The Column, No. 71:
What Is Happening at Ruger?
By David Tong
The firm of Sturm, Ruger and Company was founded by the late Alexander Sturm and his business partner, American genius William Batterman Ruger. Mr. Sturm died long ago, yet Mr. Ruger kept his name on the company logo as homage to a dear friend.
After a stint as a designer at Springfield Armory during WWII, the Company’s first product in 1949 was the Standard Auto .22. This stamped/welded and tube-steel semiautomatic pistol vaguely resembled the P-08 Luger. The company revived both aesthetic classicism and introduced precision investment casting technology to the production firearms world. It has built success upon success ever since.
A short list of their products include the Mauser style Model 77 bolt action rifle and the African chambered “Magnum” sub-variant; the 10-.22 autoloading carbine, which is the most popular of its kind; the Number One falling block Farquarhson type centerfire rifle; the Italianesque Red Label over/under shotgun; the Single Six/Blackhawk/Vaquero series of single action revolvers; the Security Six/GP-100/SP101 series of .38/.357 Magnum double action revolvers and the Redhawk/Super Redhawk .44 Magnum DA revolvers. These firearms represent a synthesis of traditional design ethos with the most modern production engineering and advanced features.
Americans have come to admire and respect the durability, reliability and simplicity of the firm’s products ever since. I suspect Bill Ruger was pleased that others also enjoyed the tasteful design his products embraced so well for so long.
Since the death of both Mr. Ruger and his son within the last fifteen years, however, a plethora of new products has issued from the company. It is well known that Mr. Ruger did not want his company to market military style semi-automatic rifles or large capacity magazines, even after the resounding success of his Mini-14 in .223, a scaled-down version of the U.S. M14 service rifle. He also had little patience with molded plastic rifle stocks (although the company did market a hideous example during his life) or polymer framed autoloading handguns.
I have witnessed some sea changes in the company since his death. The company now offers the SR-556, an AR-15 type rifle with a gas piston system that purports to enhance reliability over the direct impingement system of the original. They also build the plastic framed LCP .380 sub-compact automatic pistol, the SR-9 9mm service pistol and the avant-garde LCR .38 or .357 snub revolver, a major rethinking of the double action revolver.
Molded plastic stocks and matte finish barreled actions now abound within the M77 product line. These save money on raw materials and finishing time compared to their traditional lines. I also note, sadly, that the company’s red eagle logo only features the letter “R” on it now, the inter-twined “SR” is no longer to be seen. Is this wise marketing? I will leave it to the reader to decide.
The new Company direction leaves many traditionalists stunned. While these newer products are built to the Company’s high standards and appear to be just as rugged and reliable as previously, the use of unconventional design and materials gives these folks some pause. I think that the marketing and engineering people at the company finally had the ability to act and serve the marketplace in key areas of growth without the philosophical bent of its founder.
Many consider some of these products “me too” type affairs. The SR-556 and SR-9 are marketed to police agencies and the newer handgun offerings are competing in a marketplace currently over-dosing on tiny handguns serving discreet, concealed carry buyers. While undoubtedly both of these markets are highly profitable and Ruger, like any other corporation, is interested in the bottom line, to me it represents a sort of cynicism within the company. Plastic arms are inexpensive to build, if not necessarily to engineer, so the gross profit margin on a $330 MSRP LCP pistol must be terrific for the company, but is that what the company is now about?
I also think that the company should reexamine at their aversion to fitting good triggers to their sporting arms. While the LC6 trigger in the newest M77 rifles is a slight improvement over the previous creepy system, it is still far from good. While the company has been burned badly by frivolous litigation, largely over the Old Model single action revolvers, other manufacturers (spurred by the Savage Accu-Trigger) have moved away from “lawyer triggers” by developing systems that are both cleaner and safer.
I suppose the answer is that Ruger’s corporate board is taking the tack that it can be all things to all shooters. I have a feeling that Bill Ruger might be spinning in his grave over all these Machiavellian calculations. I further suspect that the company is well positioned in the market to become the dominant American gun maker due to the synergy of the philosophical underpinnings of its founders and its willingness to take reasonable risks into heretofore uncharted waters in its marketing approach. To my knowledge, no other American firearms maker has effectively done so, let alone in such a short time. The breadth of the Ruger product line is currently unchallenged by any other maker in the world. I just wish that they would put Alexander Sturm’s initial back in the company logo.
Copyright 2011 by David Tong and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.