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.