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Armscor M200 Series Revolver Review
Armscor M200 and M206 Revolver Review
Bringing back the affordable wheelgun
Reviewed for M1911.ORG by Harwood Loomis
Although semi-automatic handguns seem to be the popular choice for self defense and home defense handguns by a fairly wide margin, there are people who still prefer a revolver. And there are arguably people and circumstances for whom and for which a revolver is simply a better choice than a semi-automatic. One of the problems inherent to revolvers as entry level handguns, however, is that they tend to be more expensive than entry level semi-automatics. There are also fewer choices of manufacturer in revolvers, and some of the available revolver manufacturers do not have a stellar reputation for producing reliable firearms.
In the United States, of course, the historic brands are Colt and Smith and Wesson. Colt stopped manufacturing revolvers (other than their iconic 1873 Single Action Army cowboy six shooter) over a decade ago. Smith and Wesson continues to make fine revolvers, but their prices put them out of reach of many people who want (or need) an inexpensive and reliable handgun. Among newer American brands, there is Ruger, but their double action revolver offerings are generally too large for self defense carry. The Redhawk line, in particular, is more suitable for hunting than for self defense carry.
One of Colt’s most popular and best-known double action revolvers intended for carry was the Detective Special. The “Dick Special,” as it is fondly known, was a nicely crafted, six-shot, double action revolver chambered in .38 Special. It was a small to medium size revolver, roughly comparable in overall size to Smith and Wesson revolvers holding only five shots. Before the official migration of most police departments to semi-automatics, the Detective Special was very popular with plainclothes officers because of the extra round compared to the similarly-sized S&W Chief’s Special.
Today, with the Detective Special having been out of production for more than ten years, used examples in good or better condition command premium prices, if they can be found at all. Along with the legions of Colt faithful who wish for the return of the fabled Colt Python, there are also a great many people who would be overjoyed to see the rebirth of the Detective Special. Alas, as of this writing there is no indication that Colt’s Manufacturing will bring back their double action revolver line any time within the near future. Even if they did, the prices would—of necessity—be on a par with prices for new Smith and Wesson revolvers. Not, in other words, a good option for someone with a limited budget but a real need for a reliable handgun that’s easy to use.
Enter … Armscor (Arms Corporation of the Philippines).
In the United States, Armscor is best known as the manufacturer of the immensely popular Rock Island Armory line of 1911-style, semi-automatic pistols. Why mention Armscor in connection with the late, lamented Detective Special? Just who and what is Armscor, anyway?
The enterprise that eventually came to be what is known today as Arms Corporation of the Philippines (Armscor) was started in 1905 by two Englishmen, as a haberdashery and sporting goods store. After a couple of changes in ownership the company, Squires Bingham, was bought by Celso S. Tuason in 1941. During the occupation of the Philippines by the Japanese during World War 2 all firearms were confiscated, and Squires Bingham survived solely on sales of clothing and related articles. When the war had ended, Celso Tuason recognized that firearms had been a mainstay of the business before the war, and so he set out to manufacture firearms and ammunition locally in order to avoid import tariffs and controls. In 1952 the government of the Philippines granted a license to manufacture firearms to Squires Bingham Manufacturing, Incorporated.
In the mid-1960s Celso Tuason retired and turned the family businesses over to his sons. Squires Bingham was positioned as a holding company for the family’s various enterprises, and the firearms and ammunition manufacturing operation became Arms Corporation of the Philippines. Clearly, Armscor is not a newcomer to the manufacture of firearms.
Armscor has developed an enviable reputation in the United States for their line of affordable, 1911-pattern semi-automatic pistols. While the 1911 line seems to be well-known, it is not as commonly known that Armscor also manufactures a line of .22 caliber rifles, and also a line of revolvers. It is the latter that are the subject of this review.
There is a persistent urban legend/Internet myth to the effect that Armscor bought the rights to and the tooling for Colt’s revolvers when Colt stopped manufacturing double action revolvers. This is untrue, as demonstrated by the fact that Armscor was building their M100 series .22LR and .38 Special revolvers in the 1970s. The M100 was introduced in 1970, curiously in .22WMR rather than in .22LR. A version chambered in .38 Special followed in 1971, with a .22LR version added to the lineup in 1972. These revolvers were apparently based on Colt’s older double action lockwork, characterized by a hammer-mounted firing pin and a folded leaf mainspring. Due to the cost and complexity of manufacture, the M100 line was discontinued in July of 1987 … several years before Colt ceased production of their double action revolvers. It’s no secret, however, that Armscor revolvers look very much like Colt revolvers. Since it has been said that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” no doubt Colt’s Manufacturing was flattered to see lower priced clones of their revolvers showing up on the market.
The Model 200 series was introduced immediately after production of the M100 ceased, since the research and development for this model had started in mid-1980. Production began in the third quarter of 1987. The M200 series is totally different from the M100 series. The M200 has a "floating" frame-mounted firing pin with a transfer bar safety, while the M100 firing pin was attached to the hammer. The hammer spring of M200 is a "coiled spring wire" as opposed to the M100's "leaf type," "V" shaped hammer spring. The cylinder stop of the M100 was activated by the rebound lever which in turn was activated by the trigger, unlike the M200 cylinder stop which is directly activated by the trigger. The M200 model has fewer parts compared to the older M100 series.
Currently, the M200 series of .38 Special revolvers has three different variants: the M200 (4" barrel w/ barrel shroud), the M202 (4" bull barrel), and the M206 (2" barrel w/ barrel shroud). There was also an M210 (4" barrel w/ ventilated rib) which was visually identical to Colt's Diamondback; this variant is not currently being produced.
Although Armscor at one time offered a .357 Magnum revolver called the Thunder Chief, that model has also been long discontinued. What is offered today is a trio of six-shot revolvers chambered for the once ubiquitous .38 Special cartridge. The Armscor M200, with a 4-inch barrel, appears to be styled after the Colt Police Positive, while the M206 with its 2-inch barrel is a spitting image of a Colt Detective Special. Not only are these little revolvers currently available—new—they are also affordable. We were able to obtain privately-owned examples of both the M200 and the M206, so let’s take a look at them.
Because the Internet myth is that the snubnose M206 is a copy of the Colt Detective Special, in addition to sourcing examples of both the M200 and M206 we also sought out a pristine example of the 3rd generation (shrouded ejector rod) Colt Detective Special. Placing the M206 nose-to-nose on a grid next to the Detective Special, it can be seen that the overall size is virtually identical, but there are subtle variations in proportion. Most notable is that the Armscor has a slightly larger trigger guard. Placement of the locking notches in the cylinder is also subtly different.
Colt’s Detective Special was built on what was known as the D-frame, which also served as the basis for the Police Positive. Although we were unable to secure an example of the Police Positive for this review, a Police Positive with a 4-inch barrel would match up against an Armscor M206 essentially the same way the Detective Special relates to the M200.
Other than the barrel length and the grips, the two Armscor pistols are the same. As word of these firearms has spread through the Internet gun community, so has misinformation. I can recall engaging (not too long ago) in an exchange with a member of another firearms forum—a gentleman whom I normally consider to be knowledgeable—about details of the Armscor revolvers. I had mentioned that they utilize a modern, transfer bar ignition with the firing pin in the frame rather than on the hammer. I was told this is incorrect. To document this, we have the following photos:
In that same argument, I was taken to task for stating that the Detective Special used a folded leaf hammer spring and that the Armscors use a more modern coil spring on a hammer strut. I was informed that I was wrong on both counts. Again, we have proof that we cannot rely on everything we read on the Internet:
In fact, it appears that in modernizing their revolvers from the M100 series to the M200 series, Armscor copied fairly closely the lockwork design of Colt’s later revolvers such as the Anaconda. The differences can be seen in the following exploded schematic diagrams:
These two revolvers are intended as close range, personal defense weapons, not target pistols. The front sights on both are fixed, and there is no rear sight. What serves as a rear sight is a simple trench running the length of the top strap, just like on the old western gunslingers’ Colt Peacemakers. Although rudimentary, the sights are very functional. The notch at the rear of the top strap has a squared bottom and the width leaves enough daylight on either side of the front sight blade to make it easy to pick up a sight picture. The downside to this arrangement is that there is effectively no adjustment. If your gun consistently shoots low, the correction would be to file down the height of the front sight. If the gun shoots high, you would have to either build up the front sight somehow, or apply “Kentucky windage.”
Likewise, there is no adjustment for windage. The front sight is fixed. On the old Colt Peacemakers, windage correction was made by rotating the entire barrel, either screwing it into the frame a fraction of a turn, or backing it out. On these revolvers, the barrel is fitted inside a shroud and pinned in place. The shroud cannot be rotated to correct for windage, so the only fix (for anyone brave enough to attempt it) would be to carefully and gently whack the front sight with a hammer to bend it – hoping it doesn’t snap off at the base.
The good news is that none of this is necessary unless you are a fanatic. These guns are not intended for long range, pinpoint accuracy and should not be expected to achieve such. What they are intended for is to be able to deliver shots to a target the size of center-of-mass on a bad guy at typical self-defense distances. As our shooting test results show, they are both capable of satisfying this standard.
Since one mode of concealed carry for small self-defense handguns has been pocket carry, with the possibility of actually firing the pistol through the bearer’s clothing from inside the pocket, some manufacturers of double action revolvers have offered models with the hammer hidden under a shroud so that it won’t get tangled in the clothing if fired from inside a pocket. Other models have been offered with bobbed hammers so the hammer spur won’t get caught on clothing when trying to draw from a pocket. Both of our test revolvers were equipped with standard hammers. Armscor does offer a bobbed, spurless hammer for those who wish to carry in the pocket. This is not a shrouded hammer, and trying to fire from inside the pocket would still probably result in a stoppage. But the bobbed hammer fits flush to the frame and offers nothing to catch on clothing when drawing. (The spurless hammer is available as a factory option on the M206 as model M206A.)
Of course, a self-defense handgun is of limited utility if the owner can't find a holster in which to carry it. It's unlikely that you'll see either of these revolvers listed in the catalog of any major, "name" holster maker. Despite the technical differences between these two Armscor revolvers and the classic Colt models that (perhaps) inspired them, they are close enough in size and proportion to fit perfectly in gun leather made for Colts. The shop at the range has a bargain bin of used holsters that have been traded in or just given to the shop over the years. Scrounging through the assortment, I was astonished to find Strong Leather brand holsters for both a Colt Detective Special and a Colt Police Positive. The holsters were obviously used, but both were in excellent condition. Strong Leather sells mostly to law enforcement personnel. Their prices are high enough that they don't print them. ("If you have to ask the price, you probably can't afford it," I suppose.) For $10 each, I snapped them up, even though Chris would have let us use them as photo props at no cost.
One last bit of good news is that speed loaders for the Detective Special fit and work perfectly with both the M200 and M206.
But how do they shoot?
Our standard M1911.ORG protocol is to conduct our accuracy testing at a distance of 25 feet for pistols shorter than Commander length (4¼ inch barrel) and at 25 yards for Commanders and Government size 1911s, and other pistols with barrels longer than 4 inches. Since both of these test revolvers are basic, personal defense handguns with rudimentary fixed sights, we tested both at a distance of 25 feet, which is more or less the outermost extreme for typical self-defense encounters.
As is characteristic of double action revolvers, the trigger pull weight is considerably heavier in double action mode than it is in single action. Since the accuracy portion of our review is intended to be an indication of the capability of the firearm rather than the ability of the shooter, we fired for accuracy in single action mode. Nonetheless, we were impressed by the double action trigger in both test guns. The M200 had an average trigger pull of 11 pounds in double action mode, and an impressively clean and smooth 3½ pounds in single action. The M206 snubbie wasn’t far behind, measuring an average pull weight of 12 pounds in double action and an equally clean 4 pounds in single action. These are both out of the box results. By contrast, I recently worked on a new Taurus Model 94 .22 revolver that came from the factory with a double action trigger weight of about 15 pounds and a single action trigger that was an ugly 8½ pounds. The Taurus needed a trigger job and replacement of both the hammer spring and the trigger return spring to reduce the trigger pull to 10 pounds double action and 5 pounds single action. Even then, the double action trigger on the Taurus has a longer pull.
In other words, the out of the box triggers on both of these Armscor revolvers is better than that on a Taurus revolver costing 50 percent more, after the Taurus had been worked on.
While I was at the range to shoot the tests, I engaged Chris (the range owner) in a brief discussion of double action trigger pull weights. Since I am more conversant with semi-automatic pistols and single action revolvers, I asked Chris what he considers to be a “typical” pull weight for a double action revolver. He said "Twelve pounds,” which puts the two Armscors right on the money. Out of curiosity, Chris retrieved one of his personal, classic Smith & Wesson revolvers out of the gun safe and we checked the trigger pull on that. This slicked-up, high-end revolver had a trigger pull of 9 pounds in double action mode and 3 pounds in single action. Considering that the two Armscors were essentially brand new (having previously been fired only enough to verify function) and were entirely untouched internally, the triggers were (in the author’s opinion) exceptional.
The tables below show how they performed:
Armscor M200 Accuracy
Armscor M206 AccuracyOverall, the 4” M200 tended to shoot to point of aim horizontally but point of impact was above point of aim by an inch or two. On the other hand, the M206 snubbie was on the money vertically with all four loads tested, but point of impact was generally half an inch to an inch left of point of aim. All accuracy testing was shot from a seated position over a rest on a bench. And, because the tiny wood grips on the M206 are so difficult to hold onto, we shot the accuracy portion of the test with a set of Pachmayr molded rubber grips (intended for a Colt Detective Special) installed. The Pachmayrs are not as large as the factory rubber grips on the M200, but they make the little snubbie much easier to hold onto than the original wood grips.
The Bottom Line
To get right to the point, we rate both of these revolvers as a “Buy.” They aren’t fancy and they won’t win any prizes in a firearms beauty contest but, as my grandmother used to say, “Handsome is as handsome does.” In the author’s opinion, both of these Armscor revolvers “do” very handsomely. Of the two, I liked the M206 snubnose better. At least with the Pachmayr grips installed, it seemed to balance better in my hand, and at 25 feet with everything falling within about an inch of the ‘X,’ the little gun is simply deadly.
Observant readers may note that none of the test ammunition was rated +P. This was intentional. Armscor says the M200 series revolvers are rated for “occasional” use of +P. To me, that means practice should be conducted using standard-pressure ammunition, but if I choose to carry +P for self-defense and I actually have to fire the gun, it won’t blow up. The M200, in fact, is a personally-owned firearm that was purchased a few years ago when I first learned that these little gems existed. The M206 was also privately owned, and made available to The M1911 Pistols Organization for this test. Consequently, we made a conscious decision not to beat up on the guns by shooting a bunch of +P ammunition through them just to punch holes in paper.
If I have one criticism, it is easily overcome. My hands are not especially large as male hands go, yet I found the OEM wood grips on the M206 snubnose just didn't provide enough handle in the right places to get a good shooting grip. The pinkie finger is left hanging in space, and the rounded-off backstrap doesn't offer a firm base for the ring finger. This is not so much a criticism, since the little gun is intended as a back-up or deep cover gun and the small OEM grips provide good concealment and a back-up is generally only needed at "up close and personal" distances, as it is a consideration.
Fortunately, because the grip frame shape and size are virtually identical to the Detective Special, Pachmayr grips for the Detective Special fit nicely and provide a much more secure hold.
Both revolvers are affordably priced and, in our opinion, represent one of the true bargains in the firearms industry. Our experience with actually inspecting, photographing, handling and shooting these guns simply proves that we should not and cannot believe everything we read on the Internet.
We can't give you an MSRP for either firearm because Advanced Tactical (Armscor's American branch and importer) advised us they do not set any MSRP. This means dealers are free to sell them for any markup they choose, without worrying about "undercutting" the manufacturer's prices. We believe you can expect to be able to buy these guns from your local gun shop for somewhere in the $250 range, which in our estimation is what makes them a true bargain.
We think a review that just says, “Here’s the gun, it went bang” makes for rather boring reading. For this reason, we try to enlighten our readers with enough background to put each firearm somewhat in context. In the case of the Armscor revolvers, since the author knows little about revolvers other than the Colt Model 1873 and even less about the history of Armscor’s double action revolvers, we are grateful to Willie Lagundino of Armscor for providing much of the information used to lay out the history and evolution of these firearms.
Chris Dogolo, Mike Rubino, and Charlie Baker at Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range make it possible for us to perform these evaluations and we can’t adequately express our thanks for their assistance and cooperation in allowing us the use of the range for testing. Readers in the southern Connecticut shoreline area should make it a point to check out the facility.
Please go to this thread on the M1911 Pistols Organization discussion forum to discuss this pistol and this review.
Advanced Tactical Firearms
150 N. Smart Way
Pahrump, NV 89060
Web Site: http://www.advancedtactical.com
Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range
2458 Boston Post Road
Guilford, CT 06437
Last edited by Harwood Loomis; 28th September 2012 at 07:19.
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