Multi-caliber revolvers: why you don’t see them on gun store shelves.

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Every so often I get an email asking about the feasibility of building a multi-caliber revolver along the lines of the short-lived Phillips & Rogers Medusa. There have been several attempts to build and market such a revolver over the years, and none of them succeeded. The Medusa was probably the most successful of the efforts, and even it didn’t last long.

Aside from the general silliness of the concept (you can’t get .38 Special during the Zombie Apocalypse, but you can get 9mm Largo?!?), I’ve always been leery of a chamber that would handle such a wide range of dimensions and pressures. Ed Harris, of course, has first-hand experience from his time as an engineer at Ruger and was able to she a lot of light on the topic. During his tenure at Ruger they were working on just such a project:

“At that time the company was also building 9mm revolvers for the French police, and .380/200 British revolvers for India, as well with experimenting with a hybrid chamber for a government customer who wanted the ability to use 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Largo or .38 Super, with clips, or .38 Special +P without the clips.

This pipe dream did not work out, because when using fast-burning powders with soft bullets, including most JHP designs for 9mm, the bullet base may upset to conform to the .379″ diameter chamber mouth [editorial note: the space just prior to the chamber throat, which is exposed with shooting the shorter cartridges], resulting in a steep pressure rise of over 10,000 psi as the upset bullet base had to squeeze down again as it transitioned into the smaller diameter ball seat in the front end of the cylinder. While the result was not dangerous when firing lower powered ammunition such as .38 S&W or .380/200 British, it was more interesting with 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Federal, and .38 Super.

Worst offender was US Treasury Olin Q4070 +P+ load which has 110-gr. JHP hollowbased bullet, same as current Winchester 110-gr. component bullet and most JHP +P+ 9mm. FMJ bullets usually OK. Problems with case splits [when] firing .38 Special +P and +P+ when chamber enlarged enough in back to accept 9x19mm. With good brass cases just came out looking 3 months pregnant.”

So, there you have it. The multi-caliber revolver concept is just a Bad Idea.

Speaking of unsafe, Ed passed along information about their unauthorized experiments with the then-new 9mm Federal round, which was a 9mm rimmed cartridge made to fit the a version of the Charter Arms Pit Bull revolver. (You’d think Federal would be smarter than that, but…) Anyhow, Ed tells of their fun with a “non-approved” use, and finally we have part of the answer as to why the 9mm Federal disappeared as quickly as it arrived:

“Had some India Ordnance Factory revolvers in .380/200, copies of No. 2 Enfield which were provided as government furnished material on India contract. When 9mm Federal ammo arrived Roy Melcher was curious as to whether rounds would enter .38 S&W chamber and we didn’t have any US made guns, so tried in the ROF No.2. Thanks to good range safety procedure they put it in proof box. Blew cylinder apart on first shot. Told Federal. They were NOT happy. They went on to take apart a bunch more .38 S&Ws of various makes and killed the project shortly afterward.”

Ed really needs to write a book about his time at Ruger. He’s got a lot more good material where this came from.

-=[ Grant ]=-


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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