Obscure Object of Desire: Something Extremely Ugly, Cheaply Made and Very Expensive

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Gyrojet box

This came across my desk courtesy of Red Hills Arms of Tallahassee. They are a fantastic family-owned gun shop with a great selection of firearms and ammunition.

So what’s in the box? A gun of relative obscurity that was supposed to be revolutionary, something that would utterly change firearms forever. It came from the minds of Robert Mainhardt and Arthur Biehl who formed MB Associates — MBA — in sunny California. And the rest is history.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol ammunition

What did their gun shoot? I’ll give you a hint: it costs more than $100 a round these days…if you can find the ammo. And you thought pricing on 9mm ammunition was bad.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol ammunition

We’re looking at about $1,500 worth of ammunition right here.

Here’s your last hint. It weights only 22 ounces and is made out of cheap Zamac, a zinc alloy. That’s the same stuff used to craft Ravens and Lorcins.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol

So what is it? This obscure object of desire is a Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol
Original sales flyer.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol

This is an original model in its factory wood display case with dummy rounds and a commemorative medallion.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol

Behold the early 1960s in all of its modernist glory. This is one ugly gun and holding it, you can feel the cheapness oozing from it.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol

The commemorative coin immortalizes Robert H. Goddard, considered the father of modern rocket design.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol

As if I’d ever openly display this thing as something to be proud of.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol

The semi-automatic Gyrojet was, if nothing else, an interesting design. Instead of using conventional ammunition, it fired a 13mm (.51 Caliber) solid fueled mini-rocket. As you can see in the photo above, the back of each cartridge had four exhaust ports that when ignited, caused the round to spin and stabilize in flight.

The barrel is smoothbore with no rifling whatsoever. The barrel and chamber are weakly constructed because this isn’t a self contained cartridge in the traditional sense. There is no explosive gas pressure to be contained while launching a bullet down the bore. That made the Gyrojet pistols quiet and very soft-shooting.

MGM Gyrojet rocket pistol
Courtesy MGM

In theory, this must have sounded like a good idea at the time. In reality it was an utter failure. Rounds cost about $3.00 each at the time (that’s about $25 a round in current dollars).

The theory was that you could make the gun cheaply since you didn’t have to worry about heat transference like you do with a traditional firearm. Also, since each round is actually a little rocket, the pressures involved are far lower so you don’t have to build the gun to such tight specs.

Also contributing to the Gyrojet’s failure was the fact that those little projectiles sucked for the most part.

A rocket round doesn’t achieve its full speed at the muzzle. It actually continues to accelerate long after it leaves the barrel. So a close range shot is significantly weaker than a longer range shot. The 180gr rocket doesn’t burn all of its fuel and achieve full velocity until about the 60 foot mark. At that point it is traveling at about 1,250fps.

Anyway, let’s look get up close and personal with this ugly beast.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol

The safety is an “ON” “OFF” switch and those synthetic grips are just to die for. Very ’60s.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol
The Gyrojet was actually a handheld rocket launcher.

Those Phillips head screws just scream build quality.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol

The Gyrojet pistol was crafted out of the finest Zamac money could buy.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol

Those sights are actually better than a WWI vintage 1911. Honestly, I’ve seen worse. They’re not great, but they’re not horrible.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol

The patent was pending and so were any design aesthetics.

Mark 1 Model B Gyrojet Pistol

Yes, some truly great guns came out of California. Designs like the AR-15 for example. But the Gyrojet wasn’t one of them.

So what do these things go for today? Easily over $1,500. Rock Island listed one in similar condition at between $2500 and $3500. Oh and good luck finding the ammo. I’m pretty sure that Starline doesn’t make brass for it and Hodgdon’s probably doesn’t make the solid fuel for the rounds.

These aren’t guns to shoot and play with at the range. These are guns that you buy as oddities and pull out of the safe occasionally to show your friends.

Again, a big thank you to Red Hills Arms of Tallahassee.

 

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54 COMMENTS

  1. The rounds are almost impossible to find and since they are not made today and haven’t been for decades it is thought that they are all so old that even a 50% success rate in actually firing is perhaps too optimistic.

    Imagine paying that much for a single round and having it not even fire.

    • Some have experimented with new manufacture ammo, but with as few of those things out there on the market, I seriously doubt economy of scale could be reached, so it will probably be 20 dollars a round to make a go of it.

      The biggest ‘bugaboo’ is the custom machining needed to form the 4 tiny exhaust ‘nozzles’ in the base of the projectile needed to propel and stabilize the round in flight.

      Here’s one guy’s efforts :

    • Watch the Demolition Ranch video. Very interesting.

      Ammo was $200/per and in actual firing had bout 25% failure to fire.

      Backblast from the vent holes on the side of the pistol burned their hands and sent sparks into their faces.

      Accuracy was pathetic even at moderate ranges. And when it hit ballistic gel, since the ENTIRE round leaves the barrel, not just a small slug, it simply drilled a neat hole all almost all the way through a fake chicken.

      Interesting video, but not at all a sales/marketing tool for Gyrojets.

  2. I think that remember that John Plaster wrote that a few MACV SOG guys tried them out on recon missions in Laos/Cambodia/N Vietnam.

    • The special forces guys to get to test some bleeding edge weapons technology, so I find that perfectly plausible…

  3. Luis, you and I are destined to meet one day. Doesn’t surprise me that Red Hills had a Gyro. Great little gun store. I’ve given Mike more than a little of my money. Mark R is on his way home from a SC hunting trip today. We’ll probably meet for lunch at Gordo’s Tuesday and visit Red Hills.You should join us. Mark ran firearms for FDLE for decades. He’s an encyclopedia when it comes to firearms history. Open invitation. Or, Talon and Lindy’s. I gave JD about $300 yesterday. For a sling and a Streamlight. JD is proud of his stuff. I guess they all are.

  4. Those Phillips head screws just scream build quality.

    My Kel-Tec rifles just rattled in their safe in offense.

  5. Always wondered if some crazy gun smith could start making new guns and ammo with a high end industrial 3D printer. It would still be an expensive curio, but there might be a market still.

    • “…could start making new guns and ammo with a high end industrial 3D printer.”

      Metal 3D printing is a thing, as TTAG reported on awhile back with a fully-printed 1911 and barrel, but the printers still cost several hundred thousands of dollars.

      A more do-able approach would be using a precision CNC to machine the holes in the case. Yeah, it’s do-able, but how much do you want to pay for something like that?

      EDIT – When the cost finally comes down on metal printing, effective gun control will be history, as all it will take is a flash drive and a technician bored working an overnite shift in a fab plant to begin making dependable guns…

      • It might be possible with ECM machining. Look at how barrels for the FGC-9 are rifled and it becomes a question of just designing the jig.

  6. Back when these were “introduced” I recall a CBS news segment on these and how they were going to revolutionize military handguns and replace the 1911 as standard issue. As I remember it, they even did a side-by-side mag dump demo on how it was much quicker to fire than the 1911.

  7. Hmmmm……maybe Elon Musk can craft some self-propelled electric bullets. Of course, they’ll have to stop to recharge every hundred yards…and some of them will spontaneously combust as they travel down range…and some suddenly veer off course and crash into a garbage truck.

    Reloading will probably be out of the question.

    • “…maybe Elon Musk can craft some self-propelled electric bullets.”

      Possible, but it’s a real bitch for electricity alone to do that job…

      “Reloading will probably be out of the question.”

      Yep, striking a target will most likely mangle the projectile making reuse extremely difficult…

      • Well someone paid attention to energy generation statistics. Natural gas up my way but we pretend that green could work.

        • Coal is on the way out, as it should be.
          Electricity generation by coal is down to about 19.5% of total US energy production.

          “In 2022, about 4,243 billion kilowatthours (kWh) (or about 4.24 trillion kWh) of electricity were generated at utility-scale electricity generation facilities in the United States.1 About 60% of this electricity generation was from fossil fuels—coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gases. About 18% was from nuclear energy, and about 22% was from renewable energy sources.“

          https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3

        • Unless nuclear and/or some wild advancements in transmission/storage really take off coal isn’t going away so much as not having more built unless the various renewable options run into some catastrophic toxic breakdown issues. Then we run into some hard decisions within a decade. Not that it matters as coal is continuously expanding in Asia and Africa.

        • When the progs are forced to tie their Applecrapola to windmill/solar production of electricity then they will abandon that stupidity.

          Is there ANTI prog talking point that Minor won’t parrot?

        • SAFE — it’s the plan.

          In early 2008, candidate Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle that “under my plan … electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

          Obama was referring to his plan to cap greenhouse-gas emissions, which would, among other things, effectively choke off coal as an energy source. He was just as fond of high gasoline prices, telling CNBC in June 2008 — as gas prices shot up to $4 a gallon — that he “would have preferred a gradual adjustment.”

          And guess which income group is hit hardest by the high cost of energy? That’s right — the people least able to afford it.

          I’m sure that those people are pumped (heh) about lower emissions.

        • Coal may be on the way out in the USA, but Asian nations are planning & building hundreds of large new coal-fired power plants to supersize their industrial bases while our industrial base is shrinking to the size of a pea. US anti-coal efforts are a complete waste of time.

    • The assassin who killed the former prime minister of Japan last summer used an electric gun. It was a double barrel affair with an electric ignition system that fired the black powder he had also home made. Only licensed hunters (read guys my age who have been hunting since right after WWII when there were a lot of guns floating around Japan) really rich ruling political party contributors, high placed politicians, armed service and police personnel, and, of course, yakuza have guns in Japan. Even obtaining a permit for a sword (and that includes any type of aggressive looking knife) requires a permit. A foreigner cannot carry in public ANY blade that is longer than 2 cm(about 3/4 of an inch long). I almost wound up in Sugamo Prison during a visit to Japan. The Japanese cops are very tricky about getting knives from foreigners. The guy at baggage inspection asked me if I had a knife as he fooled around with the luggage tag from LAX to Haneda. I said sure and handed him my little gift knife that my wife gave me when I was courting her. It is a miniature Swiss Army knife made in Japan and had sterling silver, engraved scales on it. I hated to lose it almost as much as I hated to go to Japanese prison. He immediately yelled and two other cops came running over, one with his hand on his revolver butt. Lots of discussion in Japanese faster than I could follow. I kept saying, “Just snap off the knife blade.” The knife blade was one inch long. I sure wouldn’t pull that out to hijack a plane. I would be afraid one of the stewardesses would punch me out and everybody would laugh at me. Finally got to keep my little toy knife but I couldn’t carry it in my pocket. I had to put it in my carry-on luggage. That way I met the letter of the law. I didn’t have it on my person. Whew!

      Any way, back to the assassin. Because he couldn’t acquire a professionally made firearm he made this contraption in his home workshop. It was battery operated and ignited black powder and was a double barrel affair. It could have easily been a four-barrel affair with stacked side by sides. Ignition was from a battery (voltage unknown but probably 9 volt) and ignited charges of black powder. Very easily constructed in almost anybody’s home workshop. It didn’t even take a very talented home handyman to construct. Even I think I could make one. Plus, it was contained in some kind of hand luggage so it didn’t even look like a firearm. I can envision an attache case (does anyone carry those any more?) with button switches by the handle to be fired either in sequence or simultaneously. Or probably a gym bag is more ubiquitous than attache cases.

  8. damn
    i saw the title of the article
    before the picture loaded
    and i clicked on it
    because i thought it was an article
    about the ak47/74/100 series
    if its not about that…
    seeya

    • “slightly cheaper than it was at pre-pandemic prices“

      Yep, Bidenomics is working!

      “Inflation drops sharply to 3 percent, lowest point in more than 2 years
      By — Christopher Rugaber, Associated Press
      Economy Jul 12, 2023 9:25 AM EDT

      WASHINGTON (AP) — After two years of painfully high prices, inflation in the United States has reached its lowest point in more than two years — 3 percent in June compared with 12 months earlier — a sign that the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes have steadily slowed price increases across the economy.“

      • Or backorders from panicdemic got caught up and there is now a massive surplus lowering prices despite year over year inflation increases.

        • We went to Wisconsin Dells last week. Gas was 3.59 a gallon. Just got gas in Indiana. It was $4.24. Bidumb BS at work. I guess I’ll get a SS “raise”🙄😕

        • Just so you know, Joe Biden doesn’t own an oil company, doesn’t control the oil companies and is not responsible for their price hikes.

          Remember when Donald Trump made the CEO of Exxon/Mobil his Secretary of State?

          You might want to check out the Saudi Arabians’ manipulation effects on the markets, Donald Trump’s owners have a much more significant impact on the price of gas.

        • “Or backorders from panicdemic got caught up and there is now a massive surplus lowering prices despite year over year inflation increases.”

          SAFE, that makes sense. Only in government could you brag about a 3% rise in inflation (on top of all the increases since 2021) being a reduction.

          We have “SCIENCE!” — and we now have “ECONOMICS!”
          Those words just don’t mean what they used to mean.

      • Let us know when prices are back to Jan 2021 levels Ms. Prog.

        As long as the dems keep trying to convince Americans to ignore the reality they see of the Obiden economy, they are sure to lose the election. Keep digging.

      • You really are a Kool-Aid drinker, aren’t you? Been to the gas pump or the grocery store lately? Like every other statistic the goober mint puts out, inflation is based on false figures. The items they should be covering should be what we buy every week, gasoline and food. How many times a month does one buy a yacht?

    • Primers are still through the roof. Three time Pre-Scamdemic prices.
      It’s all going to go up again next year as Xems scramble with their new Viral Threat: Monkey Co-Butt-Vid Pox Herpes ver. 26, so they can manipulate Election 2024.

      Fauci’s been cooking it up since he retired.

      Dems have been manipulating Elections since the Party formed over 200 years ago.
      Instead of Ballot Harvesting, they used a technique called “Cooping” in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    • There was a rifle version, and it was just as… ‘useful’ as the pistol.

      There’s more details available on the Internet:

      “Gyrojets used solid rocket fuel, much like Estes rockets, and the Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters. The fuel itself was a double-base nitrocellulose/nitroglycerin mixture. The same fuel used in bazookas and other military rockets. The solid fuel arrived at MBA as a hollow stick. The sticks were cut, then machined down to fit the cone of the Gyrojet noses on a doweling machine and a lathe. Yes, you read that right. MBA was machining rocket fuel on a lathe“

      https://hackaday.com/2018/07/09/rocket-bullets-the-flame-and-fizzle-of-the-gyrojet/

      • I reported a case involving solid fuel rockets. The company insisted that the fuel didn’t explode, but ignited. The plaintiff’s counsel kept insisting that it exploded. The three guy standing around grinding down the fuel were thrown over 300 yards. The technique to trim the dry rocket fuel strongly resembled grinding wheat using oxen. Two of the guys stood on a platform over the rocket fuel which was in a concrete pit in the ground (for safety) they had a T-shaped rod with what looked like a lawn mower blade on the bottom. The platform was bolted to the concrete pit. The two guy walked around on the platform, trimming the rocket fuel with the blade much like a couple of oxen grinding wheat. The third guy was off the platform with a ruler checking the grind to make sure they didn’t grind too much. Somewhere in the process the ground off fuel ignited (exploded) setting off the main rocket motor which had no where to go. It just blew off everything attached to the platform, the platform itself and the poor workmen who were around or on the platform. Of course, they were all killed in the ignition(explosion). I couldn’t believe that was state of the art in the rocket industry, a technique from the BC era to trim 20th century rocket motors. The company that was using this technique was a nationally known military supplier. These were, I think, Minute Man rockets that they were building. So, it doesn’t boggle my mind to know that a much smaller company is using something similar to grind the propellant for a gyrojet.

  9. Theoretically a viable concept – softer shooting, quieter weapon than all of them evil gunpowder critters, what’s not to like? Didn’t work out too well though. OTOH, with the increase in science/technology in the past 60 years, who knows, some bright junior high kid just might make it actually work and affordable.

    • It’s a terrible idea for a handgun, which is means for close action and accessibility. It’s hundreds of fps or less at the muzzle, and doesn’t get to peak velocity until 20 or 60 feet. It also isn’t very accurate since it’s spin stabilized by having angled nozzles drilled into the head, so near imperceptible manufacturing differences affect accuracy. So, it’s not very good at close or long range.

  10. I had a friend who had one. He died a few years ago after moving out of NE. I never found out the disposition of that (and a couple of other) item(s).

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