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SGC Speedmaster

SGC Speedmaster

Prior to the 1988 Self Loading Rifle (SLR) ban, the choice of equipment was wide, with a miss mash of cheap military-surplus rifles that were converted to semi-auto only, and occasionally, more up-market rifles like the Heckler & Koch 91 and 93, or the Springfield M1A.

However, the majority of hardware was either Ruger’s Mini 14, which offered a cost-effective design, or the more expensive and iconic, Colt AR15. Both were chambered in .223 Remington/5.56x45 NATO.

Fit for purpose?

Without a doubt, the AR was fit for purpose, as it had superior controls, was light and handy, and was also customisable. I owned an original Colt AR15 but would be the first to admit that it was not that accurate past 300 yards, and for practical rifle competition out to 600 yards, a bit limiting.

Who cares?


Back then I didn’t worry about ballistics and reloaded a 55-grain FMJ bullet for my AR. When Colt upgraded the M16A1 to the improved A2 version, with a heavier, faster, 1-7” twist barrel, and improved sights and furniture, I bought one. Even using my original reload, which was not ideal, I could now push out to 600 yards and hit Fig 11 targets easily. However, all this changed after self-loaders were banned.

Olympic dreams

I saw my first Olympic Arms manually operated AR15 in the late 1990s. My first thought was, is it legal? I say this as early imports simply removed the gas tube and blocked off the transfer port, technically still a Section 5, so illegal, as it was not built as a Section 1 for the UK. A moot point, doubtless as the Americans saw it, but we had to comply. Soon they learned, as guns came with no gas port in the barrel, so Section 1, and it was not long before specialised British gunsmiths were importing the components and building them over here.

The one drawback of the Olympic, and some other ARs, was that they used the original T-shaped charging handle for manual operation. This was a logical solution, but far from ideal, as one of the major problems of what is a hybrid design, is primary extraction. There just wasn’t enough leverage to extract a hot, fired case from the chamber reliably. A problem that was exacerbated by the high round count of PR shooting. You could get extended T-handles, which helped a bit, but they were still not man enough for the job. So, although I like what I saw, and knowing these rifles were now legal, I knew I would never get one, as operation was too unreliable.

Enter SGC

I first heard of Bob Clark (Southern Gun Co) back in the very early 2000s. He apparently had come up with an idea that would revolutionise straight-pull ARs. A talented engineer, knowledgeable shooter, and innovative designer, his solution was the Speedmaster.

He imported barrels, lower receivers, and furniture, but built his own dedicated uppers, with walls probably 3x as thick as standard ARs. He also included a raised integral Picatinny rail. Although he retained the T-handle, it was now near redundant, and where the rifle differed was the ambidextrous cocking system.

In the thick of it

He realised that side-cocking was the answer, as it gave a proper mechanical advantage. It was achieved by attaching a big, fixed handle directly onto the bolt carrier. On the left side, he machined a second slot that a fold-down handle could reciprocate in, for left-handed operation.

The reason the receiver walls were so thick, was to ensure that the integrity of the whole upper was not compromised, and was strong enough to withstand the rigours of PR. I have seen other AR builders copy this ambidextrous layout on a standard receiver, and there’s not a lot of metal left, which is a little worrying. Most, however, only slotted the right side for a big handle.

Improvements

These early rifles were not without their problems. The right-hand side handle stuck straight out at an angle, and often the ejecting case would bounce off your hand and drop back in the action. A real downer in a competition. Plus, with its heavy, 1” diameter, fluted 20” barrel, and thicker upper, the rifle was very heavy, even before scoping up.

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Primary extraction became near a thing of the past, even with hot reloads or surplus military ammo. However, it was always better to find decent ammo, or produce a well-balanced reload. I’ve owned six Speedmasters, and my pet load is a 69-grain Sierra BTHP Match King or Tipped Match King (TMK), over 24-grains of Ramshot TAC. This is an accurate and well-behaved recipe.

Let’s twist again

By this time, most UK-based AR smiths had discovered heavier bullets and tighter rifling twists to support them for improved, longer-range performance. The most popular twist rates these days are either 1-9” or 1-8”. If you want to shoot from 55 to 69-grains, then go for the former. For 68, 69 and 75-grains, go with the latter. There are even tighter twists for the true heavyweight 80 and 90-grainers, which can shoot accurately out to 1000m.

These days the Speedmaster has gone through many changes. Bob dropped the Mk 1 cocking handle a long time ago, in favour of a dog-leg design that moved the handle back about 3” for easier manipulation, but it also allows the angle to be changed to suit the shooter.

This, and the combination of the LH cocking handle, means both lefties and righties can use the gun equally as well in all positions. When shooting prone off a bipod, even though right-handed, I maintain my firing grip and operate the rifle with my left hand, which is most practical!

Build it

SGC now produces both upper and lower receivers on in-house CNC machinery. The latter is now of a heavier build than the original and shows several improvements and design changes. They also offer a quick-detachable, free-float forend, or a fixed tube type, and if you want the synthetic military look, they can do that too. On that point, SGC has a gun builder program on its website that shows potential customers every option available (triggers, barrel and forend types, furniture, controls, and accessories etc.)

State of the art

The rifle on test is what I would term a typical example of a modern Speedmaster, and it illustrates most of the features. The heavy 20” barrel shows spiral fluting and a multi-port muzzle brake. A bit too much weight up front for my tastes, but no doubt a tack driver. However, you could opt for an H-Bar-type barrel with a slimmer front profile, which strikes a good balance between handling and ability.

The tube sits in one of their detachable, free-float forends that comes with Picatinny rails at 12 and 6 o’clock, and with M-LOK slots on the side for accessories. The heavy upper and lower receivers remain as ever, with the former showing a low Picatinny rail that aligns exactly with the one on the forend.

Ambi-operator

Controls are in the main, ambidextrous, with a twin-sided safety catch above the trigger, which enhances operation. In this case, this ambi facility is carried through to the magazine release too. I don’t think you need it on the left side, but others might. Unless specified, Speedmasters come with a heavier, military-type trigger unit. However, this example offered a far better pull, plus you can choose from a selection of aftermarket, drop-in units.

Furniture in this case consisted of a Hogue over-moulded pistol grip. Today, there’s a host of options, with Magpul and clones being popular choices. Again, the butt is a moveable feast, from the fixed A2 unit to Magpul’s fully-adjustable and very impressive, PRS (Precision Rifle Stock) unit. This example wears the less expensive, but similar concept, LUTH AR unit. It offers adjustable length of pull, comb height, and recoil pad orientation.

Shoot!

I scoped up with my Nightforce 3-15x56 (Zero Stop), and had an AccuTac bipod up front. Ammo consisted of my 69-grain Sierra TMK reload and some GECO 55-grain FMJ, which is pretty much a modern M193 recipe.

No surprises here, the TMK shot a cool 0.5” at 100m, with the GECO going to the inch. This illustrates the compatibility issues of bullet weights and rifling twists.

Operation was flawless, with the essential, reliable primary extraction guaranteed. Plus, being able to fine-tune the RH bolt handle position also aided performance. The option to go left or right hand, and the multi-positional usage, make the Speedmaster so versatile for many needs.

End game

I admit to being biased about the Speedmaster, but I genuinely believe it’s possibly the best AR15 derivative out there. All you have to do is choose the options that suit you for the perfect rifle. I know some shooters who have a single lower that’s set up to their preferences, and two uppers, so they can mix and match for long-range precision, varminting, small deer, or dropping a 16” carbine setup for action/practical use. The choice is yours!

  • SGC Speedmaster - image {image:count}

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  • SGC Speedmaster - image {image:count}

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  • SGC Speedmaster - image {image:count}

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  • SGC Speedmaster - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • SGC Speedmaster - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • SGC Speedmaster - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • SGC Speedmaster - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • SGC Speedmaster - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

  • SGC Speedmaster - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge

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  • Name: SGC Speedmaster
  • Contact: Southern Gun Co - www.southern-gun.co.uk
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