Remington's nylon 66 .22 LR rifle was the result of a serious effort to reduce manufacturing costs. Shooters either loved it or despised it. To the surprise of many, it eventually became Remington's top-selling rimfire ever, selling over a million units between 1959 and 1989, when it was discontinued.
Naysaying purists berated the "plastic" stock and receiver — which though covered by a sheet-metal part is indeed made of composite — but the lightweight rifle proved to be not only accurate, but also surprisingly durable and reliable.
While a massive marketing campaign launched the Nylon 66 straight into the public's eye and certainly contributed to its success, it didn't hurt that in 1959 Remington exhibition shooter Tom Frye used it to surpass trick-shooting legend Ad Topperwein's world record. Using four Nylon 66s, Frye shot eight to nine hours a day for 15 days straight and hit 100,004 out of 100,010 2.5-inch wood blocks tossed into the air. Yep, he missed only six. Almost as impressive, the rifles were only cleaned five times during the event and continued to run in stellar style.
Delving into Remington's design specifications reveals that when the company approached DuPont about a composite stock material, engineers were uneasy about the project, resulting in extraordinarily stringent criteria. To be acceptable, the material had to be easily formed into any shape; have high tensile-impact and flexural strength; have high abrasion resistance; be resistant to heat distortion and to cold; must not be flammable; must shrug off solvents, acid, fungus, rodents, insects, and gun oil; must be lightweight; must be color stable; and must be dimensionally stable and self-lubricating.
When the dust settled, engineers had picked Nylon Zytel 101, which is of the Nylon 66 family. The rifle was originally dubbed the Model 555, but something prompted marketers to change tack and name it for its Nylon 66 roots. It's the only firearm model I'm aware of that is named after its stock material.
Several color variations were made, including Mohawk Brown (the most common by a margin of at least three times), Seneca Green, Apache Black, and several more.
Although the sheet-metal receiver cover gives the impression that the action is made of steel, the operating parts are actually housed in the self-lubricating Nylon. Two molded portions of the stock dovetail together and were permanently bonded during manufacture. Dubbed the "Gun of Tomorrow," it was marketed with incredible claims of dependability and accuracy that time proved — for once — to be the truth.
The Nylon 66 is a striker-fired design, but unlike most of its cousins, the triggers were surprisingly good. Bolt and striker ride in grooves in the composite receiver.
To load, draw the tubular magazine's follower from the buttstock and drop in up to 14 .22 Long Rifle cartridges. Replace the follower, draw back and drop the charging handle, and the Nylon 66 is ready to fire.
Like most rimfires, the Nylon 66 is of blowback design. Energy harnessed from the detonating cartridge thrusts the bolt rearward, drawing the empty .22 case with it. As the empty's mouth clears the ejection port, the ejector boosts the empty out and a return spring shoves the bolt back forward, picking up and chambering a fresh cartridge as it goes.
The safety is what is commonly known as a tang safety, but it's housed in the top of the stock wrist, rather than in a conventional metal tang.
The sights are quite good. They are a sturdy blade-type front integrated into a ramp-type base and a rear with unique, very usable elevation and windage adjustments.
Few rimfires of the day were mounted with a scope, but the sheet-metal receiver cover incorporated a 3/8-inch dovetail rail for riflemen who wished to install a scope.
Dated to 1970 by the Remington letter code stamped into the barrel, the Mohawk Brown rifle pictured here and fired for this report belongs to my good friend Dale Carter. His father purchased it shortly after his parents were married as a present for his mother. According to Dale, his mom and the little Nylon 66 were a force to be reckoned with during family rabbit hunts, and he and his siblings grew up shooting it. Many decades later Dale's own son, Wyatt "Cub" Carter, used it to pass his Utah Hunter Education shooting test.
Dale's mother passed away years ago, and his father eventually gave it to Cub. Before I learned of the little rifle's history — but after I'd discovered how brilliantly it shoots — I attempted to buy it. "It's the only material thing I got of my mom's after she died," Dale responded. So, it's still in the Carter family.
Even though it has surely had a shocking number of rounds put through it with little maintenance (one of the advantages of the Nylon 66 is its ability to run reliably with little cleaning) and much hard use, it's in very nice condition. Clearly, the composite stock/ receiver construction paid off.
With a freak April storm drifting snow sideways between the target and me, I hunkered down behind the Nylon 66, resolved the iron sights against my target as well as possible, and squeezed five rounds off at 25 yards. In disbelief I watched them hammer into one ragged hole, creating a half-inch group. This was with bulk ammunition.
Following my standard test protocol for rimfires, I shot a series of three consecutive five-shot groups with several different types of ammunition.
Not only did they all group well, they all shot to the same point of impact.
Three of the four loads tested offered stellar reliability, but with one, I experienced several failures to fire. I suspect that particular brand features rather hard rims, and the 47-year-old striker spring was a bit gummed up with fouling. A few drops of CLP solved the issue, and the Nylon 66 ran merrily through the rest of my tests.
Superb accuracy, good reliability, finely adjustable sights, excessive durability, and great ergonomics — it's no wonder the Nylon 66 became Remington's most popular rimfire rifle ever.