Gun Review: Calico Light Weapon Systems Liberty I (M-900)

Guns are sexy. For one thing, there’s nothing more phallic than a gun. Except for the obvious. That said, the human penis tends to lack the perfect symmetry of a gun. And any man who can maintain the hardness of a gun barrel for more than four hours should seek immediate assistance from a physician. Still, guys, it’s OK to fancy guns. Indulging the love that dare not speak its name doesn’t men you have a repressed desire to listen to Broadway show tunes. And feeling a constant urge to fire a gun? Normal! A gun held and shot with Zen-like focus transforms even the worst nebbish into a Sean Connery clone. Yes, but, a lot of that cool comes from the gun itself. There are drop-dead sexy guns and there are guns that could make a train take a dirt road. The Calico Liberty I falls into the latter camp (so to speak). In fact, the Liberty I is so ugly I fully expected bemused onlookers to turn to stone. Like Medusa’s admirers, not Peter North. Sorry. Where was I?

Right. The Calico. You know that old expression “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”? Classic misdirection. Sure, beauty is subjective. But there’s a overwhelming consensus as to what constitutes beauty. Show a picture of Marissa Miller to a gathering of Intuit eskimos and they’ll all give Santa Cruz’s finest export the [gloved] thumbs up.

By the same token, beautiful/sexy guns all have a cohesive design. Every part looks like it belongs exactly where it is. Every element adds to the overall aesthetic. How did Michangelo create his David? He bought a block of stone and removed the parts that weren’t David. Like that. Whether it’s a perfectly realized custom AR-15 or a bone stock Smith & Wesson 686, a gun that looks right, looks right.

For an aesthetic point-of-view, the Calico Liberty I is five kinds of wrong. A 50-bullet helical magazine sits on top of the gun, dominating the design, looking for all the world like the ass end of a Corgi toy fuel tanker. The hardware attached to the mag connecting it to the gun is as busy as an anthill: ribs, handles, sights, clips. screws, markings, etc.

The Liberty’s magazine snicks into its mount with perfect precision, but the attendant visual clutter and clip design makes the process as intuitive as Windows ’95. It doesn’t get any better beneath the bullet behemoth. The perforated metal slide for the stock is the nastiest piece of material I’ve ever seen on a $900 gun. Aside the Liberty I’s molded grip. No wait, the butt-stock.

Whether you zoom out to try to find coherence (who knew there were that many shades of black plastic?) or zoom in (the undersized bolt hold open lever is as nasty as you wanna be), there’s nothing about the Liberty I that makes you believe that it wasn’t designed by Rube Goldberg. When the American Firearms School’s peanut gallery saw the weapon they gave me the same look husbands give their wives when asked their opinion of a particularly hideous dress. ‘Nuff said?

Of course not. ‘Cause form follows function—at least to the extent that our T&E (test and evaluation) Liberty I was a fully-functional carbine capable of firing 50—count ‘em 50–nine millimeter bullets downrange without a single reload. Maybe it’s like the plain O.K. dumpy girl in the front of math class who turns out to be a tiger in bed.

To paraphrase 10cc, load up, load up, load up, with Czech-made bullets!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQw2w5Vf-VQ

The money shot is at the top of this review. Which quickly added $20 to The Truth About Guns’ editorial budget. Yes, there is that. Back in the early-eighties, when both the DeLorean DMC-12 and the Calico were designed, 9mm bullets didn’t cost a lot. Now, they do. While lazy survivalists may like the Liberty I’s “load once, fire 50 times” combination of convenience and lethality, the Calico makes you choose between a short visit to the range, or an expensive one.

[You can also buy a cheaper Calico M-100 that eats dozens of .22s at a single sitting. Extrapolating downwards, that gun would have all the kick of a gnat trying to kick-start a 50's motorcycle. On the other hand, if you thought there was nothing uglier than the M-900 . . .]

You may notice that there was a hiccup or two in the “let’s go ahead and chuck a bunch of lead downrange” department. This reluctance may be down to the fact that we didn’t wind the magazine’s tension spring enough. Which is definitely down to the fact that if you over-wind the helical device, you have to dissemble it CAREFULLY to avoid losing, or being struck by, flying internal parts. Calico recommends breaking in the rifle with Winchester White Box ammo, after which any brand’s bullets should perform without a hitch.

Aside from the fact that the Liberty bent a few bullets, there’s uh, plenty to bitch about.

The Liberty I’s front and rear mag-mounted sight combo doesn’t work; the rear sight’s too close to your eyes, and the front sight’s too far away from the rear (a seven inch gap). Truth be told, old bespectacled men can’t see the rear sight at all. You  have to use the front sight to hit the target in the appropriate place. It’s entirely doable, but not particularly pleasant.

Some cavil that the sight is inherently inaccurate, what with it mounted on a detachable magazine and all. Neither Wayne nor any of our guest shooters had any problem hitting the same spot on the target a LOT of times. A little tweak to the front sight, and the Liberty I was as accurate as any 9mm weapon—up to about 100 to 150 yards. After that, not so much. As you’d expect.

Calico offers clips to mount a scope to the gun, over the magazine. While it would certainly be a welcome aid in the hitting shit department, any such set-up would elevate the Liberty I to heights of goofiness that even Walt Disney couldn’t imagine. Calico is about to start selling their weapons with a picatinny rail system to enable sights, lights and other toys, but OMG.

Calico should put some money into the Liberty’s trigger pull; it’s dia-friggin’-bolical, The long, heavy and spongey movement is more like an on-off switch than a go-pedal. Normally, Wayne can squeeze off rounds in the blink of an eye. Not this time. The Liberty I’s leaden trigger pull makes rapid-fire impossible, which is kinda the whole point of the thing. No doubt this is a result of the Liberty I’s secret identity as a full auto—a set up which has found some favor with law enforcement in the Netherlands and France.

Looks, ergonomics, materials quality, price—the Calico Liberty I doesn’t have it all. It’s a shame. I like the people at Calico. Their dedication to producing an all-American-made product is admirable. The man in charge is open, honest and funny. But the Liberty I is an old-fashioned design with plenty of modern competition. These days, buyers with a grand-in-the-hand in search of something new can choose from a wide variety of “bull-pup” guns, including the wild-ass FN P90.

It is, perhaps, that gun that best exemplifies what Calico needs to be: innovative AND ergonomically flawless. Calico has the drive, talent and creativity to create something that looks, feels and shoots like nothing else on Earth. In a good way. May I suggest a clean sheet of paper? We hear rumors the Calico is developing more traditional firearms—with a twist. Sounds like a plan. Returning to the sexual metaphor, you don’t have to be gorgeous to know how to perform in bed. But there is something to be said for not having to work so hard.

Caliber: 9mm
Capacity: 50 round or 100 round Helical Feed
Action: blowback-CETME type
Muzzle Velocity: 1400 fps (16″ BARREL)
Weight: Empty – 3.7lbs, Loaded w/50rd mag – 5.5 lbs, Loaded w/100rd mag – 7.2 lbs.
Length: Stock folded – 28 ½” Stock extended/full stock – 34 ½”
Barrel:16″ heat treated Chrome Moly
Rifling: 6 lands and groves, 1 twist in 14″ < Receiver:Prime-cast A-356 aluminum, T-6 temper
Furniture: glass-filled polymer, impact res.
Sights: fixed notch rear, adjustable post front (windage & elevation)
Safety: rotating sear block
Effective Range [claimed] up to 300 yards

RATINGS
(Out of five stars)

Style

Not even anti-style style.

Ergonomics (carry) *

A rifle, obviously, so the sling’s the thing. You CAN carry it one-handed, but the sharp edge of the plastic stock cuts into your forearm.

Ergonomics (firing) *

No recoil to speak off. The less said about the trigger pull, the better.

Reliability * *

400 rounds. Never fired 50 bullets without a hitch. Could be us vs. that cartridge spring.

Customize This

Nope. A picatinny rail version is on its way.

OVERALL RATING *

Tempus fugit. Calico needs to perform some major plastic surgery or, better yet, move on.

Check out Calico’s website here.

avatar

About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

35 Responses to Gun Review: Calico Light Weapon Systems Liberty I (M-900)

  1. avatarMartin Albright says:

    So, if I'm reading this correctly, the Calico is a one-trick pony: It fires 50 rounds. Beyond that? A big "Meh."

    A grand will also buy you a pretty sweet 9mm version of the AR if you need a pistol-caliber carbine. Or, a Kel-tec Sub-2000 and a couple of cases of of ammo (@$200/ea) to practice with. And the 50 rounder isn't all that impressive anyway – you can get a Glock stick magazine for the Kel-Tec that holds 32 rounds. A 32 round mag, a spare G17 (17 round) mag for backup and one in the chamber and you've got your 50 rounds right there, without having some troublesome spring to wind up.

    Not to mention that the Kel Tec will be much easier to shoot, due to the fact that you won't be wearing a paper bag over your head so nobody will recognize you.

    • avatarMark says:

      Having 50 or 100 rounds "on tap" does make a huge difference

    • avatarJM says:

      The Calico performs flawlessly using it’s original 50 round mag. BUT with the newer mags, it jams constantly. this may be due to a diffrence in aftermarket designs. Probably in the feed lens system.

    • avatarPaelorian says:

      It has no advantage over the 50-round magazine FN P90 [/PS90] or AR-57 besides being chambered in a less expensive cartridge.

  2. avatarMartin Albright says:

    The other thing that bothers me about this is the sighting system. That rear sight in particular seems to have been added as an afterthought. And the fact that it's mounted on the magazine means that the "zero" will change every time you change or load the magazine.

    Ultimatly, it doesn't come across as a "serious" firearm. More of a plinker or a hey-bubba-watch-this type of firearm, similar to a Tec-9 'pistol.'

  3. avatarNeoseikan says:

    Hi, Robert. I am a flashlight / weapon light designer in China.

    I have read your articles on the truth about guns, especially the

    review on Calico. They are very interesting.

    Can I add you into my contact list and discuss weapon light designing

    ideas when you have time?

    Thank you!

  4. avatarBob says:

    I have read this article about the calico's. I have several myself, both 9mm and .22lr, my first one was .22lr from the 80's and it's still running. I have almost 100,000 rounds through it and all I have had to do is buy some replacement parts, then I bought a 9mm and it run's like a top. I have gotten people to buy them and they have loved them. They may not look sexy but my first criteria for a gun is to function first and looks second. I have been reading on TTAG that some guns that look sexy are coming apart and if sexy means that I may be hurt due to the mojo of a firearms then give me ugly all day long. Martin you might want to get more info about the Calico. This firearm is no Tec-9 this is a better MP5. Sorry you go off of looks but looks don't make me shoot better. If you think that your iron sights are only good for very short distances. I get "zero" every time when I'm shooting my Calico. With all guns your zero will change you may not hold the firearms the same way, you may not line up the sights the same, there are a lot of variables, it's all subjective.

  5. avatarDaniel Bogin says:

    A bit of information. I have owned a similar model 9mm Calico, and at first I had simular performance issues like you did. Once I really got to know the thing I learned quite a bit, and with the proper knowledge, and application this is 1 deadly weapon. The most important thing I learned was this carbine does NOT function well with low power ammo. I would so far as to say that I would not feel comfortable defending myself if I did'nt have +p or higher loaded up. The recoil springs are pretty tight, and if that 9 doesnt kick the block hard enough, it won't move the spring all the way back, and you will either jam, or your disconnect will not engage which will lead to burst fire…which can be fun if your in the right place…anyway I highly recommend using powerful ammo for a true test. The clips: Yes they need to be wound pretty tightly or it just wont push the next round into the chamber in time. Remember you have a 50 or a 100 round clip, so naturally the spring has less tension as you empty it. While changing clips takes some getting used to, they do lock very nicely in place, and don't rattle at all. I keep my clips fully loaded in my house, and I simply leave the springs with zero tension. wind em up, load them, and rock and roll. I added some accessories such as the mounting rail, and the scope mount. Use a small low power scope if you like. I also added a laser sight to the front rail. You can add a flashlight, or whatever you want. You can fully remove the adjustable butt stock, and replace it with a full type design, or leave it off, and just use a laser sight, and fire it from the hip, or 1 handed pistol style. After putting about 100 rounds through it, it's gonna be FILTHY. This weapon needs to be clean to work well. As for the aesthetics, I along with several of my friends love the way it looks. Think more sci/fi blaster as opposed to elegant gun. It's extremely easy to field strip, and clean. I know nothing about the .22, as far as I know it serves no practical purpose. I have never jammed even once with high grade ammo. This weapon is not for the novice, or plinker. in the right hands, and with the right ammo, it's 50-100 high powered rounds worth of nasty.

    • avatarDominic says:

      I find it interesting that you mention that this weapon is not for the novice, as my friend took me shooting for the first time today, and I found this gun much more user friendly than the AK-47, AR-15, and Galil ARM he also brought along. He also has the quad-rail system to which he mounted a forward grip and red-dot sight (in fact, every gun he had save for the Galil had a red-dot mounted), the case catcher, and two 100-round clips with the clear shell. This all made for a very enjoyable first-time shooting experience. It’s funny that you also said it resembled a sci-fi blaster, as my friend compared the functionality of the gun to a Star Wars blaster more than a run-of-the-mill firearm, and I have to say I agree with him. With little-to-no recoil and a near-limitless supply of bullets in each clip, it really does feel (and since you mention it, look) like it would fire bolts of energy rather than the 9mm ammo it sends downrange. I love this gun, and I will be looking to get one myself (along with the quad-rail, a couple 100-round clips, and matching clear shells) when I can afford it.

  6. avatarJames says:

    I'm going to have to agree with Bob and Daniel. I think you let initial impression color your view. It's lightweight, easy to care for (remove a single pin for full field strip), almost no recoil. Empties eject from the bottom, so you're not peppering anyone around you. And I have as yet never had a problem with either the 50 or 100 rd magazine (knock on wood). The only real problem with the sights is if you change from the 50 to 100 rd magazine. Or vice-versa. At the moment I have an EOTech 512 mounted on mine and it works quite well.

  7. avatarBurned by Calico says:

    Calico is not a good company to deal with. They have a F rating by the BBB. Go to the BBB website and see for yourself. Do not buy anything direct. Go through a dealer and let them bear the burden of dealing with the company.

    • avatarMark says:

      Looks like the "F" Rating is for a lack of communication with the BBB. DId you have a problem with Calico and what is is? I drilled down and it looks like the BBB says 5 cases are failure to respond (which could just be lost e mails) and one case where Calico made what the BBB considers to be a fair offer and the customer refused it. Again, I have no real details on what appears to be 36 month old ancient history. Did you call them?

    • avatarThom says:

      I have orderd from the web, parts ect , got a call next day to tell
      me of back orderd parts and when to expect the parts to arrive, called back in
      a couple days to say complete order has been sent. I rate CALICO
      A+. Ive had my M-900 From 1992 mounted a lazer on the barrel
      and have shot several thousand rounds with very few jams or
      no feeds. It is dead on out to 75 yards.If you have time to make sure
      to crank the mag the proper amount. I would trust it in life danger

  8. avatarMark says:

    I have had a Calico 9mm for quite some time. I teach shooting ports to local Scouts. If the Scouts finish their 22 and shotgun they can move with parents, guardians and vets and reenactors to a separate range where there are about a dozen different historic and interesting weapons (M1 Carbine, Krag, 8mm Mauser, Mossin Nagant etc) the most popular weapon was, is and always has been the Calico 9mm Carbine. Once it was properly broken in per ugly orange tag with a box of Remington White Box the gun has put literally tens of thousands of rounds downrange with impressive accuracy and extraordinary reliability. Regarding ascetics. I cannot think of a single beautiful "black gun". My custom Match 257 Mauser is an elegant piece of custom wood and metal work…a work of art. My Calico descends from a military weapon (apparently Calicos have been exported to dozens of countries for MLE work) it is not a sculpture, It is a gun and a well made one at that. Mark

  9. avatarDuane says:

    I have had both the 22 and the liberty one and I love them both. Sure I had trouble at first learning the proper way to load the weapon the magazine works great and all it takes is a little bit of common sense to wind it properly. I have fired multiple magazines through my liberty one and I have had 400 rounds without a jam, miss fire or any kind of problem and the sighting on it is easily adjustable and can be very accurate if you know what your doing. That being said the gun isnt a great starter gun especially if you dont understand how guns work. But if your someone who has grown up with guns and understand the basics of how they work and take a little time to get used to the way this gun works you shouldnt have any problems.

  10. avatarDuane says:

    Oh I forgot to mention who cares what the gun looks like its a weapon/tool as long as it does what its suppose to who cares. The idea a gun should be “sexy” or pleasing to the eye is irrelevant in my opinion.

  11. avatarRuss says:

    1′st of all i agree with you about the sight’s. i bought a calico in 9mm because it caught my eye as something different, after shooting it some i hated the sight’s so it spent some time in the safe. then i had some time to fool with it and put a red dot on it and a foregrip WOW totally different gun by far one of my favorite guns to shoot now. very light and super fast target acquisition. never had a problem with feeding anything but it likes the hotter loads best. as for looks IMHO wood always looks better than plastic but i will pick up the calico 1′st every time. Calico makes a great weapon.

  12. avatarTREX says:

    Nice long REDUNDANT rant but I will keep it short and to the point.
    IT IS NOT A FREAKING SNIPER RIFLE SO THE TRIGGER FEEL OR SIGHTS DONT MEAN SQUAT DIDDLY..IT IS A SUPRESSIVE FIRE WEAPON FOR CLOSE RANGE AND 50 OR 100 ROUNDS WITHOUT CHANGING THE CLIP IS DAMN SUPRESSIVE. GUNS ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE PRETTY THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO SHOOT THE ENEMY… NOT TO IMPRESS THEM WITH BEAUTY BUT TO SUPRESS THEIR SORRY ASSES..AND KEEP YOURS LOOKING PRETTY !! NOT POSSIBLE RIGHT!
    WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU SHOWED YOUR WEAPON TO THE ASSHOLE YOU SHOT WITH IT? …GOT IT!!! MY CALICO RIPS ASS AND HAS NEVER JAMMED ONCE..TWEAK THE SPRING A LITTLE TIGHTER MID WAY ON THE 100 ROUND..AND SEND ANOTHER 50 DOWN RANGE…FASTER THAN FUMBLING AROUND CHANGING CLIPS ANY DAY.

  13. avatarRace ready says:

    I read the article and frankly it strikes me as a hatchet job.
    Ergonomically the gun is fine. The trigger isn’t the best but it does let you hit your target. With the front grip the gun feels pretty correct and comes to point naturally. And it sorta makes sense to mount optics – which actually enable everything to line up perfectly in my case.

    And…watching the idiot who was doing the shooting was fairly painful. It’s obvious he didn’t wind the mag all the way. Hell he didn’t seem to know how to remove the mag when he was finished shooting.

    It’s ugly and black. So is my SIG P210.
    The Calico functions properly, no mishaps after nearly 15 years of ownership.
    It hits what I aim at; if I do my job it certainly does it’s job.
    And i’ve shot all sorts of crap out of it – +p, +P+, ball, hollowpoints….never failed to feed.
    It’s a fairly nifty package – 50 or 100 round mags is nothing to discount. Nor is the fact that you can leave the mag fully loaded basically forever.

    Dunno. I own one and really like it. Try shooting one with the mount and optics. Oh yea…and wind the freaking mag up properly.

  14. avatarCalico Kid says:

    The Calico works flawlessly (so far 1000 rounds fired through her) with its original 50 round magazine. However it seems to jam constantly with newer magazines, this might be a design flaw in aftermarket construction. Possibly in the design in the magazine feed lens. Possibly the magazines need broken in. They seem to try to feed in two rounds instead of one when the the bolt blows back

  15. avatarRichard Thomas says:

    I am going to buy one for my wife, i think she could operate the thing better than fat boy could any day. have you ever seen two idiots try to make a gun look any worse what a ruse, but hey they did buy one……………..Funny

  16. avatarVernon says:

    I feel the calico is among the best looking weapons. With a huge mag too. sounds very useful. But looks are irrevelent.

  17. avatar101abn says:

    This rifle is like my gf in a way…………….after a couple of six packs it’ll look better.

  18. avatarDC Woodruff says:

    How many other arms have elegantly integrated high capacity magazines into the design? The ejection port at the bottom is ambidextrous; and has integrated support for a simple brass bag to eliminate policing spent cartridges, It remains an advanced design, perhaps too far ahead of the pack to be fully appreciated.

    I will admit that my 22 lr with wood furniture could be straight out of Star Wars.

  19. avatarShaun T says:

    I love my Calico. The bitch is too sexy. Too bad some can’t appreciate her beauty. No problems yet.

  20. avatarMr.Will says:

    This was the most inaccurate article I’ve ever read. My Calico functions flawlessly, yes ammo is expensive, but all ammo is. Go shoot 300 rounds out of that S&W 686 and see what the bill is on that. Ergonomics wise.. this thing is damn near perfectly balanced and that’s with a 50 rounds sitting on top of it. Mine eats and spits it out anything I feed it. This is not a Truth About Guns, its super easy to load and the bullets can be stored IN the mag without spring tension…all ready to rock & roll. Sure its no Custom Colt Gold Cup with rare grips etc etc, but last I looked Glock, Sig, or any black gun was far from that also.

  21. avatarBryan with a Eye says:

    I’m here for firearm review and the first thing i start reading about is penis’ and hard penis. Holy sh** guy, just because you can’t operate this firearm properly don’t give it a bad review. The winding magazine is the poster item for this firearm and you didn’t know to wind it before making a review, c’mon. I have this firearm, shot first bought second. It is very intimidating at first but once you get the understanding for it, it’s awesome. I have the rail mount with an aimpoint and could cut out perfect a 3”x3” from cardboard at 15yards with my calico; very quickly. The magazine is meant to be wound after all the ammo has been loaded into the magazine. A good sign that you have over wound your magazine is rounds will start to pop out after each crank. If you reload, or sell your used brass this firearm is made for brass catchers, having the shells eject from the bottom instead of up and out. Be wary of hand placement! Great firearm terrible review

  22. avatarYirmin says:

    If you are going to review something then follow the instructions in the manual. I own one and have never had a jam or mis-feed because of a weak spring in the magazine… Why? because I crank it the number of times it says to.

    I have had it cause a problem when I tried to slowly lower the bolt when cocking it, you can’t do that, you have to let it snap back…. But hey I didn’t follow the instructions on that part so I can’t complain.

    Maybe you should go buy a diesel truck to review and then fill it with gasoline before you do the test drive, it would make as much sense as what you did here.

  23. avatarKhaleb says:

    I think this is a terrible review I love my m-900 better than my old liberty 100 the trigger pull on the m-900 is way better than the liberty 100 I used to get tired when using the l-100 but all my shots were still where they should be , and I never put optics on either one and they were still on point only thing I added was a for grip and this tool has never failed me , it’s light as hell even with a 100 rounds fully loaded in it and it’s very easy to fieldstrip and maintain and the sights I can not complain about them as I always hit the bullseye with it and I have shot my m-900 more than my fnh ps90 so that should tell you that this weapon is a very fine one at that , I can truthfully say if anyone has had issues with the calico it’s most likely the operator not the equipment I give your review an F- . It takes commen sense to operate a weapon properly

  24. avatarKhaleb says:

    And you should be ashamed of yourself for comparing the calico to an intratec tec-9 I’ve had a few of those ( the kg99 the tec-9 and the ab-10 even the kimmel ap-9 and the only one that was a jam-o-matic was the tec-9 but also I wasn’t using the best ammo for it either , but the calico stays by my bed every night it is a great weapon the only thing I would advise on is if you buy a calico buy the Kelly grip for it too … Stay armed and shoot safely

  25. avatarjuancarloscasella says:

    muy buena la calico carabina en 22 lr.

Leave a Reply

Please use your real name instead of you company name or keyword spam.