Synthetic stocks are nothing new to us in this day and age but to many shooters a stock made of any substance other than wood is considered a fairly recent occurrence. My first experience with a ‘plastic’ stock was in the early 1990’s when Ramline aftermarket synthetic stocks were all the rage and one took up residence on my 8X57 Mauser owned at the time. The idea of a stock impervious to the weather conditions and not subject to warping and bending at the whim of humidity was an attractive prospect not to mention the light weight and stylish black colour. It seems remarkable now that the idea of Ramline was so captivating but what is more remarkable is that the concept of a synthetic stock was already 40 years old.
In the post war years of the 1950’s America was enjoying the wonders and luxuries of modern living. Televisions and refrigerators were becoming common place as was the extended use of synthetic or manmade materials the likes of nylon. First developed prior to World War Two nylon was used for such items as ladies stockings, tooth brushes and parachutes and was a wonder to behold. Move over silk and Bakelite; nylon has come to stay. Enter Remington onto the scene.
The DuPont chemical company had control of Remington from 1933 and when the design team at Remington wanted to develop a cheap, light and modern looking semi-automatic .22RF rifle they asked the DuPont engineers to supply a suitable material for the stock work. DuPont came back with structural ‘Zytel 101’ which was the DuPont trade name for one of the polymers from the Nylon 66 range of material. Structurally sound, inexpensive and with a melting point of nearly 270 degree Celsius (no one wants their rifle to droop in the heat after all) the good old boys at Remington were onto a winner and with the help of designers Leek, Morse and Young the Remington Nylon 66 was born and for released to the market in 1959 for the grand sum of USD49.95 with production maintained through to 1989 in during which time over one million were made.
My first encounter, albeit a paper one, with the Nylon 66 was browsing Remington catalogues of the late 70’s and early 80’s. At a time when pretty much all rifles in this country work wooden furniture to a young and impressionable soon to be rabbiter the 66 was very exotic looking. Of course common sense, availability and economy dictated my first rifle was a timber trimmed bolt action .22RF and only a chance visit to a favoured gun shop in recent years finally put a 66 into my safe.
The Nylon 66 during its time was a novel and futuristic looking rifle that delivered on what Remington offered. During the introduction launch a Tom Frye, a Remington field rep, used four Nylon 66 rifles over the course of 13 days to shoot 100004 wooden, air tossed blocks missing only 6 of the total 100010 thrown. The rifles were cleaned 5 times only during the shooting demonstration. The original test rifle was fired 75000 times with a failure rate of only 0.005%. Produced in green, black and brown my 66 is the latter and the bare rifle weighs a remarkable 4lb or 1.8kg. Complete with the Lyman 2.5X scope it came with the unloaded rifle weighs in at a scant 4.75lb or 2.16kg; that’s about the same as a 2 litre bottle of milk. Stocks were made in two halves and fitted together by Feed by a tubular magazine in the butt stock, much like the old pump guns, the rifle will hold 14 rounds of .22RF which is cycles as prescribed and without flaw. Barrel length for all models was 19 ¾ inches or 502mm and are held in the stock by a bracket that pulls down under bolt tension into a mortise cut in the top of the barrel forward of the chamber. It’s a rather rudimentary system and at first glance does not appear very robust however the chamber end of the barrel butts into a stout seat in the stock and combined with foreend pressure the projectile directing tube stays exactly where it is supposed to. The steel bolt runs along a pair of horizontally opposed channels moulded into the stock and featuring a spring loaded, stout extractor the bolt is not about to leave a spent case in the chamber. Immediately behind the bolt is the striker which upon release of the sear plunges horizontally forward running on a piece of light weight tubing striking the back of the firing pin as it lays mounted on the top of the bolt body. Attached and hinged to the top front of the bolt is a stamped piece of steel that serves as a guide to assist the transit of cartridges out of the magazine tube and into the chamber. Ejection is accomplished with the aid of a piece of light gauge steel bent at a right angle protruding through the plastic action sidewall into the action and serves a dual purpose of working in conjunction with the cartridge guide in directing fresh cartridges into the chamber. All the workings of the action are contained and constrained by a stamped steel ‘U’ cross sectioned cover that slides down over the stock/action section and is tethered by a pair of slender bolts. A leaf spring mounted on the inside top of the cover applies downward pressure to the cartridge feed guide as it slides home against the barrel. The action cover mounts a windage and elevation adjustable ‘U’ notch rear sight and has a 3/8 inch dovetail for scope ring attaching.
Everything about the Nylon 66 screams budget. I am not going to call is ‘cheap’ purely and simply because the word cheap is all too often associated with items that don’t function or last well and neither applies to this rifle. It’s an intriguing piece of work and while die hard firearms fans most likely would view the 66 with nothing but disdain and disgust I can’t help but like it and really like it. What rings my bell is the rifle is cleverly designed around two requirements; to be inexpensive and light and it did both of these at the same time while remaining slick and smooth. One feature that is brilliant is the way in which cartridges are released from the magazine tube and fed into the chamber. Protruding up into the action is a steel tab that loops down under the magazine tube and projects a small ‘stop’ into the tube to catch the rim of the forward cartridge and hold it in place. As the bolt travels backwards either on initial cocking or cycling during firing the bolt depresses the tab which in turn depressed the ‘stop’ and a cartridge is released under spring tension into the action where the ejector and cartridge guide direct it straight into the chamber. It’s a thing of beauty really. The entire cartridge does not chamber until the bolt slams home but the spring launch is enough to deliver the projectile and forward part of the cartridge directly into the chamber for subsequent loading in full. The following cartridge in the magazine has its upward movement stopped by the presence of the bolt and is then snagged by the ‘stop’. Everyone can do budget but not everyone can do budget and clever.
Disassembly is not difficult and begins with cocking the action of the unloaded rifle, sliding out the magazine tube and removing the bolt handle by pulling it directly out of the action sideways. Removing the pair of bolts on the side of the action allows the action cover to slip upwards and off the rifle. At this time the ejector will fall out of the back side of the action so it is best to catch this prior to it dropping onto the floor of your workshop and under your bench. With the workings exposed unscrew the bolt that draws down the barrel retaining block; the bolt head is on the underside of the stock in the usual position. Unscrew the bolt enough only that the retaining block will slide upwards and clear the mortise in the barrel allowing the barrel to be extracted forward out of the stock. As the barrel is removed the bolt is allowed to slide forward and stop on the barrel retaining block (see why we left in place?) which when lifted out of the stock (upon final unscrewing of the bolt) will clear the way for bolt extraction. With the bolt will come the operating spring and its plunger leaving the striker in place. Holding the striker and releasing the trigger will allow removal of this final section of strike, guide tube and spring. I don’t advise going beyond this stage into trigger group disassembly unless you have a very, very good idea of what you are doing as the trigger group is a hornet’s nest. Reassembly is simply accomplished by reversing the order of the above.
Likes and dislikes of the 66.
Personally I am not a great user of safeties of firearms and prefer to operator with open actions but when it comes to semi autos we are compelled to use them. When forced to use a safety I prefer like tang mounted. Given the position of the shooters thumb around the wrist of the stock it just makes sense to mount a sliding safety on the tang of the rifle and that is exactly where Remington put it on the 66.
The butt stock tube magazine is a bonus in my opinion as it allows for 14 rounds on tap without having a tube dangling under the barrel playing with the harmonics or a box mag poking out the bottom of the action catching on clothing and flora. The magazine follower is bright orange and when in sight clearly displays an empty tube and there is no way around can hang up in the action or mag without detection given peace of mind.
A removable barrel on a semi is bonus from the stand point of cleaning as few self-loaders can be cleaning from the breech end resulting in worn and damaged crowns that tend to ruin accuracy.
“Self lubricating”. The 66 does not require any form of lubricant to be applied to the action area as the Nylon material is slick by nature. No lube means no residue build up.
Rudimentary sophistication. Yes, I appreciate that is an oxymoron but it is relevant to the Nylon. Simply clever.
It’s a bit light for my liking. My offhand shooting tends to benefit from a rifle with some weight and even slightly muzzle heavy. At a meagre 4lb the 66 is a feather weight though this could be a bonus for youth shooters.
The trigger is reasonable by semi auto standards and probably no worse than my BRNO 581. Factory break is reported to be around 4lb but the trigger is a creepy and would be a nightmare to try and tweak due the design, certainly at first glance and it is not a task I am about to rush into. All this aside however the trigger is very workable and with regular use I doubt a good shooter would not find it a handicap.
Sights or more to the point, sight mounting. The rear sight is mounted on the action cover, the front sight on the barrel. Having them on difference plains unlikely to benefit accuracy and consistency and the news gets no better for scope totting shooters either as a tele sight is mounted on the action cover also. Only ongoing use would identify if POI shift was a problem. Certainly allowing the stock to get very hot would not help the situation as flexing will likely occur.
Accuracy and function:
The 66 was tested on a February evening with all seven different brands of .22 rimfire ammo available from my inventory. Eley standard velocity, PMC target, CCI Subsonic, Remington Thunderbolts, Winchester Power Point, CCI Velocitor and Highland High Impact (formerly Sterling). Blow back semi auto .22RF rifles can be picky when it comes to such a wide range of fodder however the little rifle cycled fully all brands with only one misfed on the PMC ammo; no mean feat. I was strapped for time as daylight was failing so all accuracy testing was done at 25m with only one five shot group from each brand. Three fouling shots were fired to begin with to ensure the barrel was seasoned with the individual brand of ammunition then five shots fired for group. The rifle presently wears a 2.5X scope with a post and cross hair reticle with the post being held six o’clock on the 2 inch bull for consistency. Results are as follows:
||25m group size
|Eley standard velocity, 1977
|PMC target circa late 1980’s
||One round fail to feed
|CCI subsonic HP
||4 touching in 3/8 inch
||Post manufacture hollow pointed
|Winchester Power Point
||4 in 7/16 inch
||Slight vertical string.
|Highland High Impact
||4 touching in 5/16 inch.
Though a small sample the accuracy is a fair representation of what the Nylon 66 is capable of. The Highland (formerly available as Sterling) produced the best group of the evening and this came as no surprise as this budget brand has performed very well for me in the past in my semi custom No.4 Remington rolling block. Next best was the CCI subsonic HP. Extrapolated the groups translate into 1 ½ inch groups at 50m with the exception of the PMC target ammo that would score closer to 2 inches. All in all this provides easily for ‘Minute of rabbit’ accuracy out to 75m which is about as far as I like to take on bunnies with the .22 rimfire these days.
One idiosyncrasy of the evening was a very large point of impact (POI) change depending on where the foreend was rested on the front sandbag. The groups were all shot with the sandbag under the foreend just short of the halfway point, IE: nearer the action end where the stock is structurally more robust. When the sandbag was moved out the very close to the tip of the foreend the groups at a mere 25m moved up 4 inches and left 2 ¼ inches!!! I suspect this is a factor of the way the barrel is held in the stock and the flex of the nylon material and an extremely undesirable feature. For practical usage an astute shooter would keep this in mind and be sure to hold and rest the rifle on the same area of the foreend every time and a matter of course and necessity. Not ideal but not life and death either.
In addition to the Nylon 66 in green, brown and black Remington also made a very limited quantity of gallery model rifles chambered exclusively for .22RF short ammunition for use in shooting arcades. There was also, for a brief period between 1960 and 1962 the bolt action magazine or tube fed models 10, 11 and 12 and model 10SB being a smooth bore for rimfire shotshells. Then there was the model 76, a lever action tube fed rifle and the model 77, a variation of the model 66 but with a removable ‘box’ magazine in place of the butt stock tube.
My model 66 was a spirit of the moment, ‘that’s a remarkably good price”, interesting one for the safe purchase. I don’t even recall having taking into the field at this time but I am glad I bought it when I did as these rifles are becoming increasingly rear due to natural attrition and as so few landed in our neck of the woods. The light weight also makes for a handy shooting iron for the girls to tote should they wish to in the future.
ALSO PUBLISHED IN NZ GUNS & HUNTING.
References: J Gyde & R Marcot, American Rifleman, Aug 2009. Nylonrifle.com, Remington Arms.com, Remington Arms catalogues 1977, 1983.
Keep your powder dry.