Quotulatiousness

March 17, 2015

The Gabbet Fairfax MARS Semi-Automatic Pistol

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I think I first heard of this rather imposing handgun in L. Neil Smith’s SF novel The Probability Broach (another character in his novels champions the Dardick 1500, also a weird and wonderful handgun). Last week, Robert Farago had a post about a fantastic collection of Luger pistols that also included an example of the MARS:

Gabbet-Fairfax MARS pistol left

Gabbet-Fairfax MARS pistol right

This rare and monstrous handgun once had bragging rights as “the most powerful handgun in the world.” Considering it was only produced from 1898-1907 and would not lose that title until the 1970s, that’s quite an accomplishment. That small production time, of course, resulted in a very limited run of these guns. Approximately 80 were ever produced in all their proprietary configurations (8.5mm, .36 (9mm), .45 Long, and .45 Short). The example shown above is an extremely early version (c. 1898-1900) and stamped with the serial number 4. It also has the fine blued finish and wonderful checkered walnut grips. It remains in its all-original and unaltered condition.

The pistols were very well-made with all hand-fitted parts, and extremely powerful, but ultimately they were not to be. Why? A few reasons existed and they all had to deal with the gun’s rather complex design. First of all, complex designs historically tend to not render themselves well to life in military service. Complex devices have more parts to foul and are difficult to repair/clean in the field.

Second, this complex device, utilizing a long-action recoil, had such horrendous recoil that it was prone to feeding problems. The recoil was partially due to the powerful cartridges, but also because of the long travel of the moving parts. It also suffered from a heavy trigger pull. All these gripes led to the MARS being passed over for military contracts, the sole hope of its designer, Hugh Gabbet-Fairfax. There were never any issues with its “man-stopping” ability, but its recoil was its ultimate undoing. Fortunately, it left us with some rather entertaining quotes such as, “No one who fired once with the pistol wished to shoot it again,” and “singularly unpleasant and alarming.” Even without military contracts or commercial sales, this rare curio remains a supremely desirable collectible.

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