By RONI TOLDANES
Once in a while, a gun will come along that not only stands out from the crowd by virtue of its remarkable performance, but also due to its sheer visceral appeal. A gun that, when fired even once at the range, not only causes the shooter’s pulse to quicken, but those behind him as well. A gun that basically grabs you by the throat, slaps you in the face a few times, and stamps the words “ABSOLUTE HIGH PERFORMANCE: CAN YOU HANDLE IT?” indelibly across your forehead each time you rapid-fire the trigger.
The Avenger 9×23 is one of those guns.
Here is a gun that threatens to win the championship trophy by looks alone. And check the range performance-the accuracy and reliability. The caliber gives you a full-throttle boom without the punishing recoil.
It’s a worn-out word used by almost every self-proclaimed accuracy freak, but this one really shoots flat.
It can only be likened to a supercharged locomotive running on nitromethane, minus the vibration. And for those with even a hint of racing or performance in their blood, this pistol’s raucous bark is music to the ears. It slams hot lead onto the targets fast.
When you think of speed and guns, one name quickly comes to mind: Neil Keller.
The man who has quickly forged a reputation for extracting winning performance from guns is an authority on racing. When Keller speaks performance, people listen.
Keller, 60, was a General Electric engineer for 33 years. During his stint with G.E., he was also involved in the motorbike business, building flawless two-stroke engines for kart racing. Keller was a tool maker. He was one of those guys with a deep knowledge on how metals are forged, created and shaped using precision machines involving close tolerances.
We’ve heard a few things about Keller’s background, bur when we commissioned him to build a gun, we never expected he would build one that fits his character. The gun clearly shows a masterful work of a man with great experience.
Keller selected STI International’s frame and slide to weave his particular brand of magic into the gun, embellishing it with his chosen parts from other custom makers. He opted not to open up the slide by cutting holes on top, saying such designs attract foreign particles and dust and would only make the gun less reliable on certain ranges. Instead, Keller shortened the slide, sliced radial cuts in front and chopped off some metal in the area behind the breach face, which he lowered by almost 1/8 of an inch.
To further lighten the slide, Keller completely opened up the recoil spring plug housing and drilled a hole into the guide rod. For both the tapered cone bushing and plug, he utilized Amploy 10, an extremely hard bronze material used in the bearings of high-speed punch presses.
Keller built a compensator from 4140 steel and chose a flat bottom design. Compared to the more common round design, the flat bottom gave him an additional 18 percent of the frontal area inside the compensator which he used to create thicker walls. The four exhaust ports, forward-angled to prevent heated gasses from fogging the lens of the electronic sight, feature thick walls that progressively get smaller towards the bullet’s final exit.
“As the gases are depleted going through the compensator, this downward progression maintains constant pressure against the frontal walls,” Keller says.
As an additional insurance against torque and muzzle flip, Keller cut two small baffle holes on both sides of the compensator. Keller applied the same principles that he had learned from building race bikes.
The shortened slide allowed the porting of the barrel through the back end of the compensator.
“This porting gives us a pattern very similar to the ones we used when we were building high-revving twostroke racing engines,” says Keller, the man who developed the popular gun oil Kellube. “We used exhaust systems which had converging cones flowing into diverging cones to control the developed gases. Converging aides in pulling the gases; diverging controls the total flow.”
Many of you might be wondering: just what the heck was he talking about? You’d have to be some kind of a racegun geek to understand things like that. But Keller’s point was simple: the Avenger was built to race.
If you’ve seen great-looking guns like this one at your favorite gun shop, you should know that you can’t simply buy custom parts and build your own. Thus, performance isn’t the only aspect of this gun, it’s also exclusivity. It’s a true custom gun.
To reduce lock-time, a small amount of material was removed from the hammer, creating radial slots on either side. Both the hammer and sear are made of steel instead of the lighter titanium which requires constant refinishing to maintain a crisp trigger drop. The trigger pull was set at less than 2 lbs.
Considering this gun’s in-your-face persona, Keller inlaid his Taurus zodiac sign in the form of gold emblems on both sides of the grip, which has been painted to match the color of the anodized red-dot sight. Special paint was used to ensure a longer life of the painted surfaces.
For the accuracy report, here’s what witnessed: At 40 yards off a sandbag rest, the 9×23 Avenger stamped a five-shot group of 5/8 of an inch. Its Bar-Sto barrel quickly gobbled up super-hot Winchester 9×23 factory loads. If you whack the trigger fast, you’ll find yourself pointing at various cloud formations around your targets downrange.
In this age of ever-increasing performance from raceguns, there’s something to be said for a gun that combines speed, exclusivity and trickiness with a raw, muscular appeal that can’t be matched.
For many, a Neil Keller racegun like this one with a four-digit price tag may seem lofty. But for those interested in a gun that not only possesses cutthroat performance, but communicates that message to the shooter in a way that transcends all other guns, it’s worth it.
Definitely worth it.
(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)