• The Savage Model 110 Rifle

    by Robert (Bob) Greenleaf

    Since its introduction in January of 1958 the Savage Model 110 rifle has had its fans. A bit unusual in design and construction, it has always been a good value and exceptionally accurate. In recent years its popularity has increased considerably and thus this story of the Model 110 rifle. A study and analysis of the rifle requires a look at what Savage had done previously in regards to high power bolt action rifles.

    Savage's first HPBA rifle was the Model 1920 which was thought to be a variation of an earlier unsuccessful military rifle. It now appears that the reverse actually occurred. On August 22, 1916 Charles A. Nelson, a Savage designer, filed a patent application for a rifle safety. There is nothing to indicate it was a reapplication or a divisional application. It was eventually granted on February 27, 1923. There were four other patents, one granted as early as 1916, that covered the recoil lug or bracket, the firing pin, the magazine, and the two-piece extractor collar.

    What is particularly interesting are the drawings that illustrate the safety patent. They show a sporting rifle - the Model 1920 with its top tang safety that was a Savage repeating rifle tradition. Considering the time it takes to design and develop a bolt action rifle it seems certain that the sporting rifle project had been started before August 1915 when the Savage Arms Company was acquired by the Driggs-Seabury Ordnance Company of Sharon, Pennsylvania. They used the plant to make Lewis machine guns for the British and American armies. It seems natural that they would want to make military rifles and it was known that the Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal could not make enough 1903 rifles to satisfy their needs. Savage quickly developed an economical .30-06 caliber military rifle. The need never materialized as the cessation of the production of the Pattern 14 rifles at Remington, Winchester, and Eddystone, in early 1917, freed those plants to produce a .30.06 version known as the U.S. Model 1917 Rifle. In June, 1917 the Savage Arms Corporation was organized and the sporting rifle waited for its introduction in 1920.

    The Model 20 (Savage's designation) was chambered for the 250-3000 cartridge with a 22" barrel and in the 300 Savage with a 24" barrel, apparently to aid its exterior ballistics. The top tang safety was novel not only for its location but also because it locked the sear rather than the trigger. A blocked or immobilized sear locks the cocking piece as well as a safety on the bolt plug does and with little or no fitting. The new rifle was quickly adopted by knowledgeable shooters. Unfortunately, there were not enough "knowledgeable shooters" and it was discontinued in the late 1920's. Roy Chapman Andrews of the American Museum of Natural History in New York carried one on his expeditions to the Gobi desert and his picture with one was used in Savage ads at the time.

    The Model 20 rifle and its 1926 version were succeeded by the Models 40 and 45. While of first-class manufacture their design was undistinguished except for the introduction of detachable magazines. They were retained on to the action by a push button operated latch on the right side of the stock. These rifles died quickly during the Depression of the 1930's. Now some of the design features of the Model 110 have been developed and tested.

    In 1946, Savage left Utica, NY and moved to its J. Stevens Arms Company plants in Chicopee Falls, MA. During World War II these plants - both the original River plant and the later Hill plant about a half mile away - had turned out over one million SMLE's plus many parts for the over one-and-a-half million Thompson sub-machine guns Savage had made. So it was known that these facilities could produce quickly and economically. The decision to combine all manufacturing at one location was a sound business decision, but Utica was miffed.

    For almost 10 years after World War II Savage could not make Model 99 rifles fast enough. Eventually the tapering-off of orders and the increasing popularity of the Remington Model 721 and 722 and their successors forced Savage to consider reentering the high-power bolt action market. It seemed the pie was getting bigger and they should take a bite out of it.

    Nicholas L Brewer, a graduate engineer, had gone to work at Stevens in 1929 and quickly became recognized as a capable designer as well as a manufacturing engineer. He also had a nice easy-going personality and was well liked by everyone. In the mid-1930s his Model 87 and Savage Model 6 auto-loading .22 rifles were introduced. They became "Million Sellers" as did some of his other designs. His health was fragile and he had to retire before World War II.

    His Knowledge and ability were so great that Savage, early in World War II, was able to get him to take over technical control of Savage's .50 caliber Browning machine gun program. This he did with distinction and in 1943, when it became obvious the "Tommy Gun" program was in jeopardy as more economical designs were appearing, he redesigned it. With John Pearce, the Savage Chief Engineer, assisting they reduced the cost from $68 each to $33 each. His contribution to the war effort cannot be exaggerated.

    As the war was winding down Brewer designed a simple bolt action rifle for Stevens. It came out in 1947 as the Stevens Model 325 in .30-30 caliber. Shortly after that it was also available in .22 Hornet. A new design feature appeared with these rifles - the barrel locknut. Brewer moved to Florida as the New England winters were rough on him.

    In the mid-1950s Savage again asked Nick Brewer to take on another assignment: to design a high-power bolt action that would handle modern high pressure cartridges. In 1956 he had finished all the part drawings plus some fixture and tooling drawings. The pencil had hardly come off his last drawing when he died.

    The plants went right to work making the necessary fixtures, jigs, vise jaws, gauges, etc. And in late 1957 the first rifles started to come out of the assembly department.

    The original designation for the new rifle was "Model 98" (sound familiar?) because it was hoped to have a retail price of 97.95. That figure was not realistic and the price was raised to $109.95 - hence the "Model 110". It was available in .30-06 Springfield and .270 Winchester, right-hand bolt, with a classic stock, that is no Monte Carlo or cheek piece.

    One of the first rifles was sent to Bud Waite at the NRA headquarters in Washington, DC for his review and comments. These appeared in the February 1958 issue of The American Rifleman, were favorable, and the Model 110 did not take a big bite out of the pie but it nibbled steadily. It may have stolen some customers from the Model 99 but its users were satisfied. Within a few years it was available in a left-hand version - an industry first - and also a shorter version for the .243 Winchester and the .308 Winchester.

    Savage recognized a factory stock is a compromise so barreled-actions and actions only were also offered. Its popularity grew even more as dependence on surplus military actions was no longer necessary for a custom rifle. The action was a bit strange because of the barrel locknut but it was strong and the price was very reasonable at less than fifty dollars.

    Brewer had obviously studied the Model 20 rifle. He used the round bar-stock receiver, the separate recoil lug and the top tang safety from Nelson's rifle. To it he added the barrel locknut from his earlier Stevens rifles; and adaptation of the Browning machine gun's adjustable headspace. He circumvented the Remington extractor patent by putting his extractor on the outside of the bolt head nose rather than in the counterbore. He also added both a front and rear baffle to keep any escaping gas out of the shooter's face. Reloading was becoming more popular and the desire to push a bullet a bit faster sometimes had unexpected results. Nick protected the fools from their folly. The only one he could not have saved was the fellow who put something like 70 grains of M1 carbine powder in a 300 Winchester Magnum case. 110s are not bomb-proof nor is any other rifle!

    In 1960 Savage moved from Chicopee Falls to a modern 340,000 square foot single-floor building in Westfield, MA. The sales of the Model 110 continued to climb steadily. 1964 saw a new designer on the scene. A benchrest shooter and hunter from Colorado, he had used a 110 for five years and knew the gun inside and out. He had sent some drawings with design changes and perceived improvements including a lighter trigger pull to Savage's chief engineer. A vacancy in the Product Engineering department resulted in his being hired to fill the slot. He finished the development of the Model 99's detachable box magazine and then was told to do the same for the Model 110. There was to be no change in the contour of the stock in the magazine area and no protrusions of any kind. Also the new rifle had to have a lower cost through manufacturing. "Make it better and make it cheaper" - that's what makes America great! (Editor: "The benchrest shooter and hunter from Colorado" is of course the author here, Bob Greenleaf.)

    There could be no skimping on the cost or strength of the materials for safety and durability reasons so the savings or reductions had to come out of labor. Simpler shapes to polish, quicker assembly, etc. All resulted in the desired goals being met.

    The new rifle appeared in January of 1966 and was designated the Model 110C ("C" for clip but it really was a detachable box magazine). It also had a new trigger mechanism that was easier to adjust but instead of being able to be lighter it had to reach ten pounds to pass some Australian regulation for imported rifles! It is not hard to imagine that the gun dealers who sold these rifles also supplied a small screwdriver to the customers.

    The new rifle had a bolt head that eliminated the counterbore in the barrel and a Mauser designed extractor that Winchester had revived in its 1964 Model 70. The sliding plate in the right lug was simple and effective. Winchester used stainless steel while Savage used beryllium-copper for the same reasons - high strength and corrosion resistance. This extractor also allowed the depth of the counterbore in the bolt head to be reduced around .020" so the cartridge was deeper in the barrel. This reduced the possibility of case head failure from excessive hand loads. This is not to imply that it is O.K. to use "over max" loads.

    Besides the "C" version there were also hinged floor plate rifles and blind magazines as well as walnut or birch stocks and stainless steel barrels for the magnum cartridges.

    From 1965 to 1969 Savage offered fancy versions of the Model 110. The 110P and PL (left hand) were fitted with Weatherby style stocks made in Italy by Sile. There were 3,354 of these rifles made. There were also engraved versions: 110PE and 110PEL. These actions wee engraved in Germany and only 527 of these were made so they are truly collectables. Later some engraved actions were had from Japan but the number was very small and the engraving was mediocre.

    From its introduction in 1958 until the end of 1965 when the 1966 version appeared there was about 52,500 made. During the same period there were 2,601 barreled actions and a few hundred "actions only" sold.

    In 1970 an order from Canadian Industries Ltd. (CIL) was received for a 7.62 x 51 single shot match rifle. There were 200 right hand and 25 left hands made and were marked "950-T". A special adapter was made to allow the use of Parker Hale sights intended for SMLE No. 4 rifles. The stocks were made by Bishop to save time. The rifles weighed 10 1/4 pounds and were 47" long.

    There were various marks and symbols to be found on Model 110 rifles. Rifles made in 1958, 1959 and some made in 1960 are marked "Chicopee Falls, Mass." In 1960, as mentioned earlier, the company moved to Westfield, MA. Serial numbers began at 1,000; there were several made with this number to satisfy members of management that wanted the "first". There was no requirement for serial numbering rifles at the time so it was legal. The 1966 version began at 100,000 to avoid problems with parts orders. On December 16, 1968 a new system was started and the first gun was #A001001. All the various rifles and shotguns were numbered sequentially as finished without regard to what they were.