The Baby Automag Story
The latest Dirty Harry film, Sudden Impact débuted in 1984 and what an “Impact” it had on some of us. The movie, as you probably already know, starred Clint Eastwood and his new toy, an 8 ½” vent rib .44 Auto Mag. The story was good and the acting was everything you could expect from an Eastwood film. However, Clint’s new star gun was absolutely gorgeous!
I had just started my new job at AMT (Arcadia Machine and Tool, Inc) as a tool room machinist to help AMT tool up for their new .22LR caliber pistol line, the AMT Lightning when the movie came out.
Learning very quickly that the gun, the .44 Auto Mag that shared the spotlight with Clint in this movie, was made by AMT, the company I now worked for, I started asking some serious questions. Questions about the gun, the company, history of the two and so on. Of course I, and a couple of my co-workers had to go see the movie on the first night of its showing. It was beyond belief! There it was. The gun that AMT made. The .44 Auto Mag, in Clint’s hands.
“I’ve got to have one of those!” was my immediate response after the show. Upon my return to work the next morning, I asked my boss, Greg Market how he could get a .44 Auto Mag. Of course the response was very bleak. “We don’t make them any more, and if you found one, it would most likely not be a new one”. I was told that I may find a used one out there at a gun show or something but that it would cost me somewhere in the ballpark of $1,500.00 or more”.
This was discouraging to say the least. However, after I had resolved myself to the fact that I would not be able to get my hands on an original .44 Auto Mag pistol without it costing me an arm and a leg, my wheels started turning and my imagination started kicking in. As I was building the tooling for the new .22 Lightning pistol line, I noticed something very interesting. If you take this pistol, extend the trigger guard, add some ears to the cocking piece, redesign the ejection port, re-contour the barrel and add a vent rib, you’d have an Auto Mag! Well, sort of anyway. It would still only be a .22LR, but it would be as close to an original Auto Mag as I could get. It would be a “Baby Automag”!
So, with the approval of the company, I commenced to build a .22LR version of the infamous .44 Auto Mag. With Harry’s permission, I took one of the frames that I had at my disposal for tooling up purposes and I immediately welded and re-machined an extension onto the trigger guard. This part was quite easy with a little contouring using a rotary table on a standard milling machine. So far, so good, and quite exciting!
Next was the ejection port. I had just completed work on a piece of tooling to hold the receiver for side milling the ejection port, as on the Ruger Mark II. I needed an uncut receiver that I could mill out an Auto Mag type ejection port so I grabbed one from the line and started drawing it up. Once I had the dimensions, I did the math for tool compensation and milled out the port per my new print. Again, not to bad. Pretty simple really. Just a little homework and a little elbow grease and I had it.
The cocking piece was next. I really struggled on this one but soon, with the help of my good friend Roger Renner, I had an answer to the problem. It was quite simple really, after I had a chance to think about it. Take a casting of an original Auto Mag cocking piece, (which I had a box of at my disposal), and just cut off the ears and weld them onto an existing Lightning bolt. Easy on paper, but a harder task to perform. However, a little ingenuity was now necessary for perfecting the idea but I soon had it down. Again, with a little math, I came up with the numbers I needed to turn a regular Lightning bolt into a Baby Automag bolt. I turned the ears on the Lightning bolt down to the dimension I determined necessary and machined an angle on the back of the bolt for cosmetic appeal. I then turned out two pieces of tooling for this modification. One for milling an inside radius on the ears to match the bolt and another to weld the ears in place. Once welded, I finished the new bolt by machining off the weld and sandblasted the ears. The bolt fit perfectly in my new Baby Automag receiver.
Now it was time for me to pull out some serious imagination and couple it with a lot of ingenuity. The barrel was not going to be as easy as any of the previously described operations. The original .44 Auto Mag barrels have a compounded contour. That is to say that the barrel is tapered at 0 degrees, 30 minutes of an angle up to a point where it changes to a 3 degree angle. This is going to take some doing. After confiding with Larry Grossman, AMT’s chief engineer, I designed a template to use on a lathe fitted with a tracer attachment. The same one used for the original guns. Once I had a barrel blank welded to my receiver, I set the lathe up with my template and turned out the exact compound contour I wanted. The barrel was almost finished.
At first I thought the rib would be no problem. I came up with some numbers for the towers along with the dimensions I needed for the front sight and rear sight pocket. However, I found myself in a bit of a quagmire when I realized that I now needed to match the rib to the contoured barrel while keeping everything flat and straight. Numerous attempts were made to no avail. I was at my first stopping point. Not only was I having trouble matching the radius on the rib to the contour on the barrel, I wasn’t even able to keep everything straight. Again, I confided with Larry about the situation and had the answers I needed to move forward. Everything had to be done to the underside of the rib with minimal repositioning to minimize error. I revamped my whole approach and soon had a rib matched to the barrel.
Once the barrel and rib were complete, it was time to weld the two together. I built a welding fixture for the operation, set the barrel and rib in the fixture and had the company welder do the welding. Then it was just a matter of finishing the rib once it was welded to the barrel/receiver assembly. However, there was a big problem. The welding of the rib to the barrel pulled the barrel up considerably. Sitting the assembly on a granite inspection plate, I immediately noticed that the barrel had risen almost one eighth of an inch. This was unacceptable and the whole barrel was scrapped.
It was time to confide in Larry again to see what needed to be done to correct this problem. Larry advised me on how they did it for the originals, to make them come out perfectly straight. I would need to completely revamp my welding fixture to such a degree that it would have consistency and repeatability allowing for a perfectly straight barrel, once it was released from the fixture. I decided to make a new fixture from scratch, using better materials at tighter tolerances. I now had gages and indicators that told me where I needed to position the barrel for the end result I required.
I had to make another barrel from scratch, using the same techniques I developed with the first barrel. However, now I had the tooling perfected and the operations sound. In a few weeks, I had a Baby Automag in my hands worth bragging about. I immediately went to Greg Market and showed him the finished product. Greg, and all the others absolutely loved it. However, when I asked the question “do you think we could market these?” The answer was a stern no! Greg didn’t want to make them and Harry didn’t even want to talk about it. Greg’s approach was that it wasn’t a marketable product while Harry’s approach was that he didn’t want anything to do with it, still having a bad taste in his mouth from the original Auto Mag days. However, they both wanted one. I ended up making ten in all. One for Harry, one for Greg, one for Larry and so on, for all the management.
So, now it was time to call Roger Renner at Guns & Ammo and ask him to stop by when he had a chance because I had something very interesting to show him. About a week later, Roger showed up and I showed him my new “Baby”. Roger fell in love with it and asked me to bring it down to the office to show it off. I took the next day off and went to Petersen Publishing Company in N. Hollywood to visit with Roger and to show off my “Baby”. They all loved it and couldn’t believe it was only a .22LR pistol. It just looked “too big to be a .22”.
Roger took me out for lunch to the Hamburger Hamlet, (where all the movie stars go to have a burger), along with Garry James, Phil Spangenberger, David Arnold and two other writers to discuss the gun and how to approach a story on it. It was determined that the gun deserved at least a “two page, color and spread”. The lunch was adjourned and I went on his way. About a week or so later, I received a call from Roger asking if I would care to be involved in the “shooting” of the gun. “Would I ?!” I was ecstatic and of course said yes. Roger and I went out that next weekend and did the shoot, which turned out to be a complete success.
About a week later, I received another call from Roger. This time he told me I had better be sitting down. Not knowing what was going on, I immediately asked, “what’s wrong?” Roger was pleased to advise me that the gun went over so well at the office, they decided to use it for the cover story in the June ’85 issue. I was absolutely beside himself. Not only was it now a cover story but it was due to be released exactly one year after the Dirty Harry .44 Auto Mag story debuted.
When the issue was released, I was sent ten copies, courtesy of Petersen Publishing. I immediately sat down and read the story. I couldn’t help but notice my picture on page 35 and my name plastered throughout the article. This was a dream come true for me. My fifteen minutes of fame. It started out as a personal project of something I was very passionate about and snowballed into a cover story for a leading international firearms magazine.
I personally received many letters from readers asking if the company was ever going to produce the gun. So many letters in fact that Harry asked the receptionist to throw them out as they came in because it was tying up the mail. However, the receptionist and I were very good friends and she secretly saved every one for me. Soon after the article came out Harry was approached by J&G sales of Arizona, requesting the company to manufacture 1000 guns for them as sole distributor. Harry accepted the request and made the guns.
Incidentally, if you’re wondering what ever happened to the original scrapped proto-type gun. I bought the frame from AMT for $100, marked it “Bruce 1” and gave it to my brother Bruce for a Christmas present. He has it safely locked up and has learned to shoot it with extreme accuracy, in spite of the fact that it shoots about a foot high at 100 feet! No, its not for sale. He says there is just too much sentimental value in the piece.
Note: My brother passed away in July of this year. I now have the gun in my posession and it is still not for sale