The Return of the Auto Mag on the Horizon

auto mag

This AMT parts diagram illustrates how very different the Auto Mag is. (Photo: AMT)

Before there was the Desert Eagle, there was the Auto Mag

The Auto Mag is a cult classic in the world of handguns. Conceived by and designed by Harry Sanford, it saw on-and-off production throughout the ’70s and ’80s and fewer than 10,000 pistols were ever made. Still, its bold lines and retro-future looks gave it a pop culture appeal and it was even carried, for a time, by Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry series.

Built from the ground up to deliver .44 Magnum performance using a semi-automatic action, the Auto Mag draws design elements from both rifles and pistols. It uses a short recoil system that unlocks a multi-lugged bolt which cycles separately from the slide straight out the back. After unlocking the bolt ejects the spent case, cocks the hammer and returns to battery with a fresh round ready to fire.

A special rimless cartridge was developed for the Auto Mag: .44 Auto Magnum Pistol. Originally made by trimming .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield cases down and loading them with .44 Mag. bullets, .44 AMP would later go into commercial production.

Between the action and the sheer mass of the gun — the gun weighs 3 pounds, 9 ounces — the Auto Mag not only matches .44 Magnum revolver performance, it’s softer-recoiling, too.

Over the years the Auto Mag was rechambered for other cartridges to match other magnum revolvers’ performance. These guns were chambered for .357 AMP and .41 JMP. The three cartridges can be considered rimless versions of .357, .41 and .44 Mag. On top of that aftermarket barrels were made with a wide range of other cartridges in mind including custom cartridges and existing commercial rounds.

The guns were popular while they were in production — they were sold at prices so low, around $200, that the Auto Mag Corporation lost money on every sale, as much as $1,000 per gun in ’70s dollars. Predictably, the company went bankrupt a year after bringing the Auto Mag to life. Later attempts to bring the company and the gun back all failed. The last Auto Mag was built in 1982.

Still, to this day the Auto Mag has maintained a solid user base. The overbuilt stainless steel handguns have long lifespans and loading components are still in production. Like the original prototype ammo, handloaders can also trim rifle cases to .44 AMP length and reload it with standard .44 Mag. bullets.

Today Auto Mag pistols sell for anywhere between $1,500 to upwards of $6,000. Vintage ammo often sells for between $50 and $150 a box.

auto-mag-prototype

A new-production prototype upper on an original Auto Mag frame. (Photo: Laura Burgess/New Auto Mag)

Last year a flicker of hope came to fans of the pistol when the New Auto Mag website went live, quietly and with little fanfare. But it only had a rendering of an Auto Mag pistol and little by way of information.

In 2015, entrepreneur and Auto Mag enthusiast Patrick Henry purchased all remaining parts and plans from the Sanford family. He brokered a deal with Max Gera, who worked on the original Auto Mag team and improved the design, to put the classic pistol back into production.

This summer the website started posting status updates on their progress, with photos and videos of their working test-fired prototypes. Concept renderings of the final product went up, showing black, stainless and two-tone models in the works, along with glimpses of the machine work going on at their shop.

Their first goal is to develop a new upper based on Gera’s work using modern manufacturing techniques. They have already prototyped the new upper and are working on a revision to improve the manufacturing process. They anticipate finishing the revised upper later this year; as early as next month. If all goes well the revised upper will set the standard for the production upper. If not, it will be re-revised again.

auto mag renderings

Concept renderings showing three proposed color schemes. (Photo: New Auto Mag)

They are also looking at new ways of producing the pistol frames. They have 500 original frames but may choose not to use them depending on how their new production frames turn out. The original frames were cast and new-production frames may be cast as well, but the team is also testing a simpler design that can be machined from billet steel.

All the small parts will be machined as well, not cast or injection-molded, in order to achieve a longer lifespan. By redesigning the gun around machined parts these guns are expected to be even tougher than the originals and be loaded to even higher pressures. New Auto Mag uppers will go on for sale first with complete firearms to follow later.

The team, lead by Henry, is working on getting new frames into production and has posted photos and videos of their prototype slides on original frames. They have a lot of info up now about their progress, what they’ve achieved and what they expect to tackle next. They’ve also opened a parts store to support existing Auto Mag owners. These are original parts for now as new parts aren’t in mass production yet.

At this point only a few things have been set in stone. The New Auto Mag will be chambered in .44 AMP and they’ve talked Starline Brass to whip up a batch of 100,000 cases for handloaders and, hopefully, commercial loading companies. Cases are expected to run about as much as .44 Mag. brass.

One thing Henry has been forward about is connecting with the established and widespread Auto Mag community. He has been active on Auto Mag forums and seems willing to work with experienced owners about what does — and does not — need tweaking.

Chronicler Bert Mason has been following the progress of the New Auto Mag and is hopeful for its success. Not all of it has been a straightforward process. According to Mason, Henry and Gera have butt heads on more than one occasion on the project. The first prototypes weren’t entirely true to spec and some of the changes to the upper turned out to be a mistake (a whoops-full-auto-grade mistake). But in general things appear to be moving in a positive direction — this is Gera’s life’s work and everyone respects that.

A firm timeline and pricing are still too far out to confirm. After all, they are still in the prototype phase. Ultimately the New Auto Mag will be released when it’s ready — not tied to a strict schedule — too many people have already failed to bring the Auto Mag back into production. They need to make sure everything is right.

Old Gun, New Machines

Fortunately, a few things favor the Auto Mag this go around. The design, in any of its original versions, was ahead of its time. Now even small shops have the precision manufacturing equipment needed to produce such a powerful semi-automatic handgun.

The market is also larger — the legend of the Auto Magnum has only grown since it went out of production. There are a lot more shooters interested in getting one of these storied guns. And with people willing to pay thousands of dollars to get them, it’s safe to say that the New Auto Mag will be priced right this time.

They also seem to have more attainable production quota targets. The New Auto Mag team is expecting to build around 150 guns a month, not batches of thousands, at least in the beginning. After nearly 40 years, a little extra waiting now for new guns is nothing.

Should the team succeed the New Auto Mag will be its own gun — an updated, modernized and improved gun, built using the same principles and aesthetics with 21st-century tools — and at the same time, remain true to the classic magnum.

{ 36 comments… add one }
  • Lance Dacus October 15, 2016, 12:39 am

    Beautiful gun, why change anything on the design? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’d love to have an original but also one of the new ones when available. I have a feeling that they’re going to be priced too high though. See when it happens.

    • Roger Heskett January 22, 2017, 7:11 am

      I do have one of the originals and am selling it……1/21/2017

  • WiscoGunner October 14, 2016, 10:03 am

    That first photo of the new production prototype looks a bit Whitney Wolverine-ish. Wonder what kind of price the new design will bring? The stainless looks high-end and wood grips really set it off. Hope they can bring it to market.

  • todd September 4, 2016, 1:35 am

    It would be nice to see a upper for a dpms 308 that would fire the 44 auto mag round

  • ManyMoose September 2, 2016, 11:44 pm

    I made an almost instant decision to purchase an Automag II in .22 magnum the first time I saw it back in the 1980s, and still have it. The action is unique, as far as I know. The chamber has several ports that allow pressure from the barrel to grip the brass casing until the projectile exits the muzzle. It’s a beautiful pistol. Lots of muzzle flash for a .22 though.

    I had a local shoe repair man reconfigure a leather holster for it. When I picked it up I found the hammer spring was broken. Evidently the guy had tried to dry fire it, or dropped it. I sent it back to AMT and they fixed it without charge.

  • Chris Baker September 2, 2016, 6:31 pm

    It would be interesting to compare side by side with a Desert Eagle vs Automag. I can’t honestly say I want either one. Something about the way the DE recoils makes my wrists break and the gun rotates up about 90 degrees and yet I can fire my Redhawk just fine with the same loads. I would like to try the Automag and see if it works any better for me. I have an AMT 22 lightning and it’s a fine gun. 8″ Bull barrel is a bit heavy but it’s very accurate. Yeah it’s a blatant copy of a Ruger but oh well. I still have the box it came in too. When I told my wife I was considering selling it, she raised a ruckus. So it’s not for sale… 🙂 It does work a lot better with Ruger mags than with the originals. The Automag looks really cool. I like the black but I like the Stainless appearance almost as much as stainless has a lot of advantages. Does it have grooved rifling like most guns or does it have the octagonal rifling similar to the Desert Eagle? The DE is super easy to get the barrel clean and it seems to be just fine accuracy wise. I’ll bet they sell a bunch of them.

  • BIGKIELBASSA September 2, 2016, 2:29 pm

    Ever shoot one of those later AMT .30 carbine Automags? They are a blast to shoot too. Great trigger too . Every new gun that goes into production must just piss off Bloomberg and his cronies . I hope this new version is successful . More jobs for America . Awesome !

    • Mark September 2, 2016, 10:45 pm

      Yep, I have a .30 cal Automag. Great Pistol. I also have one in .22 Magnum.

    • James M September 3, 2016, 10:10 pm

      Absolutely loved my .30 automag. Ended up giving it to my best man when i got married. Don’t miss it at all. Just fortunate to have a to hell and back friend.

  • shopman September 2, 2016, 1:17 pm

    I would like this in 454 c.

  • Predator September 2, 2016, 11:35 am

    I would like to see this pistol chambered in a .45 Win Mag. More power than the 44amp but still in production.

  • Tommy Barrios September 2, 2016, 11:04 am

    The States around California need to form up an armed militia and take over California!
    Seize the legislature and throw all the Communist Progressive Liberal Trash in prison as traitors to Constitution and/or ship them to China, North Korea, Cuba or whatever socialist shitehole thy prefer!

    • Tom DeCarlo September 2, 2016, 11:53 am

      Sounds like a very good move

      • Chris Baker September 2, 2016, 6:22 pm

        Sounds like a good movie.

    • bill kuhlmann September 2, 2016, 2:10 pm

      amen tommy. I think they would find many in the peoples republic of Kalifornia happy to help.

      • John Harmon September 2, 2016, 5:40 pm

        If they would do that maybe some of them would move back to California from Colorado. They are screwing this state up too.

    • BIGKIELBASSA September 2, 2016, 2:15 pm

      That’s a darn good idea . My heart goes out to the good gun owners imprisoned by the hippies in control of California. Take away the hippy’s pot and see how they cry . Never surrender your guns !

      • Chris Baker September 2, 2016, 9:19 pm

        The original native Americans mostly gave up their guns and look what happened to them.

        • Bob f September 3, 2016, 4:34 am

          The mongoloid savages should have never gotten guns in the first place. They should have been forced to vacate back to Asia.

  • Eric Jones September 2, 2016, 10:19 am

    I have owned an automag .357 when I was a dealer in the 80s. I loved it. I also owned a wildey when it was just coming out of the ashes and built a few from orig. parts before the “survivor” came out. Loved it too. That being said thou, the wildey didn’t make it the second time. The automag CAN make it IF; it is made in different calibers to compete with what’s on the market now, AND if it’s not priced to high! As far as I know,there aren’t many people that would buy one just to bring up old memories and have it sit on a shelf. Others will get one just to wait for the company to go under and resell it for profit! I would get one (if I could afford it ) and shoot the hell out of it! But only if I don’t have to take out a loan to get it!

    • Phryd Wunderdawg October 14, 2016, 9:43 am

      Amen! I have lusted after an Automag for decades, but was too young to buy when the prices were attainable, and they got so expensive so quickly after production halted that it just wasn’t feasable. My wife bought me an Automag II the month they came out (a very low SN, FWIW) as a birthday present and it has been an outstanding pistol through all these years (IIRC, 32 years, thus far).

      The only problem I ever had with it wasn’t really a problem as much as a revision to the original design to allow the use of other than ball powder go make it function properly. I sent it back to AMT, they did what was necessary, had it back to me in less than 10 days, and it has run like a Swiss watch on whatever I have fed it, ever since.

      If these new Automag pistols can be had south of $1k, I’ll have one. I’m already saving my pennies.

  • Newton Revell September 2, 2016, 9:49 am

    I am a big enthusiast of the real Automag, Harry Sanford’s timeless design. Had the chance to buy one for $500 in the late ’70s, now kick myself for not doing so.
    The article failed to mention the .25AMP caliber too, and that full boxed sets of a frame and all four uppers were available then. Longer barrels with scopes were available for hunting, which is what the Automag was designed for.
    If this new iteration comes to be, for a realistic price, I will buy one. I handload 22 calibers now, just one or two more to add to the mix.

    • Honest Injun September 2, 2016, 2:25 pm

      If you want to get Rich, handload a 22 caliber or 22 magnum with a great trajectory like the 17 Caliber

  • Phil September 2, 2016, 9:43 am

    Gents, got an Automag when they first came out, and bought it in Pasadena, from Harry and Max themselves.
    The accelerator and takedown latch kept failing (Harry’s cheap cast parts) and the upper flew off
    and narrowly missed my head. The ammo had to be loaded very hot to operate the pistol.
    The run of ammo made in mexico, was not hot enough to run the gun.
    I sincerely hope that the new makers will have addressed these issues, that Max and Harry were well aware of.
    The Automag was sexy as hell. Very 21st Century looking.

    Years later, I acquired A Desert Eagle .44 Mag, which has been a reliable and accurate firearm.
    It has been safe and trouble free for a couple of decades…..

  • Bill September 2, 2016, 8:36 am

    I think with the Desert Eagle now available in .50 A.E., and also in .44 & .357 Magnum, in every conceivable finish and barrel length, the Auto Mag has out lived it’s time. There will be a few enthusiasts and Auto Mag collectors out there who will want one. But you have to remember, when the Auto Mag was introduced, the .44 Magnum was it. There was nothing stronger on the commercial market. The .454 Casull wasn’t even available in commercial guns or ammunition back then. Now it’s everywhere. You also have the Magnum Research BFR in .45-70 & .500 S&W Magnum, as well as the S&W .500 Revolvers. This thing will cost a fortune, and have a very limited market. Great idea, wrong time. This should have been done 20 years ago. Then perhaps it would stand a chance. Now, it’s rather doubtful, even though it looks to be a beautiful piece.

    • dinger89794 September 2, 2016, 9:37 am

      Agree. With all the talk of retooling, the spec ammo will still be its undoing. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel. Still an aesthetically pleasing tool, to my eye at least.

    • borg September 8, 2016, 12:54 am

      They should offer a 3 in one gun kit that allows changing from 50 ae to 44 magnum to 357 magnum just from the starter kit. They could also offer uppers chambered in 500S&W, 454 casull, 460 magnum, 600 nitro express and 45-70 government.

  • Tommy Hendrick September 2, 2016, 7:08 am

    Bought a new Hi-Standard 44 amp. Traded for it, actually. A new in the box S&W 29-2 & a new on the box blue Python. Auto mags were neat, shot great. Making brass a pain. Really tough to work the action to load pistol. Hit a home run when I sold it a couple years later.

    • Michael W. Smith September 2, 2016, 12:03 pm

      Phrases instead of complete sentences. Making understanding a pain. Proofreading great. Not a home run. Did what?

      • Chris Baker September 2, 2016, 9:14 pm

        You’re funny. I had no trouble understanding what he said at all. It’s like shorthand without the special symbols. I guess you have to be smarter than average to understand it though. Sorry.

  • Justin August 31, 2016, 5:59 pm

    ”In 2015, entrepreneur and Auto Mag enthusiast purchased all remaining parts and plans from the Sanford family. ”
    Who?
    ”The team, led by Henry”
    Henry who?
    Can you supply a more complete source for this?

    • Max Slowik August 31, 2016, 7:58 pm

      Patrick Henry — the guy who made the video of the new Auto Mag prototype.

      • Sal September 2, 2016, 6:47 am

        Lol.

    • Dennis September 2, 2016, 9:14 am

      Wow… Try re-reading the article, slooooowwwwwly this time.

      • Ken September 2, 2016, 11:15 am

        If the article was typed slowly he would have read it slowly but it was typed to fast.
        Was it the movie “The Jerk” that had the scene , “I’m writing this letter slow because I know you can’t read very fast”?
        Back in ’82 I wanted one of those sexy autos so bad I couldn’t eat or sleep without her.
        Maybe now I can take a nap.

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