The Winchester Super-X Model 1 Story
The late Bob Baumgart, who lived in nearby Wisconsin, used to telephone me with regularity in the late 1980s and explain to me that the Winchester Super-X Model 1 was the best autoloader ever made. By then I was quite happily using Browning B-80's for race games and high volume wing shooting, but I appreciated his enthusiasm.
Bob took great delight in updating and renovating Super-X Model 1's and got a hold of one of the original Winchester 16mm promotional films. He had it transferred to VHS tape. Bob sold a few copies, gave a few away and often included one with his updated SX-1s.
Winchester has long been a powerful and famous brand, dating back to 1866. John Olin began his career working for Western Cartridge in 1913. After Western bought Winchester in 1935, John Olin was First V-P of Winchester-Western. He subsequently became President of Olin in 1944, Chairman of the Board in 1954 and then Chairman of the Executive Committee.
John Olin was not overly concerned with profits at Winchester, he was more concerned with quality. He believed the better his guns were, the more ammunition he would sell.
In 1963, John Olin was essentially put out to pasture, by being "promoted" to Honorary Chairman of the Board. Olin no longer had control of operations. In an effort to become profitable, Winchester downgraded their entire product line in 1964 and the public never forgave them.
The Super-X Model 1 is considered Winchester's last attempt to build a truly great autoloading shotgun. Stinging from the barrage of criticism (and, no doubt, the fact that the steel and walnut Remington Model 1100 was dramatically outselling Winchester's Model 1400), in 1968 someone decided they were going to do right, by developing a new autoloading shotgun with no compromises in build quality, using only machined steel and walnut.
The multi-million dollar project began, ending in 1973 with the release of the Super-X Model 1. Although the Model 12 pump, "The Perfect Repeater" had been dropped from regular production in 1963, in 1972, one year before the release of the Super-X Model 1, the Model 12 (Y series) returned to regular production.
Of course, the all machined steel and walnut approach is time consuming and expensive. Winchester designed and built complete new machining centers for the Super-X Model 1, but the Model 1 was still costly to produce. In 1973-1974, the Winchester Super-X Model 1 was the best built gas autoloader on the planet, but that did not mean it functioned better, as far as the mainstream hunter was concerned. The S-X 1 was offered in 12 gauge only, in Field, Trap and Skeet versions.
S-X Model 1 XTR Specifications
In addition, the Trap and Skeet models offered a choice of a straight or Monte Carlo comb, engraved receiver, red bead front sight and a black rubber recoil pad with white line spacer. The Trap Model came with a 30" Full choke barrel and the Skeet Model came with a 26" Skeet choke barrel. 1980 MSRP: Trap = $521, Trap w/MC stock = $533, Skeet = $521.
The guns were generally highly rated in period reviews. Although shotgun writer Bob Brister remarked that the Super-X Model 1 was the most reliable autoloading shotgun in a sandstorm, the duck blinds were full of less costly Remington 1100s and Browning Automatic-Fives. Shortly after the Super-X Model 1 was introduced, in 1975, FN succumbed to the high cost of Belgian labor and, in an effort to shave costs, moved A-5 production to Japan.
It was a challenging time to release an expensive autoloader, for sales of the Browning A-5 were already dwindling and the less expensive Remington 1100 had a decade-long head start, was a resounding success and was available in all popular gauges, including .410 bore.
Beretta was a relative newbie to autoloading shotguns, making their first in 1960. In the United States, their market share was minimal. However, in 1971 Beretta made their first 20 gauge autoloader, the A301. Beretta had no clays guns in their line until 1985.
The day of the steel receiver autoloader was setting. The Browning B2000 lasted only from 1974 to 1981 and it also had a steel receiver and was expensive. Even though the B2000 was made in 20 gauge and in skeet and trap versions, as well as a Buck Special slug gun, it sold only about 115,000 units in the United States.
The production of the Browning B2000 coincides with Super-X Model I production, which also ended in 1981. The S-X Model 1 sold in even lower numbers than the B2000, estimated at approximately 85,000.
The end of the Super-X Model 1 was also the end of Olin Corporation's interest in gun manufacturing. In 1981, Olin sold Winchester to the employee formed U.S. Repeating Arms Company, which subsequently went bankrupt in 1989. Browning acquired what was left of USRAC, but on March 31, 2006, the New Haven facility was closed for good. Essentially what was left in production at that time were the Model 70 and Model 94 rifles, plus the Model 1300 pump shotgun.
All newly designed firearms lose money. As for what the results were with the Super-X Model 1, it is hard to say. The first Model 1 to be produced cost upwards of $2.5 million; this would be in excess of $4.5 million today. As production continued, the rest cost substantially less.
The passing of the Winchester Super-X Model 1 was the passing of an era. It was the end of Olin-Winchester firearms and it was the end attempts to build a proper autoloader with machined steel parts, a polished blue metal finish and well-finished walnut stock.
There was a time when rough matte finishes were viewed with contempt. Plastic parts and stamped metal parts were looked at with great disdain. Plastic stocks were once considered something that only Hasbro or Mattel would willingly produce. Engine-turned bolts, grip caps, polished blue, well-matched walnut and hand-engraved steel were considered mandatory attributes of a quality firearm. Those days are gone, never to return on machine made repeaters. Do you miss them, yet?
Copyright 2018 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.