Blast from the Past: Theoben Rapid
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- Last updated: 01/07/2019
A pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) air rifle, what I am I doing? Although springers, in the main, float my boat, I have always had a soft spot for the original gas ram Theobens, and their old Rapid Seven PCP has always had its allure, largely due to the fact that John Darling ‘The Airgun Hunter’ used one.
Rapids first came on the scene in 1990s, when Theoben Engineering astonished everyone, not only with their pre-charged air rifle to rival Air Arms or Daystate, but it had a massive shot capacity, as well as a removable, 7-shot magazine that was the clincher for many a would-be hunter.
Overall weight was 6.7lbs with a two stage trigger (which BTW was awful) but its compact size and walnut stock really endeared it to lots of shooters. Original Rapids had 16” barrels and were made by Anschutz and choked at the muzzle, so always shot superb groups, another reason why the Rapid caught on. Well, this was the rifle that really started the rapid fire revelation in the airgun industry. Theoben’s revolutionary multi-shot rifle, like the company, no longer exists and is now only available as a second-hand item but with plenty of accessories, spares and upgrades still available.
I managed to pick up a later model from Francis Lovells in Witney and it’s a Series or Mark 1 version with Gamo trigger and in 22 and FAC-rated at 30 ft/lbs all for the princely sum of £595. Quite a bargain for such a classic model! The overall design is a love it or hate affair, some people think that the buddy bottle up front looks ugly, but at 150-shots per charge in .22 with the original 280cc air tank, or 300 with the larger 400 cc unit, I can cope with bad looks. However, that’s in standard 12 ft/lb version, my FAC gun, even with its 400cc bottle, can only manage 45-ish shots at 30ft/lbs per fill at 220 bar. But that’s not bad given the technology of the day.
The original .22 model was a pure hunter configuration with a nice short 16” barrel and right hand styled walnut sporter stock, although the Rapid range includes various upgrades in the trigger, stock configuration and sound moderator department. This newer version had the longer 19” barrel found on FAC or Super Rapids.
The test gun had the right-handed stock and not the ambidextrous type and, being a Mark 1, has a short forend with pronounced lip to wrap around the buddy bottle. This is actually really comfortable and the rear butt section, although simple in design, offers a very heads up and comfortable hold to it. I really like the stippled pistol grip finish over chequering and the rolled over cheek piece can be used in the other shoulder if necessary. A large, ventilated recoil pad is there for grip and length of pull increase and certainly not for recoil reduction! It is walnut with a dry-oiled finish and this model was in near mint condition.
It was a real peach to handle, coming up the shoulder nicely, with plenty of natural pointability.
As stated, the forend is short to accommodate the buddy bottle and, as such, has a large recess cut in the top of it below the barrel to facilitate the removal of the unit from the stock. This is not a problem on the range, but it leaves a large area prone to undergrowth collection and rain. The heart of the rifle, the action block, is CNC machined from aircraft grade aluminium, which houses all the valve system, magazine, trigger and bolt units. It is hard black anodised and uses the original, Theoben rings that screw directly on top.
The bolt operation is positive and short in travel that greatly aids to accurate delivery of each pellet into the barrel. Opening the bolt and locking the lever into the rear cut-out allows the mag to be slid out from the right side in the 7-shot variety or from the left if the 12-shot is installed.
There are two shields to the left of the mag well to protect it from knocks and add support. The only obvious change to the firing cycle in FAC was that the bolt operation was stiffer, due to the beefed up hammer spring to knock open that exhaust valve internally.
Filling the magazine is simple, just turn the transparent cover anti-clockwise fully, pop in the first pellet to hold the tension and then clockwise turn the cover thus exposing a chamber to be filled; doddle. Slide it back in, pellet skirts facing you until it stops against the ears on the left side and all that is left is to cycle the bolt seven times and enjoy. And enjoy you will, as the pellet delivery is excellent, steered towards its target with supreme accuracy via the 19”, choked Anschutz barrel that is fully free floating. Up front, is the Evolution moderator that does a good job of taming that unavoidable PCP crack. This can further be enhanced by fitting a Vortex adaptor, as I did here.
With all these excellent features working together in engineered bliss, you would think that the trigger would be up to the same standard, but I am afraid it lets the rest of the rifle down. Its 2-stage mechanism offers a crisp break of around 2lbs, but the first stage is like dragging yourself through a hawthorn bush in a fluffy coat. That is a bit unfair, but it’s poor in comparison to the rest of the gun. In fairness, Theoben did offer an upgraded Gold Medal unit, primarily for FT work at £117.50, but sadly not fitted to my gun. However, upgraded Anschutz triggers can be fitted.
Charging that bottle is simplicity its self, unscrew it a couple of millimetres and then cycle the bolt and fire (mag out) to empty the air in the valve assemblies and then unscrew it totally from the rifle. A charge to 220 bar (3200 psi) is fine but play around a bit to ascertain not only the best pressure fill but shot to shot consistency.
The 400cc bottle comes as standard, especially on this FAC model. As with all pre-charged (unregulated) rifles, there will always be a sweet spot within the power curve, were the gun runs most consistently before the pressure and power drop off. Mark 2 versions have a good regulator fitted between the valve and buddy bottle. Obviously, this 30 ft/lb, FAC-rated version gulps air quicker than a solider drinking free beer, which on average gives 40-45 shots per charge.
Despite its quirky looks, well, to me anyway, after Venom customs, anything looks dull, the Rapid Seven or 12 always deliver when they need to, which is why they are still in high demand and hold their value. Theoben got it right first time, trigger accepted, and a large after-market industry has grown up around them, keeping the breed alive.
Pre-charge rifles always work best with heavy pellets, which are more consistent, but I also tried some lighter weights too, as follows: RWS 12-grain Hobbies shot 961 fps/24.6 ft/lbs energy and 0.75” 30 yard groups but a bit wayward at 50 plus. JSB 14.25-grain Exacts showed 935 fps/27.7 ft/lbs and 0.75” at 50 yards. Air Arms Fields at 16-grains did 902 fps/28.9 ft/lbs and really nice 0.55”, 50 yard groups. Their Field Heavy at 18-grains shot 888 fps/31.5 ft/lbs, so better than the standard Fields and again 0.5-0.65” groupings. H &N Barracuda Hunter Extreme at 19-grains shot 852 fps/30.6 ft/lbs with excellent 0.4” performance at 30 and 0.65” at 50 yards.
Bisley Magnums are heavy at 21.5-grains and shot consistent 0.5-0.65” 50 yard groups at 811fps/ 31.4 ft/lbs. Their Pest Controls at 18.8-grains were a bit inconsistent but I like them with 873 fps/ 31.8ft/lbs energy.
Being primarily a hunting gun, I took the Rapid out rabbiting; it felt at home, short, light, and manoeuvrable with bunny after bunny travelling to carrot heaven every time the Theoben hissed, need to fit a sling though. It performed excellently, the mag changes were no problem and the trigger, despite its faults did not hinder my progress, the moderator worked well, although I have tested quieter. Whether you need a quick second, seventh or twelfth shot is up to you and your style of shooting, but it certainly helps when lamping in the dark and is preferable to a single shot action.
However, all in all, a good little hunter that can be dressed up to your own specs but check it is unmolested or bodged!
Francis Lovell s/h guns 01993 864949
H Weston’s airgun experts 01273 326338
Impact Guns Spares and service 01954 231518
Dr Bob Rapid 7 guru drbobsgunbits.com
Michael Tawn Rapid accessories 01945 420770
Best Fittings charging kit 01747 312672