I like Remington Nylon rifles but occasionally other Remingtons slip into the stable. I recently got a line on a Model 81 that a neighbor of a friend was selling. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about the 81. Some online research revealed that the 81 was made from 1937-1949 and was basically a refreshed version of the a rifle which first hit the fields in 1906 and renamed the Model 8 in 1911 .
The Model 8 was interesting in that it was a John Browning design using the long recoil system developed for the Browning Auto 5 aka Remington 11 aka Savage 720 shotgun. Unlike the Auto 5 however the recoil spring on the Model 8/81 was encased in a full length barrel shroud. The Model 8 was offered in .30 Remington (a rimless version of the iconic 30-30 Winchester), a .25 Remington, .32 Remington and in .35 Remington.
The .35 caliber Model 8 became popular with police departments in the 1920’s and 30’s to battle the road bandits of that era. It was a 5 shot fixed mag semi auto that could be reloaded using a stripper clip. The heavy bullet .35 caliber was capable of penetrating the car bodies and engine blocks of the vehicles of the day. Frank Hammer, the Texas Ranger and
other deputies put an end to Bonnie and Clyde’s criminal careers using at least a couple Model 8s when he and his posse ambushed them. Photos at the scene shows that the basic 5 shot model was used. However, a company from Missouri (Peace Officer Equipment Co.) did come out with a 15 round detachable single stack magazine conversion that was popular with police and prisons in that area. Remington themselves picked up on it and contracted with POE to make their Police only version for awhile. Remington also made an FBI version of the 81 based on the 5 shot fixed magazine version but with specials sights and wood. It should be noted that the .35 Remington remains a popular hunting cartridge to this day most notably in the Marlin 336 lever actions.
By the late 30’s however the design was a bit stale so Remington spruced it up a bit cosmetically by changing the stock from a straight line to pistol grip and renamed it the Model 81. They also added the .300 Savage to it’s stable of calibers. The .300 Savage was popular hunting round used in Savage’s iconic Model 99 lever action. It started life as Savage’s entry in the military trials to replace the 30-40 Krag at the turn of the century. While it lost out to the 30-06 at the beginning of the century it’s shorter case and ballistics were used as the starting point for the development of the 7.62×51 NATO (aka 308 Winchester) round for the M14 in the late 1950s.
Meanwhile, I got chance to look at the 81 in question. The serial number indicated it was made in 1947. It was in beautiful, pristine condition, walnut and blue steel and at a price I couldn’t resist. Later inspection indicated that it had probably been reblued and the wood definitely had been refinished. With not a mark or speck of dirt on it, it probably had never been used after it’s refinishing however. The bluing job was excellent but whoever refinished the wood sanded the checkering down. The wood is still beautiful but checkering is thin. None-the-less I didn’t buy it as a collectible nor did I pay very much for it. I was happy to get a iconic Browning designed semi auto hunting rifle at a good price.
As a bonus it came with a Redfield rear peep sight that is mounted on the rear of the receiver. Standard rear sights were a leaf type mounted on the barrel shroud in front of the receiver. Mounting peep sights were pretty common in that it increased the sight radius and gave a much better sight picture. In that the 8/81 ejected straight up, scope mounts were usually mounted by drilling and tapping the left side of the receiver which off set the scope. Purists argue that drilling and tapping ruins the value. On the other hand my research indicates that the Redfield sight on my rifle is of good quality and doesn’t hurt the value. In fact, these vintage sights are highly sought after and valuable in their own right.
In regards to checkering. 8 & 81s came in 5 different grade levels. The basic model was uncheckered walnut and known as the “Standard” A grade. Grades B & C featured fancier walnut and two different patterns of checkering. They are known as the “Special” grade. They are typically marked 81B or 81C on the receiver. Grades D, E, and F are known as “Peerless, Expert and Premier” grades respectively. Each featured better wood, more extensive and elaborate checkering and engraving.
I couldn’t match the checkering on my 81 with the illustrations of the grades I found online nor is is marked as a B or C grade. I therefore assume my checkering was added later. Otherwise my rifle appears to be a basic Standard A version.
One interesting aspect of the 8 & 81 is that they take down easily. A lever under the fore stock is flipped down and unscrewed and the whole barrel assembly can be removed. I say “assembly” because the barrel and recoil spring is contained in the over sized barrel shroud. A bit of trivia is that the 81 is noticeable in the third Mummy film (The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) starring Brandon Fraser. The producers of those films featured a lot of unusual period guns to make Fraser’s character seem more prepared, adventuress and tactical. His trunk of guns contains a taken down Model 81 mounted in a rack. Unfortunately we don’t see him using it in the film.
They made about 127,000 model 8 and 81s combined over the span of
40 some years. I remember them growing up and recently showed mine to and asked my 87 year old father what he thought of them. He remembers them not being very popular because they were heavy, kind of ugly and one couldn’t easily mount a scope on them. The barrel shroud added weight and was ungainly looking and if you mounted a scope it had to be offset to the left side. I think that is the reason they were not more popular then or now.
In regards to current value, both the 8 and 81 are most sought after in .35 Rem caliber. .35 Rem is still available while the other calibers are pretty much obsolete. Obviously condition and grade affect value. The most valuable ones are those that are marked as police guns. On top of that, those that were converted to the 15 round detachable magazine are very highly sought after. Even the magazines command a high price.
Overall, depending on condition a basic 8 or 81 in .35 Rem usually run around $400-500. Other calibers slightly less. Of course now that I have one I see them around a lot more. I would guess that the Model 8 might command a bit higher price, but most people I’ve run across who have them don’t know the difference between an 8 and 81. However, there does not seem to be a high demand for these guns therefore prices can often be negotiated down. I’ve seen them for as little as $200 in good condition. Conversely, police guns and high grade guns can get up into the thousands.
Do they shoot?
The 8 & 81 are iconic Browning designs, but how do they shoot? In order to answer that question I had to locate some .300 Savage ammo. This rifle should have no problem shooting modern ammo if you can find it. The problem was I couldn’t find any ammo in any store. It is still made but not often carried on the shelves. Consequently I went on a local gun forum and ended up trading some 9mm pistol ammo for a hundred+ rounds of vintage ammo including some hand loads and 100 empty cleaned, sized and deprimed cases. I don’t have dies for this caliber but I do reload so a set is on my list.
I will save the accuracy report for later but suffice to say that reliability was good, recoil is surprisingly stout. I am looking forward to trying some modern factory ammo and perhaps putting together some loads for next year’s deer season.