What was the first production rifle with a synthetic stock? It came along earlier than you might think and not only did it have a polymer stock, but a polymer receiver as well.
Actually, two mass-produced, synthetic-stocked rifles came along at about the same time. The .22-.410 Stevens combo had a Tenite stock and was introduced in the late 1950s. But it didn’t achieve nearly the same success as the Remington Nylon 66, made by Remington Arms from 1959 to 1991.
An excellent history on the Nylon 66 and its development was posted by American Rifleman here.
In the early ’50s, Remington was looking to fill a hole in its catalog by producing a mid-priced, semi-auto, .22 rifle. They didn’t find any ways to save money on barrels, so they focused on stocks and receivers, asking the engineers at DuPont (which had control of Remington since 1933) to come up with a plastic to replace both.
The specs DuPont was given were a bit daunting—the material had to be capable of forming any shape desired, had to have a high tensile-impact and flexural strength, high abrasion resistance, high resistance to heat distortion, resistance to cold, must not continue to burn after being exposed to flame, must be impervious to solvents, oils, mild acids, alkalis, fungus, rodents, and insects…and it had to be lightweight, hold colors, and have a finish that’s easy to repair—tall order.
After four months, DuPont came back with Zytel Nylon 101, a member of the Nylon 66 family of plastics, the same polymer that was first used to make women’s stockings.
A prototype had been built by 1955 consisting of two hollow nylon pieces that were fused together to form the stock and receiver. The center section was covered by a low-cost, formed-steel metal wrap, so the gun wouldn’t look like a plastic toy, but more like a traditional rifle.
Production Nylon 66s were injection-molded in two halves, the buttstock and forend, with tongue and groove connections. They were then bonded together with the center section, the receiver.
The magazine was in the buttstock and loaded through the buttplate. It held 14 standard or high-velocity .22 LR rimfire cartridges. The steel striker and bolt ran in grooves in the self-lubricating nylon receiver. Other parts, like the trigger and trigger guard, were stainless steel or steel stampings.
The whole rifle required little to no hand-fitting and weighed only 4 lbs., 8 oz. with a 19-1/2 inch barrel.
Remington engineers launched a barrage of intense field tests of the nylon rifle from 1955 through the beginning of 1958, with hundreds of thousands of rounds fired. Prototypes of the then-named Model 555 were given to Remington sales reps for field-testing. It was introduced on May 2 of that year with the changed model designation “Nylon 66. ” The reason for the name change is unknown.
About 4,450 production Nylon 66s were made in late 1958 for shipment at a retail price of $49.95. It was called “The Gun of Tomorrow” and was escorted to market by a huge media blitz that touted it’s dependability in adverse conditions as a prime selling point.
In 1959, Tom Frye, a Remington field rep, set out to beat Ad Topperwein’s world record set in 1907 of shooting 72,000 21/2 wooden blocks as they were tossed into the air while only missing nine. Frye used three Nylon 66 rifles and maintained an average pace of 1,000 shots per hour for 13 consecutive eight-hour days. When it was all over, he’d shot at 100,010 blocks and hit 100,004, missing only six. The rifles were cleaned only five times during the trial.
The rifle was originally offered in two colors, Mohawk Brown and Seneca Green. Later, Apache Black was added to the line.
The Nylon 66 became the most successful .22 caliber rifle Remington has ever made, with a total production of more than 1,000,000 by 1991 when it was discontinued. Field & Stream put it at No. 17 on their list of the best 50 guns ever made.