Friday, January 17, 2014

Initial Impressions of the Mechtech CCU

I’ve had my sights on the Mechtech CCU for almost as long as I’ve wanted a pistol caliber carbine. Last week I finally took delivery of said unit. The following are my initial impressions after one range trip, 50 rounds, and a lot of research. A full review will follow after I’ve had some time to truly take the beast’s measure.

The Mechtech CCU, carbine conversion unit, takes a 1911 or glock handgun with the slide and barrel removed and turns it into a compact carbine. It does this by mounting the pistol lower on rails such that the pistol’s magazine feeds the carbine’s chamber while the trigger and hammer act as the firing group. The 1911 slide stop Engages a cutout in the receiver locking the lower in place. You can buy the base unit for $350 and upgrade it with all manner of rails, sights, stocks, bipods, and tac-ti-cool gadgetry. One of the advantages to this set up is that the CCU isn’t considered a firearm until the pistol lower is installed; so you can have the unit shipped to your front door instead of going through a FFL. Another advantage is that as long as your action and magazines will accommodate the switch, you can mount any caliber upper on your lower frame…i.e. you can mount a 10mm 1911 upper on a .45acp lower as long as you have the appropriate magazine and extractor.

After a few email exchanges, I called Robin at Mechtech on 12/31. We reviewed my needs and decided on a 1911 version with folding sights, 3 slot riser for a red dot optic, quad rail, and a telescoping stock. She had the unit fedexed and in my hand a week later, though FedEx delivered it to the wrong address. Ever want to freak out? Have a major firearms accessory delivered to someone you don’t know and then get a call from a random person at work asking what you want to do with it. That-was-not-a-good-day. At last, after much drama, I had the unit in hand…and what a unit.

The CCU came in a standard top-folding shipping container swaddled in foam. The folding sights and riser came in blister packaging along with a basic manual—no other frills or flash. My first thought upon removing the unit was that this thing is small. My second was this thing is heavy. The entire CCU is made of steel and aluminum—mostly steel. It feels like a cross between the rail-centric AR15 and the compressed design of the MP5. The telescoping stock is composed of two steel rods joined by a piece of hard rubber at the shoulder. The rods are notched at regular intervals so the user can adjust length of pull. The notches slot into a spring loaded housing on the rear of the receiver. This design allows the user to adjust the CCU’s length of pull between a compressed 26 inches up to a little over 3 feet. At first I worried that the stock was too flimsy, but it has held up fine so far. The bolt can be pushed in to lock the action, though it’s not what I’d call a firm lock.

I haven’t done a lot of dedicated accessory mounting. Most of my gear mounts directly to rails and needs no special adjustment. The CCU is clearly designed to mimic the layout on an AR15 including the option to mount an adapter for compatible stocks such as those made by Troy and Magpull. The flip up UTG sights took a few minutes for me to figure out. After I got them up and running, I attached a Lucid M7 to the riser and locked it down on the top rail.

Two days later, with sight mounted and accessories ready to rock, I found an issue. While making my original order, it was suggested that I might want a foregrip. I dismissed the idea since I’m used to shooting my lever and bolt actions without a foregrip. Even with the supplied rail covers the weight of the gun made the grip uncomfortable. So I continued with the UTG theme and bought their largest aluminum QD foregrip. That worthy fixed the problem but was far larger than the CCU required.—it looked like I was trying to load the carbine on a crew served mount. At this point I just wanted to get it to the range so I figured I’d try it out before shopping for something else.

Monday, Corc, Cherylkat, and I finally got the CCU to the range. Careful reading of the preceding will show one glaring problem with my plan. Until Monday, I had never disassembled a 1911, much less mounted one on a Mechtech unit. I’d read how it was done, but I’m not so confident in my own skills that I’m willing to risk permanently damaging one of JMB’s finest. So I had the range guy walk me through the process. We got the 1911 taken down and the frame mounted on the CCU. Side note, I love shooting 1911s, but I’m really glad I didn’t try that at home—bad things would have happened.

I loaded a magazine with three rounds of Federal ball, raised the carbine, got sighted in, and pulled the trigger. “Click.” Drop mag, clear chamber, dry fire, re load, chamber round, aim, and “click”…sigh. The range officer and I went over the unit and found that the pistol lower hadn’t been pushed far enough forward for the firing mechanism to engage the chamber. It’s a testament to how tightly the CCU fits that I thought the lower was locked in when it was actually free-floating on the rails. We re-positioned the unit; made sure everything was aligned, and couldn’t get the bolt to close. I figured out the problem after a few minutes of tinkering. The pistol hadn’t worn in yet and needed to be pushed slightly down and forward, releasing the bolt. After that it worked fine. The bolt locked back occasionally if cycled manually but always released with negligible forward pressure on the pistol lower from the shooting hand.

So…raise carbine, get on target, breathe, and squeeze trigger…and boom. The CCU cycles with an audible and tactile “chunk” as the heavy bolt returns to battery. There is a slight residual thrumming as the stock vibrates. Recoil is perceptible but very mild—more than I expected but very light. The next shot is more of the same. At this point I was just happy the unit worked. A break in period is to be expected but somehow I always seem to pick the guns that come with an extra helping of drama. After a full magazine firing without issues I was beginning to relax and enjoy the experience.

Next up we needed to sight in the M7. Corc took 3 shots at 75 feet and got a nice 2 inch grouping low and to the left. It took a few more tries but we got the lucid sighted in. Then Corc began boring out the center of the target.

The three of us took turns shooting five shot strings. I liked the stock completely compressed while Corc and Cherylkat preferred it lengthened a bit. Actually Corc said the stock didn’t extend far enough but he’s weird and tall and stuff. Even with the 3 MOA red dot, the carbine consistently grouped under two inches. The CCU felt solid in the hands and pointed easily, though due to its weight it wasn’t as lively as some of its plastic peers. I got a real kick out of the chunk sound the action made cycling the bolt. It was viscerally satisfying. The carbine fed, fired, and extracted all 50 rounds flawlessly. The afore mentioned bolt lock issue never occurred while the gun was firing, only during manual cycling.

With some trigger time under my belt I have some issues with the CCU. They didn’t detract from a generally positive impression, but there are some improvements I’d like to see on the basic design.

1. There is no safety. The manual says that a 1911 with the standard series 70 GI thumb breaker will function on the CCU but not the extended or ambidextrous variants. The grip safety and series 80 firing pin block work as normal, so there is a certain degree of precaution built in. Carrying a pistol in condition-1 in a holster that covers the trigger guard is one thing. Carrying a carbine with hammer cocked and no manual safety lever just doesn’t sit well with me. The thumb safety on my 1911G is a small extended model nothing like the over sized monster on my Colt Gold Cup. Even so it wouldn’t engage—the flare of the receiver blocked it. Extended thumb safeties are common place in the current market. I’d really like to see the design modified to accommodate this feature or have a dedicated safety permanently built into the unit.

2. You can lock the CCU’s bolt back by retracting the bolt handle over a cut out in the receiver and pushing the knob in. The knob then engages the cut out and the bolt is locked. I’m not comfortable with this arrangement especially with the weight of the CCU’s bolt. Once locked, the bolt never managed to unlock itself. That said, there are several things that require a user to access the chamber or lock the bolt back—checking the chamber, assembling or removing the pistol lower, lubricating the mechanism, cleaning, clearing obstructions…etc. The gun needs a dedicated bolt lock—something more secure than positive pressure. Anyone who works the action will understand my concern. The action is very substantial to accommodate the higher pressures generated in the 16inch stainless steel barrel. The larger weight keeps the bolt from extracting the spent brass until the chamber is clear. This is not something you want compressing your fingers—trust me.

3. I really wanted this gun to have a longer bolt handle—something 1.5 to 2 inches long, a steel cylinder—something easy to get a grip on. The current design is a circle of metal with the edges bent out slightly like a jacket button. It’s solid, but gives little purchase. I often wished for something with a little more positive tactile engagement to offset the weight of the bolt and recoil spring.

4. The one real issue I have with the CCU is takedown. Basically, don’t do it unless you’re very sure of yourself or you have no other choice. Full disassembly requires complete removal of the quad rail, 8 screws, the barrel and the bolt. You’re going to have to dismount all your accessories and remove a bunch of fiddly bits to be able to get at the bolt. I don’t care about removing the barrel, but this design, especially when burning dirty .45 GI. Ball has to be cleaned well. It would be much easier to maintain the unit if I could remove the bolt without resorting to what for me are extreme measures. I don’t like removing screws unless absolutely required. Doing so risks stripping the threads, bending the shaft, warping the sleeves, or installing the wrong screw in the wrong hole—especially in my fumble-fingered clutches. Adding an easy bolt removal option would make the platform much more enjoyable.

In conclusion, I really like the CCU. Being a pistol caliber carbine it has some obvious limitations. Even so, it’s tons of fun and very versatile. By the end of the evening, the range officer was talking about getting one, my friend was discussing theoretical glock builds, and I was considering a long-term .460 Roland project. The real value in the CCU concept is not that it’s a pistol caliber carbine. It is that one can take an otherwise limited pistol and convert it to a compact unit at a minimal cost. The flexibility is as attractive as the function. More later in the full review.

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