed carrying handle with the trigger-style charging handle located inside the carrying handle. The receivers were designed in partnership with FM Products. In fact, the upper was manufactured from an original AR10 upper, measured by a laser to get it as close to a perfect copy as possible. The rear sight is identical to that of the original. The lower is also identical right down to the shape of the magazine well. These original dimensions will not accept a modern PMag, but the aluminum magazines, as well as early ArmaLite ones.
Shown is the BRN-10A. This is still in the development stages. Observe the original brown furniture. According to Brownells, this is not the final furniture. The pistol grip is being redesigned, as well as the handguards. The pivot pin is removable, and the bolt catch is identical to the original. The profile of the safety and magazine release button are original as well. The aluminum components have an original matte grey finish to them. The bolt carrier group is chrome plated. The side is flat like the original. The bolt carrier is also a prototype and will be more sculptured like the original. The barrel is QPQ treated, but has an exterior finish identical to the manganese phosphate of the original rifle. The front sight base is another component currently under development. Muzzle devices are available in both three-prong, as well as closed end.
The BRN-10B is the same rifle but in black furniture with a lighter weight barrel. This is slightly more modern than the original. The original A model has a heavier fluted barrel. Like the A model, there are several components still under development as well. I cannot wait myself to see the final versions! The MSRP for the BRN-10A is $1,699.99 and the BRN-10B is $1,599.99 and will be available this year. It is currently being offered on pre-order. This is an excellent price point in my opinion considering this is a completely redesigned rifle using all redesigned components. Brownells deserves credit for their hard work at recreating components from the late 1950’s to early 1960’s on this entire new line of retro firearms. Now anyone will be able to purchase new retro rifles without having to search for 60-year-old components!


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    Technical Specialist, 10 years in forensics, veteran, technical writer and armorer instructor.