PETER EVANS

Can a clas­sic pre-charged ri­fle match a new model? Pete Evans com­pares a Rapid 7 and an Ul­ti­mate Sporter

Airgun World - - Contents -

Mod­ern clas­sics com­pared

When out shoot­ing re­cently, I was struck by the fact that air ri­fles have un­der­gone sig­nif­i­cant changes over the past 40 years. The stand-out mo­ment for me was the ad­vent of the pre-charged pneu­matic, a game changer for many. Even the PCP has been re­fined and im­proved to get where we are to­day. If we were to con­sider two sport­ing ri­fles, at the top of their game at their time, but sep­a­rated by 20 years, and shot them side by side to see how they match up, would the golden oldies still have a place in our ar­mouries, or should they be con­signed to be wall hang­ers? I hope to an­swer these ques­tions, so with­out further de­lib­er­a­tion let’s meet the con­tenders.

BIRTH OF A LEG­END

The Theoben Rapid 7 needs lit­tle in­tro­duc­tion. Any­one with a pass­ing in­ter­est in air ri­fles has heard of it, if not shot one. This iconic ri­fle was the brain­child of Messrs Dave Theobold and Ben Taylor, hence the name Theo/Ben – clever that. Back in late 1970s, they were busy de­sign­ing gas-ram ri­fles when the other man­u­fac­tur­ers were con­tent with spring types.

This de­vel­op­ment proved very suc­cess­ful and many mod­els were spawned from this plat­form. Not con­tent with a ‘sin­gle power plant’ type, they di­verted to de­vel­op­ing a PCP that came to be known as the Rapid 7.

An ex­cited pub­lic awaited the un­veil­ing of this new ri­fle in 1990, and the Rapid did not dis­ap­point. It of­fered many in­no­va­tive fea­tures, not least the seven-shot mag­a­zine from which its name is de­rived. Such was its pop­u­lar­ity that it even had the late, great John Dar­ling reach­ing for one in place of his Venom-tuned HW80.

“Good, orig­i­nal ex­am­ples com­mand a value sim­i­lar to their new pur­chase price”

The Rapid un­der­went further de­vel­op­ment over the years and has been seen in sev­eral guises, but all seem to hold true to the same ba­sic de­sign; solid en­gi­neer­ing and rel­a­tively easy to re­pair, but un­for­tu­nately, therein lies one of its weak­nesses.

Back in the day, peo­ple were ob­sessed with power and this ex­tended to springers as well as PCPs. As a re­sult, many beau­ti­ful guns fell into un­scrupu­lous hands and these guns were ‘tuned’. As a re­sult of such work, the guns be­came in­ac­cu­rate, some­times dan­ger­ous, and def­i­nitely il­le­gal for those with­out the nec­es­sary firearms cer­tifi­cate. Theoben did of­fer the gun in var­i­ous power lev­els, which was def­i­nitely the way to go if that was your de­sire.

These fac­tors can pose a prob­lem for any­one want­ing one of these ex­am­ples to­day. My ad­vice would be to buy a gun that has been stripped and ser­viced by a rep­utable source, and there­fore its per­for­mance ver­i­fied. So-called ‘tun­ing’ can be dif­fi­cult and costly to rec­tify; the term ‘caveat emp­tor’ is very apt in this sit­u­a­tion.

If you can find a good Rapid, it won’t come cheap. Since Theoben’s sad demise a few years ago, the prices have taken an up­ward hike, and good, orig­i­nal ex­am­ples com­mand a value sim­i­lar to their new pur­chase price.

My own ex­am­ple is a 1996 model in .22, wear­ing the sought-af­ter wal­nut Ty­rolean stock. It came as stan­dard with a 400cc bot­tle, ca­pa­ble of re­turn­ing in ex­cess of 200 shots, de­liv­ered via an An­schutz bar­rel.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

As a di­rect de­scen­dant of the S300 model, de­vel­oped in the 1990s, the Air Arms Ul­ti­mate Sporter is a prime ex­am­ple of air­gun evo­lu­tion. NSP En­gi­neer­ing, the par­ent com­pany of Air Ams, had al­ready been suc­cess­ful in the PCP field with their Shamal and 100 se­ries ri­fles, but wanted an entry-level gun with a rec­om­mended re­tail price just shy of £300. En­ter Nick Jenk­in­son, field tar­get shooter of world renown, and skilled en­gi­neer.

Nick de­signed and de­vel­oped pro­to­types of a rel­a­tively sim­ple de­sign, a well engi­neered and ac­cu­rate ri­fle that would go on to be­come the S300. I had the priv­i­lege of speak­ing to Nick ear­lier this year, and his pas­sion for all things air re­lated was con­ta­gious, and he’s a nice bloke to boot. He de­scribed the way in which he de­vel­oped the ham­mer sys­tem, which I found fas­ci­nat­ing.

The ham­mer hous­ing needed to be ma­chined with a num­ber of slots, to fa­cil­i­tate the trig­ger mech­a­nism, and also a means by which the bolt could cock the ham­mer. It started life as a hol­low tube, but when the slots were ma­chined it be­came a lit­tle more oval in shape. A round ham­mer won’t run smoothly down an oval tube so a so­lu­tion needed to be found. Nick had pre­vi­ously worked in the mo­tor trade and was ac­cus­tomed to us­ing a slide ham­mer to pull out dents in body work, so he bor­rowed the slide-ham­mer prin­ci­ple for the S300. The gun’s ham­mer runs on a cen­tral rod so it will al­ways run con­cen­tric to the hous­ing, thus elim­i­nat­ing any jud­der, an this sys­tem has been em­ployed in the ‘S’ se­ries since then – a tes­ta­ment to ex­cel­lent de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing.

The S300 proved to be a pop­u­lar gun and gave many the op­por­tu­nity to sam­ple PCP shoot­ing at a rea­son­able price. I vividly re­mem­ber mine with fond­ness, hav­ing pur­chased it fol­low­ing an ar­ti­cle in this very mag­a­zine. The S300 gave way to the S400/410 mod­els, from the year 2000 to the present, and the side-lever cock­ing S510 joined the fold in 2008.

The Ul­ti­mate Sporter saw the light of day in

2013 and it was bound to be a suc­cess, built on a firm foun­da­tion. The ac­tion is a car­bine­length S510, with the de­light­fully quiet Q TEC si­lencer fit­ted to the shrouded bar­rel. It is the stan­dard, S510 side-lever cock­ing type, cou­pled with a 10-shot ro­tary mag­a­zine in ei­ther .177 or .22 cal­i­bre.

I have left the most strik­ing fea­ture un­til last – the stock. Air Arms has ditched the usual beech or wal­nut and opted for a stun­ning lam­i­nate de­sign – ply­wood never looked so good! Not only is it a looker, but the multi lay­ers of wood also make for a very strong stock. The ex­am­ple con­sid­ered here is a year old, and in .177 cal­i­bre.

HOW DO THEY MATCH UP?

Both these ri­fles were specif­i­cally de­signed for field use and so it made sense to shoot them as such. Tar­gets were set at 30m and shot from a sim­u­lated hunt­ing stance, fore­arm braced against a tree.

The Rapid man­aged a 16mm edge-to-edge, seven-shot group, whilst the Air Arms gave a 10mm group, again with seven shots. It might be worth not­ing that the Rapid pre­ferred the H&N Field Tar­get Tro­phy pel­lets, whilst the Ul­ti­mate Sporter thrived on its own-branded Field pel­lets. Per­haps older de­sign guns pre­fer older de­sign pel­lets. Both guns have noth­ing to prove in the ac­cu­racy stakes, but what about han­dling and prac­ti­ca­bil­ity?

I be­lieve it is fair to say that the Rapid han­dles bet­ter than its looks would have you be­lieve, the buddy bot­tle sug­gests that things could be front heavy, but in re­al­ity, the bal­ance is fairly neu­tral, and weight un­ob­tru­sive.

The Ty­rolean stock, as fit­ted to this model, must be the stock of choice be­cause it is very com­fort­able. It has a gen­er­ously curved, ad­justable butt pad, and the thumb-up groove some­how takes the ten­sion from the trig­ger fin­ger.

The Rapid has been de­scribed on many oc­ca­sions as ‘agri­cul­tural. This seems to refer to the bolt and trig­ger unit, but rather than con­sider this a deroga­tory de­scrip­tion, I would con­sider ‘agri­cul­tural’ to sug­gest that it is of strong con­struc­tion, built to last, and eas­ily re­paired – all fea­tures of my Massey Fer­gu­son 65 trac­tor built in 1960!

Trig­gers can be ad­justed and im­proved with the ad­di­tion of a shoe, and some own­ers add af­ter­mar­ket trig­ger kits, but my pref­er­ence would be the shoe, and a trig­ger sear pol­ish.

The big­gest draw­back for the Rapid must be the lack of pres­sure gauge and quick-fill sys­tem, which seem stan­dard fea­tures on most new de­signs. These are avail­able from af­ter­mar­ket sources, but might need al­ter­ation to the stock in some cases.

On the sub­ject of main­te­nance; the Rapid, al­though no longer in pro­duc­tion, is well served in the spares depart­ment, and many parts are avail­able from in­de­pen­dent sources. Im­pact Air­guns, who took over from Theoben, are well placed to of­fer a re­pair ser­vice.

UL­TI­MATE SPORTER STOCK

The stock on the Ul­ti­mate Sporter is not only easy on the eye, but can also be ad­justed to fit you like the prover­bial glove. There is a cheek piece that moves up and down, fore and aft, and it swivels. There is re­ally no ex­cuse not to get a good fit with this gun be­cause the butt pad is also multi-ad­justable. I re­cently had the op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss the stock of this ri­fle with Claire West, Air Arms’ di­rec­tor, and I com­mented that the stock had flow­ing lines. “We like flow­ing lines,” was her re­sponse. It has flow­ing lines in abun­dance, to­gether with sculpted fin­ger grooves to the fore end and a cen­tral thumb-up groove at the rear of the ac­tion – very im­por­tant, in my book. The clever de­sign means that it can be used by right- and left-handed shoot­ers.

The un­der­side of the fore end houses a use­ful ac­ces­sory rail that has a stud to which you can at­tach your bi­pod or sling; a sling stud is fit­ted to the rear stock. You re­ally do get the im­pres­sion that this has been de­signed by hun­ters for hun­ters.

I am a firm be­liever in the im­por­tant role

“... we re­ally should be look­ing at any­thing that tips the bal­ance in our favour”

that psy­chol­ogy takes in shoot­ing. When a per­son is pleased with the aes­thet­ics of a ri­fle, and in­deed the fit is right, he or she is far more likely to be able to per­form well with it. As hun­ters, we re­ally should be look­ing at any­thing that tips the bal­ance in our favour, and if that needs to be bor­rowed from the tar­get lads, that’s fine by me. Let’s face it, they know about ac­cu­rate shoot­ing.

Fit is noth­ing with­out con­trol. This is as­sured with the fully ad­justable trig­ger, and muz­zle re­port is kept to a min­i­mum with the

highly ef­fec­tive bar­rel shroud and QTEC mod­er­a­tor. The mag­a­zine is a dod­dle to fill with ten pel­lets, and the side lever en­sures that each one of these feeds flaw­lessly into the bar­rel.

This ri­fle is de­signed so well that there is very lit­tle to go wrong. The only po­ten­tial Achilles heel is the in­dex­ing post for the mag­a­zine, which could give prob­lems, but a new one costs less than a tin of pel­lets, and takes ten min­utes to fit – a job de­tailed on the Air Arms web­site.

This gun wants for noth­ing. All you need to add is a scope and some pel­lets, and suc­cess­ful hunt­ing trips en­sue. If ever a ri­fle de­served its name it’s this one.

WHAT ARE THE CON­CLU­SIONS?

Clas­sic air­guns are cer­tainly ca­pa­ble of match­ing cur­rent mod­els in the ac­cu­racy stakes, but the new de­signs shine in their re­fine­ment and ev­ery­day us­abil­ity. It’s good to know that older mod­els like the Rapid are far from dy­ing out; their many de­voted fans will en­sure that never hap­pens.

Clas­sic guns will al­ways have a place in our racks and hearts, but for ev­ery­day use, for me, the Ul­ti­mate Sporter can’t be beaten. All the fea­tures and er­gonomics just al­low me to shoot bet­ter, and that mat­ters a lot to me.

So, if the Ul­ti­mate is the ul­ti­mate, why keep the Rapid? The Rapid has earned its place in my cab­i­net be­cause it is an icon among air ri­fles, a piece of our rich air ri­fle her­itage, and be­sides, I need some­thing in .22 as well!

A cou­ple of clas­sics, one from our shoot­ing past, the other very much part of the present and the fu­ture - but how will they com­pare?

Po­tent com­bi­na­tion. The Rapid’s 400cc buddy bot­tle, that renowned An­schutz bar­rel and an Evo si­lencer.

The Ul­ti­mate Sporter’s in­dex­ing post can be re­placed in a few min­utes, and it’s easy to do.

I fully ap­pre­ci­ate this Rapid’s Ty­rolean stock de­sign.

The mag­a­zine sys­tem that started the rev­o­lu­tion.

I’m now in the un­usual po­si­tion of own­ing a high-per­for­mance air ri­fle that’s older than my chil­dren.

Ex­em­plary ac­cu­racy from both ri­fles. The er­gonomics of the Ul­ti­mate Sporter make it eas­ier, though.

Full marks to the Ul­ti­mate Sporter’s bal­ance, er­gonomics, per­for­mance and looks. Here’s a ri­fle that re­ally does live up to its name.

The Ul­ti­mate Sporter’s fully-ad­justable stock is a huge step for­ward in max­imis­ing its per­for­mance. Air Arms bar­rels have noth­ing to prove, and that QTEC si­lencer adds stealth to Ul­ti­mate ac­cu­racy.

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