Return Of The 180 SMG
by Chad Haire

The American 180 has a reputation for being one of the more unusual submachine guns ever manufactured. Unlike most "subs" which are designed to fire conventional centerfire pistol cartridges, the 180 was chambered for .22 Long Rifle ammunition. This may not sound impressive, but consider the gun's cyclic rate was a high 1800 rpm, and this translates to 30 rounds (of 1000 grains of lead) per second! Added to this was a 177-round magazine capacity (which could be emptied in six seconds). Even more impressive was the 180's lack of felt recoil and muzzle flash-- making it comfortable to shoot.

With the impressive performance statistics mentioned above, and AM-180 initially sold quite well to police departments and civilians who could afford the $200 tax stamp required for Class III weapon purchases. But as time went on, there were many complaints voiced. The first revolved around reliability. Most .22 LR ammo varies in quality and much of it isn't designed to stand up to the rigors of a blow back SMG. As a result, the 180 was subject to malfunctions. Secondly, there was speculation as to whether those little .22 projectiles could really provide sufficient stopping power-- even with that high cyclic rate. Third (and more importantly), the manufacturer (American Arms Inc. in Salt Lake City) had no problem delivering guns, but had difficulty in providing the 177-round magazines (which should sound familiar to Bren Ten owners). In fact, during the final years of production, I was unable to find even one customer who had been able to get a mag delivered, which caused many 180 owners to be a bit upset! It also drove up the price of available open market drums from $85 each to around $175-$250.

The final blow came a few years ago when the Salt Lake factory had some legal problems with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (alias the BAT-men). This forced them to shut dowm permanently. The American 180 was now dead.

New Manufacturer

After the problems faced by American Arms Inc., many firearms authorities predicted the AM-180 would disappear forever. They were wrong. Illinois Arms Company (ILARCO) has now acquired the 180 system, as well as all manufacturing equipment. They also, decided to give the 180 some design improvements. A few of them are as follows:

Ammunition: The ILARCO 180 will be chambered for a new cartridge-- the .22 "short" magnum. It has a muzzle velocity close to the standard .22 magnum, but is significantly reduced in overall size, being about the same length as a typical .22 Long Rifle cartridge! Specifically, a launches a 40-grain bullet at 1350 fps with a muzzle energy of 160 ft. lbs. This translates into 2400 ft. lbs. of energy per second during full-auto fire, which is very destructive! (The .22 LR version will still be available.)

Magazines: For improved reliabilty, there is a nw 165-round magazine, which is a slight decrease from the original 177-round model. It will accept both the .22 short magnum and .22 Long Rifle cartridges. Also available (optional) are low cost preloaded plastic magazines which are disposable after being emptied.

Retractable Stock: Previously, all 180 models came with solid buttstockes made of wood or plastic. They're still available, but now a retractable wire stock will be offered as well, which will make the gun even more compact when carried or stored.

Tritium Sights: This luminous material will allow the front and rear sight assembly to easily be seen in low light situations. This is a good idea, and will be appreciated by the weapon's operator.

Short Barrel: Tests conducted by American Arms showed that the longer 18-inch barrel of the carbine model offered only a slight increase in muzzle velocity over their short 13-inch pistol barrel, when firing .22 Long Rifle cartridges. However, it's easy to see that the new magnum .22 will need a longer tube for maximum effectiveness, so the long 18-inch barrel is still standard. A new shorter 14-inch barrel will be available upon request, however, and when combined with the retractable wire stock, will result in a compact SMG. An even shorter nine-inch barrel is offered too.

Laser: ILARCO will be offeringa lightweight laser system, which attaches on top of the gun's receiver. Its advertised effective range is 150 yards, which is about the same as the .22 magnum cartridge, as well.

New Models

In addition to improving the basic 180 system, ILARCO will be introducing some new models to complement the standard gun.One is the 180 Twin version. Basically, what they've done is mate two receiver/barrel assemblies together and then placed them on a single frame and buttstock. At one pull of the trigger, the dual magazines will feed, providing firepower of 60 rounds per second (3600 rpm).

For those who can afford the ammunition, there is, also, the 180 "Quad" SAW. This involves a total of four receiver/barrel magazine assemblies together, fires by an electronic trigger. The entire system is mounted on a tripod. Total ammo capacity is 660 rounds, with a 7200 rpm (total) cyclic rate-- 120 rounds per second!

I saw the original blueprints for the Quad in the Salt Lake plant many years ago. At the time, is was intended to be attached to video surveillance cameras in security complexes. The idea was, if the video monitor showed someone trying to break into the protected area, all you needed to do was aim the camera at the perpetrator, the press the fire button, blasting the target at 120 rounds per second! Interesting, but not very practical. ILARCO now intends this system to be mounted on marine craft, airplanes, or motor vehicles instead.

ILARCO will continue to manufacture the Model 180 SC security briefcase. On the outside, it gives the appearance of being just another aluminum case, but inside lurks a loaded 180, which is laser sighted and fires electronically by pressing an external level beside the handle. It's intended mainly for undercover activities by law enforecement or security personnel. While the exact price hasn't been announced, it should be in the $3200 to $4000 category, based on previous American Arms' catalogue.

Now that the new models and options have been reviewed, one might wonder if the 180 SMG will be able to edge its way back into the firearms' market. On the positive side, I believe the new magnum short cartridge will help increase the gun's performance (and image), and its introduction was a wise choice. Alos, the combination of a short 14-inch barrel and retractable stock will make the 180 very compact, as it should have been in the first place. These two factors should give the 180 a fresh start. Of course, I'm referring to the standard gun with the 165-round magazine. The Quad SAW and 180 Twin are interesting pieces of hardware, but the jury is still out on their practicality. This is something future purchasers will have to decide for themselves. But regardless of the model ordered, be sure the factory has a magazine to go with it!