By NRA’s American Rifleman
In the early 1950s, Remington Arms Co. did not have a mid-priced .22-cal. semi-automatic rifle. Management knew that there were three high-cost components of any sporting arm – the barrel, receiver and stock. Engineers analyzed each to see if any significant cost savings could be obtained. They soon concluded that barrels did not offer much opportunity for savings, so they focused on the receivers and stocks.
Remington asked the chemical engineers at DuPont to come up with a plastic that could replace both the wooden stock and the receiver. The specs given to the DuPont chemical development department in the early 1950s were: The material must be capable of forming any shape desired; it must have a high tensile-impact and flexural strength; it must have high abrasion resistance; it must have high resistance to heat distortion; it must be resistant to cold temperatures, it must, if exposed to a flame, not continue to burn when that flame is removed; it must be impervious to solvents, oils, mild acids, alkalis, fungus, rodents and insects; it must have a finish that is easy to repair; it must be light in weight; it must hold permanent colors; it must have no corrosive effect on other parts; and it must be self-lubricating and dimensionally stable.
DuPont’s control of Remington (since 1933) provided a resource for the new synthetic rifle stock, which was a radical concept of a combination receiver/stock as one unit made entirely of injection-molded plastic. In less than four months, DuPont’s engineers came back to Remington with Nylon Zytel-101. The Nylon story began when DuPont operated an R&D Laboratory called Purity Hall. The lab’s name was to emphasize the separation of the R&D work from production at DuPont. The efforts of Gerald Berchet and Wallace Carothers resulted in 81 new polyamides in 1935. From those new polymers, Polyamide 6-6 was chosen for further testing. It was soon after referred to as Fiber 66. The name Nylon was adopted by DuPont soon after. The first practical use of the new material was for ladies stockings, which were (and still are) called nylons. The actual DuPont material was structural Zytel Nylon 101, a member of the Nylon 66 family of plastics.
Remington knew that fabricating a .22-cal. Nylon rifle posed three formidable challenges. Would it have durability, accuracy and dependability? An internal memo dated July 7, 1955, reported a preliminary action design had been completed as a cooperative project with DuPont Polychemicals Dept., and a prototype of the new plastic-stocked rifle had been built. The design consisted of two hollow nylon pieces that were fused together to form the completed stock. The center section was covered by a low-cost, formed-steel metal cover – giving it the appearance of a more conventional gun with a steel receiver, and a prototype nylon stock was machined from bar stock.
The assembled rifle was then tested by firing 75,000 rounds with a malfunction rate of only 0.005 percent. Refinements on this prototype continued through the summer and fall of 1955. Testing continued to ensure there would be no distortions during molding and that stock shrinkage would not occur after the rifles were assembled.
A nylon gun had never before been made. Its appearance and feel would be significantly different from any other .22 on the market. Would the shooting public buy it? Remington hoped to gain acceptance through overwhelming evidence of the reliability and ease of use of the new gun. This was a gamble, but Remington felt the public would buy an unconventional .22 rifle – if it was extremely reliable and dependable. The new rifle had to sell at no more than other mid-level .22 rifles on the market. Considerable time and energy were devoted to cost-control measures. But this was complicated by delays and cost increases on parts supplied by outside vendors. Also, Remington management changed the projected number of nylon rifles that would be produced, and the unit cost of certain parts changed with the size of the projected order. Even with costs not completely firm, Remington continued to proceed with development.
Remington Model 555 Bearcat Prototype Rifles
Early on, Remington engineers referred to the new rifle as the Model 555. A few of the early, prototype guns carrying the barrel stamp “Model 555″ have surfaced. The nickname Bearcat was initially proposed for the Model 555. But in 1958 Sturm, Ruger & Co. introduced its Bearcat revolver, so Remington dropped the name.
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