American Arms stumbled along producing 180's, but still having problems in production, mainly magazines, until 1986 when, because of legal problems with the BATF, they folded up shop. During the time from introduction of the model "B" until their demise other improvements were made to the 180 to help some of its functioning problems, resulting in their final production version, model "D".
In 1987, Illinois Arms Company, Inc. (ILARCO) purchased the patent and manufacturing rights to the 180. Immediately upon completion of the purchase, ILARCO's engineers started redesigning some parts of the 180 to further improve its functioning and reliability. Some of the changes included an improved feed block and ramp, a redesigned quick-detachable barrel mounting system and a changed bolt face and chamber relationship for better head spacing. One of the other modifications was to the magazine, changing it from the original capacity of 177 rounds to only 165 rounds (ha). Although part of the reason for this change was to improve feed reliability, the main reason was to accomodate their new cartridge, the .22 short magnum. This new round is the same length as the standard .22 LR, but with a slightly larger diameter. Because of this larger diameter, modification had to be made to the magazine so it would accept both the .22 LR and the new .22 SM. Also, because of the .22 SM's diameter, it will not chamber in a standard .22 firearm. However, with only a barrel change ILARCO's 180 SR/SB will fire the new .22 SM.
The new .22 short magnum is reported to nearly match the balistics of the .22 magnum, being able to push a 40-grain bullet at 1,350 fps. (We are planning a future test as soon as this ammo is available.)
For our test we received both the semiauto and select-fire versions of the 180 SR/SB. Also included with these forearms were their various furniture options, which included black polymer or wood and choice of horizontal or pistol grip fore-end. A retractable wire stock is also available. All of the rear stocks are quick-detachable, with the push of a button or in the case of the wire stock-- a pull of a button. The quality and styling of the stocks were excellent. The finish work of these firearms was also excellent and a far cry from the original 180's.
The main difference between the two 180's that we received, besides the selectability of the one, is the select-fire version fires from an open bolt and the semiauto fires from a closed bolt. Becuase of this, the internal workings of the two guns are totally different. However, externally there is little difference. The semiauto comes with a 17.5-inch barrel, while the select-fire comes with a 14-inch. Both use the same magazine and the external functioning of the two are identical, including the safety/fire selector and its position. The only difference here is the select-fire button located behind the safety/fire selector on the select-fire version.
Due to the purpose of testing for potential tactical use our attention was devoted to the select-fire version. We did fire the semiauto version and found it just as reliable in function, but not nearly as much firing and testing was done as on the select-fire version.
As with any automatic magazine feed firearm, prior to firing the magazine or magazines must be loaded and with this weapon you must allot some time. Actually, loading is very easy, but very time consuming. The side benefit here is that you can do a lot of shooting with only one magazine, but firing at 1,800 rpm a magazine can be emptied in six seconds, with a continuous burst. To load you must first remove the spring winder mechanism, which is located in the center of the magazine. Second, you disable the ratchet mechanism with a loading tool that is supplied. Beginning at the marked starting position, you load each slot as you rotate the opening in a clockwise direction until three complete revolutions have been made. There are 55 slots and times three revolutions, equals 165 rounds. After completion, you remove the loading tool which reenables the ratchet and locks the drum. Replace the winder mechanism, wind it up and you're ready to go. One of the positive features of this system is that the loaded drum can be stored with no spring tension and wound up when needed.
The entire gun can be field stripped in a matter of seconds. As mentioned before, the rear stock is removed with a push or pull of a button. The barrel is removed by loosening the thumb screw and lifting it from the received. The top cover plate is removed by sliding it forward, then lifting it from the receiver. The bolt is then removed by lifting it up at the front and pulling it forward. The feed block and ramp are also removable.
When first shooting the 180, in full-auto, an involuntary ear-to-ear smile takes place, followed by amazement that it really works and how fast it fires. The controllability was phenomenal. However, firing .22's from a gun weighing nearly ten pounds loaded, you should expect it. On one of our tests, an entire magazine was fired at a hostage target in one continuous burst from 25 yards. The results were the hostage lived and all but three rounds struck the bad guy's head. The group measured six inches at the widest point, with the majority of rounds eating away the target in an approximate two-inch diameter area. Obviously you would not fire an entire magazine at one target, however, the controllability of this weapon would allow the placement of as many shots on target as wanted.
The general pointability of the 180 is excellent, especially when using the Thompson style pistol grip fore-end. Its overall design and ease of operation is also excellent. The front sight seemed somewhat obscured by the magazine, at first, but was easily adpated to after getting accustomed to the new gun.
The biggest test and question concerning any hi-capacity submachine gun, especially this one, was its reliability and possible malfunction problems. As with any .22 caliber firearm, the ammunition plays a very large part in the gun's reliability and it was no different with the 180. For proper function, we found that only hi-velocity copper clad .22's were acceptable. After firing one of the original American 180's, the ILARCO's version seems far less ammunition sensitive. In fact, we fired a random selection of hi-velocity Remington, Federal, Winchester, Hansen and PMC .22's with the same positive results. Very few malfunctions occurred and the ones we had were easily cleared. The one consistant feed problem occurred with the last round. However, it didn't jam the gun., but fell out when the magazine was removed. If you hadn't taken care of the situation with 164 rounds, one more round isn't going to make the difference (ha). A lot of our reliability testing was done by emptying an entire magazine in a single burst, it was the most fun. This was accomplished with very few malfunctions.
Our overall test incorporated firing several thousand rounds of various makes of .22 ammunition. These were shot in controlled and sustained bursts as well as semiauto fire, with an overall positive impresison of this weapon system.
Currently, some major law enforecement agencies are testing the ILARCO 180 as possible addition to their existing armory.
ILARCO will soon make available a disposable (limited use) preloaded magazine at substantial savings over their metal magazine.
Some of the other options available for the 180 SR/SB are carrying cases, a tritium sight system, sound suppressor and a laser sight.
For further information, contact ILARCO, 1401 Ardmore, Dept. SW, Itasca, IL 60143. Phone (312) 773-0303.