L1A1 SLR Rifle
- 17 Comments
- Last updated: 03/08/2017
In terms of post WWII military battle rifles three designs stand out – the Russian AK47, Belgium FN FAL and the American M16. All unique as to calibre and operation, they also share the fact they have probably been used/adopted world- wide more than any other service rifles.
The FN FAL - ‘the free world’s right arm’ was Britain’s choice for our first self-loading design to replace the Lee Enfield No 4. Chambered in the new 7.62x51mm (NATO) the design was suitably Anglicised to become the Rifle Self Loading L1A1, better known as the SLR. Though identical in many ways it differed as to minor features from the FAL.
Having carried an SLR in the British Army for many years I learned to love it, preferring its power and range over the lighter and more compact 9mm Stirling SMG. In civvy street I had an FN G1, which was the FAL variant used by the Germans until replaced by the H&K G3.
I changed three things on my G1 the safety/ selector, magazine catch and plastic forend all from the SLR, as they were superior to the FNs. However, I preferred the FAL’s sights, butt, pistol grip and cocking handle. The furniture being fuller and offering better ergonomics. I loved my G1 and it broke my heart when self-loaders were banned in 1988!
Time moves on and ever-adaptable we now use manually-operated (straight-pull) versions of the centrefire self-loaders of the past. The most popular is the AR15 as its light cartridge; accuracy potential and adaptability suit this style of mechanism very well. There are other options; one such was the Brazilian Imbal FAL, purpose-built for the UK market.
However, many devotees of military rifles wanted an SLR, but back then it was impossible as the law stated that any rifle built as a Section 5 (which was how all self-loaders post-88 were re-classed) remained in that classification.
However, recent developments have seen this prohibition over turned, with a few of companies now offering legal Section 1 SLRs made from original parts kits but fitted with a new/un-drilled barrel, no piston and a modified bolt carrier to suit.
One such supplier is Suffolk Rifle Co run by Neal Parnham. The SLR I tested was fitted up with the black plastic furniture, with replaceable butt pads to adjust LOP. Neal also has some woodwork should you want an original L1A1. Also supplied was the old SUIT (Sight Unit Infantry Trilux) along with the dedicated top cover, he has limited quantities of these too.
I have mixed views on these hybrid, straight-pull rifles. In 223 Rem and 7.62x39 they work well with easy operation and modest recoil. However, the 308/7.62 guns are bigger, heavier and require more effort to operate, plus recoil is up too. The SLR is no exception, a fact that first came to light to me in the Army when we were training for Northern Ireland in 1974. In the CQB range in Tin City we could not use service ammo, so were issued the blue, training alternative. This consisted of a two-piece build, the case and bullet were polymer with a brass rim/ head section at the back.
COCK ‘N’ SHOOT
Though accurate (ish) at short ranges the ammo did not have enough power to cycle the mechanism so it was a case of cock ‘n’ shoot every time, which was a pain! Today with guns like the FAL, SLR and Dragunov (SVD) nothing much has changed and shooting a 20-round course of fire is more physical than using a 223 AR15.
The SLR controls are as follows; above the pistol grip on the left is the large and well shaped safety catch, which pushes down to FIRE and up for SAFE. At the rear of the mag well is a big, push-forward magazine release catch. In front of this is a small, vertical plunger that gives manual bolt hold open only. Forward left on the upper receiver is the folding, cocking (charging) handle, which runs in a slide and does not reciprocate with the action. Feed is from a 20-round box mag.
Sights consist of a fold-down leaf/ aperture on a sliding ramp marked from 100/200 to 600 metres for range. Windage is set by two opposed screws either side of the sight base. Up front there’s a blade in a rabbit ear protector that allows you to fine tune your base elevation. I reckon the SLR gives probably the best iron sight picture of any military rifle!
Also fitted are front and rear sling swivels supplied with an original green nylon sling of the period. There is no gas system with the tube and piston removed too, however the gas plug is retained for the look of the thing. Rear left of the lower receiver is the stripping catch that pulls back to allow the upper and lower receiver halves to hinge open.
Design-wise the L1A1 shows a long/fixed flash hider, which doubles as a bayonet lug, which makes an overall length for its 21” barrel of near 25”. There’s a folding carry handle that swings down under the ejection port. Locking is different as the bolt body sits in a carrier, which cams it down in front of a locking shoulder in the lower receiver. Headspace can be an issue as the shoulders wear with heavy use, however, they can be replaced to account for this.
As a hybrid straight-pull the shooter is overcoming primary extraction and the unlocking movement along with compressing a strong return spring every time; which needs some effort. Plus the cocking handle needs to be flipped up every time too, which makes it slightly slower than the FAL, which has a fixed-type. It’s also on the left so you are taking the weight on your shooting arm alone, so a better choice for a left hander. Add to this the SLR weighs a hefty 10.5 lbs loaded and is 44.5” long so a lot of metal in the shoulder. It is possible to modify the SLR for a right hand, drop- back cocker, which I have seen and it works!
S.U.I.T. YOU SIR
Along with the rifle Neal supplied a S.U.I.T. sight (Sight Unit Infantry Trilux) which was an early attempt at a combat optic and a precursor to the S.U.S.A.T. as used on the L85 bullpup. This low power monocular system uses a large, tapered pointer that comes down from 12 o’clock. It offers two range setting via a lever, essentially it was a point and shoot set up. For low light use it had an integral Tritium insert that illuminated the tip of the pointer. It attaches by a special top cover, with a QD lock.
With any rifle of this type, you need to see what ammo it likes, due to the dictates of primary extraction. I used PPU’s (Prvi Partizan) 145-grain FMJ and 168-grain HPBT Match in 308 Win. The former is more in keeping with the 7.62
It was good to get behind the old SLR again after many years away and it all came back to me. Flip up the safety, snap in the magazine and flick out the cocking handle and retract it to cycle the action and chamber. Trigger pull is a firm 5-6 lbs but not bad and the iron sights give a good picture. Accuracy with either load showed it could keep the shots in a 4x2” rectangle at 100-yards, so good enough. The S.U.I.T. allows it to shoot slightly tighter, due to the fine pointer and small magnification.
This is a heavy rifle to use in the shoulder and manually-operated. Yanking that big bolt, carrier and return spring back each time take some effort. Personally I found a string of 20-shots more than enough and far slower to complete than a comparable, mann-opp AR15. Add to this as the gun gets hotter primary extraction gets more noticeable, with extra effort required to overcome it. At £2000, this is not a cheap rifle and would have expected it to look like new with all the metalwork finished in the same way. As it is you get a shiny black barrel and rather worn looking grey/ phosphated action.
Though some will disagree I feel the straight-pull SLR is just a bit much. However, the interest in these rifles continues apace, so it looks like I’m the odd one out…
Can anyone out there tell me how many decibels of noise does a SLR L1A1 rifle produce when it is fired?
David Roberts09 Feb 2023 at 08:43 PM
When did the SUIT sight come into service on the SLR? I seem to remember 1975?
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abc25 Mar 2019 at 10:29 AM
Available off the internet ...seen them….
Carmel Vella24 Mar 2019 at 10:45 PM
Loved the SLR…9 years REME….our armouror rarely had to touch any of them. Wooden stock etc….Fired Sterling SMG many times…a true piece of shit…fired Bren in .303 and 7.62 , now that was a fun gun….at night , firing tracer rounds…..
Carmel Vella24 Mar 2019 at 10:43 PM
I also had one as a personal weapon and shot 3 people with one in Yemen…One a woman who was morttering us.
HOWEVER by today’s standards it was a piece of shit
The sights were to thick and when in the desert unlike the AK it loved sand and would often seize up
I blame the Belgians they should stick to Chocolate
Roger Thomas24 Aug 2018 at 03:43 AM
In 1973, I pushed down a 47 from 500 yds at Bisley that day in July. There were many adaptions that could make the weapon more accurate, among them aralditing the foresight in, ( it wandered), reducing the amount of travel on the trigger sear, and filing down the swivel connecting bolt so that when the weapon was ‘broken’ it wouldn’t collapse unless it was pushed. These adaptations caused much tighter groupings than if the mods hadn’t been done. If the swivel bolt hadn’t been filed to make it tight, the group increased enough to notice. The 47 I scored that day was the best deliberate over 500 yds in all the commonwealth forces. I still carry the facsimile which recorded the shoot after 44years. We also used molybdenum powder as a gas cylinder lubricant to prevent carbon build up and seizures. The previous day I’d been on a possible from 500yds, and indeed my 7th shot was a bull ....however, being in the zone and wiping out everything out of the zone meant I’d fired on a target 10 targets from mine…result, 45 instead of a possible…..nothing quite matched recruiting, managing, training and captaining an Advanced Weapons team as Q R’ sdescribed it. Controlling your heartbeat, pulse and breathing was a magical feeling. Although I represented Command with service rifle, I missed out in representing the Air Force 8, of that year and often think of “what if”...
John Allen28 Jun 2018 at 10:08 PM
I remember tin city well, haven’t heard anyone mention it for yrs hyth and lydf, I had a wooden stock SLR then they all changed to black plastic, I would love one again but bog standard one, no messing didn’t let me down once in 6 yrs, turned one in to an auto in Kenya in 1976
Steve25 Feb 2018 at 09:22 AM
Loved the SLR hated the SA80 give someone a tap with the 80 and something fell off. peter you can get an slr from Suffolk Rifle Company. another good thing with the SLR and 7.62 is you could dismantle a brick wall, quickly!
Kevin robertson04 Aug 2015 at 08:04 PM
I would love to purchase a L1A1 - I live in California,USA -can anyone help?
Peter Smith27 May 2015 at 05:39 PM
Having used this weapon for nine years back in the 70,s as my personnel weapon during my time in HM Forces ,I just had to own one again and I have not been disappointed
Although the cost was high and I am not too keen on the Buckland straight pull conversion which I purchased as the big bulky cocking handle is a bit of an eyesore ,it is still a great rifle and quite accurate up to about three hundred yds .
I bought it out of pure nostalgia and it gives me a great amount of pleasure on the range
PPU 148 gr is the best ammo as anything more powerful will give you big bruises on your shoulder after 50 rds
It was a great battle rifle in its day and I am a big fan
Mike Wallace23 Dec 2014 at 11:24 PM
It is an accurate weapon and targets do fall when hit, while the stoppages are a hinderence, the gas reg much more often than not corrected the problem.
without a doubt, a smack on the jaw with the butt of this weapon would definately spoil your day.
Dave Lawson05 Mar 2014 at 04:47 PM
Mixed views - as a semi-auto the L1A1 was a good rifle and from my expierence accurate enough. Firepower on a 7.62 battle rifle means hitting the target and anything of this nature is just a waste of time on full auto. As a straight-pull I'm not a fan - too big, heavy and prone to primary extraction issues; one for the collector and not the shooter. However, you are correct about 'butt swiping'...
Pete Moore06 Sep 2013 at 11:47 AM
Too heavy. Too long. Too inaccurate. Too low a cyclic rate of fire. Too prone to stoppages when firing sustained fire (particularly on a hot day), gas regulator adjustment too vague to ever work properly, too few rounds can be carried - heavy mags, heavy ammo - empty mags had to be retained for re-filling,
The only good thing about it was that if you ever had to butt stroke someone with it he would probably go down like a ton of bricks.
S.Green06 Sep 2013 at 11:35 AM