Practically Shooting

The Auto Mag

By BarryinIN

I have two AutoMags. I first saw a picture in a Guns & Ammo magazine in the mid 70s while in grade school and wanted one immediately. It took about 20 years, but I got one. I would get close to having the money, then something would happen, like that Dirty Harry movie that caused prices to skyrocket out of reach for several years. Then after having waited and looked for so long to get that first one, I found another six days later that I traded for. Strange things happen.

Anyway, to reply to an earlier point, it is true that High Standard did not manufacture any AutoMag pistols. Not exactly anyway. What High Standard did was to have some made for them with their name on them and serialized in their own range. The company making AMs reorganized/sold/closed/reopened and changed names a few times over it’s life, but I think TDE was the name at the time. FYI, TDE was short for Trust Deed Estates which was a company that mainly bought and sold oil leases.

Max Gera and Harry Sanford designed the gun. Sanford ran the company and later founded OMC and AMT, and was also the designer of the AMT Backup .380 (the original single action version). Prototypes were around in the late 60s, and Jeff Cooper tested one that was written up for a 1970 issue of Guns & Ammo. That is the earliest article I know of. It would be over a year before any guns were actually made, and they were not exactly production guns. The early ones (called Pasadena AMs because of the Pasadena CA factory location) were more or less hand made tool room guns. While these are generally the best fitted and finished, later guns are probably better as shooters because they updated and the design and materials as they went on. This company folded quickly because as you might guess, it was hard to turn a profit making guns one at a time. The company, and gun, bounced around until giving up the ghost some time in 1975 or so, although AMT assembled some guns from parts for years after.
Sanford said they lost money on every AM made, and I believe it.

Most were in 44 AMP (AMP = Auto Mag Pistol) caliber, followed by .357 AMP and .41 AMP. There were some other experimental chamberings like .30 AMP. The basic .44 AMP case was a .308 or .30-06 type case cut off then inside reamed. The .357 and .41 cases were that same case necked down. The .44 AMP was roughly .44 Magnum equivalent or a little faster. The .357 AMP is pretty interesting, as it can throw 158 grain bullets over 1800 fps and 125s over 2000 fps, and was the choice of some hunters for it’s flatter trajectory. I have a book on handgun hunting by George Nonte, where Lee Jurras (Super Vel founder) shot an antelope at some ridiculous range using a .357 AMP.

After I got mine and started looking it over, I found there was nothing really new about the gun. It was the combination of features that was new. The bolt and locking system resembles an M1941 Johnson rifle, with the addition of an accelerator arm from a Browning MG. The trigger mechanism is very similar to a High Standard target pistol. The recoil spring arrangement is like a Walther P38. It was an early stainless steel gun, though not the first.

It was pretty radical at the time, though. Consider that at the time, the only .44 Magnums were the S&W 29 and Ruger Super Blackhawk. Then there comes this all stainless autoloader.

I usually my .44 with 22 grains of Winchester 296 and a 240 grain bullet. That is about the lowest charge that will operate the action, and gets around 1250 fps. Articles from the time say they needed full power loads to function, which some took to mean it thrived on the hottest thing you could put in it. Apparently, quite a few bolts were cracked that way.

My other one is .357 AMP with 8.5″ barrel (6.5″ was typical). I have not shot it very much. About that 8.5″ barrel: Since the barrel and barrel extension (upper receiver) moved a short distance with the bolt upon firing, the weight of the barrel was important to function. While the standard 6.5″ barrels has vent ribs, the 8.5″ barrels were usually non-ribbed to make them the same weight.

They both work fine, if I keep the load where it wants and keep them lubed. The magazines have a stiff spring, so can be a bear to load (seven rounds). A lighter spring allows the rounds to compress the spring under recoil, and drop down so the bolt passes over the top round without feeding it.

Recoil is pretty mild for what it is. I don’t like recoil, and have never kept a .44 Magnum revolver very long. But I can shoot the .44 AM just fine. The recoil operated action and the weight help.

On the High Standards, they had an “H” serial number prefix. Most AMs have an “A” prefix.

Which brings up a potential trap one has to watch for, which is caused by the way the guns were marked. Values vary according to when a gun was made and so marked, but that’s easy to fake. The only marking on the frame is the serial number. The barrel extension (upper receiver) got the info important to value, like whether it is a TDE, Auto Mag Corp, High Standard, etc, where it was made, and of course caliber. With the Pasadena AutoMags usually being most valuable, one could easily put a Pasadena upper onto a later, less valuable frame. The barreled upper assemblies were offered as accessory items, so there should be more of them out there than frames.
The only way to know if a gun is “right” is to know what serial number range matches what upper receiver markings. I may have a chart somewhere, but don’t know.

Something else I always thought was neat:
When they stopped making them (at least as a production item) in the mid 70s, the last 50 frames were serial numbered “LAST 50″ counting down to “LAST 1″.

I need to stop. I can yak about these a while.