Century C308: U.S. Version of Classic 7.62x51/.308 Win. Roller Delayed Blowback Cold War Warrior

By Todd Burgreen

It is often said imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Century Arms is a major source of U.S. made versions of well known foreign weapons; thus allowing the firearm to be distributed in the US. For example, Century offers semiautomatic sporting versions of AK47s, Sterlings, PSLs, Golanis (Galils), AK74s, and the just introduced C308, which is being reviewed here. The C308 is a roller delayed operating rifle similar in pattern to the Spanish CETME and German HK G3.

The U.S. market is skewed related to foreign born designs due to importation bans and regulations creating artificial shortages. This makes it more worthwhile for Century and other manufacturers to go through the effort at re-creating arms that normally would not be available. A firearm must have enough historical significance, performance capability, and/or price point to generate sales to be worthwhile for a company to undertake the effort at introducing it. The C308 has all three.

The C308 employs a roller delayed blowback operating system that was featured in the legendary German MG42 machine gun and then downsized/tweaked in the closing stages of WWII in the form of the Mauser STG45 assault rifle. The STG45 was slated to replace the granddaddy of all assault rifles, the STG44, because of its simplicity of manufacture resulting in lower cost and greater production potential. The roller delayed STG45 concept was perfected in Spain in the form of CETME courtesy of German engineers who escaped there in the hectic days following WWII. The roller delayed blowback operating system uses recoil forces to manipulate the action and does not rely on gases to operate the weapon. There is no need to tap the barrel to bleed off gas directly into the action or via a piston. This operation method minimizes opportunities for dirt or carbon build up to affect reliability. The design also contributes to accuracy by having the barrel truly free-floated; furthermore the roller delayed blowback system avoids sharp recoil impulses derived from direct gas impingement or operating rod systems. The difference in recoil impulse of a rifle utilizing the roller delayed blowback method versus direct impingement or a gas piston of the same caliber and weight is noticeable.

Century Arms has prior experience with producing U.S. made roller delayed operating rifles with a CETME version and more recently the C93 chambered in 5.56mm. The C93 seems to have benefitted from the prior CETME manufacturing experience in lieu of no “teething” issues apparent in the early production runs of the C93. The 7.62x51/.308 Win. C308 is following this same path. The C308 is a blending of CETME and HK G3 surplus parts combined with new U.S. made PTR stamped receiver and barrel. The chevron flash hider derived from Century’s C39 AK series is installed on the 18 inch barrel via 5/8-24 threads generating an overall length of 40 inches. Total weight is 8.5 pounds. Sights are CETME based consisting of a hood protected front post and CETME style rotating leaf aperture rear sight. The C308 comes with an integral rail on the receiver for mounting of optics. The C308 arrives with two 20-round aluminum G3 magazines and one 5-round magazine. CETME magazines will not work with the rifle. This is not a deal breaker as surplus G3 aluminum or steel magazines can be had for $3-$10.

Century is quick to point out that their roller delayed CETME type rifles experienced quality control issues. Some users raved about their CETME rifles while other raged. The issues resided with receiver manufacturing, mixing of CETME and HK surplus parts kits, and headspacing techniques with the roller delayed bolt. Century decided to redo their roller delayed .308 Win. product line up with the C308 taking advantage of a recent find of surplus CETME parts. Stamped receivers from an experienced U.S. manufacturer, PTR, are used and bolts are culled so as to only use actions with standard delayed roller sizes avoiding worn out parts. All of these decisions simplify quality control and produces a better product benefitting consumers.

The C308’s rear stock is easily removed after pushing out two crosspins. The trigger group dropped away easily allowing for unhindered access to the bore for cleaning. The bolt carrier and recoil spring come out of the back of the receiver once the rear stock is removed and trigger pack lowered. The lack of hot gasses dumping into the action translates into a cooler running bolt. It is not untypical to find lubricant on the bolt carrier even if only applying a small amount before a lengthy firing session.

Accuracy with the C308 was more than acceptable with the open sights producing 2-inch groups at 50 yards. A word here is required about the CETME type sights utilized with the Century C308. The front sight requires a CETME tool to rotate for elevation adjustments as an AR type tool will not fit into the hole provided on top of the hooded front post. The front sight is also used for crude windage adjustment as the front sight is off center and placed on top of an eccentric screw; crude and eccentric being the operative words here. There can be no doubt that the Teutonic mind found CETME sights an aberration with the resultant HK rotating diopter sight the result on the G3. The rear sight has no means of elevation or windage adjustment. The rear sight can be rotated for specific target engagement distances marked on the rotating leafs. The C308 tested herein was sighted in for elevation with no issue. However, rounds could be brought no closer than a couple inches left of center at 100 yards. The receiver rail solves this issue for the American market who are similar to the Germans when it comes to the need to finely tune the iron sights on the rifles.

The C308’s receiver rail was taken advantage of by mounting a Leupold VX-R Patrol 1.25-4x20mm with illuminated Firedot SPR reticle. The SPR reticle is designed for instinctive, close-range/low-magnification situations, yet allows shooters to engage targets with greater precision at longer ranges than generally possible with non-magnified red optic optics or other reticle style low powered scope. With the Leupold mounted, properly sighted centered groups measured 2-3 inches at 100 yards with all ammunition tested. 100 rounds of Century’s HotShot Elite 7.62x51 brass cased 146 grain FMJ was tested with the C308 along with Federal, Black Hills, Wolf and Hornady offerings.

Steel cased ammunition was purposely chosen for use in the C308 along with the more traditional brass type. Generally speaking, steel case ammunition leads to problems with AR-10/AR-15 rifles operating reliably, especially as temperatures rise as volume of fire increases, due to steel’s malleability compared to brass interfacing with the chamber walls. The .308 case has minimal body taper. A quick visual comparison to Russian designed 7.62x39 and 5.45x39 cartridges that were designed to use steel cases illustrates this point with their more tapered case walls. The C308’s fluted chamber eliminates the concern of using steel case ammunition. The fluted chamber is incorporated in roller delayed blowback operation method due to the cartridge extraction process beginning almost as soon as the round is fired. A fluted chamber assists in the reliable extraction of an empty case by utilizing flowing gases to “float” in between case and chamber walls weakening the bond between the case and chamber walls enhancing extraction. Spent casings from the C308 are unmistakable due to the distinctive markings the fluted chamber causes.

The Century C308 operating controls differ from the AR, M1A, FN-FAL, and AK platforms that U.S. shooters are more familiar with. The C308 has a non-reciprocating forward cocking handle on the left side of the forearm. The rifle does not have a hold open feature after the last round is fired. Thus, any reloads starting with “click” or malfunction drills start with locking the action back with the cocking handle via a recess, removing magazine, inserting fresh magazine, releasing cocking handle and back into action.

The Century C308 was evaluated at Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC). In conjunction with the individual training bays, Echo Valley Training Center features multi-stepped target berms that are strewn with reactive steel targets, fluid drained automobiles, and moving targets at ranges varying from 150 to 350 yards. The C308 showed its true promise by performing in EVTC’s Jungle Walk Range engaging multiple targets, but also back at the prepared firing position line with targets placed out to 300 yards. Numerous drills were run involving magazine changes and moving between barricades simulating cover. U.S. P.A.L.M. (Primary Armament & Logistical Manufacturing) and High Speed Gear (HSG) accessories
assisted in T&E.

The US Palm Multi-Platform Attack Rack (MPAR) can accommodate up to six 30-round M4 magazines or up to five 20-round .308 magazines or any other combination of magazines and accessories you may need in a chest rig. The Gen 1 evaluated herein accomplished this via removable divider tabs within the general magazine pouch area. The Gen 2 MPAR achieves this flexibility via magazine inserts. There are two adjustable flap magazine/utility tool/mini smoke pouches as well on the MPAR. The large zippered main pouch can accommodate extra magazines or other larger pieces of gear. The bottom of the MPAR allows access to insert a US Palm custom level IIIA soft armor panel if the user desires. The main purpose of the MPAR is as a chest rig. The MPAR has a one-inch adjustable waist strap with dual side releases and two-inch QD shoulder straps. The MPAR is made from 500d Cordura and uses heavy duty YKK zippers. Available colors are Black, Multicam, OD, Ranger Green, Khaki, and Coyote.

HSG features its own patrol belt labeled as Modular Padded Belt System for use with its TACO magazine pouches. It is the one of the slimmest and sturdiest on the market measuring only .75 inches thick and 4.5 inches tall. The feature that makes it stand apart from other patrol belt designs is the use of Neoprene as padding material. The Neoprene adds a unique “gel” feel to the belt while adding a level of grip keeping it secure to user’s hips. The HSG belt has a removable HDPE stiffener sheet through the entire main portion for added stability where the MOLLE rigging is located. There are three access ports located around the belt for the attachment of subloads directly to the interior belt.

The HSG TACO magazine pouch – for rifle or pistol model – is constructed/assembled from a pouch of nylon, bound tight by shock cord, and given structure and retention by a U-shaped piece of polymer plastic. The ingenious combination of these three elements makes for a magazine pouch imminently adaptable while maintaining retention characteristics. The G3 magazines had no problem fitting inside the HSG TACO pouches. The cord and clip arrangement allows a user to expand and contract the shock cord for different magazine sizes. The HSG TACOs are designed in a way to allow for a full grip on a rifle magazine when extracting from the pouch.

The C308’s roller delayed action and other features share a distinguished pedigree. Roughly speaking, only about 60,000 HK91 rifles were imported before the 1989 Ban, less than 50,000 by HK, which causes them to be priced in the $2,500-$4,000 range depending on condition and accessories that arrive with it. (other accounts have this at approximately 250,000 HK91 imported, but the approximately 60,000 amount is verified). Century has done the right thing by stepping up their manufacturing techniques with the C308 in lieu of their first attempt with the CETME. The one tested here proved a very capable rifle as it was reliable and accurate. The use of magnified optics and red dot sights are the standard norm today. Century’s inclusion of a railed receiver easily accommodating optics is a huge plus that puts it in front of its illustrious German predecessor in this department. The economical and plentiful supply of G3 magazines is another plus. G3 magazines cost even less than the ubiquitous AR-15 magazine. The Century C308 will appeal to many by default due to it not being an AR as well as being chambered in the hard hitting .308 Win. thus offering something distinctive in an AR dominated gun culture.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V19N8 (October 2015)
and was posted online on August 21, 2015


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