Savage Arms was at one time the largest arms company in the free world. That achievement was due primarily to the success of the Model 99 lever-action rifle. It was so advanced when it was introduced in 1899 that it made a quantum leap ahead of the competition. However, by the end of World War I, it was becoming clear that the lever-action was losing ground to the bolt-action.
Savage introduced the Model 20 Bolt Action Rifle in 1920, believed by many to be one of the best bolt guns of the era. It was later replaced with the Model 40 Sporter and 45 Super Sporter, neither of which was very successful. They made a few other bolt guns, most notably the popular Model 340, which was not offered in anything more powerful than the .30-30 Winchester. By the early 1950s it was pretty evident that Savage needed a high-power, bolt-action rifle to stay competitive.
Even though he had retired, rifle designer Nick Brewer was asked to come up with a rifle that would compete with the other bolt-action rifles on the market in performance, but sell for a better price. The design was just completed when Brewer died.
Introduced in 1958, the plan was for the rifle to be called the Model 98, because Savage expected the retail price to be $97.98. But that didn’t work out because the price was raised to $109.95, so the rifle became the Savage Model 110.
Fifty-seven years and 4.7 million rifles later, it is the longest continuously produced bolt action rifle in America.
First Lefty Bolt
The Savage Model 110 rifle was first offered in .30-06 Springfield and .270 Winchester. In 1959 Savage added a short-action in .243 Winchester and .308 Winchester. They also offered barreled actions, both in right hand and left hand, making the Savage Model 110 the first commercial rifle offered in a left handed bolt action. Today it’s offered in a wide range of popular cartridges.
One design characteristic of the Savage Model 110 is ease of manufacturing, which keeps the price down. The action is machined from a round bar of steel, which reduces machining time. The separate recoil lug eliminates machining time. The bolt is a two-lug design, but it is assembled from several parts that are easier to make than machining one single bolt body.
One of the most distinctive features of the Savage Model 110, one that is both loved and hated, is the barrel nut. Those with an appreciation of simplistic and pragmatic design love it. Those riflemen who worship at the altar of accuracy also appreciate this feature. Brewer borrowed the concept from a machine-gun design where it was used for rapid barrel replacement, but it made sense for a sporting rifle because it kept manufacturing costs down.
The barrel nut is installed on to the threaded rear portion of the chambered barrel and then the barrel is screwed onto the receiver. The bolt is closed on a headspacing gauge and the barrel is screwed in until it’s a contact fit. Then the barrel nut is tightened down to lock the barrel and receiver together. Headspacing is perfect, every time.
Some who focus on the aesthetics of gun design detest the barrel nut. The newer Model 110 rifles have addressed this by eliminating the ugly cuts for the spanner wrench, and the barrel nut has been streamlined and contoured.
The 110 has a tang-mounted, three-position safety to allow for safe unloading. The pinned bolt head on the new Model 110-type rifles floats slightly, allowing both of the lugs to contact the action evenly when the bolt is closed, even if there is a slight misalignment in the mating surfaces. This provides a similar effect of lapping the lugs, something found only in custom rifles.
New Features and Options
In 1966 the Model 110 underwent a makeover starting with serial number 100,000. (Later, in 1968, Federal law was changed regarding serial numbers and the rifles started again at A001001.) In addition to adding a removable box magazine, a new trigger was added to meet a requirement in Australia that imported rifles must have a ten-pound trigger pull. (The new trigger would go on to become a long and nagging complaint about the Model 110 rifle.)
The new design eliminated the counter-bore in the barrel and moved the bolt lugs out flush with the face of the bolt. The extractor was changed to a sliding plate that rides in a slot in the bolt lug. It’s held in place with a spring and detent ball behind the plate. The ejector was changed to a spring-loaded plunger in the bolt face.
In addition to the detachable magazine “C” models, there were also hinged floor plate and blind-magazine models. The Model 110 rifle was offered with walnut stocks as well as birch. Stainless steel barrels were added for the magnum cartridges. For a while there were fancy grade versions of the rifle with high-grade wood, and some were even engraved.
In 1975 the 112V rifle was introduced. This was the varmint version and started the trend of using different model numbers to identify the intended use of the rifle. For example, today the Model 12 is the varmint gun, as two digit models indicate short actions. The 12 F Class is a target rifle that is winning long-range matches right out of the box. The Model 10 is the short-action hunting rifle. The Model 110 is the long-action hunting rifle. The Model 16 rifles are short-action synthetic and stainless steel for harsh weather hunting. In the long action they are called Model 116. The Classic series is Model 14 in short action and 114 in long-action. Then there is the Model 11 short-action and Model 111 long-action.
Confused? Me too.
I guess the point is that with all these models and variations, there is currently a Model 110-based Savage rifle to fit anybody’s needs…but that was not always the case.
Financial Challenges…and Redemption In the 1980s Savage was in bankruptcy. They had hundreds of products, and when Ronald Coburn took over he dumped all but the Model 110 rifle. The “experts” told Coburn he was crazy, but he recognized that the Model 110 design made sense from a manufacturing standpoint, and for a while the Model 110 rifle was the only Savage product. It actually saved the company because it was the foundation on which Savage was rebuilt, and today the company is thriving.
To address the ongoing complaint about the Model 110’s trigger, Savage introduced the AccuTrigger in 2003. This unique adjustable trigger proved it was possible to have a good trigger in a safe, production rifle. It changed the industry, forcing every other rifle company to find a way to improve their triggers.
The Savage Model 110 family of rifles today still enjoys a reputation for being extremely accurate and affordable.