Early Howa AR-180 Part 2

One feature of early Howa AR-180 rifles that is unique is the flash hider, or recoil compensator as it is referred to in the factory documentation.

These were of a different design and had serial numbers stamped into them. What I did not realize was that the barrels were also different. As you can see in these two pictures, the contour of the barrels is not the same between this early Howa shown first, and the early Costa Mesa shown second. I plan to remove the flash hiders to see if the threaded sections are the same. I suspect the Howa will have shorter threads because a lock nut is not used. Late Howas also have the same contour (the step up at the muzzle end) so this may not be true as they use lock nuts.



The fact that no lock nut is used means that special care had to be taken to get the flash hiders to be timed properly. I believe that the flat washer behind the lock washer must have come in different thicknesses to accomplish this.

Finally, one of the fantastic guys over at the AR15.com Retro Forums (isplice) reports that where the flats ended up and where the serial numbers were stamped was not consistent.


If viewed from the firing position my example has the flats at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock with the serial number stamped at 9 o’clock. On gun 96x, the flats are in the same orientation but the serial is stamped at 3 o’clock. Guns 34x and 82x, the flats are at 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock and the serial number is stamped at 6 o’clock.

Reader and AR-18 Guru, Pete points out that he has noticed a difference in the windage knobs on Howa guns and all the others. I looked through the picture I shot this weekend and sure enough, he was right.

Howa – Knurled


Costa Mesa – Lines


I have found the earliest incarnation of the extra cut out on the bolt carrier as seen in my last post.

This picture is of the very first AR-18 serial number X001. It was scanned from an early  AR-18 manual. If you look closely you can see that the cut out is along the full length of the bolt carrier.

Bolt Carrier Cut_zpsypezaskf

The first AR-18s did not have a dust cover, it was a later improvement after military testing found fault with the opening allowing dirt and debris to get into the action. When the dust cover was added the cut out was shortened so that the second cut could be made. This second cut is there to cam open the dust cover.

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The First 1000 Howa AR-180s

In the world of AR-180 collecting one of the top prizes could be considered the early Howa AR-180s.

Several notable features are readily apparent but some subtle clues to it’s origins are hiding just below the surface.

The most obvious feature of the rifles is the placement of the serial number, on the upper receiver as opposed to the lower.


The second is the 180 degree swing safety, which is unique to the Howa.

Some examples show a distinct misalignment of the 0 in the 180. This our first clue that these guns started life as AR-18s.

Further clues can be discovered when looking at the bottom of the upper receiver.

HowaUpper1HowaUpper3 HowaUpper2

It is obvious when compared to the underside of an AR-18 that the part that held the auto sear has been removed.


The firing pins also look different and it looks to me like these Howas used modified AR-18 firing pins.


The really interesting thing about these guns is when they were actually made. I think the evidence makes a strong case for 1967. Much earlier than many thought.

The first piece of the puzzle is an article in the January 31. 1966 issue of U.S. News & World Report. It states that a provisional agreement was reached and Howa would undertake the first mass production of this rifle.


Japan then, during the Diet session of 1967, introduced the “Three Principles” which forbid the exportation of arms to nations in active conflict. Anyone remember what the US was doing in 1967? In southeast Asia? That’s right the Vietnam War. Howa would not have started production of a rifle they could not export so it makes sense that they were built sometime between Jan ’66 and the passing of the law in 1967.

Yet another clue, and the one first postulated by my friend and mentor, Rich, was that the earliest scopes sold in this country were originally matched up with these first 1000 Howa AR-18s. These particular AR-18s were known to have matching serial numbered flash hiders and Rich speculated that the scopes were matched as well. All the first scopes have serial numbers that start with 67 and do not go above 1000. After the rifles were banned from importation, ArmaLite ramped up production themselves and since there was no ban on the importation of the scopes, there separated from the rifles and sent to the US. These were sold as accessories with the Costa Mesa rifles.

I would like to thank all the generous folks on the retro forum at AR15.com and all those who have helped with the gathering of this information.

Like I said when I started this site, I want it to be a central depository for information about these cool guns.



AR-16 : Father of the AR-18

Some of you may not know but the AR-18 was not the first stamped steel rifle that Armalite made, that distinction goes to the AR-16.

This gun was also the last gun designed by Eugene Stoner before he left Armalite. That’s right, he was not one of the designers of the AR-18 as many have maintained.

First a little background.

Armalite never wanted to be in the business of building weapons but rather to design them and license the manufacturing to someone else. After selling the patents for the AR-10 and AR-15 outright to Colt’s, they quickly determined that they needed another design to license but it could not use the direct impingement system that they no longer held the rights to. They also decided to design a weapon that could be built on machines that required less skilled labor and fewer machining operations.

This lead to the AR-16 with only the bolt and trunion requiring complex and skilled machining operations.

Only three guns were reportedly built and only two known today. Both in the possession of Knights Armament.

Thanks to my good friend Chuck over at GunLab.net ,who actually took these photographs,  we can show you an up close look at these fine weapons.

I think it is easy to see the family resemblance to the AR-18.

IMG_0010cs IMG_0019 IMG_0023 IMG_0024 IMG_0028 IMG_0036 IMG_0056 IMG_0187 IMG_0188 IMG_0189 IMG_0190 IMG_0213c IMG_1052cs IMG_1088 IMG_1091cs IMG_1093 IMG_1113cs IMG_1117cs IMG_1121cs IMG_1134c