ARES Airsoft L1A1 SLR Rifle
Bill Thomas takes a look at the newly re-released L1A1 SLR from ARES Airsoft, that’s just perfect for any British ‘Cold War’ loadout…
Let me take you, if I may, back to the early 1980s; as a senior member of my School Combined Cadet Force Army Section at the time I was already a proficient rifle shooter, and completely at home with the aging SMLE Rifles, No. 4 Mk I that formed the basis of our armoury, along with some equally dated BREN guns. These were easier, freer days, and believe it or not these bolt-action rifles were stored onsite in old air raid tunnels, which we could access at lunchtimes to clean and maintain the firearms.
As a more senior member, I was privileged to be sent on a number of specialist courses, the most prestigious of these being the United Kingdom Land Forces Leadership Course run on the Stanford Training area; Stanford Training Area (STANTA), originally known as Stanford Battle Area, is a British Army training area situated in the English county of Norfolk. The area is approximately 30,000 acres (120km2) in size; the set-up of the area meant the total evacuation of the villages of Buckenham Tofts, Langford, Stanford, Sturston, Tottington and West Tofts. This was a training area I would get to know very well indeed, especially the area around the dreaded pimple known as ‘Frog Hill’!
Arriving at Thetford train station, little did I know that soon I would be introduced to one of the most iconic battle rifles of the Cold War era, the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle, or simply the SLR. For the next two weeks I would carry ‘my’ SLR with me every day, gaining an intimate knowledge of its workings and use and for me as a young cadet, it was a leap from rifles of WWII to what was then being used around the globe by British Forces.
A true workhorse
The L1A1 SLR was a British variant of the Belgian FN FAL battle rifle, produced under licence. The L1A1 can trace its lineage back to the Allied Rifle Committee of the 1950s, whose intention was to introduce a single rifle and cartridge that would serve as standard issue for all NATO countries. The UK thought that if they adopted the Belgian FAL and the American 7.62 NATO cartridge that the United States would do the same, and adopted the L1A1 as a standard issue rifle in 1954. Of course, we know that the Americans went their own sweet way with the M14…
The L1A1 SLR incorporated modifications developed by the Allied Rifle Committee. The weapons were manufactured by the Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield, Birmingham Small Arms, Royal Ordnance Factory and ROF Fazakerley. After the production run ceased, replacement components were made by Parker Hale Limited. The SLR was designed using Imperial measurements and included several changes from the standard FN FAL. A significant change from the original FAL was that the L1A1 operated in semi-automatic mode only, the MOD stating that every British rifleman was a trained marksman and would only take single, well aimed shots, and that support weapons such as the L4A1 LMG and L7A1 GPMG would provide significant fully automatic fire as needed.
Additional changes included the introduction of a folding cocking handle, an enclosed slotted flash hider, a folding rear sight, sand-clearing modifications to the upper receiver, bolt and bolt carrier, a folding trigger guard to allow use with Arctic mitts, strengthened butt, and an enlarged change lever and magazine release catch. The flash hider was fitted with a lug, which allowed the L1-series bayonet to be fitted, an L1A1/ A2 or L6A1 blank firing attachment or an L1A1/A2 ENERGA rifle grenade launcher.
The first run of the rifles were fitted with walnut furniture, consisting of the pistol grip, forward handguard, carrying handle and butt. The wood was treated with oil to protect it from moisture, but not varnished or polished. Later production weapons were produced with synthetic Maranyl furniture, a nylon and fiberglass composite. The Maranyl parts were ‘stippled’ with an anti-slip texture. In addition to four lengths of butt, sized to suit individual users, there was also a special short butt designed for use with Arctic clothing or flak jackets, such as those regularly seen in Northern Ireland. After the introduction of the Maranyl furniture, as extra supplies became available it was retrofitted to older rifles as they underwent armourer’s maintenance, and this resulted in a mixture of wooden and Maranyl furniture within units and often on the same rifle. Wooden furniture was still in use in some reserve units until 1989!
The SLR selector, as stated earlier, had had only two settings, safety and semiautomatic, which were marked S (Safe) and R (Repetition.) respectively. Twenty round Commonwealth magazines were produced with a lug brazed onto the front to engage the recess in the receiver, in place of a smaller stud on the metric FAL magazine. As a consequence of this, metric FAL magazines could be used with the Commonwealth SLR, but SLR magazines would not fit the metric FAL. At a push SLR magazines could be used in the L4A1 as both were chambered for 7.62x51mm NATO, but it was not recommended to reverse this process as the higher capacity L4 magazines fed downwards and relied in part on gravity to feed.
Although there were several optics that could be used with the SLR, by far the most common was the L2A1 ‘Sight Unit, Infantry, Trilux’ (SUIT), a 4x optical sight, which mounted on a rail, welded to a top cover. Issued to the British Infantry, Royal Marines and RAF Regiment, the scope added weight to an already heavy rifle (4.33kg/9.56lbs empty!), but due to its solid construction was extremely durable and able to withstand harsh conditions.
The SLR served the British Armed Forces faithfully from 1954, until being replaced by the L85A1. It was a fine battle rifle for its time and was adopted not only by the British but also by the Australian Army, Canadian Army, Indian Army, Jamaican Defence Force, New Zealand Army, Rhodesian Army, and the South African Defence Force. During its issue, the SLR saw service in pretty much every environment you can imagine, from the jungles of Vietnam, through the deserts of Oman and bush of Africa, to the cold, snowy expanses of Scandinavia. It was pitted directly against the FN FAL in the Falklands War, and rumour has it that a limited number were even brought out of retirement by elements of UKSF during Gulf War I, where its superior range once again proved a benefit in the open desert environment.
This is not the first time that a replica of the SLR has been seen in airsoft form, as some years ago both King Arms and the STAR Airsoft company issued a classic, semi-auto only version of it with synthetic furniture; in fact, if you visit the STAR website you’ll still find a picture of the original model there! I was lucky enough to buy one of the originals and even then it felt as if I were returning to a younger life; my original is still with me to this day, although currently inoperable. A word of warning: the airsoft SLR does not open as the real thing does around the central pin behind the magazine well, and if you try to do this you’ll shatter the nozzle and damage the hop-up unit! Note to self: do not let non-airsoft savvy squaddie mates get their hands on your SLR.
STAR, however, fragmented, and the SLR models became increasingly rare; many were tucked away in private collections not to see any airsoft action whatsoever. At the height of the Vietnam Airsoft scene though, many SLRs again came out as a number of us decided to follow the ANZAC theme; this meant that many originals were also transformed from semi to full auto, fitted with genuine antipodean woodwork, and therefore lost their ‘Britishness’.
However, in 2010 ARES Airsoft came into being (the AR in ARES is actually the same as in STAR just so you know…) and have been producing excellent airsoft products since then, ranging from automatic electric guns (AEG), gas guns, spring guns, grenade launchers, internal and external upgrade parts, accessories, and even a unique gun rack system!
ARES airsoft guns and products are of excellent quality and stand out in the market thanks to simple and direct technical innovation, which is designed and tested in-house by the R&D team, and ARES are constantly working to improve their products by developing new features and capabilities.
Although like all airsoft manufacturers these days, they look forward, luckily somebody at ARES likes to give a nod to the past, as when STAR broke up someone obviously took the SLR design with them to ARES! Now for obvious reasons this design was probably mothballed until the dust settled, but you can imagine my excitement when earlier this year posts on social media came up trumpeting the re-release of this classic model; the ‘interwebz’ went into a bit of a meltdown as the images from ARES showed not only the synthetic furniture model but also one with full woodwork.
Very soon after this I was contacted by Herman Mok from iWholesales with a series of questions in relation to the SLR; he told me that ARES could provide the new model in semi only with a power level iro 1.48-Joule/400fps to comply with the DMR rules currently in place at most sites, or full auto with a lower power. The wood furniture version would indeed be available.
He also spoke to the ‘usual suspects’ in the UK airsoft community, and collectively we agreed that the semi auto/higher power was the way forward and that the woodwork should be available as a kit. I for one would purchase the synthetic version and the wood kit as an accessory, that way covering the long service life of the rifle.
Up the ARES
Once a sample became available, Herman got it to me as soon as possible, and oh boy, it was an early Xmas for me! Some comment has been made that the ARES SLR is slightly under-length; the real rifle came in at 1143mm/45-inches and the replica is 1140mm/44.5-inches so you’re going to have to be a total ‘stitchbitch’ to hold this against the ARES!
Other than this, the replica SLR is EXACTLY as I remember it from my youth. A real SLR as I stated earlier weighs in at 4.33kg/9.56lbs empty and the ARES at 3.790g/8.35lbs unloaded, so that again is not far off either. Externally, the SLR is stunningly finished, and everything that should be metal is; the top cover is steel, whilst the remainder is a highquality zinc alloy. The ‘Maranyl’ furniture is faithfully reproduced and feels great in the hand, and given the fact that the SLR is unconcerned with rail systems or add-ons it’s beautifully minimalist and slimline. Internally you have a reinforced metal gearbox, full steel gear set and a high torque flat motor, so nothing there is going to let you down either!
In terms of performance I loaded up the 120 BB midcap magazine that comes with the rifle and headed straight to the chrono. The battery compartment in the butt holds even the largest of power packs, and is easily and swiftly accessed.
Running on .20g BLASTER BBs I got a healthy average of 1.24-Joule/366fps, a little lower than I’d hoped for, but respectable nonetheless. The rotary hopup adjuster underneath the faux-bolt is extremely easy to set, and happily stays that way; with everything ready to roll it was down to the range to see what the ARES was capable of, and I am very, very pleased to report that the accuracy and performance was absolutely first rate; this thing shoots like a laser!
Can I say that the re-released airsoft L1A1 SLR had been updated and upgraded? Not really is the answer, as it feels and performs just like my original STAR. That said, I’d need to strip the new one down to parts to really be able to find out, and personally given what ARES have done in relation to the quality of components they use internally with their newer guns, I’m prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt that they have done the same with the SLR.
At the time of writing, the ARES L1A1 SLR is already with good retailers, and from what I hear they are selling like hot cakes, even with a price tag that’s not going to leave you change from £500! The wood kits arrive in the UK imminently and even with the hefty price-tag I can see that ‘gentlemen of a certain age’ will, like me, be lusting after one of these super rifles as the lure of the past is sometimes just too, too strong!
For more information on the ARES L1A1 SLR and other models in the range, along with a host of other airsoft goodies, please do pay a visit to www. iwholesales.co.uk. You’ll also be able to find stockist details there as well.
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates