R.I.P., Marlin Pistol-Caliber Carbines

How should you feel when one of your favorite guns, an American classic that had served cowboys, lawmen, deer hunters and recreational shooters for over a century, simply vanishes from store shelves? It happened before: we lost a classic .22 pistol when High Standard vanished, and a little piece of us died when Winchester imploded and the Model 1894 moved to Japan to be ‘resurrected’ as high-priced custom gun. Now, sadly, it has happened again…

With barely a whimper, Marlin’s entire line of pistol-caliber lever-action rifles and carbines has vanished from the shelves of online and brick-and-mortar gun shops.  The occasional used rifle can still be found on Gunbroker, but 30 minutes of diligent online searching won’t find you a single new .357, .44 or .45 Marlin in stock anywhere.

Am I surprised by this?  No, not remotely; this epic failure was as predictable as a cold January.  When Marlin was consumed by The Freedom Group and closed its storied Connecticut factory, all sorts of disasters predictably ensued.  After laying off their workforce of experienced New England gunsmiths and craftsmen, Marlin quality plummeted and sub-quality firearms were shipped out the door en masse.

Farago and I were subjected to two shoddily-assembled guns, each of which took months to set in proper working order.  Quality, obviously, was not Job One.  And neither was safety: OSHA just levied $170,000 in fines against the new TFG factory in Ilion, NY.

Our 1894C’s might have been clunkers, but we should probably count ourselves lucky because we’re almost the last two guys to get pistol-caliber Marlins at all.  In August (after some fishy-sounding half-denials) Marlin announced that they were ‘suspending production in order to maximize production.’ This is a tremendous shame, because in addition to their inherent and extreme coolness, there are all kinds of cool, crazy shit you can do to a pistol-caliber lever-action.  AAC makes a suppressor for them, and Crimson Trace has worked like Hercules to fabricate a fore-end mounted laser for Farago’s 1894, and you bet your ass I’ll beg them for one if they go to production.

I hope for their sakes that they can also make these goodies compatible with other lever-action designs like the Rossi and Henry, because Marlin’s 1894 series is currently pushing up daisies on Boot Hill.

While Marlin self-destructs slumbers, Henry and Rossi are sucking all the demand from this red-hot market and selling their pistol-caliber lever guns as fast as they can make them.  Even Mossberg has muscled in on the (lever) action, selling its own .30-30 that undercuts the Marlin 336 at nearly every price point and configuration.

Marlin has literally destroyed its pistol-caliber carbine brand in order to save it…from Marlin.  If the bean-counters at The Freedom Group ever resume manufacture (which looks increasingly doubtful) they’ll probably find, like Rip Van Winkle, that they’ve slept far too long.

Farewell, old cowboy.  I’m glad I got to know you before it was too late.

42 Responses to R.I.P., Marlin Pistol-Caliber Carbines

  1. avatarO.N. says:

    Want to see a real Marlin quality drop? Compare one from 1940 to one from 2005. Marlins used to have quality stocks, rich bluing, and smooth actions. The new ones aren’t atrocious by any means. I’m even considering buying a Guide Gun. But they have declined.

    • avatarChris Dumm says:

      Youre damned right My initial 1894 preview included a quick visual comparison of the 2011 gun with a much older one (from the 1960s IIRC) and the older gun was far, far better.

      Right now I’m evaluating an ancient Marlin .22 with better metal- and wood-working than either of the ‘newer’ ones, although the original case-blues receiver has lost its finish.

    • avatarEvan says:

      My fathers 336 is 40+ years old and rusting and it still functions better even with ammo that I would hesitate to shoot.

  2. avatarJim Diederichs says:

    Ummm, Winchester model 70 production never was moved to Japan. It went to the FN operations in SC. Model 94 production as a limited series did move to Miroku, Japan, home of many of Brownings as well. (As FN Herstal owns both Browing and Winchester Repeating Arms)

    All the reading I’ve done verifies that today’s Model 70 is the equal to or better than the New Haven models, with great fit and finish and highly accurate barrels and excellent actions made on modern machinery.

    So sad to see the once great Marlin name being prostituted so badly by the Freedom ( to destroy a great company) Group! I loved the model 1894 Marlin, have an older good one.

    BTW, Winchester offers the wonderful Model 1892 in handgun calibers. Smooth as glass actions and superb fit and finish, they are wonderful guns, although pricier than the Rossi and Henry they are far superior in build quality.

    • avatarChris Dumm says:

      Right you are. Text amended.

    • avatarJake says:

      “BTW, Winchester offers the wonderful Model 1892 in handgun calibers. Smooth as glass actions and superb fit and finish, they are wonderful guns, although pricier than the Rossi and Henry they are far superior in build quality.”
      Yeah, complete with genuine, non-authentic, ugly, never needed, lawyer induced tang safety.

      • avatarJim Diederichs says:

        Jake,

        That tang safety sure beats the hell out of the Marlin push button or the Rossi turn key safety in real use. Nobody likes the lawyer-induced safeties but since they are there, at least the tang safety is the most user friendly and best looking.

  3. avatarJohnny says:

    Was planning on getting a Rossi anyway.

  4. avatarirock350 says:

    Meh…..fun guns, but meh. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that pistol caliber lever action carbines are dying off. They were neat tech up until semi-auto carbines became available, but now given the price I would rather have a semi-auto in .45acp or 9mil.

    • avatarChris Dumm says:

      A real benefit of lever-action carbines is that they do offer almost semi-auto levels of firepower and handling in places like California where semi-autos aren’t allowed. I know that the best solution to that problem is to fix the laws, but until then a .357 carbine is a great L.A. ‘Assault Rifle.’

      • avatarJohn Davies says:

        I bought my pistol caliber lever action when I heard that during Katrina black guns were associated by non-shooters with bad guys and lever actions with the good guys. In a SHTF situation, any benefit of the doubt could be a good thing. At worst, it doesn’t hurt.

    • avatarJake says:

      Obivously, you don’t shoot or have ever heard of the sport of Cowboy Action shooting. Many beginning shooters in this sport covet the .357 or .45 1894 Marlin because of the simplicity and price vs. some of the other pistol caliber lever action rifles out that are out of the price range of many.

    • avatarRon says:

      irock350
      I’m not sure pistol caliber lever action carbines are dying off but if they are it’s not at the hands of semi-auto carbines in pistol calibers. If Marlin’s quality has become sub-par, perhaps that is to blame for slow sales. I don’t know.I am not in the market for a lever gun and have not shopped them in many years. I read this article mostly out of nostalgia.
      From you’re remarks it appears you believe pistol caliber carbines to be new. This is not so. In fact this same company, Marlin, produced two of the nicest pistol caliber carbines I can remember. The Camp .9mm and the Camp.45acp.
      What follows is from memory and may be a little off, so feel free to correct (anyone).
      The Marlin Camp guns were introduced in the mid-eighties.They appeared to be based on the military M1 carbine. The.9mm version used Smith and Wesson pistol magazines ( I forget which model) and the .45acp version used Colt 1911 magazines. They could be used for self defense, small game, plinking, most any use you chose.They were light, handy and easily stowed in closet, truck, car trunk or strapped to a backpack. They were well built, accurate and reliable.
      They were discontinued in 1999.
      In the 1990′s Ruger introduced the PC9 (.9mm) and PC40 (.40S&w) Police Carbines. They were designed on the 10/22 platform for police use but were available to civilians. They had synthetic stocks and used Ruger P series magazines.
      They were discontinued in 2007.
      Ruger also manufactured a .44 Mag. version of the 10/22 with a wood stock from the early 60′s to the mid-eighties.
      I am not a Cowboy Action Shooter but I understand this to be a fast growing sport and one of the requirments is a pistol caliber rifle of the appropriate period. The lever action rifle in .357 and .44mag has long been a favorite of medium game hunters and backpackers for defense against four (and two) legged preditors. Many people simply enjoy shooting lever guns and choose pistol calibers for their lower ammo cost.
      Also lever guns make excellent defense guns because they use the same ammo as pistols and appear less sinister to those who believe just owning a gun is a crime.
      Aside from what now appears to be called “black guns” the only semi-auto pistol caliber long guns manufactured that I know of are the Beretta Cx4 Storm and the KEL-TEC SUB 2000. If this is incorrect, please let me know as I would like to review them.
      Just because Marlin has discontinued there pistol caliber lever guns does not mean the end of the breed. They disontinued there semi-auto versions long ago.
      No the semi-auto pistol caliber carbine will not replace the lever version.
      Perhaps the “black gun ” will someday,but it will kill off the semi-auto version first. If you examine their histories I believe you will find that semi-auto pistol carbines have never sold as well as the lever versions

  5. avatarFrank H says:

    I dunno. It sounds to me like an opportunity. I lament the loss, too, but if there really is a market out there, then an entrepreneur will step up.

  6. avatarAharon says:

    I really want a 357 lever action similar to the Marlin 1894 design. A few months ago, I spoke directly with Marlin and they claimed that 2012 was when they are going to resume production of the pistol caliber lever-actions. I’m not holding my breath. If they do resume production I’m going to wait a while before I consider purchasing since I suspect batch one, two, or three will have quality-control problems. I’ve written to Ruger and Henry suggesting that they step in and start producing what Marlin has stopped.

    • avatarChris Dumm says:

      If you don’t mind the tube-loading design (different from the Marlin’s receiver loading gate) look at the Henry. They’re a little more expensive, but they’re breathtaking heirloom-quality guns.

      • avatarAharon says:

        Hi Chris,

        Thanks for your reply. I am familiar with Henry and I do respect the company. What I would like to do is turn a 357 into a lever-action HD/SD survival gun with some tactical properties. Henry’s brass finish 357 is beautiful yet at @9 lbs and a bag of money it’s a bit far for what I want. I will keep the option open. Thanks again.

  7. avatarJOE MATAFOME says:

    I always loved the look of a Marlin rifle, but when your quality control goes down the tubes you’ll soon go out of business.

  8. avatarMark says:

    simply bullshit.

  9. avatarLemming says:

    Life hasn’t been the same since (a) the Camp 9 was killed, and (b) Marlin (even in CT) showed that they couldn’t reliably attached a scope rail to the 795.

  10. avatarTom says:

    I bought a Marlin 39A in the early 8os and it had several problems. It now works, but not as smooth as a friend’s which was made in the mid 1960s. Another friend has a Browning BL22 and he loves it.

  11. avatarSlab Rankle says:

    Sorry, but Marlin is just a name now. TFG is only concerned with this quarter’s profits. As has been noted, there are far superior pistol caliber carbines available now. As for this drop in quality, it’s certainly not limited to Marlin. I’ve recently bought guns from Ruger, Smith and Wesson and Springfield, all of which had serious functional and cosmetic defects. Totally unacceptable. It seems that quality is too expensive for these companies to invest in any more.

    The only good luck I’ve had recently is with Glock and a Romanian SKS.

    Note: I’ve owned three Marlin lever guns in my time and all where excellent. I only sold them to make space for other things.

  12. avatarZealot says:

    I’m more glad now than ever to have bought an early-eighties vintage 1894C a year or two ago. I’d had my eye on one for years and would have been really bummed not to have had that chance. That carbine is by far my favorite gun.

  13. avatarGS650G says:

    A few years ago I went with a Savage instead of a Marlin for .17 HMR and I am glad I did. The Savage had better machining, it was obvious side by side.

  14. avatarMickey says:

    I just talked to Marlin Customer Service and they say this is not true. They claim that production is scheduled to restart on the 1894 in early first quarter 2012.

    • avatarChris Dumm says:

      I sincerely hope that this is true, but where TFG is concerned I’ll believe it when I see it. Remember that they publicly denied the 1894 production shutdown, while privately telling dealers it was true.

      In the meantime, I’m trying to get Henry Repeating Arms to confirm if they’re making a .45-70 Big Boy. Wonder what they’ll call it?

      • avatarJim Diederichs says:

        Chris,

        Thanks for such a thought provoking article; I am with you as far as TFG and false promises.
        Sounds like all the comments except one lament the death of Marlin, except in name. Both North Haven (Marlin plant) and New Haven (Winchester) CT have lost a real part of their heritage. Many excellent craftsmen are no longer building the great guns there.

        I think that the article shows the interest is not dead in lever guns, not by a long shot. Everyone should have a nice quality lever gun or two in their collection; even the late Jeff Cooper extolled the virtues of a lever gun as a “tac” weapon.
        Again, Chris, keep up the good work and research on this subject. Maybe try to evaluate a new 1892 Winchester soon!

      • avatarRalph says:

        I’m trying to get Henry Repeating Arms to confirm if they’re making a .45-70 Big Boy. Wonder what they’ll call it?

        I don’t know what they’re going to call it, but I’m going to call it mine!

  15. avatarJeff says:

    I found a pile of newly-listed .357 Marlins on Gunbroker earlier this week. More than they’ve had in months. I don’t know if that’s a dump of existing stock, or if you’re speculation is wrong. Either way, it’s a shame they’re not more available. The Henry is off my list because you can’t top them off from behind the gun.

  16. avatargunslinger_h says:

    I could see this coming when Remington got rid of all of the vault guns. I will never buy another Marlin unless it is 20 years old or older. My word on it. Cutting production to maximize production???? Like not breathing so that you can breathe better????? Remarkable idiocy to say something like this. I will always be a Marlin man, but never a Remington Marlin man again. Hank

  17. avatarTSgt B says:

    I must be lucky. Bought an 1894C .45 Colt 2 yeas ago, and have had very good luck. Fit & finish were above average; accuacy was great. Functions with everything I shoot (.45 Colt) .
    Bought a Winchester ’94 Legacy rifle (26″ barrel, 12 round magazine) about 12 years ago. The most beautiful rifle I’ve ever owned. Wood and steel are superb; functions well with all but 255 gr. SWC, but it’s too pretty to shoot, so I bought the Marlin. Saw one in Ft. Worth a few months ago, tagged at $800.00. Salesman offered me $1500.00 for mine. Nope.
    These go to the grandkids, with the Ruger Bisley Vaquero and Blackhawk Gunfighter.

    Thanks, Robert. Where can I find a lever in .460 S&W?

  18. avatarTSgt B says:

    And thanks to you, Chris. Well Done.

    TSgt B
    USAF (Retired)
    Vietnam; Desert Storm; Obamislamic conflict(s)

  19. avatarTSgt B says:

    Sorry, gang; had a problem with the “R” key.

  20. avatarThe Old Coach says:

    I saw this same thing happen in the machine tool industry in the 1970s and early ’80s. “Investment” companies buy up the smaller companies and strip them of their assets while pretending to be “turnaround experts”. By 1990 most of the grand old machine tool names, deVlieg, Bridgeport, Bullard, Lucas, Sundstrand, etc. were nothing but names. Production dropped, build quality and innovation vanished. Smart engineers went elsewhere for work. Only a couple of companies, which remained independent, survived to see the new century.

    Business schools tell you that they graduate geniuses, capable of running any business on Earth, but in reality they are nothing but hyenas.

    BTW this is the racket that Mitt Romney was in when he was with Bain Capital.

  21. avatarBob Rupert says:

    This is truly a loss and makes me sad. I had been trying to get one of Marlin’s cowboy rifles for over a year without any luck and had finally decided I’d just get a “regular” 1894c without the octagon barrel. Little did I realize that those were gone too. After much persistence, I found what may have been one of the last remaining 1894c’s out there, just a few weeks ago. It was the last one in stock at one of the major outdoor sporting goods stores. When they checked their inventory system, it was the last one left at any of their many locations in the U.S.A. The original packaging from Marlin actually read “44 Magnum” , so I suspect that this particular rifle may not have been logged into the inventory system until just before I showed up at the store. I feel fortunate to have this little piece of Americana. Based on the serial number, the rifle was manufactured at the Ilion, NY plant. One of the last? It seems to cycle well enough, but I have not had the pleasure of firing it yet. I hope it works. R.I.P. indeed.

  22. avatarJeff says:

    Hey all,

    Don’t mean to resurrect this old post since there’s been nothing in a year, but I’ve been thinking about the Marline 1894C for quite a while and I was getting read to go track one down when I saw this post. Does anyone know if the situation has changed in the past year and if production has picked up?

    And if not, what would you recommend instead to a fairly new shooter interested in lever action .357s?

    Thanks,
    Jeff

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      Henry.

      • avatarJeff says:

        I spent a lot of time looking at the Henry Big Boy and I like it, but I really like the side loading on the Marlin. I think I’d also prefer the lighter weight of the Marlin. Are there any others that side load?

        I guess that’s what is killing me here – I like just about everything about the Marlin, so of course they’re having issues right now.

    • avatarMichael Reed says:

      Hi. New to this site. In answer to the question above, I recently bought a Rossi 92 in .357. It’s a copy of the Winchester 1892. I wanted a Marlin, because I usually need to scope my long guns and Marlins are easier to scope than the Winchester design, but I couldn’t find any. Henrys are beautiful, but I’m not too keen on the tube loading system. I was a little hesitant about buying a Brazilian import, but could not find any other pistol carbines. So, the Rossi.

      It has turned out to be a fun gun, though I’ve had to make several modifications to make it suit me better. Most important was replacing the goofy safety with a peep sight. Now I can actually see and hit targets! Anyway, if you’re still interested, you might want to look at the Rossis. They come in a several calibers and barrel lengths. Taurus recently bought Rossi and as with Taurus pistols, the quality of these carbines is a little hit and miss. Inspect carefully before buying.

      • avatarJim Diederichs says:

        I also have a Rossi 92 in .44 Mag. As you said, lose the goofy safety and you are all set to go. (Or get the Canadian model w/o it) It is a real decent gun, no malf in over 1000 rounds, decent accuracy and smooth action. Since it uses revolver ammo no need for scopes. It’s a 100 yd deer or varmint gun, period.

  23. avataroldpink says:

    I beg to differ a bit with this article.
    I have a Marlin 1894 .45 Colt (the standard 20″ round barrel version, NOT the Cowboy) made in 2011, and it bears the “REP” stamp on the barrel that I gather signifies a “Remlin” rifle.
    The workmanship is quite good, although the wood to metal fit and bluing aren’t quite as good as the excellent finish and fit of my circa 1984 Marlin 39A.
    However, the function is just fine, with only as much roughness as I would expect from a brand new levergun that has a little way to go before it breaks in and smooths out the way my 39A has done.
    Accuracy is also better than I had expected, with a full magazine tube of ten rounds of my handloads into one ragged hole @ 50 yards from an improvised rest fired hurriedly.
    I took my first ever deer with this rifle last November, and the bullet went exactly where I was aiming, right through the front of the doe’s lungs, then exiting the neck, breaking the neck on the way out.
    The doe fell LITERALLY in her tracks, stone dead even before she hit the ground.
    Also, I’ve seen several YouTube videos from people showing their “Remlins,” explaining how unsatisfied with them they were, and now I’m seeing more current videos with some of the same people showing the current run of Marlins, now much happier with the workmanship.
    That makes sense, since reliable word has it that the tooling at the North Haven plant was in sorry condition, and Remington has finally had time to relocate, retool, and get their employees trained and able to start fresh.
    I’m pretty sure that the current Marlins will restore your faith.
    I know I’m perfectly happy with mine, and mine is from the early days after the Remington buyout.

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