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Both substantial pistols, the MPA10T-A (left) and the MPA30T-A (above) are robust and sturdy semi-automatic handguns.

Taking an appealing design that has had more than its share of underserved troubles, the Masterpiece Arms Defender Series provide shooters with a series of MAC-style firearms that are even better than the originals—and are here to stay.

Sometimes, it just seems as though the stars are aligned against the success of particular firearms. While this may not be of too much concern when it comes to mediocre or unremarkable designs, sometimes truly innovative firearms simply get a raw deal. And, a classic example of this is the family of firearms known colloquially as MACs.

masterpiece1However, the series has been revived through the efforts of MasterPiece Arms, a company that has taken these appealing designs and given the MAC-style firearm a richly deserved new lease on life through its extremely high-quality Defender Series product line. But first, we should consider the complex, murky and hotly debated history of this class of firearms.

Origins
With a timeline dating back to the 1960s, what is now known as the MAC series began its life as a sub-machine gun design created by Gordon B. Ingram and dubbed the Model 10. While Ingram had a history of developing sub-machine gun designs in preceding years, none would become as well known as the Model 10 would eventually be.

The Model 10 (or M10) had many appealing characteristics. First and foremost, it was extremely affordable to produce, made up of a significant amount of simple sheet steel stampings. Further enhancing its low cost was its means of operation, functioning as a straight-blowback, open-bolt, select-fire firearm.

masterpiece-arms-defender-seriesThe MAC-style firearm is minimalist in its design, made up of a combination of sheet steel stampings and milled steel parts.

In addition to its low cost of production, the M10 was also extremely compact for such a powerful sub-machine gun. In fact, Ingram was purported to have developed the compact design with clandestine operations in mind. The M10 also proved to function extremely well with silencers, further burnishing its credentials as a covert weapon. By the late 1960s, Ingram began working with a silencer company name Sionics to produce the M10.

Ultimately, Ingram developed both .45 ACP and 9mm variants of the M10 with both featuring the same overall dimensions despite the difference in the cartridge sizes. In addition, he also developed a radically downsized variant of the design dubbed the M11, chambered for .380 ACP. It featured a similar general overall design and operation as the much larger M10. All of the variants featured steel retractable stocks. In addition, the famous Cobray logo (a logo that combined visual elements of a cobra and a moray eel) is attributed to have been created at this time at Sionics.

History
masterpiece-arms-defender-series-bAlthough quite similar in overall configuration and design, the .45 ACP MPA10T-A (left) is significantly larger than the 9mm MPA30T-A (right).

Around 1970, the Sionics company was made part of the Georgia-based Military Armament Corporation (MAC), and it brought with it Ingram’s sub-machine gun designs. It was this move that would cause Ingram’s innovative designs to become known to nearly all as “MACs.”

Up to this point, there had been high hopes for some sort of adoption of Ingram’s designs by the US military, but nothing ever materialized. This, in addition to relatively anemic sales of the MAC firearms, caused MAC to fold in the mid-1970s.

However, with the fall of MAC came the introduction of RPB Industries, another Georgia-based company that took over production of the M10 and M11 sub-machine guns. However, to help increase potential sales and avoid the fate suffered by MAC, RPB set about developing semi-automatic variants of the designs as well.

This was a wise business decision, as there proved to be a strong demand in the civilian market for pistols of these types. While the semi-automatic versions shared many parts with the select-fire variants, they did differ in some significant ways for legality. First and foremost, they were designed to function as a semi-automatic (although they did still retain an open-bolt system of operation). Also, as they were classified as pistols, they could not employ the retractable steel stocks of the select-fire variants.

Business was brisk for the company, but trouble was brewing. Although the semi-automatic guns were legal to sell, it appeared that the open-bolt design could be somewhat easy to illegally convert to full-automatic operation. As a result, in the early 1980s the company was ordered to stop producing these semi-automatic variants. This had a severe financial impact on the company, with it soon declaring bankruptcy and shutting its doors.

magazine-m3-30-roundsThe MPA10 series employs steel M3 “grease gun” mags that hold 30 rounds of .45 ACP.

magazine-sten-32-roundsThe MPA30 series employs steel Sten mags that hold an impressive 32 rounds of 9mm.

As was becoming the norm in the MAC story, the fall of one company led to the introduction of another in its wake. This company, SWD, purchased a large part of RPB’s tooling and set about producing these firearms. Under SWD’s guidance, the MAC-style firearms entered a new phase.

One of the most significant contributions the company made to the series was the development of a 9mm variant based off of the compact .380 ACP M11 frame, with the rear portion of it lengthened appropriately. The result, the M11/9 variant, proved to be extremely popular.

In addition to producing select-fire variants of the design, SWD also tackled the issue of reviving the highly profitable semi-automatic variant sales. The company’s solution was the development of closed-bolt, semi-automatic versions that were legal to sell on the civilian market. However, a side effect of the design was a bit of nasty trigger slap, negated somewhat by the application of rubber tubing over the trigger. Another adaptation was the development of synthetic Zytel magazines, which developed a reputation for poor reliability.

However, as should come as no surprise, there were more twists and turns in store. SWD eventually folded as well, leading to several more related companies in its wake. The M10-pattern design continued along for a while as well, with variants produced by a number of other companies, including names such as Leatherwood and Jersey Arms. However, ultimately due to a combination of the effects of severe business realities and unfriendly legislation, they unfortunately met with the same seemingly unavoidable problems in producing these firearms that other companies had experienced.

MasterPiece Arms
mpa10-sights-and-cocking-handleThe MPA30T-A features a set of simple iron sights, made up of a winged front post and a peep rear hole cut into the top of the rear plate extension. The two smaller holes are sling attachment points.

Enter MasterPiece Arms (MPA). Begun in 1992 by Gary Poole, a Carrollton, Georgia based machine shop proprietor who had produced parts for these firearms for RPB and later SWD, this new company not only took up the manufacture of MAC-style semi-automatic firearms but also incorporated some design improvements to the internal components to improve performance. These proprietary changes included a redesigned bolt, an enhanced extractor and a modified feed mechanism. The result was pistols that were not only extremely well made, but also were more reliable and accurate, as well as free of the unpleasant trigger slap of earlier models.

Although the original design dated from the 1960s, MPA brought ultra-modern manufacturing processes to the production of the firearms. An ISO9002 certified facility, the plant employs Statistical Process Control (SPC) to maintain critical tolerances on machined parts, and a full battery of gauges (including CNC CMMs, programmable Micro-Hite height gages, air gages, profilometers, etc.). The sections of the firearms manufactured from sheet steel (upper and lower receiver, and magazine housing) are laser cut and then formed with all welding done with a Heliarc welder.

The core of MPA’s line is made up of two models—the MPA30 and MPA10. The MPA30 variant is a 9mm pistol that features closed-bolt, semi-automatic operation. In addition to its general all-around improvement in quality, the MPA30 also featured one other significant enhancement, the ability to accept cheap and plentiful 32-round steel Sten magazines rather than the problematic Zytel magazines of earlier versions. The MPA10 is basically a .45 ACP closed-bolt, semi-automatic pistol inspired by the original M10. Significantly larger and heavier than the MPA30, the MPA10 feeds from readily available M3 “grease gun” 30-round magazines. Standard models feature 6-inch barrels.

MPA also eventually updated the configuration of the firearms themselves. As the standard MPA30T-A and MPA10T-A feature an original-style top cocking handle with a notch cut in its center to allow for a clear sighting plane between the pistols’ fixed sights, it precluded the use of any sort of top-mounted optic. As a result, the company set about developing a side-cocking mechanism that solved this issue.

In addition, the company set about developing variants in different barrel lengths with extended 10-inch barrels offered in both chamberings. Also, a radically downsized Mini Pistol variant of the 9mm MPA30 was developed that sported a 3.5-inch barrel and commensurately shortened forward portion of the pistol.

In addition to the pistol offerings, MPA also developed a series of rifle variants of both the MPA30 and the MPA10. They feature 16-inch barrels with muzzle brakes and M4 Carbine-style handguards as well as skeletonized stocks.

Future of MPA
Looking to retire in 2008, Poole offered the company for sale, which was promptly bought by Jimmy Payne and Phil Cashin (both had been business associates of his through a related industry for more than a decade). Moving the company from Carrolton to Braselton, Georgia, Payne and Cashin brought a desire to maintain the high quality standards of the MPA guns while not only improving efficiency but also expanding the company’s offerings.

One of the changes implemented by Payne and Cashin was a transition over to having all the internal components machined from solid steel rather than employing castings. This resulted in not only improvements in the fit and function of the firearms, but also in better aesthetics.

In addition to the manufacturing changes, Payne and Cashin also set about further expanding the company’s offerings. In March of 2009, MPA introduced a new Tactical Series based on its side-cocking 9mm and .45 ACP models. Including rifle and pistol versions, the Tactical offerings are fully enhanced variants that come with a multi-reticle holosight and weapon-mounted light. The 16-inch-barreled Tactical rifles come with a multi-rail forend with vertical foregrip and an AR-style collapsible stock. The Tactical pistols are available with either 6- or 10-inch barrels, as well as a 9mm Mini Pistol 3.5-inch barreled variant.

Planned for release in late 2009 is a new .460 Rowland Series based off of the MPA10. It will feature 6-, 10- and 16-inch variants chambered for the powerful .460 Rowland. By chambering this extremely powerful cartridge, MPA hopes to further expand the series’ application into security, police, self-defense and even hunting roles.

Gun Details
masterpiece-mpa30MPA30T-A’s barrel features a threaded portion designed to accept accessories. Note the AR-style safety lever forward and above the triggerguard.

I requested two representative Defender Series models from MPA: the top-cocking MPA30T-A and MPA10T-A variants. Although I did find the company’s side-cocking and Tactical line enhanced models intriguing, the retro charm of these traditional models was hard to resist.

The pistols arrived packed in large foam-lined plastic cases. MPA also included with each pistol an optional muzzle brake, safety extension (basically a false suppressor), magazine loader and a few spare magazines.

Both pistols are robust, simple and extremely well made. A quick detail stripping of both models reveal a pleasantly minimalist design; sheet steel upper and lower receivers combined with a sheet steel magazine well that doubles as a grip. The large bolt assemblies (equipped with synthetic shock absorbers at the rear of the spring assembly) of both are cleanly machined and “telescope” around and over the barrel that extends back inside the receiver for roughly 4 inches.

Beyond the simple steel components of the pistols, a plastic “back grip” is attached to the rear of the magazine housing and provides an ergonomically sound grip angle. A synthetic trigger shoe is slipped over the triggers, and an AR-style rotating paddle safety lever is located forward of the triggerguard on the right side of the lower receiver. An ambidextrous magazine release is located at the base of the back grip, and the cocking handles on the top of these models’ upper receiver have a groove cut in them to allow for a clear sighting plane.

The fixed sights of the MPA pistols are as stripped down and basic as the guns themselves, made up of a welded-on, winged front sight post and a triangular plate extension at the rear with a sighting hole at the top supplemented by two sling attachment recesses. The short section of exposed barrel at the front of both pistols features threading to accept the accessories.

An evenly applied Parkerized finish is applied to the sheet steel parts, while the bolt and barrel feature a black-oxide finish. The overall fit and finish of both pistols proved to be extremely good, and all controls functioned smoothly. The Sten magazines and the M3 magazines locked in solidly to the MPA30 and the MPA10, respectively.

Range Time
I took the two MPA pistols out to the range with a selection of 9mm and .45 ACP ammunition. Considering the design of the two guns, I chose to test them at 15 yards from a standing position.

Over the course of testing, the two MPA’s performed extremely well. I had only a single malfunction with the MPA30 with a round stovepiping in the ejection port. I suspect this was attributable to the surplus Sten magazine rather than the pistol itself. I also tried out hollow point ammunition in both guns and was pleased to find that it functioned without a hitch in both.

All controls worked well, and recoil was pleasant in both pistols, no surprise considering their weights. The MPA30T-A’s more svelte dimensions made it easier to hold on target than the bulkier MPA10T-A. Accuracy was quite good, particularly considering the fact that I was shooting them standing. Both pistols showed a tendency with me to hit to the right of my aiming point.

Final Notes
To be frank, I have wanted to own these types of pistols since I was a kid. Unfortunately, I never got around to buying any. Now, thanks to the efforts of MPA, MAC-style pistol fans like me have an opportunity to own their own semi-automatic variants of this highly interesting class of firearms. And, through their design tweaks and excellent quality control, MPA has made what are likely some of the best versions yet. In addition, consumers will have a lot of choices from MPA, including the traditional Defender Series, the enhanced Tactical Series and the newest .460 Rowland Series.

In fact, Phil Cashin summed it up best when he told me, “While we plan on continuing to expand the product line, we will always keep an eye on the history of the weapon and the quality and workmanship for which MasterPiece Arms guns are known.” Sounds like a successful business plan to me. Find out more about all MPA’s guns at masterpiecearms.com or call 866-803-0000.

In case you want to learn more about these interesting firearms and their lengthy and complex histories, visit the macpistol.com and mac-11.net discussion forums on the web. Another good source is The Terrifying Three by Duncan Long, available from paladin-press.com.

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Both substantial pistols, the MPA10T-A (left) and the MPA30T-A (above) are robust and sturdy semi-automatic…