Read more at Century: http://centuryarms.biz/proddetail.asp?prod=RI2253-X
Buy a C308 on GunsAmerica.com: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=c308
Like a pretty gal from the wrong side of the tracks, Century Arms has a reputation—one that is grossly-overstated by internet armchair generals and shooters who’ve never actually fired a Century product. Still, these issues weren’t imagined or fabricated, and, in the past, Century suffered from some serious quality control issues.
While their old WASR AKM carbines were the most notorious for their canted sights and magazine wobble, one product they used to build in particular was a total crap-shoot in terms of fit, finish and quality control—the CETME.
This battle rifle rose from the ashes of the StG 44/MP 44 German development program of World War II. During the final desperate months preceding Germany’s collapse, Nazi engineers sought a way to give their infantry an edge over the seemingly-endless hordes of Soviet partisans.
To make things worse, the Germans weren’t just outnumbered, outgunned and encircled, they also had a failing economy and infrastructure due to the relentless Allied bombing campaign. Even though the air war was irrefutably lost at this point, Hitler still held hope his so-called “Ubermensch” Wehrmacht could turn the tide on the ground—this, despite its ranks being filled by ill-trained old men and boys from the Volkssturm.
With the incredible reports of the StG 44/MP 44’s combat effectiveness, German engineers refined the idea into a more cost-effective assault rifle—the StG 45, a select-fire rifle chambered for the intermediate 7.92x33mm Kurz cartridge. This new rifle did away with the tilting bolt and gas-operating system in favor of a roller-delayed one. The Germans held that system in high regard, after its successful implementation in the infamous MG 42 machine gun.
The resulting Mauser-developed prototype, the StG 45(M) was the first select-fire rifle to rely solely on roller-delayed blowback action. While the new rifle didn’t affect the war’s outcome, it did heavily influence weapon design for more than six decades to follow.
The design first traveled with Mauser’s weapon R&D program to France as part of their CEAM program and later to Spain for the CETME weapon program. The CETME group used Mauser Werke’s past experiences to produce the CETME Modelo 58, a rifle with more than a passing resemblance to the Heckler & Koch G3.
With good reason, the CETME design was later purchased by the German military, albeit in a slightly modified design that would later become the G3 battle rifle.
The CETME, like all roller-delayed firearms, is a very tricky weapon to work with. Where the AR-15 uses a series of lugs on a rotating bolt to lock the action, roller-delayed actions utilize two small spring-loaded wheels that fit inside small alcoves in the receiver. They’re secured by the friction and pressure spike of the bolt pushing back after firing a round.
From a practical standpoint, this means the rollers themselves determine the headspace and timing of the action. As such, they must be maintained and replaced when necessary. Failure to do so is normally not catastrophic but will cause no shortage of frustrating malfunctions.
The issue with the original Century CETME carbines was a combination of bad quality control and rough surplus parts. Since the rollers wear themselves out, guns that saw heavy use previously could unlock either too early or too late. This either makes the rifle not cycle correctly or so violently that the shooter feels a tremendous increase in recoil impulse—doubly true if the mainspring itself is also heavily worn.
Other factors contributed to the rifle’s failure but the original Century CETMEs ran the gambit from reliable workhorse to useless paperweight. When the company announced the C308, a hybrid of the CETME and a G3 battle rifle, claiming they solved all the old issues, I wanted to confirm this for myself.
- 18-inch Chromoly 4140 steel barrel
- Fluted chamber for reliable cycling and extraction
- 5/8×24 RH threads for muzzle devices
- Included “Chevron” muzzle brake
- Mil-Spec 1913 Picatinny scope rail mounted to the receiver
- Polymer furniture
- Overall length: 40.2 inches
- Weight: 8.1 pounds
- Comes with one 5-round magazine and two 20-round mags
- MSRP: $699
The Torture Test
I purchased around 50 20-round magazines and requested a drum from X-Products—the drum, because it looks awesome and should validate whether the new rifle is truly compatible with commercial mags and not just milsurp ones. Although I did make one mistake—the drum I ordered was for an HK91, not a PTR-91-pattern rifle. While this shouldn’t make a difference, I manually reshaped the drum with a hand file. I was successful in making the magazine lock up and feed 10 test rounds fine but once fully loaded, it encountered some issues—more on that later.
I contacted Winchester Ammunition and Century Arms to provide 1,000 rounds of full-powered .308, to see how the rifle would hold up to extensive abuse in a single shooting session. I would have purchased said ammo myself, but alas, I am not a millionaire.
For the test, I fired between four and six 20-round magazines at a time, then used an infrared thermometer to check the temperature of the barrel, trunnion, cocking tube and muzzle device—more out of curiosity than a desire to produce useful data.
Another thing I looked for during the test was whether during such a rapid, punishing procedure, the barrel would come loose. I would have liked to have checked the bolt gap and roller wear, but the rifle was so hot, doing so would be both prohibitively dangerous and time consuming.
Next, the fun part—safety concerns. Prior to the test, I searched extensively through German and Spanish documentation with regards to catastrophic failures of roller-delayed rifles. I wanted to know how it would fail, if it did, so that I could at least be ready.
Since none of my research suggested any danger of the barrel or trunnion exploding or suffering rapid fragmentation, I decided to use the area forward of the magazine well as a support hand location. Not a flawless solution, but good enough for these purposes.
The magazines were all loaded to capacity with the exception of a drum made by X-products. This was loaded with 40 rounds of ammo. Not that it should have mattered, I altered the magazine’s geometry enough to cause it to malfunction—though I didn’t know this at the time.
The test began and I encountered my first malfunction on the first magazine; a round failed to chamber fully. In response I opened the action, tilted the C308 towards the ejection port and shook the rifle until the problematic rounds fell free.
This same malfunction was encountered again on the second magazine, after 18 rounds were fired. One important aspect to note is that the gun was run dry from the start. Also, once it warmed up these malfunctions began to vanish. The next stoppage was a stovepipe about 60 rounds later.
One thing I immediately noticed was that as the rifle heated up, the action speed and violence increased proportionately. Also, after relatively few rounds were fired—something like 120 or so—the barrel became scorching hot, with temperatures high enough to begin to remove the outer finish on the barrel and to soften the polymer handguards.
After another 60 rounds the gun was hot enough for the handguards to melt and the chamber was hot enough to cook off rounds. This occurred twice during the testing procedure. Both times the firearm was pointed in a safe direction (with a berm only a few yards away just in case). After the test I did some research and found that temperatures over 400 degrees can cook off 7.62x51mm NATO rounds.
Still, the C308 continued to function, so I kept feeding it ammo. Once the handguard retainer melted away and the handguard fell off, the C308 stopped emitting smoke. This is because the source of said smoke was the melting polymer on the handguards.
Interestingly, the rest of the test went off without much a hitch, except when the X Products X-91 drum magazine was used. The drum seemed to lack enough tension to properly feed rounds into the C308. This was caused by one of three things.
First potential cause: The magazine springs are too weak for normal operation; the unit is faulty.
Second potential cause: The geometry of the magazine was altered incorrectly, causing failure to feed. This is unlikely, since the magazine did feed multiple rounds in succession.
This potential cause: The C308’s headspace allowed the action to cycle too rapidly; altering the cycle’s timing. When the drum was tested previously on a cold C308, the action cycled more slowly.
The C308 encountered fewer than ten malfunctions across nearly 1,000 rounds fired, making the gun 99% reliable. (This is approximately, since clearing the gun would cause two rounds to be discarded.) The handguard seemed to be the biggest point of failure.
I believe this is due to the fact that unlike a military G3 or PTR-91, the handguard lacks a proper heatshield and is retained by a roll pin that directly touches the barrel. Normally these guns have a small loop for the handguard pin to pass through to retain the front of the grip. Without the heatsheild and insulating air between the polymer and the barrel, heat did not dissipate quickly enough.
The best, most cost-effective solution for this would be to purchase a wooden handguard, as its flashpoint is well above the melting point of the unprotected polymer. Alternatively, an aluminum handguard like ones made by HKparts.net would also suffice, though it may become dangerously hot during a shooting session.
Overall, the C308 appears to be a genuine fix for all the reliability and headspacing woes encountered by the original patch of CETME rifles imported by Century at the dawn of the 21 century. It could use a little polish in terms of furniture, but with the cost savings over a genuine Heckler & Koch roller-delayed .308 rifle, a shooter can outfit the C308 however they like.