Pete Evans ex­tols the virtues of his re­cently pur­chased Mer­cury S

Airgun World - - Contents -

Birm­ing­ham Small Arms (BSA), has a long and suc­cess­ful his­tory in the man­u­fac­ture of guns, both sport­ing and mil­i­tary. Their air­gun pro­duc­tion started in 1905 with the in­tro­duc­tion of the Lin­coln Jef­fries ri­fle, and over the years, there has been a steady flow of iconic guns, such as the Me­teor, and cul­mi­nat­ing with the R10 Mk2 pre-charged ri­fle.

Grow­ing up in the 1970s and ‘80s en­sured that sev­eral BSA ri­fles came and went, un­til ul­ti­mately I got my hands on an Air­sporter. This was to be my first full-power model, blessed with good looks, charm, and char­ac­ter, but whilst a great ri­fle, and still in my own­er­ship 40 years on, it was not with­out its lit­tle idio­syn­cra­sies.

The Air­sporter be­ing a ‘tap- loader’ could suf­fer with ac­cu­racy prob­lems stem­ming from breech mis­align­ment. The tap it­self has a shim ar­range­ment and if things are not quite set up right, prob­lems can en­sue, but lit­tle fea­tures like this didn’t mat­ter to me as a young­ster, when I hap­pily ploughed through tins of Eley Wasp and BSA Py­larm pel­lets at a rate of knots.

One model that eluded me un­til re­cently was the Mer­cury, re­leased in 1972. It mir­rored the Air­sporter styling in that it in­cluded its curved, wave-like back block, and ba­sic stock shape. The dif­fer­ence was that the Mer­cury was a break-bar­rel. Un­til then, BSA just had the break-bar­rel, mid-power Me­teor in its range; now, it had a full-power sporter to take on the might of the Euro­pean im­ports with their fancy trig­gers and, in some cases, wal­nut stocks.

One of the plus points of the BSA was price. In 1983, a Mer­cury could be pur­chased for £54, whilst a Weihrauch HW35 would set you back £65. The Mer­cury proved a very suc­cess­ful model for BSA, and many re­gard it as one of their finest pro­duc­tions.

As with the Air­sporter, the Mer­cury did have a cou­ple of points that came in for crit­i­cism, one of which was the the bar­rel axis pin/breech jaw as­sem­bly. This was a sim­i­lar ar­range­ment to the Me­teor, and over time, wear and tear could ac­count for lat­eral play at the breech jaws, which was not easy to cor­rect.


In 1980, BSA de­cided to of­fer a ‘deluxe’ ver­sion of the Mer­cury, termed the su­per, or ‘S’ model. The S gave a num­ber of in­ter­est­ing up­grades, the most vis­ually ap­peal­ing of which be­ing the wal­nut stock, with taste­ful che­quer­ing. This was a dis­tinct im­prove­ment over the rather lack­lus­tre, plain beech of­fer­ing, which fea­tured very lit­tle colour – of­ten termed the ‘blonde stock’.

The fea­tures didn’t end there; the bar­rel axis pin was re­placed with a bolt as per the HW range that meant that any wear could be com­pen­sated for by tight­en­ing the bolt, thus re­duc­ing lat­eral play and pre­serv­ing ac­cu­racy. The bar­rel it­self was larger in di­am­e­ter – 17mm, op­posed to the stan­dard 15.5mm, and had a lit­tle scal­lop on each side of the breech block, which looks a nice lit­tle de­sign fea­ture. Other than th­ese fea­tures, the re­main­ing ri­fle was pretty stan­dard, re­tain­ing the hall­mark BSA open sights, and sin­gle-stage trig­ger.

It was a good move by BSA to of­fer this al­ter­na­tive be­cause it added an ex­tra di­men­sion to the Mer­cury, which sat­is­fied the more style con­scious types of the 1980s.


My own re­cent jour­ney into Mer­cury own­er­ship was to­tally un­planned. The good things in life of­ten hap­pen like that. Whilst on hol­i­day, I al­ways make it my busi­ness to check out the lo­cal gun shops, par­tic­u­larly for any­thing in­ter­est­ing in their sec­ond­hand racks. On this oc­ca­sion, I was not dis­ap­pointed by a visit to Phillip Mor­ris gun­smiths in the lovely city of Here­ford.

It’s not ev­ery­day you en­counter a Mer­cury S, and es­pe­cially not in the con­di­tion that I be­held. My heart was in my mouth as I turned over the la­bel to check what I thought would be an out­ra­geous amount, but it soon re­gained its for­mer po­si­tion as I di­gested what I thought to be a very rea­son­able price. My hand locked around the bar­rel, in case some­one might wres­tle it from me, and I man­aged to squeak, “May I take a look at the Mer­cury?”

One final ob­sta­cle lay in my path, a prob­lem of iden­tity; I didn’t have any with me to prove my ad­dress for the sales ledger. The help­ful assistant of­fered to keep it for me. “NO!” I al­most shouted, “I must have it now!” A quick visit to the bank next door for a copy of my bank state­ment, and a tem­po­rary gun slip saw me har­ing down the street to my car.


Hav­ing own­er­ship of a few stan­dard Mer­curys and Air­sporters, I was aware of the ba­sic han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics, but I’d only seen the S model in black and white pho­tographs so I’d never ap­pre­ci­ated what a vis­ually ap­peal­ing gun this is. Make no mis­take, this gun is a looker; the wal­nut stock makes a huge dif­fer­ence, and for a gun of its age it han­dles so well. The over­all styling looks so good and the cur­va­ceous back block and trig­ger guard look like some­thing de­signed by an Ital­ian car maker. Al­though this was made around the mid-‘80s, every­thing was nice and tight with only very min­i­mal signs of use and age.

The shop had ad­vised me that the pre­vi­ous owner had just fit­ted a new ‘per­for­mance’ main­spring. They had ver­i­fied the power as below the le­gal limit, but even so, this was one minus point for me. As read­ers of Air­gun World will know, there is a lot of science behind which spring suits which gun. Jim Tyler’s ar­ti­cles prove this point and ben­e­fi­cial tun­ing is rarely achieved with­out care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion of spring se­lec­tion.

On for­mally test­ing the gun, I found that the power was hov­er­ing around 9.5 ft.lbs, but felt more like 19.5 ft.lbs! The dis­charge threat­ened to dis­lodge my fill­ings, and at to­day’s den­tal charges that could be more ex­pen­sive than the gun. This old lady de­served far bet­ter than that, so with this in mind, next month we will be taking the Mer­cury apart and at­tempt­ing to smooth out the dis­charge, whilst re­tain­ing a healthy power level.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.

Piled arms - BSA’s trade­mark for over 100 years.

Time­less clas­sic, a bit like me re­ally.

The beau­ti­fully curved back block and trig­ger guard could have been de­signed by an Ital­ian car maker. Ad­di­tion of a breech bolt en­sured that any wear could be com­pen­sated. Is this .22 or .30 cal­i­bre? Due to the Mer­cury’s con­fig­u­ra­tion, reach-back...

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