A little while ago, I brought up the topic of magnum semi-autos. They’re cool, but they’re a boutique item since they are expensive, can be temperamental and are wildly expensive compared to magnum revolvers that you can pick up for not a whole lot.
The commenters – who were surprisingly restrained this time out – brought up a little-known gun that’s actually BOTH: the Mateba Autorevolver. This curious Italian gun is exactly what it sounds like, a semi-automatic revolver that has features of both systems.
Wait…a semi-automatic revolver? How does that work?
It was made in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum and even .454 Casull, so it’s a serious bit of kit.
Actually, there have been a couple of these; there’s the Mateba and the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver. The former shares a bit with the latter, but differs in some significant ways.
The Webley-Fosbery discarded traditional lockwork for a sliding assembly with zig-zag grooves machined into the surface of the cylinder. You cocked it by pulling on the cylinder/action assembly, much like a magazine-fed semi-auto. Recoil rotates the cylinder and cocks the pistol again before the next shot.
It was large (it’s made on a Webley frame, about the size of a Smith & Wesson N-frame) unwieldy and complicated, so it didn’t sell well. It could be had with either a six-shot cylinder in .455 Webley or – ahead of its time – eight rounds of .38 ACP.
For those unaware, .38 ACP was basically a hot semi-rimmed .38 caliber round, about equal to .38 Special +P, devised by John Browning. It didn’t sell terribly well so Colt goosed the powder charge and gave it a new name in the late 1920s: .38 Super.
Anyhow, back to the Mateba. The Mateba was devised in the 1980s by Emilio Ghisoni, an otherwise brilliant engineer. He was also a keen target shooter and sought to correct the problem of recoil as well as the heavy DA trigger in revolvers. You have to shoot DA to shoot fast, after all, which hampers accuracy for some shooters.
The function is similar to, but also differs from that of the Webley-Fosbery. The hammer is mostly enclosed in the frame, with an upper assembly on the pistol that functions like the hammer block on a hammer-fired gun. The recoil force causes the upper slide assembly to cock the hammer and return, like a piston, while the recoil force rotates the cylinder.
The first shot is double-action, but all subsequent shots are single-action. In essence, the Mateba Autorevolver functions just like the DA/SA semi-autos many of us are used to such as SIG SAUER, H&K, CZ, Beretta and so on and so forth.
The Autorevolver, however, never sold in huge numbers. It was complicated to manufacture and expensive. They are quite beautiful, high-end pistols made to exacting standards. Used examples often cost $3,000 or more.
It was produced on a limited basis until a few years before Ghisoni’s death in 2008, but enough interest remained for the company to resume operations this year. You can buy one, but expect to spend.
That said, there are a couple of other interesting design appointments of the Mateba. First, Ghisoni designed a slab-sided cylinder, allowing the pistol to cut down on mass and width without compromising function.
Ghisoni also observed that felt recoil is influenced by torque on the wrist, which is influenced by bore axis height. The greater the distance between the barrel and the top of the hand, the more torque is exerted on the wrist, which is why H&K, SIG and a lot of the poly striker pistols “snap” a little more than CZs, 1911s and others. What he did to combat this was move the barrel from the top of the cylinder to the bottom. Thus, recoil is projected closer to straight back into the wrist.
Some of you might anticipate where this is going, and you are spot on. Yes, this was the genesis of the Chiappa Rhino. The Rhino was Ghisoni’s last gun design before his death, which Chiappa hired him for along with Antonio Cudazzo.
So, that’s the Mateba Autorevolver. You can argue it’s a solution in search of a problem, but it’s hard to deny its singular design.