Auto Mag Pistol Buyer’s Guide
Level 1, Pre-purchase Inspection
Auto Mag pistols are unique in design and a bit more complicated than the well known 1911. By performing this pre-purchase inspection you will determine the gun’s condition and value. You will have to know certain check points as well as having “common sense in firearms in general”. Below is the list of things I usually go through when I buy Auto Mags.
Please note that these are just a few of many checkpoints, and there will always be EXCEPTIONS.
This article was written to assist potential and new AutoMag owners who intended to shoot the gun. I have great respect for those collectors who view their guns as fine art but will never shoot them. Many of those collectors are far more knowledgeable than I am and don’t need this type of information. I hope this article will not only help you to locate your first Auto Mag, but also help you in making that process enjoyable, too.
All the best.
November 2006, Yoshi Ishiguro
(c) Copyright 2006
Before You Start:
Auto Mag’s in various flavors
Determining the gun’s condition is very important, but where and who you buy it from is also a big factor. From my personal experiences you should avoid any sellers or shops that say, “This gun is in excellent condition”. More you know about Auto Mags, you will never say “excellent” unless it is an unfired gun that came directly form the original owner who purchased it directly from the factory.
Oh, and what would you do if the seller or shop will not let you perform a field stripping of the gun? First of all, you should not ask to do it just for fun. You should have the intention and the money to buy the gun. Nobody likes a tire kicker. If the seller refuses to let you strip the gun, just forget it. This seller needs a buyer who would buy a pair of shows without trying them on. In other words, the seller is an idiot who don’t know what he is dealing with and is not worth spending your time or money on.
1) Bolt Retaining Ring -Most Critical-
I will not take any gun or frame if the bolt retaining ring is bent backwards. Even you cannot observe any cracks, it will show up sooner or later. Both the front and the back of the ring should be exactly 90 degrees from the frame. Typically, a bent back ring is a sign of abuse (too many hot loads), or firing out of battery malfunction. Remember, under the law, the serialized frame IS the gun and cannot be replaced.
Left: Abused by an idiot (who is also a liar) / Right: Damaged by improper maintenance
2) Bolt Face and Lug Condition -Critical-
If any of the locking lugs are deformed, I will pass on the gun. Crack or missing lugs? No way. A new bolt costs you at least $700 today (if you are lucky enough to find one). Broken lugs on the bolt or inside the barrel assembly are NOT repairable.
This is how a healthy bolt should look. (Brand New TDE Bolt)
Totally destroyed Solid Bolt / Look at the crack on its lug
3) Cocking Piece -Critical-
Bottom part of the cocking piece (where the lower bolt ear engages) is often cracked due to abuse or improper maintenance like not keeping the recoil rods tight. The crack sometimes occurs at the top of the cocking piece.
Bottom part cracked by abuse (done by a certified
Not cracked yet, but deformed and no longer serviceable (acquired as a study piece)
Bottom part is totally gone (acquired as a study piece)
4) Dent from Accelerator -Need Attention-
Check the frame where the Accelerator block hits. There may be a tiny dent or mark from the accelerator, which is acceptable. If the dent is too deep or mushroomed, this is also a sign of abuse. If you see severe wear here, carefully inspect the entire gun for heavy wear or damage.
Deep dent from Accelerator Brock. These frames both have bent and cracked Bolt Retaining Rings.
5) Bolt / Frame mismatch -Need Attention-
A Pasadena or North Hollywood frame and barrel with a TDE El Monte Bolt? Most likely the previous owner had to replace the bolt for some reason. You probably know what that reason was. This is not necessary a deal breaker as long as all the rest of the gun is in a healthy condition. Be sure to carefully inspect the entire gun for damage or wear.
Left: Pasadena Bolt (Brand New) / Right: TDE El Monte Bolt (Brand New)
6) Detached Barrel Rib -Need Attention-
The original welding of the rib to the barrel was sometimes done poorly. The rib would sometimes break off of the barrel assembly. This can be repaired but it is not as easy as you would think
Partially Lifted at Rear End / Completely Detached Rib
7) Missing “C” or “E” rings -Minor, But Pricy-
This is not a showstopper as I have seen many Auto Mags with missing “C” style Retaining Rings. This is part #30 for the Holdopen Assembly and the Safety Plate. The tiny Flat Washer, part #31 between the Safety Plate and part #30 Retaining Ring, cost you big $$ and is probably the most expensive Auto Mag part by weight. Also found missing is the “E” clip, part #49 for the Hammer Pin. You can still buy them, but they are not as cheap as you would imagine.
Retaining Rings and Spacer (Usually Missing)
Hammer Pin Retaining Ring / View without Recoil Rod
Retaining Ring #30 (Usually Missing) / Retaining Ring #49 (2 Different Shapes)
All the inspections 1) – 7) can be done with a simple field stripping except the inspection of the second part #30 Retaining Ring (for the Holdopen Assembly), which is hidden under the right grip. If the seller denies your request to do a simple field stripping to inspect the gun, it’s probably not wise to buy from him. Most likely the seller is hiding something, or just doesn’t know what he is doing..
Some non-experts say that a bent or cracked Bolt Retaining Ring is an easy fix. Really? Do you know what is going on inside the frame when the Retaining Ring is overwhelmed by excessive forces? Check out the photo below and ask yourself if this is still an easy fix. Sure, you can always make it look like it has been repaired, but is it really safe to shoot? Will it serve you well during the next thousand rounds? I know a few real Auto Mag experts and none of them say it is an easy fix.
A hidden crack developed inside of the frame which you will never see from outside
Here is another picture of a sad moment in time. At least, for the time being, you can still buy a new bolt. Do not forget to have an expert perform a full inspection before you shoot with the replacement bolt. The gun could have other issues.
When dealing with sellers, you will sometimes hear things like this.
“Well, this gun has a MINOR problem which is an easy fix…”
Really? If I were the seller, I would rather pay that minor repair fee and sell my gun for full price instead of making excuses for a broken gun. Shouldn’t you? Remember, common sense should be used regardless of what you are buying.
Knowledge is power. Get familiar with what you are dealing with before you spend big $$. Always stay cool, use your common sense and best of all, enjoy the entire buying process. Cheers!
Special thanks to Mr. Bruce Stark for reviewing and correcting my mistakes and typological errors.
- Level 1.5 Additional Check Points
If you could do little more than a simple field stripping:
Here is an additional list of inspection points. You will have to remove the Cocking Piece from the Bolt assembly by removing two Recoil Rods with 3/32″ wrench and the seller may not like you to do so before you buy. Ask him to do this inspection with commitment of purchase, or at least inspect it within the initial inspection period before you shoot.
8) Upper Bolt Ear -Critical-
Upper Bolt Ear (where goes into the Cocking Piece) is often cracked due to abuse or improper maintenance like not keeping the recoil rods tight. This could be repaired, but not easy.
9) Heli-Coils -Need Attention-
Heli-Coils are located inside of the Cocking Piece thread where Recoil Rods are screwed in. These Heli-Coils sometimes come loose due to improper maintenance like putting Lock-Tight. Inspect their condition and replace if necessary. Worn Heli-Coils will result loose Recoil Rods, then eventually break the Bolt or Cocking Piece.