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By Mark Ching

The vastness of the Internet is mind-boggling. You can find information on virtually anything — obsolete computers, offerings from the 1974 Sears Wish Book, episodes of “The Phoenix” starring Judson Scott. Of course, the ‘net is also a treasure trove of data on firearms — save one: the Excam RX-38. The what? Exactly. This is the story of how one came to be in my possession — my “Saturday night special” . . .

After buying my first gun, a .380 for home protection, I realized I liked shooting. Who knew? The action of the slide, the kick of the recoil, re-acquiring the target for the next shot. And the bug bit…I wanted another gun. A friend of mine calls gun collecting a sickness — it consumed you in the same way other manias do. He won’t get any argument from me. There are so many calibers, body styles, actions…but I digress.

It didn’t take me long to discover Gunbroker. And even less time before I rashly bid on a Smith & Wesson Model 10, which I won. It arrived in fantastic shape. I loved the workmanship, the flush fit of the crane, the firmness of the trigger, (someone please stop me). But that only made me realize I really wanted a concealed carry piece. Unfortunately I was rapidly exhausting our gun budget (which was perilously close to $0.00). My wife was officially starting to think of me as a “gun nut.”

Then I saw an Excam RX-38 listed on Gunbroker. It was a standard-looking snubby revolver with a 2” barrel. I did some research on it, but found…nothing — it’s as if the gun never existed. But the pictures looked promising and the seller lived within driving distance. The best part, though, was the price: $95.00. So I bit and drove out into the sticks to take it off a pleasant mountain man who was down on his luck.

Finally, I had my “pocket gun” to justify my concealed carry permit. But it wasn’t perfect. For starters, this gun is heavy. According to the manual, it weighs 23 ounces unloaded and feels like a cinder block in the pocket.

It holds six .38 rounds (+P? as if!), which makes it adequate for self-defense, but I started to have my doubts. For one thing, loading the wheelgun is, er, difficult. Rather than a typical swing-out cylinder, you pull out the Excam’s axle, then pop the cylinder out. So much for combat reloads.

This thing’s obviously made of the finest pot metal, although the barrel and cylinder are steel (the hammer and trigger may be, also). A trip to the range proved it shot well enough. In fact, it was very accurate for a gun with rifling I can barely see.

But even though I had paid less than $100 for it and the little revolver shot well enough, I didn’t really like it. I know Excam was a “junk gun” importer, distributing .22s and .25s you could buy at K-Mart or the corner hardware store. Some larger bore Excams were made by the Tanfoglio family, who now make the excellent Witness pistols.

Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling I had an albatross on my hands. I took the RX-38 to the gun store to see about a trade. The fellow took one look at it and laughed. He twisted the barrel and almost unscrewed it right then and there, then simply said this gun “needed to go away.” Almost out of embarrassment (and because it was a good excuse), I bought a Kel-Tec P3AT to replace the RX-38 as my EDC gun.

Never one to give up, though, I tried a pawn shop next. The owner muttered something about my “Saturday night special” and politely declined. He even looked up the value of the gun in his big book. Back in the 1980s, when the gun was being imported from Germany, it sold for — are you ready? — $95.00. The year was 2010, so taking twenty years of inflation into account, I had overpaid. By a lot. At least the thing had never been fired.

So since I couldn’t manage to get rid of the thing, I still have my Excam RX-38 and have grown to appreciate its virtues. For one, the timing isn’t bad, provided you push the axle back into place properly. It has some play in the cylinder, but it’s no more than what you’d get on a Taurus or Charter (it’s a lot more than I have on my Smith, which is none).

Another “virtue” is the odd witness hole that lets you see if the next chamber on deck has a round in it. It’s a sort of half-virtue because on a revolver, seeing that the chamber is loaded doesn’t really tell you if it’s loaded with a live round or a spent casing. For that, you have to get in front of the gun — not an advisable move. But maybe the best virtue is that I don’t really care what happens to it. I keep it in my studio, which gets nasty and dirty and I never give it another thought.

My RX-38 has taught me another thing — it’s better to save up for a gun I really like than jump at one for its price. That’s not saying cheap is all bad (read Massad Ayoob’s excellent article on cheap guns here). In fact, if I ever had a friend who needed a gun, I’d feel fine giving her this one. But part of the experience of collecting guns is the pleasure of holding a work of art in your hand and enjoying the mechanics of it — the beautiful finish, the fit of the components, the snick of the action locking into battery.

Let’s face it, nothing beats the joy of a precision-made firearm. But if what you want is a clunky yet reliable Saturday night special, I might have just the gun for you.

Mark Ching publishes the Things That Shoot blog.

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    • Toks and Maks. Why mess with anything else? When my friend was moving his parents out he found his dad’s in the damp basement where it had been sitting in a box for 30 years. The finish was still perfect finish and when we took it out to the range, perfect function.

      • Between the surplus Eastern Bloc guns and the surprisingly good Hi-Point, there’s no need to buy poorly made crap anymore.

      • In Canada, where good guns are remarkably pricey (+/-$700 for a Gen3 Glock), the Norinco knockoffs are getting very popular.

      • Why bother with anything else? Three letters: FEG

        They make some damn fine PPK clones in .380 and 9x18mm Makarov.

        • I have the FEG Hi Power clones, until I win the lottery and can afford another FN Browning Hi Power. The FEG is a somewhat close second place, and better than the Argentine FM, or the Israeli Arcus, or the Turkish Sarsilmaz, and other Hi Power clones. I just received a true 80s (late 70s) throwback Saturday night special. It is a stainless steel AMT SA .380 Backup. Okay, to be fair the AMT stuff was close to the top of that pile, which included, Bryco, Locrin, Phoenix, Jennings/Raven, Davis, Rohm, Jimmez (modern ring of fire). Davis was probably the worst of the USA made Ring of Fire stuff. Bryco, Davis & Locrin was junk. High Point? I like them! It’s not a good carry gun, per se, but they do make a fine truck, car or house gun. I don’t own one, but I don’t begrudge or make fun of anyone who does rely on a High Point, and that group of friends includes a high end, and very well paid jeweler. Yes, he needs a gun, but the High Point is adequate for “his” needs. He no longer carries jewelry on a regular basis, so…… I think he had a Colt D Frame too, but I am not carrying my coveted D or I frame Colts around now either.

  1. From your article, am I correct that you have not fired this gun either?

    If not, then I would not tempt fate and fire it, and especially would not fire it with any +P ammo.

    I would not give that gun to anyone, especially because you have to remove a pin to remove the cylinder. It does not operate reloading wise the same as conventional revolvers today.

    Other than that, good story.

    • “A trip to the range proved it shot well enough. In fact, it was very accurate for a gun with rifling I can barely see.”

      He did shoot it.

      • WTF??? I have an old H&R 922 9 shot .22LR revolver, where you have to pull the cylinder pin to reload. With practice it’s not hard to reload. Most people won’t fire more than 3 or 4 rounds in a citizen involved shooting anyway. Carrying a Glock 19 with 15+1 in the pipe, and another 30 rounds, plus a Glock 43 and another 7+12 rounds, for a grand total of 65 rounds, is ridiculous. If I need that much protection, I need to change my lifestyle.

  2. “Back in the 1980s, when the gun was being imported from Germany, it sold for — are you ready? — $95.00. The year was 2010, so taking twenty years of inflation into account, I had overpaid.”

    According to a calculator I found, $95 in 1988 would be $163 today, you did fine.

    • This gun was imported from Miami. After the 1968 gun law was made, these guns could not be imported, so they set up manufacturing in the U.S.

  3. You’re not the first person around here who has an *affordable* gun or two bouncing around in his or her safe.

    I will say the term “Saturday Night Special” has very bigoted connotations of a racial nature and should be used very judiciously. Titling your blog entry “Confession: I Own a Saturday Night Special” isn’t the most thoughtful headline. SNS, like the expression “Gun Nut” should be discouraged unless you’re making a very specific point.

    I would encourage you, Mr. Ching, to read “The Semantics of Manipulation” by John Ross.


    • Whatever. Is having fun on Saturday night relegated to one particular racial group in particular? Get over your bada$$ PC self.

    • Followed the link. Author’s argument is pompous and self-aggrandizing. Basically, “if you feel you are a lefty, and if you think you are a conservative.” Hogwash. There are just as many knee-jerk, emotions-based arguments being promulgated on the right as they are on the left. These simplistic arguments blind conservatives to the possibility that there might be a flaw in their arguments and make compromises (already difficult in the current political environment) nearly impossible. Language is important, and the author fails to learn from his own conclusions.

  4. I have seen some old Harrington & Richardson revolvers that you also have to remove the cylinder rod to reload. Less expensive way to make a revolver. I wouldn’t be too afraid of firing it. It is NOT a gun that will hold up to IPSC shooting matches, because it wasn’t designed for that. It will fire a few cylinders of ammo for practice and should it be needed in a defensive situation. I have a High Standard revolver that is only a tick or two above your Excam in quality. It wasn’t something that I sought out, it sorta found me as it were, but I’ve kept it for many years as a useable gun. If you really REALLY want to get rid of it, wait until there is a gun “buy back” program running in your area and trade it in for $100. That would give you a $5 profit and cash towards something better.

  5. I think you did just fine. It will give you ” 6 fer sure” , in a cartridge that is adequate. It will hit what it’s aimed at. for $95.00 thats a lot. the weight that make it a bad carry gun helps with recoil , which is a great thing for most women. there is a place in the world for guns like this.
    you should shoot a few cans to be sure everything workson it.

  6. Back in the old days, these (and all those $10 “suicide specials”) were known as a “Throw-Down”…. Say you had to waste a ‘perp’ who had broken into your house – or mug you, or…..

    Well, you pressed one of these into his cold hand and claimed self-defense. Or, depending on the circumstances, you removed any fingerprints and threw it down at the scene before making a hasty departure….

    Not recommending anyone should do this, but that’s the way it was reputed to be “back in the old days”….. Just sayin’…..

  7. Don’t feel bad. I own a 22 cal. Rohm RG pistol. Somebody made bone grips for it. I have had it for 40 years. It almost always fires and has the worst double action trigger pull I have ever felt.

    • I’ve got a couple of those, Matt. An RG-10 and A RG-14. The 14 has never failed to go bang, the 10 I’ve never shot. The DA trigger pull is a tad heavy.

  8. For my moment of shame i bought a brand new .25 Raven semi auto. Paid 40 dollars for it and ammo was 5 bucks a box. You couldn’t hit the outhouse with while you were sitting inside, but it went bang every time you pulled the trigger.

  9. One of the more interesting gun books I’ve ever read, despite being essentially anti-gun is Robert Sherrill’s “The Saturday Night Special” published sometime in the early 1970s. The author dissects a pretty broad swathe of America’s gun culture, including an interesting chapter full of “no-knock, shoot the dog” type incidents entitled “protect us from our protectors” that’ll make your neck hairs stand up on end.

  10. Truly, the only bad gun is a gun that doesn’t go bang. In the history of human ingenuity, the revolver design will go down as one of the greatest ever… 200 years later, it’s still completely relevant.

    Thanks for the article, Mark!

  11. Along with some green folding stuff that was very nice, on the occassion of my last birthday my mother-in-law passed along a Davis .380 in all its chromed glory. I had initially been introduced to this “family heirloom” with the phrase “Can you clean this and see if it works?” and my reaction let her know it was… special. She understood it was more infamous than famous, and totally got it when I proudly held my new piece and proclaimed “I guess you can polish a turd!” It hasn’t failed or cracked. Yet.

  12. Another “SNS” that has apparently gone unnoticed by the Internet… when I was a kid my hometown hardware store stocked an American-made pull-the-pin-and-drop-the-cylinder revolver that sold for about 50 bucks called the Clarke. Owner of said hardware store (who was pretty gun-savvy) was a fan of the brand and I remember reading something in a gun magazine where the owner of the company pointed out that you can use the “Special” layout with decent timing and metal for about $5 more manufacturing costs than the pot-metal junk; he just had this weird socialist attitude that poor people deserve decent pistols. 6-shot in .22LR and .32 S&W Long and 5-shot .38 S&W (not Special) as I recall.

  13. Nickel plated Iver Johnson top break, in .38S&W, with pearl grips. My friends call it my pimp gun. Although I would not carry it or even shoot it for fear of physical damage(to me), I couldn’t resist the price ($50 in 1994). Hey, It’s not as bad as the H&R top break in .32S&W. I am not a top-break collector, I am a top-break accumulator.

  14. The next time there is a gun buyback offering at least $200, you can double your investment.

  15. Barely visible rifling? I have the FIE produced version of this gun new in box, so far never shot (just bought it from someone who stuffed it in a closet after purchase, the FIE version is The Standard, but it’s the same gun,) the rifling is the deepest I’ve ever seen on a handgun.

  16. I recently purchased a Jennings J22 .22lr pistol, which is another example of Saturday Night Special. Basically the only reason I bought it was because I wanted a gun I could leave locked up inside my truck. That’s about all it’s good for though, if you want a cheap vehicle gun this is the way to go, in my opinion.

  17. I bought a Kel-Tec sub 2000 on a whim right before the recent hurricanes here in Florida to protect my home and family. That was only a few weeks back. Since then i’ve purchased a Sig P226, Sig P232, CZ-75, Chiappa Rhino, and a Walther PPK/S. Oh yeah, I got the bug too. Fist time gun owner turned enthusiastic firearm appreciator. Thanks for filling in the blanks for Saturday Night Specials. I’m playing catch-up and this is a fascinating part of firearm history. Thanks for the info.

  18. I have had several “quality ” revolvers. However a mint S&W .32 long H&R American double action is my carry gun.. Should I ever have to surrender it to the courts, following a self defense incident, I wouldnt feel too bad about the one or two year confiscation..

  19. I once owned a Miroku revolver. Miroku makes great rifles and shotguns but their handguns left a lot to be desired. I sold it because the timing was off and it would spit lead when fired.

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