Marlin Rare Semi-Auto: The Open Bolt Marlin Model 50

  1. Editor
    Odds are, you either cut your teeth on or have at least at one point in your life fired a Marlin semi-auto .22LR rifle. Today, the tube-fed Model 60 and its detachable-magazine Model 70 half-brother are the benchmark for rimfire auto-loaders around the world. Who would have thought that this all started in 84-years ago with the humble Model 50.

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    Why was it born?

    Marlin, coming out of the "Roaring 20s" was a company looking to change. It had established itself with lever-action rifles and had even branched out into some pump-guns before the Great War forced it to switch production for the military. In an effort to reboot production following the end of that conflict, they brought back a smaller catalog of classic designs that the gun-owning public knew and loved-- but they needed something fresh.

    Competitors such as Remington and Winchester had semi-auto rifles on deck such as the Winchester Model 1903 (it a unique .22 Win Auto loading) which were a hit with small game hunters and target shooters.

    Marlin thought they could do better.

    Design

    The gun that Marlin came up with, the Model 50, was introduced in 1931 and was a gem. It was the first semi-auto rimfire made by the company and took several innovative steps. Unlike the Winchester 1903 which used a rear-stock mounted tubular magazine whose design went back to the old Spencer Carbines of the Civil War, the new Marlin gun was fitted with a 6-shot detachable box mag just forward of the pistol grip.

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    With a 22-inch round barrel and a weight of just 5-pounds flat, this handy little striker-fired autoloader used a one-piece walnut stock with a rubber butt plate and came equipped with fixed bead front and 'Rocky Mountain' rear sights. Made of "Special Steel" it was advertised to never need cleaning, but if the owner at one point wanted to, takedown was accomplished easily with the aid of a screwdriver or similar tool.

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    (Note the large takedown screw on the bottom of the action that could be manipulated with a .25-cent piece or a screwdriver. As such, may of these old screws are often blown out or lost)

    What is unique about the blowback action was that it fired from an open-bolt which means simply that, unlike just about every semi-auto you have ever fired that was in battery with the bolt closed on the chamber, the Model 50's was wide open. Very few auto-loaders are made such as this and it is normally seen on submachine guns such as the WWII-era M3 Grease Gun and British STEN. Notably most designers have shied away from open-bolt designs after the 1940s, as they proved likely to go off when loaded and dropped accidentally.

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    (Note the bolt in its open, cocked, position, this is how the Model 50 fired. Also take note of the shell extractor under the rear sight)

    Since the bolt stayed open, it had a manual shell extractor forward of the chamber to force misfired shell casings out.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=723H8D0b-fc
    Shooting a Marlin Model 50

    Production

    According to Brophy, the company debuted the little gun in April 1932 at a cost of $14.30, which is about $250 in today's greenbacks. Production numbers were small, after all, it was the Great Depression, and few people had the extra scratch to run out and buy a novel new popgun. By 1935 the line closed on the gun and it was replaced by the follow-on Model A-1 which looks almost identical but fires from a closed-bolt set up with a very different bolt face and uses a 7-shot magazine very similar to what we know today.

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    (The 1934 ad, with a price increase to $16.50 from the introductory)

    A variant of the gun, the Model 50E had a hooded front sight and all of these had pre-drilled holes on the left rear of the tubular receiver for an optional adjustable rear target sight.

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    (Ranger 34A markings and the Rocky Mountain rear sight)

    In all it is believed that less than 5,000 Model 50 (some quote figures of half this many) and an unknown number of Sears Ranger Model 34A, the store-brand of the rifle, were made. Since the Model 50 came out in 1931, the company has long kept a semi-auto .22LR with a box magazine in the starting lineup. After the Model A-1 ran its course in 1946, the Model 989 came out in 1962 and remained a staple into the late 1970s when the Glenfield Model 70 replaced it, which is still in production as the Papoose.

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    (Be on the lookout for these magazines!)

    Getting your own

    These guns, due to their unique open-bolt set up, became popular with collectors in the 1950s and 60s who converted them to legal full-auto format (what the ATF likes to call a "machine gun"). As such the pool of functional semi-auto Model 50s out there have dwindled through time and attrition to where they are rare finds today with very likely less than 10 percent still in circulation. While Pedersen and Fjestad classify these guns at a maximum of just $230 but go ahead and hold your breath as the only way you are getting one that cheap is if the person you are buying from just has no clue what they have.

    Typical prices for working open bolt semi-auto Model 50/34A are closer to about $500. This is large part to the fact that the ATF ruled in 1982 that all guns made after that date which used an open-bolt are unlawful machine guns and are verboten for mere citizens to own.

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    As far as value on a transferable NFA-registered Title II/Class 3 full-auto Model 50, the price is up to whatever the buyer wants to spend. The last one I saw popped up briefly with an asking price of $5,000 and then disappeared.

    To keep these old popguns working, there is a very limited amount of spare parts out there and Numrich only stocks about a third of these so you may want to get them while you can. Original working factory magazines, when they pop up, often go for $100 or better on gun classifieds websites.

    Speaking of mags, the 8-round .22LR magazine from the old pump-action Savage Models 1903, 1906, 1909, which is still made new as well as being available used for around $30-$40 can be modified to work in these old Marlin semi-autos. There are also some who report success with modifying cheap Philippine-made Squires-Bingham magazines.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eh6gCu23S1g
    The differences between the Model 50 and the A-1

    Further, be advised that not all Ranger 34As are Marlin Model 50s otherwise marked. You see Sears also started selling the closed-bolt Model A-1 under the same name which can get confusing so be sure to check the bolt!

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    (Model 50 scrollmarks are just north of the on/off safety lever on the left hand side of the gun)

    With that being said, should you look on a dusty rack somewhere and see an old Marlin 22 with a funny action and the scroll "Model 50 Autoloading" along the left hand of the receiver tube, ask em how much they want and hold your breath--it may be your lucky day.

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