June 3, 2012

Fixing the Ruger LCP


I recently tested the Ruger LCP and later discovered it had some problems I hadn’t addressed. My associate Joe Syczylo found that the Ruger's spent cases all had a tear in the rim. He also learned the cases were being ejected some twenty feet or more, straight back. That's why I had not found any fired cases in the long grass on my own range.

The Kel-Tec P-3AT, tested against the Ruger, didn't have those problems. We carefully examined the two guns side by side and found the Ruger's ejector didn't seem to be quite right.

It had noticeably different dimensions from those of the Kel-Tec. But that didn't really explain the torn rims. My sample of the new Ruger LCP was earlier than another LCP tested by Roger Eckstine in Houston, and reported in that same issue. Roger told me his sample did not have any of the problems I experienced with mine.

I phoned Ruger in Arizona, where the little guns are made, and spoke with Jim Elliot. He told me quite a lot about the new Ruger LCP. There had been other reports of ejection problems in early examples of this little pocket gun. It turns out that some early versions, our Idaho sample included, had too much of the aluminum subframe protruding forward on the right side, just below the extractor.

Empty cases trying to escape the gun would run into that aluminum shoulder violently, with the resultant tear in the rim and too-forceful ejection. This problem area might also have had an effect on perfect feeding, I was told. I had experienced occasional failures to feed, with the round sticking between the inside top of the chamber and the breech face.

Ruger 380 LCP

Photos by Ray Ordorica

The new Ruger 380 LCP is a tiny handful that's popular with everyone who sees it. This early issue had a few problems.

This doesn't seem to point to that too-long shoulder as the fault. In fact, I polished those two areas and the problem went away, for the duration of our testing. The fix for the torn cases is to have Ruger or a qualified gunsmith remove about an eighth of an inch of that shoulder. That will eliminate the torn cases and violent ejection.

In the course of our talk with Mr. Elliot we learned that there was no collusion between Kel-Tec and Ruger on the design of these nearly identical guns. Ruger basically copied the overall Kel-Tec design, making sure no patents were infringed and also ensuring Ruger's parts would not interchange with those of the Kel-Tec. The guns are, for the most part, made by each company as entirely individual efforts.

One exception is the magazines for both guns are made by the same company in Italy, using machinery owned respectively by Ruger and Kel-Tec. As we noted in the GUN TESTS report, we found that not many of the components will interchange, though the assembled Ruger slide will fit onto the Kel-Tec.

We also learned the LCP features a slide machined from 4140 steel round stock, and is not heat treated following machining. There was at least one incidence of a broken firing pin in early LCP's. Ruger's response was to enlarge the radius of the transition fillet on the firing pin to diminish the stresses there.

bullet casing

All the fired cases had off-center firing-pin hits, which was not a problem, but also they had torn rims.

Our Idaho test sample also had noticeably off-center firing-pin strikes. Ruger told us the drilling of the firing-pin hole in the slide has to fall within certain limits, and ours apparently did, or it never would have left the factory. The gun has never failed to fire -- nor to eject, for that matter.

As noted, a second test Ruger LCP, evaluated in Houston, had none of the problems we encountered here in Idaho. That Houston gun was about five hundred numbers later on its serial number. Ruger told us the sequential serial numbering might not have been all that precisely linear, but clearly the problem was solved before the other gun was shipped. For the record, the problem gun had a serial number below 1000.

What to do if you have this problem? For that matter, what will I do?

Reloaders for the 380 will want their brass undamaged. The tear in the rim we experienced rendered the cases essentially useless for reloading. If you don't reload the 380 and your gun works perfectly, even though it might tear the case rim, you could leave it alone.

Ruger 380 LCP

The yellow line indicates the metal that has to be removed to fix our faulty Ruger. Later guns already have this removed.

But if you want the condition fixed, contact Ruger, and they will tell you how and where to send it for alteration. Be advised some of the black finish inside the gun will be lost in the alteration. Ruger has not issued a recall on the LCP, since the guns do fire and eject.

I discussed the LCP's grips with Mr. Elliot. He apparently enjoys shooting the LCP a whole lot more than most shooters, having put about a thousand rounds through his test gun in the course of a day. This means he personally doesn't want the grips to be any rougher than they now are.

My own feelings go back many years to when I competed in IPSC with various 1911 45's. I had a 45 built up by Don Fisher for street use. Don's checkering on the front strap and mainspring housing was exactly what I wanted, razor-sharp and quite coarse. This would have been horrid for competition shooting because the sharp edges would have abraded my hands severely during a match, or in practice when shooting hundreds of rounds a day.

But for street use, I wanted a "sticky" gun. In a serious situation I'll probably have sweaty hands, so I believe the most traction I can get is appropriate for any handgun intended for serious use. The new Ruger just doesn't cut it, for me. It's too slick. The Kel-Tec is better.

I also liked the Kel-Tec's optional extended magazine bottom. Ruger's Jim Elliot assured me Ruger will offer a similar magazine extension in the near future. There are no plans at this time to double the height of the sights, which I believe would not hurt the pocketability of the gun and would make it a whole lot faster to make hits.

Ruger 380 LCP

The red arrow points to the Ruger's battered inner shoulder, which is too long. Note the Kel-Tec has less metal in this area. Ruger has remedied this problem on subsequent guns by relieving the aluminum subframe at this point.

While the folks at Ruger are to be lauded for actually shooting their products, I'm not sure the ones with serious street-based competition behind them are the ones making the decisions about what works and what does not. What I learned many years ago is that fast hits count. Point shooting is generally useless. The best shooters always use the sights.

My friend Ned Christiansen of Michiguns (www.m-guns.com) experimented with a Ruger LCP and painted not only the front sight, but added a strip of bright paint down the top of the slide. He said it helped.

I see this Ruger as a fine pocket gun, but it could be made even better with a few small changes. Roughen the grip, double the sight height, add an optional mag extension, and then leave it alone. If it tears rims, either send the gun back to Ruger for correction or simply file the offending shoulder down, if you know what you're doing.

Finally, I believe Ruger ought to congratulate Kel-Tec on a superb design. Ruger gets absolutely no credit on that score. This design is all Kel-Tec, no matter that the parts won't interchange.