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The M.A.B. Model R

by Ed Buffaloe

MAB R Para
MAB R Para
The MAB model R was a new departure for the company.  I can’t help but wonder if it was inspired by Jean Barthe, the son of Leon Barthe, the man who founded the company.  Intended as a replacement for the Model D, it was essentially a Model D with no grip safety, an external hammer, and a mechanism to hold open the slide after the last round was fired.  When a magazine was inserted the Model R would also close the breech and chamber a round.

According to Huon, the Model R was first manufactured on 23 July 1950, chambered for the French military cartridge known as the .32 French Long.  MAB was hoping to interest the French government in the gun for military use, but was apparently unaware that the military had already determined to switch to the 9mm Parabellum cartridge.  The Model R was introduced in a 7.65mm Browning (.32 ACP) version on 1 February 1951, and in 9mm Parabellum a year later in February of 1952.  A version in 9mm Browning Short (.380 ACP) was was also released, but I am uncertain of the exact date.  The target version, which I refer to as the R 22, chambered for the .22 LR, became available in 1954.

The Model R received very little attention in U.S. gun magazines or anywhere else.  I have never seen a parts diagram or a schematic for a Model R in any magazine or on any website.  The first listing I could find for it in Gun Digest was in the 1958 edition.  Josserand says the R Series was made for 12 years, which would mean production ended in 1963 or 1964.  However, I possess an MAB catalog for 1966 which still lists the Model R 22.  The Model R series guns were imported into the United States by the Western Arms Company of Los Angeles (later known as the Winfield Arms Corporation), and most were stamped “Made in France for W.A.C.,” with the “WAC” logo on the grips.  Late model R Para imports into the U.S. were called “Le Militaire,” though the one pictured in the 1963 Gun Digest is clearly marked “Modele R” on the left side and has MAB on the grips.

One of only two ads I have located for the R 9.
This one is from the January 1954 issue of American Rifleman.

Josserand states that each model in the R Series (.32 ACP, .32 French Long, .380, and 9mm) came in a different barrel length and the Model R 22 was available in three barrel lengths:  4-1/2”, 6-3/4”, and 7-3/16”.  He does not say if the frame size differs on the various models, nor does he give the number of rounds each magazine holds, though Huon does give some of this information.  The R 32 is 4mm longer than a Model D due to its enlarged grip tang--otherwise the two guns would be identical in size.  The R Para is 30mm longer than the Model D.  Both the R 32 and the R Para have the same military-style lanyard as the Model D.

MAB Model R Information as Given in Huon

Ammunition

Overall Length

Barrel Length

Weight Empty

Magazine Capacity

9mm Parabellum

206 mm

120 mm

1070 grams

8

7.65mm Browning

180mm

101mm

790 grams

9

.22 short

261mm

185mm

855 grams

9

The R Para has a small spring in the frame directly behind the barrel step which pushes the barrel forward against the retaining pin.  During recoil, the barrel is able to move with the slide against this spring for about 1/4 inch before it is stopped by the frame and the slide continues rearward by itself.  The barrel is prevented from moving forward by the crosspin, but can move backward against the extra spring, which serves as a recoil buffer (similar to the buffer spring in the 1908 Bayard).

 

Clearly, the 9mm and .32 Long versions of the Model R were designed for military use, though neither were ever adopted by the French military.  Maj. Keogh states that only about 1000 R Paras were made (mine is S/N 1004).*  However, I have correspondence from an individual with an R Para in the 1200 serial number range, which was used by a French officer in the Sections Administratives Spéciales (SAS) during the “war with no name” in Algeria, between 1957 and 1959.  In addition, a chart at the back of Bastié and Casanova’s book Les Pistolets MAB states that the serial number of the first R9 manufactured was 657.  If this is true, actual production may have been considerably less than 1000.  The chart in Bastié and Casanova’s book appears to have some typographical errors, but it leads me to believe that all the large caliber Model R guns were serialized together and production of each caliber may have been only a few hundred guns, making these guns quite rare.  Bastié and Casanova state that the 7.65mm and 9mm short versions of the Model R came into direct competition with the Model D and “did not find its audience.”

At the range, the R Para exhibited the same stiff trigger I have found on other early M.A.B.s--it has almost identical lockwork.  By concentrating, I was able to put a few rounds from each magazine in the bullseye at 30 feet, but inevitably the rest were flyers.  The barrel is very closely fitted in the slide, so I think the gun has the potential to be quite accurate, but is limited by its less-than-optimal trigger.  The recoil was not unreasonable--certainly less than a .357.  The first time I inserted a loaded magazine, the slide did not close--I simply pulled back and released and it chambered the first round.  Subsequently the breech closed automatically each time I inserted a magazine.  When I cleaned the gun, I discovered that the screw holding the slide lock mechanism was a bit loose, so I tightened it.  The R Para fed and ejected standard hardball 9mm ammunition with no problems.

MAB R Para (R9)

MAB R Para

R Para Parts Diagram
MABModRExpLS

So-called R Para Experimental,
actually a prototype P8

The overall fitment of the gun is good.  It appears to be very well made.  I have always admired the way the magazine on an M.A.B. pistol fits flush with the bottom of the grip, and if there is any slop at all it is only about 1/64 inch.  Unlike earlier M.A.B. pistols I have examined, where the front sight is fixed, both the front and rear sights on the R Para are dovetailed and adjustable for windage.  The hammer has a half-cock position, and the manual safety locks both the sear and the slide.  There is no grip safety.

Field Stripping:

  1. Clear the breech, close the slide (by reinserting an empty magazine), and remove the magazine.
  2. Twist the barrel bushing approximately 1/4 turn counterclockwise (as you face the front of the gun) and ease it off the front of the gun.  Be careful!  The spring is quite stiff and powerful.
  3. Remove the recoil spring and barrel bushing.
  4. Move the slide backward on the frame about 1/4 inch until the takedown notch on the right side of the gun lines up with the retaining pin.
  5. Push the pin in on the left side of the gun and pull it out the right side.
  6. Remove the barrel and slide from the frame.
  7. The barrel will lift out of the slide.

As on earlier M.A.B. pistols, the grip screws come in two lengths--the shorter screw goes on top.  During reassembly, you must push the barrel back against the spring in the frame in order to insert the retaining pin.

The “R Para Experimental”

This gun is listed in 2005 Standard Catalog of Firearms.  It is a prototype for the P8 pistol of 1966, which has a rotating barrel with two locking lugs, somewhat similar to the 1907 Savage.  Some confusion surrounds its origin, not least because it has the slide inscription of a Model R.  Additionally, Huon says of the Model R (loosely translated):  “It works the breech after the round leaves the barrel, and then the gun recoils and unlocks the cylinder head after a helical rotation.”  This is clearly a description of the so-called “R Para Experimental” P8 prototype and not a description of the Model R in 9mm Parabellum.  Perpetuating the error, Bastié and Casanova also describe “A new model R, this time with a locked breech, presented in October 1951. It chambers the 9 mm Parabellum. The weapon is larger and functions by short recoil of the barrel, with a helical rotational movement.”  Again, the authors are referring to the later P8 of 1966, not the R8 of 1951. 


* If you have a high serial number Model R Para, please e-mail me.  I have had responses from two individuals--one has serial number 1038, and the other said his is “in the 1200 range.”  If you have an R Para Experimental, I would greatly appreciate having more photographs of it.

Copyright 2015 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.
Click on most photographs to open a larger version in a new window.


References

2005 Standard Catalog of Firearms, by Ned Schwing.  KP Books, Iola, WI:  2004.
“Collecting Modern French Pistols,” by Major Richard J. Keogh.  Arms Gazette, March 1980.
The Handgun, by Geoffrey Boothroyd.  Bonanza, New York:  1970.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Handguns, by A.B. Zhuk.  Greenhill, London:  1995.
Les Pistolets Automatiques Francais: 1890-1990, by Jean Huon.  Histoire & Collections, Paris:  1995.
Les Pistolets MAB, by Jean-Pierre Bastié & Daniel Casanova.  Crépin-Leblond et Cie:  2015.
“The M.A.B. Pistols,” by Michel H. Josserand.  The American Handgunner, May/June 1979.
Pistols of the World, by Ian V. Hogg and John Weeks.  Arms & Armour Press, London:  1978.
Pistols of the World, by Ian V. Hogg & John Walter.  Krause, Iola, WI:  2004.
 

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