• Savage Reaches For It's Centennial

    The new management team, having rescued the company from bankruptcy, moves ahead with a few key guns to keep the name prominent in the sporting arms marketplace.

    by Pete Dickey
    American Rifleman, January 1992
    Republished with permission

    The most famous product of Arthur W. Savage and the company he founded is, undoubtedly, the Model 1899 rifle that came to be called the Model 99. Because of that, some think that 1999 will mark the centennial of Savage Arms.

    The Model 1899, however, was only a Model 1895 with slight modifications, so Savage now says that 1995 will be it's centennial. Why, then, since the 1960's, has Savage claimed that it had more than a century of gunmaking experience behind it? Simple.

    In 1920 Savage acquired the J. Stevens Arms Company that was for years one of America's largest arms producers. Savage began coupling it's name with that of Stevens and, later, with that of the A.H. Fox Gun Company that it absorbed in 1929. As the Stevens firm was originally founded in 1864, it followed that the Savage/Stevens/Fox operation could have celebrated full century status quite legitimately in 1964, making it 128 years old today.

    Since it's formulation in Utica, NY, as Savage Repeating Arms Co. on April 5, 1894, the firm has had many changes in it's names, owners and locations. It was incorporated as Savage Arms Co. in 1897, was sold to the Driggs-Seabury Corp. in 1915 and became Savage Arms Corp. in 1917.

    In 1946 Savage transferred its production to Chicopee Falls, Mass., the base of it's Stevens facilities, and, in 1959, it was bought by The American Hardware Corp.

    Savage's current factory, originally the base of a pre-fab house manufacturer, was built in Westfield, Mass., in the 1940s, and Savage took ownership in 1960. In 1964, the firm became the Savage Arms Division of a large conglomerate, the Emhart Corp.

    In 1981 some local businessmen bought the division's assets from Emhart, and Savage Industries, Inc. was born, only to be transferred to another set of private owners in 1986.

    None of the postwar parents of Savage treated it with much love or respect, and the firm was forced into bankruptcy in February of 1988 with debts exceeding $14 million.

    Immediately the word went out that Savage was finished, but in March of 1989, a Bermuda-based, American-owned, publicly traded company, Challenger International Ltd., signed a letter of intent to acquire certain assets of Savage Industries. The bankruptcy courts approved the program, and today's corporation, Savage Arms, Inc., was formed by Challenger on November 1, 1989.

    At the 1991 NRA Annual Meetings, Savage's exhibit included not only its Model 99 lever-action, but the popular and popularly priced line of Model 110 center-fire bolt-action rifles, the Model 24 rifle/shotgun combination and an over-under shotgun line made for Savage by Italy's Marocchi.

    Several new variations of the Model 110 were shown, but Savage's newly patented Passive Bullet Traps were the center point of the display and were being examined not only by club and range officers but by competitive firearms manufacturing firms, some of which have already placed orders.

    The traps are made in sizes to accept bullets of all constructions, weights and velocities. The principle of the steel trap is to direct bullets into a "snail" drum where they spin until they lose their momentum and then drop to be washed out by a water/oil mixture that is continually sprayed within the snail. The liquid mixture is filtered and recirculated and the bullet particles can be salvaged. A main benefit of the "wet" trap is that lead dust at the impact point is virtually eliminated.

    With the great emphasis put on the traps at the NRA exhibit, we asked if Savage was shifting away from firearms production. Savage's president, Ronald Coburn, responded with a definite "no" and an invitation to visit the Westfield factory, which was gladly accepted.

    The factory stands as it was built, but the gun operations no longer occupy all or even most of its vast space. As part of its recovery strategy, Savage decided to downscale its scope of operations to a profitable level by dropping the mainfacture of guns that were netting little or no profit and concentrating on a few best-sellers.

    The Model 110-series rifles and the Model 24 rifle/shotgun combinations were chosen as the line leaders. The considerable space that had been devoted to .22 rifles and pump-action, single-shot and side-by-side shotguns etc. was freed and the Model 110 and 24 operations were concentrated in a relatively small area.

    The 150,000 sq-ft. "surplus" space achieved is leased to other firms, bringing in the welcome cash needed to continue and expand operations and the work force (reduced from 1987's 400 to 160 today - but growing) is made up of what every manufacturer dreams of: skilled artisans who have stuck by the firm over the rough times.

    Many other space and labor-saving programs have been adopted. Prominent has been the installation of the most modern CNC (computer numerically controlled) machinery to supplement or replace some of the older, more conventional equipment, and the outside procurement of all wood and Rynite stocks.

    The Model 99 rifle was threatened with extinction, despite its high demand, because the firm's previous ownership hadn inexplicably let its forged receiver program die. One of the new team's very first moves was to ship the remaining parts to Gabilondo/Llama in Spain, where new receivers were investment case, and the barreled actions were returned to be stocked and sold by Savage.

    The 99-C is, then, back in Savage's line in limited quantity, but full U.S. production of the durable hammerless lever-action is planned to coincide with Savage's elected centennial, 1995.

    That, to many dealers and customers, is the best news to come from Savage recently, but there is more. If all goes as planned, the rotary magazine/shell counter versions of the Model 99 may return aw well; so may some of the ultra-popular Savage/Stevens/Fox shotguns of the recent past.

    In addition to the Savage name, Challenger acquired those of Stevens and Fox and, while neither is used at present, it is obvious that a Fox double-barreled shotgun would get instant market recognition, as would a Stevens single-barrel or Stevens-branded .22 rifles or pistols. Coburn, who is not only president and CEO of Savage, but one of the five board members of Challenger, says all the product prospects are being considered.

    The new management team seems dedicated to, in Coburn's words, "breathe new life into Savage" and, judging from the spirit and activity shown during the Westfield visit, this may already have been accomplished in good measure.

    Gun shipments in 1991 totaled over 80,000 pieces and, as said, each piece netted a profit, as did each square foot of previously unused or unprofitably used factory floor space.

    A visitor to Savage's compact operations comes away with the assurance that bullet traps are only a sideline (as were such other products as washing machines, refrigerators and lawn mowers in the past), but one with great potential. Guns are Savage's main business as they have been since 1899, or '95 or '94, or was it 1864?

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