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My Saturday Night Special

August 16, 2010

The internet is incredible. You can find information on anything — obsolete computers, offerings from the 1974 Sears Wish Book, episodes of “The Phoenix” starring Judson Scott. Of course, the ‘net is a treasure trove of data on firearms — save one: the Excam RX-38. This is the story of how one came to be in my possession — my “Saturday Night Special.”

I acquired my RX-38 soon after I bought my first gun. After purchasing the .380 for home protection, I realized I liked shooting — the action of the slide, the kick of the recoil, the technique of re-acquiring the target for the next shot — and that I wanted another gun. A friend of mine called gun collecting “a sickness.” By that he meant it consumed you in the same way other kinds of manias do. I have to say I agree with him. There are so many calibers, body styles, actions… but I digress.

I quickly found Gunbroker and rashly bid on a Smith & Wesson Model 10, which I won. It arrived in fantastic shape. I admired the workmanship, the flush fit of the crane, the firmness of the trigger… (someone please stop me!) Anyhow, I really wanted a concealed carry piece, but I was beginning to exhaust our gun budget (which was $0.00). My wife was starting to think of me as a “gun nut.”

Then I saw an Excam RX-38 on Gunbroker. It was a standard-looking snubnose revolver with a 2” barrel. I did some research on it, but found nothing — it’s as if the gun never existed. The pictures looked promising, plus the seller lived within driving distance. The best part was the price: $95.00. I bit and drove out into the sticks to take it off a pleasant mountain man who was down on his luck.

I now had my “pocket gun” to justify my concealed carry permit. But it wasn’t perfect. For starters, this gun is heavy. According to the manual, it weighs 23 ounces unloaded, but it feels like a cinder block in the pocket. It does hold six .38 SP rounds (no +P ammo, though), which makes it adequate for self-defense, but I started to have my doubts. For one thing, loading it is difficult. Rather than a swing-out cylinder, you pull out the axle, then pop out the cylinder — not exactly a quick operation. And while it’s heavy as a brick, it’s obviously made of pot metal, although the barrel and cylinder are steel (the hammer and trigger may be, also). A trip to the range proved it shot well enough. In fact, it was very accurate for a gun with rifling I can barely see.

Even though I had paid less than $100 for it, I didn’t really like it. I did know Excam was a “junk gun” importer, distributing .22s and .25s one could buy at K-Mart or hardware stores. Some larger bore Excams were made by the Tanfoglio family, who now make the excellent Witness pistols. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling I had an albatross on my hands. I took the RX-38 to the gun store to see about a trade. The fellow took one look at it and laughed. He twisted the barrel and almost unscrewed it right then and there, then simply said this gun “needed to go away.” Almost out of embarrassment (and because it was a good excuse), I bought a Kel-Tec P3AT to replace the RX-38 as my EDC gun.

Never one to give up, I tried a pawn shop next. The owner muttered something about my “Saturday Night Special” and politely declined. He even looked up the value of the gun in his big book. Back in the 1980s, when the gun was being imported from Germany, it sold for — are you ready? — $95.00. The year was 2010, so allowing for twenty years of inflation, I had overpaid. At least the thing had never been fired.

I still have my Excam RX-38, and have grown to appreciate its virtues.  For one, the timing isn’t bad, provided you push the axle back into place properly. It has some play in the cylinder, but it’s no more than what you get on a Taurus or Charter (it’s a lot more than what I have on my Smith, which is none). Another “virtue” is the odd witness hole that lets you see if the next chamber up is loaded. It’s a sort of half-virtue because on a revolver, seeing the chamber is loaded doesn’t tell you whether it’s loaded with a live round or a spent casing. For that, you have to get in front of the gun — not an advisable move. The best virtue is that I don’t care what happens to it. I keep it in my studio, which gets nasty and dirty.

My RX-38 has taught me another thing — it’s better to save up for a gun I really like than go for price. That’s not saying cheap is all bad (read Massad Ayoob’s excellent article on cheap guns here). In fact, if I ever had a friend who needed a gun, I would feel fine giving her this one. But part of the experience of collecting guns is the pleasure of holding a work of art in your hand and enjoying the mechanics of it — the even finish, the fit of the components, the snick of the action locking into battery… Let’s face it, nothing beats the joy of a precision-made firearm.

However, if you want a clunky yet reliable Saturday Night Special, I might have just the gun for you.

Update: An hour ago, I traded my Excam for a 12 ga Mossberg shotgun with an extended magazine tube. Yeah, I wish. It also took a 20 ga Mossberg and $100, which made the take on the RX-38 $50. The fellow at the gun shop kept shaking his head, muttering “I’m gonna get burned on this.” I plan on visiting the store again and seeing how well my Saturday Night Special moves. Stay tuned…


From → Firearms

One Comment
  1. Will permalink

    I appreciated your article on this gun. I purchased mine with nearly the same amount of info as you had; close to none.

    As with your .380 for home defense, I have a .41 Mag that I keep in the house. When I saw my RX-38 under the glass at a local pawn shop I knew that it would be the perfect mid caliber gun for my wife to start learning on, so I purchased it mainly for her only for $5 more than yours, likewise in good condition.

    I got it home and out to the range and it handled very well for a little off brand snub nose, with better accuracy than I thought it would have.

    When I finally was able to research it a bit I was disappointed at the fact that so many people turn their nose up at this piece. I understand it’s not a S&W, but for the price and what it is, it’s a fun gun to be able to take out and practice with.

    My wife and I love the gun and have a lot of fun playing with it!


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