Retro CAR-bine

Dan Rogersby Dan Rogers
Guns and Gunsmiths Contributor

A few months back I wrote an article on a retro AR project where I set out to replicate the M16A1 rifle my dad carried in the Army. In doing so I seem to have opened a can of worms. The project made me debate a retro carbine project. My dad occasionally carried a CAR15, hence the spelling of my title. CAR15 was a catch all term that applied to carbines the military carried before the M4 existed. Since my dad’s carbine was a 10.5-inch barreled carbine, I shelved the project not wanting to obtain the tax stamp needed for the SBR. However; about three months ago my wife brought home a shiny new gunzine for me. I suppose I had been well behaved enough for her to bring me a treat from her outing to the bookstore. On the cover was at what first glance seemed to be an M4 carbine. Closer inspection of the photo revealed something a bit more unique than your standard M4. It seemed eerily familiar with its A1 lower, C7 receiver, XM style stock, and M4 contoured barrel.

I read the article and figured out the firearm was a Colt 723 carbine replica. This carbine was one of the stepping stones in the long line of succession from the earliest carbines to the M4s we know today. I have four of them in a photo below for a little clarification. These four are probably the closest to the M4 we know and love today. Starting with the 653 and 654 and spanning to the 727. The 653 and 654 I believe were the last of the all A1 component carbines, and the 727 is virtually a dead ringer for the M4. The 723 falls somewhere in the middle and uses a unique C7 receiver. A C7 receiver is basically an A1 with a shell deflector. I think they have a really unique look combined with the M4 barrel. The 723 is the carbine I remember from photos of special forces guys in different operations spanning the globe from places like Panama, Somalia, and Iraq. After realizing this I knew I had to have one, but my word did this particular company want a lot of money for them!

I thought surely, I can build this thing, and I knew just where to turn. I immediately emailed my buddy Patrick at TNTE Sales. I knew he would know way more about them than I. He informed me that Top Notch Top Ends was going through some changes in their product line. In an effort to find their niche, they were gearing up to offer all retro and mil spec AR parts and uppers. They had already begun the process of lining up different suppliers for specific parts, so my timing on the project was impeccable. After discussing the carbine specs, we found one of their uppers, that will be available after the first of the year, was a dead ringer. They call it an XM4 upper, and it is built on a C7 receiver with a 14.7 inch 1:7 twist barrel that is pinned and welded to satisfy minimum length requirements. Patrick agreed to allow me to buy one of these uppers before its actual release. Along with this I ordered everything I needed to assemble the rest of the rifle.

The C7 Receiver.

I obtained a lower receiver from McKay enterprises, because NoDak Spud receivers were on back order. My lower parts and stock all came from TNTE Sales. I went with TNTE’s polymer XM stock. I have always been a fan of the XM stock because it simply looks “cooler”. I like the TNTE version of it so much that I put one on my M4! The poly stock costs something like $70, but it comes with the extension housing (tube), spring, buffer, end plate, castle nut, and stock. I think that deal is really hard to beat. The tolerances on the tube and stock are incredibly tight. Anyone who has handled either my M4 or this 723 remarks on how well the stock fits.

Apparently, Santa came early for me this year, and I am beyond pleased with how well the carbine turned out. I assembled my lower and popped on the upper. After function checks and some trigger tuning (AGI 335DVD if you need to know how-to) I rigged up a sling and mounted my scope. I used an old M16 sling and some 550 to rig what is sometimes called a silent sling. I only had my dad’s photos to go by and would welcome any critiques from you vets out there who know how to rig them. The scope is a Barska replica of the old Colt scopes of the era. I know most Delta guys used red dots, but I personally prefer a scope over a red dot, and one like this would have been in military inventory at the time.

The finished project. Nice!

Now the true test remained. How does it shoot? I decided on zeroing the irons at 50yds and my scope at 100yds. I made a REALLY quick range trip and was shocked at how well the little carbine shot. All I had on hand was some surplus Israeli 55gr FMJ and 77gr BTHP ammo. After zeroing I fired a .222” center to center 50 yard group with the 55gr FMJs. Moving out to 100yds with the aid of the 4×20 scope the carbine printed a .721” center to center group with the 55gr and an impressive .550” center to center shot group with the 77gr. All are 3 shot groups off a front bag only. Surprisingly the point of impact difference between the 55gr and 77gr at 100 yds was only 2 inches of elevation. The 55gr impacts centered but 2 inches higher than the 77gr. As always, your mileage may vary, but I was pleasantly surprised to say the very least.

This was a fun little assembly gig, and is most certainly a unique piece of black rifle history. If you would like to get your hands on one, they will be available after the first of the year through You can go to their site and click on the retro uppers in the categories column and see a whole host of different options ranging from A1 to A2 carbines and rifles of all sorts. If you do not see a combination you like, then you can buy the C7 upper with rear sight and dust cover and assemble what you want. You can have it your way and not have to worry about the 20 minutes of windage built in to some of the old receivers. All of TNTE’s retro receivers play just fine with new production parts vastly streamlining the assembly process whether they do it or you do. Either way you go I don’t think you can go wrong. They offer a quality product built by knowledgeable people who love what they do. I wonder what they will crank out next.

CSM Mike Vining (a highly decorated Delta Force operator) escorting General Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm.

9 Responses to Retro CAR-bine

  1. WOW! AWESOME article Dan! Really enjoyed it. Gun looks awesome too!

    Love the range ballistic reports too – always great to hear other’s results and reports!

    The fellow to the right of the General (General’s right) looks like Glen Boodry. Would you know if it is him or not Dan?

    Best wishes to you during the Holiday season. Hope the holidays continue to be good to you like early Christmas was.
    Cheers Dan

    • As for the guy to his right, your guess is as good as mine, Dana. I believe there were jokes at the time about the “nerd in the glasses”. That’s no nerd for sure! CSM Mike Vining had a long and distinguished career with the Army from 1968-1999 if I’m not mistaken. His career spanned the gamut from EOD in Vietnam to the newly formed Delta Force in ’78 all the way to service with the JSOC near the end of his career. Most certainly not someone I would risk challenging despite his unassuming appearance!

      Larry Vickers of Vickers Tactical was also a Delta Operator and carried a carbine like this. He has an article here: if you’re interested. I always thought those carbines looked really cool. Maybe I played too many Delta Force and Rainbow Six video games when I was a kid, but I had to piece one together!

      Thanks for your interest and kind words as always, Dana! Stay warm!

  2. Try coming up with XM-16 parts and the short barrel. 11.5 with a flash hider. The XM & the CAR are similar depending which branch you served in. My XM has the 5″ flash hider to keep it counter top legal, but over there legal requirements were NOT needed. It’s only 100 yd capable but in the jungle you didn’t shoot that far anyway. Remember in those days there were only 4 lands and grooves. If you plan on going complete retro or are you going for show and brag.???

  3. Question For Gunny— Everybody talking about updating and going to new model weapons. Like the XM2010 plateform… Why not use the old M1919 BAR and rechamber it for a .300 win mag. Maybe I’m Stupid. But everybody is in a Hub Bub about this new crap. The BAR is a tried and true weapon and with a little rechambering, I think would be a good shoulder weapon for the price… Comments Gunny? You have my email and congrats on new movie…..

    • There’s more to it than just adapting the M1919 to the .300 Win. Magnum, which is probably not a trivial project by itself. Remember, the M1919 was designed to be built with the manufacturing techniques and materials of the early 20th Century. We’d be better off to start with a design that took advantage of modern materials and methods. Done properly, you end up with a better product that’s less expensive to boot.

      • Most certainly agree. It would be an undertaking for sure! Plus it’s a lot of extra heat and pressure compared to the standard LMG and crew serve weapon’s calibers. There most certainly is a reason we went from the longer cartridges (30-06) to shorter ones (308, 223 and the like) for these applications. There were quite a few lessons learned from the MG42 and it’s shorter cartridge.

  4. I have an original Colt scope from the 70’s on my original AR-15 (no A-1 or anything) just plain old AR-15. I wonder what the scope is worth these days.

  5. Ken, I’m not sure which carbine you are referencing. Is it an Air Force carbine? they had one called the GAU 5. Air Force carbines in general are the most difficult to identify and replicate because they had so many different flavors because they had an affinity for rebuilding them so much. This led to some serious cobbling of parts resulting in what I like to call Franken-rifles (after Frankenstein not that Senator fella in the news). is an excellent resource on vintage black rifles and carbines.

    Lew,TNTE may can help you with some of those parts. They have quite a few barrels and different versions of the flash hider/moderator the early XM carbines wore. A 300 BAR?!?! Hmmm could we call that a long trac BAR, or is that term already trademarked?

    JD, I’m not sure of the going rate on those scopes these days. Some people think just because it says Colt it’s automatically worth a ton. There were actually to my knowledge 4 versions of that scope. 1 made in the USA (and if it was it says so right under the Colt logo), and 3 other versions made in Japan. These have nothing written under the colt logo and the lettering is different depending on the year it was made. In addition to the condition of the scope I would think it’s country and date of manufacture would sway the value. I do not however know how to quantify that value. I saw them ranging from $200-$700 dollars when I was looking for this carbine and decided the $67 Barska was close nuf for me and my purposes. Spend the savings on ammo!

    Thanks for the comments, guys. And for the interest! Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas.