The Winchester Model 70 rifle, of course, needs little introduction being the most widely known bolt action sporting rifle in the world. Since the Winchester Model 70 made its appearance in the late 1930’s, it has been the standard by which all other bolt action rifles are judged. Seldom will you find an article written on another make and model bolt action rifle without reference to the Winchester Model 70.
Winchester Model 54 rifles were the first successful bolt action sporting rifles manufactured by Winchester and were available from 1925 up until the Model 70’s began appearing on dealers’ racks in 1937. The model 54 was really a form of sporterized Mauser and lacked refinements being sought by the bolt action minded sportsmen. The Model 70 offered stronger action, more checkering, improved safety, and much improved trigger.
Collectors prefer the Model 70’s manufactured prior to World War II with their fine finish and hand fitted parts even though they did not provide for conventional scope mounting. Bolt design changes and drilling and tapping the rear receiver bridge were performed on the rifles when production resumed following the World War II. Some collectors prefer those early post-war rifles because they retain pre-war quality but at the same time lend themselves to easy mounting of telescope sights.
Model 70’s manufactured in the early 1960’s are the least pursued mainly because of the poorly checkered stocks. Winchester was experiencing problems at this time producing the quality of rifle that made the Model 70 famous. Unfortunately, this led to the well known changes that took place in 1964. The quality of these post-64 rifles was so poor that in a matter of only a couple years the Model 70’s produced prior to that era fast became collector items.
One of the first well written articles on collecting the pre-64 Model 70’s was penned by the hand of Jim Scott from Iowa, a man with great perception, who I had the pleasure of meeting in 1971. Jim’s article appeared in the April 1968 issue of Shooting Times and is a collector item in itself for Model 70 aficionados.
The pre-64 Model 70 Winchesters were produced in 18 catalogued calibers as follows: .22 Hornet, .220 Swift, .243 Winchester, .250 Savage, .257 Roberts, .264 Winchester Magnum, .270 Winchester, 7X57MM, .300 Savage, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum, .35 Remington, .358 Winchester, .375 H&H Magnum, and .458 Winchester Magnum. Also, a very few were produced in 7.65MM and 9X57 MM prior to World War II in an attempt to lure foreign market.
Perhaps at this point I should point out the possibilities of after-market fakes in these rare calibers. Let it be known that I personally have no proof and am accusing no one but many accusations have been made. Rarity of calibers or rare configurations, of course, command very high prices but the collector must be well informed. A few Model 70’s have been special ordered in other calibers than the twenty previously mentioned. Unfortunately, we cannot obtain a letter of authenticity from Winchester on bolt action rifles to verify one of these rare rifles.
Regardless of what make or model of firearm we seek as collectors, originality is most important, followed by condition. There are people restoring firearms who have become so proficient at matching the finish on both metal and wood that it becomes difficult to separate these from a mint original piece. Any extra holes drilled in the metal detract a considerable amount from the value. In many cases, these extra holes have been welded and can be difficult to see except under strong light. I have encountered holes in the barrel hidden by the long rear sight. Beware of rifles wearing scope bases. Under the bases you may find an extra hole or find the original 6-48 holes have been enlarged to accept 8-40 screws.
Over the years, many attempts have been made to duplicate the stock finish on Winchester Model 70’s but usually can be detected more readily than a professional reblue. If a model 70 stock showing considerable use is observed, flaking off of the finish can be noted. Winchester applied the finish on the wood not in the wood. You can observe only the stain penetrated the wood. Experience allows your fingers to feel a difference in the
texture of the finish.
Barrel and stock changing has, of course, been going on ever since model 70’s became collector items. Unless the parts are from a different time period, this is one change that may be impossible to detect. If it can’t be detected, perhaps it does not matter. In the late 1960’s, I sent a Winchester Model 70 in .220 Swift caliber back to Winchester for a new barrel and there was absolutely no way to indicate the barrel switch.
Replacement of the solid red rubber pads Winchester utilized on the large magnum calibers cannot really be detected because even the repro pads you can buy today are made to the exact specifications. And again, does it really make any difference?
Sometimes collectors create through their observations in their mind alterations that really do not exist. For instance, the butt plates do not always fit exactly because the wood may have changed somewhat over the years. I have seen people pass up a Model 70 because the bluing on the butt plate was not as good as the barreled action. They tend to forget those rifles were often placed on the damp ground which caused the flaking of the blue. Arguments have ensued over the checkering. Remember it was not computerized machine cut as is performed today.
Recently, I displayed variations of the pre-64 Model 70 Winchester rifles at the OGCA show in September 2005. These included standard grade, featherweight, carbine, national match, target grade, super grade, varminter, gopher special, super grade featherweight, bull gun, and special order models. Other variations exist, some quite rare such as special shaped stocks and unusual barrel lengths.
Over the years, many articles have been written on the Winchester Model 70 appearing at some point in time in most of the well known hunting/ shooting magazines. Two books have been published on the Winchester Model 70. The first book by Dean Whitaker, The Model 70 Winchester 1937-1964 in 1978 and The Rifleman’s Rifle by Roger Rule in 1982. Roger Rules’ book has been reprinted a couple times but I have never heard of a second issue of Dean Whitaker’s book. Rule’s book is a must for any serious Model 70 collector.
Many collectors, myself included, not only cherish our Winchester Model 70’s as collector items but we shoot and hunt with them as well. The advantages of the three position safety, controlled feed, and coned breech become apparent to anyone using one of these fine rifles. My first Model 70 was purchased in 1957 and remains in my collection.
The pre-64 Model 70 Winchester certainly must be included in the top ten greatest firearms ever produced for sporting purposes anywhere in the world.