Skip to content

Hey Hey LBJ!: pdb’s Unorganized Notes On Retro AR-15s

So TD finally bugged me for a picture of something that wasn’t The Mrs’ rack, and wanted to see my parts bin mixmaster AR-15 after I installed a set of used M16A1 furniture on it:


I buy used!


Kind of an M16A1.

Sharp eyed aficionados will notice that my “M16A1” is wearing not only an A2 flash hider, but an A2 grip. This is half due to laziness, but my hands are just too damn big for the A1 grip to be comfortable. I also ditched the A1 sight aperture and installed an A2 with the ghost ring and 300 yard pinhole. The cotton GI sling is pretty much only useful as a carry strap. The 20 round magazine is a genuine metal follower Colt that I traded a PMAG for from this sucker. I generally use 30 round aluminum USGI or PMAGs, but a straight 20 is very handy for shooting off the bench or prone. If you can’t locate old Colts, I’m happy to report that you can get quality new NHMTG 20s from these guys for $13 a pop!

I’ve shot a few matches with the MuttAR wearing this getup, and I believe I’m going to not change a thing. It’s a light, handy rifle that delivers full 20″ ballistics while looking cool as hell. Every single match I’ve been to with this thing, I get pulled aside by at least one vet who asks me to have a look at it. I’ve never really fully grokked the attraction to the “and everybody at the range was looking at me!” quality of some guns, but I get this. The gun is a genuine pleasure to shoot.

The biggest drawbacks to this configuration are the poor choices for mounting optics on fixed carry handles (but I unreasonably want one of these), and the inability to mount a light or quick-adjusting 2 point sling. Considering this rifle’s shoddy genetics, it will shortly be sidelined as a cool range toy in favor of a 16″ flat top, but that’s a post for another day.

I think building a retro AR of your own would be a rewarding project, but I do not recommend doing what I did! I bought used and low dollar parts off of and gunbroker and somehow ended up with a rifle that’s worked reliably without failures over the years, including an 1100 round weekend class shot with steel cased ammo, but it took me along time, lots of aggravation and I probably spent more money than I needed to. The one thing I did right was to source a high quality barrel. I bought a complete big-hole Colt SP-1 receiver and chucked the stupid big-hole receiver as soon as I could, but kept the Colt barrel. It’s good for 2-3″ groups at 100 yards off the bench with good ammo, and that’s more than reasonable. I’m not sure where to get a 20″ light profile chrome lined barrel these days, but I think BCM would be a good place to start.

For information and parts guides, definitely hang out at the Retro AR forum at, and check out Retro Black Rifle (when it’s up).

If I was building this rifle from scratch today, I’d get my A1 upper and retro styled semi lower from NoDakSpud. Their products are highly regarded and have every variation you could possibly want. No matter what, avoid big-hole Colt uppers like the plague. Sell them to dumb Cult obsessed collectors and stick to standard pin hole sizes!

I bought my A1 stock set from Sherluk in Ohio, but I don’t see that stuff in stock now. A1 furniture is available if you shop around.

The wonderful thing about the AR platform is the infinite variations on configuration that are available. The terrible thing about the AR platform is the infinite variations on configuration that are available, that can keep the first time buyer chasing his tail and wasting money on looks-cool parts without a good idea of what would work best for them. A great way to avoid this issue is to faithfully build a retro AR (or get a plain M4 off the shelf!) and shoot the crap out of it (take a class!) to get a better idea of what features would suit your requirements. That is a strategy I can enthusiastically recommend!

{ 8 } Comments

  1. Tam | September 21, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Kinda makes you want to put on a gas mask and stomp toward a crowd of hippies with the bayonet fixed, doesn’t it?

  2. TD | September 21, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    That is slick! Now let’s see the Mrs’ rack :-D

  3. Xman | September 21, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, she’s pretty and all, but you KNOW you’re gonna miss the modern conveniences of having a GPS, Kindle, coffee maker, and DVR mounted right there on the forend. Admit it.

  4. Tam | September 23, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Personally? Don’t like the A1 handguards. I mean, they look cool and all, but they feel like ass. And not in a good way.

    Also, while it has become terribly trendy to mock red dots and white lights, well, that just lets me know who’s serious and who isn’t. ;)

  5. TomcatTCH | October 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    20″ AR15 goodness.

    If you are interested in getting one of those drop forward carry handle mounts, I can share my experience with a few different ones.

  6. Mr Evilwrench | October 20, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Made one even more retro than that :) Has the light barrel, the three prong flash enhancer, A1 everything, doesn’t even have a forward assist! Rockin it 1965 style!

  7. Thirdpower | October 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Mine’s even more retro than that. A Slap side SP-1.

  8. McThag | November 27, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Before you write off the original pistol grip because your paws are too large, you might learn that there are three different “A1” pistol grips in size. The “fat” black ones are dimensionally identical to the A2 grip except for the finger nubbin and the bottom bit.

    The skinny black grips are out there a lot at present, and I don’t like them either. The fat ones almost always show more wear. I think the skinny version is common now because they are reimporting kits from places with small hands.

    The third variation is a lot like the fat one but has the mottled color from bad dye.

{ 4 } Trackbacks

  1. SayUncle » Gun Porn | October 20, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    […] Retro AR-15s […]

  2. […] amount of steel cased ammunition in my ARs, but I think I will now stick to brass ammunition in my Mixmaster A1, since the Colt 1:12 pencil barrel is going to be difficult to replace. I’d also recommend […]

  3. […] or recoil (it’s a 5.56! It doesn’t recoil!) between these 16″ carbines and my 20″ A1. The heavier barrel profiles and the flashlights made them feel less lively, but this is a […]

  4. pdb : An Ode To The GI Twenty | April 25, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    […] originally only had one, just for posing with my Mutt Not-A-M16A1, but recently I traded five Magpul G2 Pmags for five more. Everyone who tries them remarks on their […]