Back in the day, you had to read a gun review very carefully to pick-up any hint that a firearm was a POS. Thankfully, internet gun forums arrived to end the information blackout. The Truth About Guns has done its best to honor, continue and build upon the forums’ tradition of no-holds-barred product reviews. When The Freedom Group bought Marlin, when the storied brand fell from grace like a rock dropped off the the Golden Gate Bridge, TTAG was there . . .
On May 6, 2011, we ran an article on an unfired Marlin 1894 whose stock split in half. The quality control problems at Marlin went from bad to worse to completely unacceptable – to the point where Marlin modifiers like Grizzly Custom Guns now charge customers a premium to breathe on post-Freedom Group rifles (to pay for rectifying factory errors).
From time to time we’ve had glimpses of the doofuses (doofi?) behind the curtain and reported the facts back to you. Now, thanks to an article entitled Marlin Makes a Comeback in the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s publication shotbusiness.org, we’ve got an inside, intimate look at Marlin’s cataclysmic decline. As Warren Zevon sang, it ain’t that pretty at all.
To say we made a couple of mistakes is a bit of an understatement,” says Teddy Novin, director of public affairs. “We opened the door for Rossi and Henry, but with our new production process for the receiver in a side-byside
comparison, there is no comparison. We’re working hard to bring it back.”
Part of that hard work was recovering from a poorly planned  move from Marlin’s longstanding manufacturing plant in North Haven, Connecticut, to Remington-operated factories in Ilion, New York, and Mayfield, Kentucky . . . While the craftsmen at Marlin were first-rate, the manufacturing facilities in North Haven were less than great. Machines were held together with what amounted to little more than Band-Aids, creating inefficient and costly production processes . . .
“We were dealing with equipment that was old—in some cases, more than 60 years old. Some of the equipment was in such bad shape that sheet-metal dams had been built around the machines to keep fluids from leaking out onto the floor.”
Just four hours away, in Ilion, Remington’s factory had some open floor space where it could move Marlin, keep it autonomous from Remington [!], and yet improve efficiency. “We realized it would be a challenging move,” says Fink. “It required moving equipment, setting it up in a new location, and training people to build these rifles.
Old equipment does not travel well. Once this equipment was moved to Ilion, many of the pieces were running at a rate that was even less efficient than before.”
Compounding the difficulties, Remington discovered dimensioned drawings of Marlin’s iconic rifles did not exist. The plans at North Haven had simply been passed down through the generations. Many of these workers hadn’t made the move to Ilion, so much of that inherent knowledge had been lost. “We were training a new workforce to build these rifles,” says Fink. “We have a great workforce in Ilion with gunmaking talent, but they had never built lever-action rifles before, so there was learning curve.” . . .
To save Marlin from imploding, Remington invested both dollars and manpower in a multifaceted approach to achieve the kind of quality that had slipped during the transition. From a manufacturing standpoint, the company has set up a stand-alone Marlin factory within the Ilion plant, with its own designated managers, workforce, and assemblers, people who are committed and invested in the Marlin brand.
On the product side, Marlin reduced its offerings from 29 catalog lever-gun models down to 18 . . . The SKU reduction allowed the factory to focus on the rifles they had a greater ability to produce on a consistent basis, which tended to be the highest-volume offerings. Plans call for rifles that were suspended to make their way back into the line as the manufacturing process works outs its kinks. “We hoped to do that in late 2012, however we were not as far along as we would have liked to have been,” says Fink. “This process was very painful for me, as it would be for anyone who is passionate about rifles.”
At the same time lines were being reduced, R&D engineers started a project to complete three-dimensional drawings of all the parts. Meanwhile, production engineers were evaluating what new modern equipment would be necessary once they knew the exact dimensions that would be coming off the machine.
That is one sorry tale of corporate mismanagement. And there’s no getting around it: Marlin should have shut down manufacturing completely during this “transition.” The company has done major damage to the brand by selling thousands of crap guns. Anyway . . .
“We have now completed these dimensional drawings for the 336 line and 1895 line, since they are the most similar,” says Fink. “This year, we will also be in the same position on the 1894 line. New equipment for these lines has been purchased and is operational. We have seen great improvement over the year, and we continue to focus on further improvements.”
For 2014, Marlin is reintroducing four suspended offerings, including two .338 Marlin Express rifles, the 1895 Cowboy, and the .444 Marlin. The company is also introducing a Limited Edition series, with the first rifle being a 336 Limited featuring a high-grade walnut stock, high-polish blued metal with some light scroll engraving, and the Marlin horse and rider in 24-carat gold on the left receiver panel. Future plans call for a new introduction to the series each year, with changes in engraving patterns, model, and overall configuration.
Right. Gussying-up a gun of questionable quality will rescue Marlin from it’s ten-foot-pole exclusion zone amongst knowledgeable consumers. In fact, you have to wonder if it’s too late for Marlin. Can the brand survive four years of cranking out dreadful firearms, especially with Henry Repeating Rifles eating its breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Maybe. Lest we forget, Mercedes – once “engineered like no other car in the world” – released some truly miserable models in its brand extension wilderness-wandering days – and came back. The Marlin name is at least as strong. But millennials aren’t as brand faithful as their predecessors, and time is running out. We’ll contact the company for a T&E gun, or buy one on your behalf, and report back.