NEIL KELLER’S 9×23 AVENGER RACEGUN

June 10, 2009


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.neilkeller1

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.”

Neil Keller is one of America's most respected gunsmiths.

Neil Keller, one of America's most respected gunsmiths, strikes a pose with his Pistolsmith of the Year award.

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.)

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Wayne Bergquist’s custom 1911 .45 pistol

June 10, 2009

bergquist1By RONI TOLDANES

It all started as a joke. Fourteen years ago, Wayne Bergquist per­formed his first gunsmithing job. He blew dust from a rusty Colt .45 that he had owned for many years, and checkered its front strap.

Totally inexperienced, it took him several hours to complete the job. He was mes­merized by his handiwork and stared at the finished product for minutes. He always had a fascination for guns but this was the first time he actually had the chance to tin­ker with a pistol.

Bergquist boarded a bus to visit his friend, a noted gunsmith in Florida. Like a proud boy showing his dad his first medal of merit, Bergquist handed the pistol to the gunsmith asking him to check out his mas­terpiece. The amused gunsmith gave the gun a fleeting glance and, with raised eye­brows, asked, “Who did that?” Bergquist replied with the obvious, and the gunsmith burst into laughter. “Good, maybe someday you’ll make money doing this.”

The comment was a flattery. You see, the checkering lines on Bergquist’s were crooked, its peaks and valleys uneven. And the gunsmith humor­ously treated the entire thing as a joke. “But I took the joke seri­ously,” Bergquist said. “And I took it as a challenge.”

Wayne Bergquist worked hard and exchanged notes with experts. Fourteen years after he accepted the challenge, he is now recognized as among the most popular gunsmiths in America. When we asked him to build this single-stack .45 semi-auto, Bergquist emphasized that we pay attention to the detailed work in his checkering.

It was, indeed, mesmerizing. The 20 ­lines-per-inch hand-checkering job on the front strap sparkled like tiny diamonds. The Caspian frame came from the factory with checkering on the front strap, but he manually polished it for a touch of finesse. He also hand-checkered the trigger guard and produced an astonishing 40-lines-per-inch.

The entire gun, built on a Caspian 6-­inch slide and oversized frame, was cleanly crafted. The slide’s high-polish hard chrome finish from Checkmate is so shiny you can practically use it as a mirror.

Three handsome notches were cut under the slide’s front portion. These blended nicely with the Schuemann “Ultimatch” .45ACP bull barrel and the two-piece Clark guide rod. A series of long serrations were machined on the slide’s front panel. It gave the gun a sleek, race-ready look. The serrations, as well as the notches cut on the slide, increases slide velocity during battery and reduces the gun’s lock-time. They also help enhance the hot­-rod look of this tactical speedster.

The “racing stripes” machined into the top of the slide augment this gun’s aesthetic appeal. And they also assist in minimizing the sun’s glare. “But sometimes I tell my customers that if they can see glare, that means they are not focusing on their sights,” Bergquist says with a chuckle.

A Bo-Mar adjustable rear sight comes as a standard feature in Bergquist’s tactical pistols, as well as a Smith & Alexander beavertail grip safety with a “palmswell” that helps promote a positive grip. Caspian or Ed Brown grip safeties are also available.

Bergquist re-shaped, contoured and raised the rear portion of the single-stack Caspian frame to expose a big­ger chunk of the beavertail. He also cut a 90-degree angle under the trigger guard for a perfect anatomical hold. These modifi­cations allow the shooter to achieve a higher grip on the gun, thereby reducing muzzle jump. He also installed a “wide-ride” King’s thumb safety, which eliminated the need for a thumb shield.

Bergquist laughed when asked about the technical specifications of his single-stack masterpiece. While other gunsmiths rattle-off technical specs, such as “0.0005-inch critical lock-up achieved by the full-length rail engagement … etc.,” Bergquist merely says his slide and frame were hand-fitted. “I do it mostly by feel. I’m not a very technical person, but I’m sure other gunsmiths also do it that way, no matter what they say.”

With a smooth 2.25-lb trigger pull pro­vided by its light, aluminum Videki speed trig­ger, Bergquist says this pistol will achieve groups of O.75-inch at 25 yards and will shoot all types of .4S ACP ammunition without a bobble.

IMMIGRANT ROOTS

The grandson of Scandinavian immi­grants with humble beginnings, Wayne Bergquist has come a long, long way.

Bergquist, 46, began shooting IPSC matches in 1981. Back then, the hotshots were Mickey Fowler and Mike Plaxco. He was a Class-B shooter when he decided to become a full-time gunsmith.

In 1989, Bergquist established Glades Gunworks in Florida, but eventually sold it to an inventor and became its manager. “But I wasn’t a happy camper, so I left them and started my own shop based on my reputation.” Bergquist then sought the help of his wife, Kathie, to help manage the new shop. He invited gunsmith Jimmy Brock to serve as his assistant. In just a few weeks, orders began pouring in.

Today, if you don’t see Wayne at his gunshop, he’s most probably outside, puttering with his classic ’67 Mustang or buffing his sleek Harley Davidson. “You have to have other toys besides guns,” he says with a boyish smile.

The Bergquist shop churns out at least 16 Limited and Open raceguns monthly and also accepts gunsmithing jobs, such as trigger pull adjustments, sight installation, and fitting of custom magazine wells and other accessories. Delivery time is around 12 to 14 weeks, but it’s always worth the wait.

Wayne Bergquist spends a liberal amount of time on each firearm that passes through the shop. And that’s what makes him and his work a notch above other custom shops.

“I work a lot of weekends and even late nights for my customers,” Bergquist says. “I think they deserve to get what they pay for.” Every pistol stamped with the initials W.B. doesn’t have to be “broken in.”

When he hands you your gun, you’re ready to race.

Wayne Bergquist says he would like to be known as a friendly person and a good gunsmith. A very good gunsmith. “I’m that kind of guy,” he says. “Yes, sir, unlike other gunsmiths, any of my customers can call me anytime. I mean anytime.”

He was not joking.

(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.)


The Exotic WildCat

June 10, 2009

Photo by Y.Sued

By RONI TOLDANES

By definition, exotic is something that distinguishes itself in a strik­ing, fascinating, strangely beauti­ful, or alluring way. So what’s an exotic gun? It’s all of the above, of course. It’s also exclusive, spe­cial, and very, very dramatic. You know you’re in the presence of exoticism when you feel a ripple of excitement. If you’re watching someone holding it, you may also experience pangs of envy.

This pistol is a classic exam­ple of that definition. Created by Lim­Cat Custom in Fremont, California, this .40-caliber semi-auto, identified as the WildCat, performs like a Lamborghini Diablo – the sports car that exceeds the 55 mph speed limit in first gear and runs to its red line in second.

Like a Lamborghini, the WildCat deliv­ers an intoxicating roar. Yet it doesn’t seem to have the snooty appeal of your father’s gun.

Unlike the original John Browning cre­ation, this fiery 1911 pistol purports to be fun, youthful and approachable. It attracts adoring crowds, it shoots smoother and is more accurate than its owner can ever imagine. And with only a few guns like this manually produced by LimCat, you prob­ably won’t see anoother one like it at your local retail store.

Not all pistolsmiths are fussy about their creations, but LimCat Custom’s Johnny Lim is. He is a young artisan with a mission. He wants to be known for creating not only the most crowd-pleas­ing guns, but also the top-performing racers that shoot straight. Lim has an unmatched gift for creating tantalizing hot-rod guns.

Even the most jaded gun collector will agree from these pictures that the WildCat is something special, that it’s something out of the ordinary. That it is, well, exotic. But how do you define exotic in practi­cal gun terms?

The creator should have bestowed upon the firearm a fastidious attention to fit, finish and function. His gun should boast of a sweet accuracy that consis­tently drives jacketed hollow-point bul­lets into one-inch groups at 25 yards. It should radiate a sleek appearance in tan­dem with a supercharged, jam-free per­formance. All that translates into a shoot­ing profile of the WildCat.

Starting with a clean sheet, Lim set out to do things differently. Always auda­ciously bidding to upend his hard-earned reputation as a purveyor of stylish guns, he created his own design of exhaust ports called Tri-Clops. Hey, don’t bother to check the dictionary. No such word.

Knowing a bit of Greek mythology, Lim says that each hole in his porting system looks like that of a cyclops, a giant with a single eye in the middle of the fore­head. For lack of a better term, Lim says the three holes in the gun’s slide should be identified as Tri-Clops.

The Tri-Clops system goes all the way through the barrel. During each cycle, the ports expel the gases upwards, push­ing the barrel downwards and reducing muzzle climb. As a result, the gun tends to stay on target for a faster second shot.

This configuration, however, is not similar to the patented Hybrid barrels with ports that require a portion of the slide to be sliced off.

Lim knows that a small part of the WildCat’s ported barrel may be covered by the slide in each cycle, resulting in slight carbon fouling. He min­imized this possibility by machining big­ger holes on the slide and positioning them slightly offset against the barrel’s ports. Lim then threaded into the barrel a one-inch compensator with three exhaust ports, venting most of the combustion gases horizontally and vertically for a flatter muzzle movement on ignition.

Lim prepared two top-ends for this .40­caliber WildCat. Simply slide on any of the two top-ends to the STI frame to assem­ble the gun you want to shoot for the specific Practical Shooting division you plan to join. You have two guns in one frame.

With a magazine seated in the mag well, either gun fits within the confines of the official International Practical Shoot­ing Confederation (IPSC) box that mea­sures 225mm x 150mm x 45mm. The gun with the compensated top-end is legal for the Modified Division of the IPSC. When fitted with the non-ported slide assembly, the gun can be used to com­pete in both the Standard Division of the IPSC and the Limited Division of the U.S. Practical Shooting Association (USPSA).LimcatWildCat3

Both top-ends come with tungsten guide rods and cocking serrations in the front and rear of the slide in a style that is distinctively LimCat’s. The frame bears the serial number WILDCAT.

Johnny Lim has set himself as a style trendsetter in modern semi-autos. He draws a younger clientele of shooters who order his prized guns as an alter­native to gunsmiths who take years to produce a custom gun.

For his top racers, Lim uses mostly STI International frames. The STI’s roots stretch back to the late ’80s when the prototype of the “Modular” frame was released. Made of durable polymer-plas­tic, the frame became de rigueur in action shooting competitions because it offered lighter weight and higher capacity than the old single-stack, all-steel pistols.

The new STI frame of our centerfold gun uses the same sturdy material, but it has come a long way from its prototype design. STI frames are now available in different colors – green, red, blue, pur­ple and the original black. There’s even a new design with a longer dust cover for better shooting stability, and that’s what Lim used to create the WildCat.

Lim enhanced the gun’s overall appear­ance by creating horizontal serrations in the extended dust cover. The gun does­n’t really need those extra shaved ounces. Lim’s top-ends feature heavy bull barrels. Lim chose the STI grip in blazing red to grab the attention of adventurous shooters.LimCatWildcat6

The STI grip leaves the factory with all the custom modifications that usually have to be done by a custom gunsmith. Its front panel, mainspring housing and even the front of the trigger guard have been checkered. Lim installed an aluminum Hot Shots magazine well, which effec­tively doubled the magazine entry area.

On top of each slide, Lim machined fine stripes that not only streamline the WildCat’s sleek appearance, but also eradicate glare when shooting under direct sunlight.

The first impression one gets when shooting the “Modified” WildCat is that the gun shoots flat, really flat. The com­pensated slide offers a felt recoil that is somewhere in between a .32 caliber and a 9mm, even though the WildCat is not a pip-squeak gun. It propels a .40-cal. bullet at supersonic muzzle velocities reaching a major 180 power factor suf­ficient for Practical Shooting tournaments.LimCatWildcat5

With the added fillip of the LimCat name, a WildCat pistol does not only project an adventuresome image but it also delivers flawless function. If you are what you shoot, a WildCat gives this profile about your personality: stylish and performance-oriented.

Audacious and outrageously accurate, the WildCat parts a crowd of lesser guns like Moses parted the Red Sea.

It’s not exaggeration when adoring shooters say this centerfold gun should become the benchmark of pistol excellence. After all, it delivers performance and panache that experienced pistoleros have always sought. And it exemplifies the definition of an exotic – both in the dictionary and on the shooting range.

If you want to know the definition of an exotic gun, look no further.

(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.)

LIMCAT CUSTOM

(510) 252-9255

PARTS LIST

Tungsten Guide Rod – LimCat

Adjustable Rear Sights –  Bo-Mar

.40-cal. Bull Barrels   –  LimCat

Magazine Well –  Hot Shots

2011 frame & Slide – STI

Mainspring Mousing – STI

Beavertail Grip Safety – STI

Ambidextrous Thumb Safety – STI

Hammer – STI

Trigger – STI

CONTACT COMPANIES:

Bo-Mar Sight

Route 08, Box 401,

Longview, Texas 75604

(903) 759-9141

STI International
114 Halmar Cove
Georgetown, TX 78628

(521) 819-0656

www.stiguns.com