July 22, 2008

Thompson Center R-55 Benchmark Classic

The R-55 rimfire has been a retail home run for Thompson Center since its introduction at the turn of the current century. The Benchmark Classic is the Cadillac version of the R-55 platform with an 18-inch stainless steel bull barrel, with a wide-mouthed target crown, threaded to the steel receiver.

The Benchmark Classic has the looks and features of a target gun, but the sling swivel studs and "all weather" marketing label are apparent gestures to the hunting market.

The Benchmark Classic was the only one of the three test guns that didn’t come with a scope rail, although two-piece mounts are available as an accessory (catalog No. 9951). They are identical to the Weaver No. 411.

Thompson Center R-55 Benchmark Classic

Good trigger, accurate with at least one test ammo, lifetime limited warranty, and a slightly lower cost than its competitors.

The light-brown laminated stock was similar in width and heft to the other test guns, but the Benchmark Classic’s high rollover comb was the most comfortable when all three rifles were scoped. The forend provided a wider (2.25 inches) flat surface for front rest contact than the other guns.

This stock feature likely aided the gun’s ability to shoot. The TC Benchmark Classic kept Federal Gold Medal Match ammunition inside 0.35 inches at 25 yards and was slightly under a half-inch at 50 yards. The TC’s trigger was also a delight and by far the lightest of the test group, averaging 3.6 pounds for 10 pulls on the digital Lyman Trigger Gauge.

The Thompson Center banana clip magazine was difficult to load.

These facts alone would likely be enough for us to buy this gun over the others, but we liked other aspects of it as well.

Construction was all steel in the receiver and action parts, with the fire control system held in place by two screws through the trigger guard and two more through the upper receiver walls. Bolts on the Thompson Center and Remington guns handily locked back (open) after the final shot in the magazine, while the Ruger design has never allowed that, forcing the shooter to pull back the bolt to determine if the chamber is clear.

On the warranty, Thompson Center offers a limited lifetime warranty on the R-55 Benchmark Classic, while Remington’s traditional warranty is two years, limited. Ruger doesn’t give a written warranty, offering an implied warranty that is determined by the owner’s state of residence.

The R-55 design includes a thumb lever safety on the right side of the receiver, which is difficult for left-handed shooters to use.

There were also a couple of things we didn’t like. The safety was a thumb lever along the right side of the receiver—which, unlike the cross-bolt safety, is a virtually incurable headache for the left-handed shooter. The long, curved magazine (10 shots) was by far the most difficult to load among the three tested, the heavy spring making insertion of the last two cartridges a major chore. A different magazine is featured in the instruction manual.