I wanted to start this article with a brief history of Armi San Marcos, but there is surprisingly little information available online. I’ll tell you what I do know. Don’t worry, it won’t take long. They were one of the first Italian companies to produce reproductions of classic western revolvers by Colt and Remington, both percussion and cartridge-firing varieties. In 1962 they made the first reproduction of the 1847 Colt Walker revolver, and the prototype was such a precise reproduction that experts could not tell it from an authentic Colt- and that small changes were made to the production guns so they could not be passed off as originals. Their guns were generally considered the most ‘true to Colt’ in their details and dimensions, if not always their quality.
ASM revolvers were imported by a variety of folks over the years, and they produced many of the Navy Arms percussion revolver replicas. Back when I collected reproduction percussion revolvers I owned several, including a Navy Arms 1860 Army that was exceptionally well finished. In later years they developed a reputation for spotty quality control, and they were out of business by the early 2000s. That’s pretty much it.
In recent times I have bought a number of used percussion guns made by them, and these have supported the idea that their quality control was not as good as it should have been. Some of have been very well made, others, well, less well-made. Enough were good that when this EMF New Dakota Model showed up in Pinto’s case at a very good price I thought it worth a look.
This is definitely one of the good ones, and I snapped it up pretty quickly. I’ve owned a lot of SAA reproductions from various companies, ranging from Cimarron to USFA, and I have to tell you- this gun is closer to the USFA end of the spectrum than the Cimarron end. Honestly I bought this one with the idea of converting it to a Sherrif’s Model, but it’s my favorite barrel-length and it was just too nice.
The first thing to understand is that this is not one of ASM’s premium guns like the Hartford series. For all of that it is a surprisingly well made gun. The fit and finish it the best I’ve seen on an Italian revolver, especially the fit of the wooden grips. The bluing of the barrel, cylinder and other components is very good, easily comparable to a Ruger and other workaday single-actions. The color case-hardening isn’t all that colorful on the frame, but it’s a bit better on the hammer. The grip-frame and trigger guard are black-chromed brass, and extremely well polished under the chrome. The proper patent dates are stamped on the side of the frame, and there is a discreet .45 Colt stamp on the left side of the barrel just ahead of where it meets the frame.
The cylinder has a proper bushing for the center-pin, which has the ‘Swiss-safe’ double groove, allowing the cylinder pin to be locked backwards far enough to prevent the firing pin from striking a primer. When the button on the side of the frame is depressed the cylinder pin slides in and out easily, not binding the way many reproductions do. The rifling is crisp and clean, and the chambers are cut precisely and cleanly as well. Despite having been handled and fired many times there are no drag marks from the cylinder lock- this is evidence of better fit and timing than Colt often managed. The cylinder gap is .003″!
Even the internal parts are nicely finished, and the lock-up of the cylinder is as good as any I’ve seen on a gun of this type. The hammer cocks with four precise, almost musical clicks, and the trigger breaks, crisp and clean, at around four pounds.
The machining, even in places you don’t see, is precise and clean. This is not the case with every ASM revolver I’ve owned, mind you. This gun looks, feels and operates exactly as it should, and is a delight to shoot- though like almost all SAA replicas it shoots high at closer ranges. This is the point at which I would normally show you photos of targets, but strangely I can’t find any; I seem to have misplaced them. Suffice it to say it’s handled everything from cowboy loads to peppy defensive ammo with aplomb.
Is this gun the equal of the likes of a USFA or Standard MFG.? Of course not. It’s not even the equal of a modern Colt SAA. That being said it is very good, and for what they cost these days, $275-$375, it’s a bargain. But buyer beware- not all ASMs are created equal. However if know what to look for and what you are looking at you can find a genuinely worthy gun for a fraction of the cost of currently-produced Italian guns.
I’d sort of forgotten about this gun, but now that it has come to my attention again I expect you’ll be seeing a lot of it in future range reports.
Had this gun out to the range today, and I mis-remembered- the gun actually shoots low. I used a little tape to adjust my point-of-aim and it worked a treat. I’ll shorten the sight to the top of the tape and try it again.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 23 August 2018