(c)Text & Photos by Jeff W. Zimba
To those who take a quick glance, the MPA971 Carbine may have a slight resemblance to a Thompson submachine gun because of the similar style, vertical drum magazine. On close inspection, it really looks nothing like a Thompson at all, but looks like it could be related to an FAL because of the familiar trigger group. As your eyes drift above the trigger group, the upper receiver portion of the 971 actually looks like a distant relative to the M11 SMG. Well, what is it?
The MPA971 is actually a combination of new technology and old. It utilizes the desirable features from three proven firearms and all three designs have been combined in this one, innovative package. The trigger group or lower receiver is actually an unmodified FAL lower. The center receiver portion of the MPA971 is manufactured completely by Master Piece Arms and is the anchor of the entire design. This unit is pinned onto the FAL lower receiver and allows it to accept the M11 style upper receiver while feeding from the extremely desirable, 9x19mm, 71-round, Finish M31 Suomi drum magazine.
Necessity being the mother of invention, Gary Poole of Masterpiece Arms was inspired to manufacture a new firearm with as many existing and available parts as possible that would accept a currently available high-capacity magazine. Knowing the parties involved, Russel Weeks of RPB set up a meeting between the parties, and invited Phil Thompson of Hit & Run Guns to attend as well. Before the meeting adjourned, it was decided that this working prototype would be refined and produced as the current MPA971. This rifle was actually designed around the popular 71-round, M31 Suomi SMG drum magazine.
In a twisted sort of logic, we can actually thank Bill Clinton and SARah Brady for the development of this new carbine. I will explain further. Something that has been plaguing recreational shooters since 1994 has been the price and availability of high capacity magazines. The Clinton Gun Ban outlawed the new manufacture of detachable magazines that hold over 10 rounds for individual ownership. To make matters worse, BATF decided that it would not be legal to alter an existing magazine to fit another firearm unless it also would still function in the original, host firearm it was designed for. There are a few cases where this is ok, such as altering an Uzi magazine to work in a Colt 9x19mm SMG, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule. This gave us a limited supply of existing magazines and like anything else, as demand rises and supply dwindles, the prices can go nowhere but up. In the very worst cases, with some of the rarer magazines, supplies just dried up and shooters have had to go without replacement magazines. This ban was a major factor in the development of the MPA971 Carbine.
Just as there are several firearms in private hands with no, or few magazines available, there are also a few magazines on the market with a very limited number of customers because of the rarity of their original, host firearm. While these magazines cannot be altered to fit other firearms, they have been stuck in a kind of limbo for almost 10 years now. Two prime examples of well functioning, and very inexpensive magazines are the Finnish, M31 Suomi SMG 50-round "coffin" magazine and the 71-round drum. Neither magazine has been manufactured since World War II but they still remain plentiful today. They were originally manufactured for the M31 Suomi and are in 9x19mm caliber, but where they use no feed tower and lock directly to the receiver of the firearm (similar to a Thompson drum) there are very few other firearms they will function in while complying with the 1994 Clinton Gun Ban.
The MPA971 is a 9x19mm semiautomatic-only carbine designed to be completely modular in order to fit any situation. The model obtained to test by Small Arms Review utilizes a heavy, 16-inch, partially finned barrel. At the present time this is the only rifle-length barrel available but those who would like to register their MP971 as a Short Barreled Rifle may purchase an additional 6-inch or 10-inch barreled upper receiver. All barrels utilize the MPA 2-lug quick-detach system and Master Piece Arms has several accessories and adapters available for this system.
The furniture on the sample supplied to SAR consisted of a standard M4/M16 Carbine handguard, a standard FAL pistol grip and a SAW-style stock. Several furniture configurations are available and colors are available in black or green. While the buttstock and pistol grip are attached in their normal fashion, the front handguard is held in place with a pair of retaining rings, the front being threaded. There are no spring-loaded delta rings utilized with this system. Any standard M4/M16 front handguard and any FAL buttstock can be utilized with this system.
Although first glance would indicate that an M11 style top end is used with this system, the upper receiver of the MPA971 is actually a very different item. The first thing you will notice is the addition of a MIL-STD-1913 rail on the top. This is not possible on a standard M11 upper receiver because this is the same location as the cocking handle. The cocking handle on the MPA971 is located on the left side of the upper receiver and is a proprietary, non-reciprocating design. This new cocking handle design necessitates a custom bolt as well.
The MPA971 was an attention grabber any time I had it at a public shooting range. It's unique look, especially when the drum was inserted, brought numerous questions from fellow shooters on every occasion. While this rifle is heavy, weighing in at a whopping 14+ pounds with a loaded drum magazine, the lack of felt recoil or muzzle rise seems to make it a little more acceptable. (Just for the record, the author, being a Title II Manufacturer, will be still be opting for the 10-inch short-barreled rifle version in the future.)
As an ultimate feeding torture test, I pulled out an old .30 caliber ammo can full of loose 9x19mm rounds I have been filling from partial boxes for several years. All the rounds are non-corrosive but that is all they have in common. Some are jacketed flat-nose, some are cast lead ball, some are jacketed hollow points, and I even had some PMC Starfire, and a few of the old Winchester Black-Talon rounds in there for good measure too. The drum was repeatedly loaded with an intentional mismatch of this assorted ammunition and the rifle never failed to feed once. Some drums were fired as fast as the trigger could be pulled and some were emptied in a manner slow and precise enough to completely hollow out a bowling pin placed downrange.
For a weapon sight on this model, a new EOTech Model 552 Holographic Sight was placed on the MIL-STD-1913 rail. This combination proved extremely effective and assisted us in consistently punching holes in our bowling pins set at 100 yards. The fast target acquisition combined with the ease of use and adjustment made the Holographic sight extremely attractive on this carbine.
While the MPA971 shares many features with the FAL, the M11 and the M31 Suomi Submachine gun, only a few parts are interchangeable in this system. While the FAL lower receiver is unmodified and the Suomi drum is unmodified, the M11 style upper receiver has been redesigned specifically for this rifle. There have been modifications to the upper receiver itself to accommodate the larger FAL hammer, and the bolt has been completely redesigned to function with the side-cocking mechanism.
The MPA971 Carbine is a clever design and combines the best features of three proven firearms while utilizing modern technology to unify them. The main receiver designed by Master Piece Arms bridging the gap between these three classics is well thought-out and the quality in their manufacturing process is immediately obvious to the handler. The fit and finish is very nice and the attention to detail is equivalent and even superior to many larger firearms manufacturers. All edges are smooth and uniformly finished and all components are completely matching in finish. The function was flawless with the test model and having the capability to utilize available and reliable, 71-round magazines makes it that much more attractive. I would recommend this rifle to anyone who is a collector of military style firearms.
Master Piece Arms
116 Kingsbridge Drive
Carrollton, Georgia 30117
www.masterpiecearms.com EOTech, Inc.
3600 Green Court, Suite 400
Ann Arbor, MI 48105-1570
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