The Winchester That Carried A Tune

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The Model 70 bolt-action rifle was one of John M. Olin's special projects as the Winchester company struggled through the years of the Great Depression. Building the new design required a hard look at the wisdom of replacing the well-established Winchester Model 54 sporter, but in September of 1936 firearms dealers around the country were notified that the new rifles would be available in January of 1937. Like their predecessors, the Model 70s were very well-regarded by hunters and general shooters and soon became widely recognized as the "rifleman's rifle."

But in the 1950s, America was changing into a transistor nation with the airwaves filling with the sounds of rock and roll. In 1955, the Winchester company decided to capitalize on the popularity of radio with one of their guns. A prototype .308 Winchester Model 70 was made with a radio built into the stock. A speaker was set inside the right side of the stock, with a series of holes, carved in a trademark "W" outline, allowing the sound to be heard. The small AM radio fitted inside the stock was the first commercial, American-made pocket transistor radio - the Regency TR-1, which retailed for $49.95. The inset radio was fitted with matching wood tuning and volume control knobs.

Made up as a glittering show gun with nickel-plated metalwork, the new Winchester proved to be less than well-received by American sportsmen. It was quickly realized that playing a radio mounted in one's rifle while hunting might warn off most game species. Others felt that the heavy recoil of some cartridges might even render the radio useless quickly. But for whatever consideration, Winchester decided not to go into full production with the concept and the single prototype rifle was the only example ever made.

Recently donated to the National Firearms Museum by a North Carolina collector, this unusual Winchester is part of a 120-gun collection of Winchester Model 70s that is now part of the Museum's holdings.