The Original Pasadena Auto Mag 180

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The Auto Mag 180 was basically the result of two guys noticing that nobody made a semiauto .44 Magnum pistol…and that they could probably do it. The men were Max Gera, a young Italian immigrant gunsmith, and his employer, gun shop owner Harry Sanford. Gera put together the core of the gun’s design in late 1969 and 1970 – a short recoil, rotating bolt pistol with an accelerator to aid extraction and a rimless case based on a cut-down .30-06 or .308 case. This would become the .44 AMP cartridge, which aimed to duplicate .44 Magnum ballistics in a rimless case.

When Sanford brought in investors to help fund to commercial production of the gun, Gera sold his share of the endeavor and left – apparently the chaos and drama of a bunch of cutthroat investors was not what he wanted to have in his life (and I can hardly blame him). Sanford and a couple other engineers completed gun pistol design, and set up a manufacturing facility in Pasadena. The first guns came off the line in August of 1971, and by May of 1972 the company was bankrupt. They had been selling the guns for far less than they actually cost to produce, in hopes of driving enough demand to get an economy of scale going in the production…but it didn’t work. Over the next 10 years, five more companies would take on the Auto Mag, each of them losing money and selling out in short order. In total, about 9,000 Auto Mag Model 180 pistol were made, 3,000 in the original Pasadena gun and the remained divided amongst the other companies. Ironically, interest in the gun would peak only after the last company gave up, when Clint Eastwood used one in the 1983 Dirty Harry film “Sudden Impact”.

Sanford passed away in 1996, but the story continues. A new company purchased the rights and the engineering to the gun in 2015, and announced new production at SHOT Show a couple years ago. Time will tell if they can be more successful than those who came before. Perhaps with modern CNC machines they can?

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