To say that the AK-pattern rifle was revolutionary when it was first introduced in the late 1940s would be a gross understatement. Following the path of design first blazed by the World War II-era German StG 44, the new AK47 designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov represented the future of assault rifle design. But what made it so significant?
As compared to the long, hard-kicking, full-powered rifles of World War II, the AK was small, handy and offered minimal recoil. It chambered the 7.62x39mm, an intermediate cartridge that offered a balance between the rate of fire of a submachine gun and the power and range of a traditional rifle. The AK was also cheap and easy to produce, being first developed with a stamped-steel receiver later made standard in the 1960s-era AKM upgrade of the design.
However, while it has become easily one of the most iconic military rifles in history, the design is now more than six decades old. And during those decades, competitive designs have employed more modern and innovative materials and configurations. Examples such as Eugene Stoner's AR-15 that employed modern alloys and synthetics and the Steyr AUG with its ultra-short bullpup configuration and quick-change barrel system stood in sharp contrast to the humble, yet extremely effective AK.
Keep Up With the Joneses
During these years, the AK47 did not remain a static design. With the aforementioned AKM modernization of the design in the 1960s (made up of a newly redesigned stamped-steel receiver, overall simplified manufacture and the use of laminated wood in the stock set), the AK was given something of a facelift.
In addition, the adoption of the M16 rifle by the United States and the NATO standardization of its 5.56x45mm cartridge encouraged the Soviets to develop their own high-velocity intermediate cartridge, the 5.45x39mm. The AK was adapted to chamber the new round, and the new variant was adopted in 1974 and dubbed the AK74. However, the new rifle was nothing revolutionary, being mechanically and cosmetically quite similar to the earlier AKM.
Nonetheless, the evolution of the AK-pattern rifle continued into the latter years of the Soviet Union and including the years following its collapse. The basic design was adapted to employ synthetics and in some cases radical reconfigurations. One excellent example is the A91, a bullpup variant of the design produced in the 1990s. However, this variant and other innovative adaptations like it proved to be relatively rare and never made it to the U.S. As a result, traditionally configured AKs remained the norm around most of the world as well as within these shores.
The Short View
Thanks to the efforts of Century International Arms, a major player in the U.S.-legal AK firearms market, a truly innovative adaptation of the basic AK design is available in this country. Dubbed the 1975 AK Bullpup, this offering provides shooters with an ultra-compact 7.62x39mm AK-style rifle housed in a polymer bullpup stock system. The heart of the Century AK Bullpup is the company's GP1975 Sporter, a stamped-steel AK-pattern carbine fitted out with a 16¼-inch threaded-muzzle barrel. Mechanically, the GP1975 is an AKM-style rifle, pure and simple. It features a gas-operated rotating bolt system where dual lugs on the bolt lock into a stressed steel trunnion fitted into the forward portion of the stamped-steel receiver. Gas tapped off a port in the barrel at the gas block drives a long-stroke piston attached to the heavy bolt carrier assembly rearward, cycling the action.
Operationally, the GP1975 should be familiar to anyone who has used an AK-style rifle. Basic and simple is the key. A large combination safety lever/dustcover is located on the right side of the receiver. Sweeping it down takes the rifle off Safe and allows a user to retract the reciprocating charging handle on the bolt carrier to charge the action. This strips a round from the detachable magazine that is held in place by a paddle-style magazine-release lever forward of the triggerguard. Magazines are rocked in from front to back until they lock in place. As with almost all AK-pattern rifles, there is no means of locking the bolt back on an empty magazine.
No Butts About It
While at first glance the AK Bullpup appears completely alien when compared to a standard GP1975, a closer look reveals the Kalashnikov core of the carbine. Key to the design is a variation of the AKU-94 Conversion System from K-Var Corporation that is combined with a basic Century G1975 Sporter. Made of a large number of polymer parts in addition to a steel trigger linkage system and new sight set, the conversion system turns this relatively basic AK into an ultra-short bullpup carbine. And with Century doing all the assembly and fitting work on its end, the user is provided with a complete and ready-to-go bullpup AK right out of the box.
To understand exactly how this Century bullpup is constructed, it might be best to imagine in your mind a stripped AK barreled action. With the rear of the stamped-steel receiver being the rearmost portion of the bullpup, a polymer buttpad assembly is located at the rear of the receiver.
The rear buttstock tang of the receiver projects into the upper portion of the buttpad section, with the retaining screw extending down into the polymer body to fix it in place. The buttpad assembly extends down and under the rear of the receiver and completely covers the original triggerguard, ending just behind the magazine well and the paddle-style magazine-release lever.
With the action placed back into what would normally be the buttstock portion of the rifle, the stamped-steel top cover of the GP1975 Sporter features a polymer cheekpiece that is attached through three screws on its upper face. To create as comfortable a cheekweld as possible, the cheekpiece extends down alongside the left side of the receiver with several molded-in vents.
Of note is the fact that this extension prevents the rifle from having a side-mounted optical rail, as seen on many latter-day AKM-style rifles — which would be a moot point on this rifle anyway, as you could not mount an optic in this position on a bullpup.
At the Forefront
Moving forward of the receiver, we must now consider the portion of the rifle where the upper and lower handguards would normally be located. In the place of a standard lower handguard, the AK Bullpup has a polymer pistol-grip assembly with cooling vents on its upper side portions. Mated up to the assembly is an integral squared triggerguard housing a steel trigger assembly. Joined to the pistol-grip lower, and in place of the standard upper handguard that covers the rear portion of the gas tube of the barrel, is a matching vented polymer upper handguard.
With the pistol-grip portion of the bullpup moved forward of the magazine well and magazine body, the location for the shooter's support hand is now moved forward of the original handguards and is in the area of the gas block and barrel — both locations that will become quite hot very quickly. To remedy this issue, the 1975 AK Bullpup features a vented polymer handguard that cups around the barrel and the gas block/gas tube section of the rifle.
One question that came to mind for me once I first laid eyes on this unique rifle was how it handled the trigger linkage issue — namely, how the new trigger forward of the magazine well links up with and operates the original firing assembly of the rifle behind the magazine well.
The solution is a thin steel linkage rod that extends back from the new steel trigger inside the polymer lower pistol-grip handguard, in through the open front of the stamped-steel receiver and back to the original firing assembly. When you disassemble the rifle and remove the top cover, you can see the rod inside the lower receiver running on the right inner side of the magazine well. As a result, there are no exposed trigger bars or links.
Setting Your Sights
The buttstock of a traditional AK has a relatively good amount of drop when compared to designs such as the AR-15 with its inline stock configuration. As a result, the act of moving the receiver of the AK rearward in this bullpup design results in the AK's original line of sight now being much too low for a cheekweld on the polymer cheekpiece.
The Century 1975 AK Bullpup employs a set of sights that are raised roughly 1½ inches above the original locations. This is accomplished through the use of new rear and front sight assemblies. The rear sight, fitted atop the rear sight block forward of the receiver — in place of the original sliding tangent rear sight assembly — is a sturdy, all-steel unit that is reminiscent of an AR-style rear sight. It features a dual-aperture peep sight and is adjustable for windage. The steel front sight assembly is made up of a tower that features a fully ringed front sight post that is adjustable for elevation. The 1½-inch-tall tower sits on a steel, cylindrical tube that is located within the original wings of the GP1975's front sight base.
While examining the front sight assembly, I noticed an interesting characteristic of the slant brake fitted onto the rifle's threaded muzzle. But to understand what makes it so interesting, I must mention an often-misunderstood quirk of the 7.62x39mm AK.
The slant brake of the AK, featuring a roughly 45-degree-angle face on its front, was designed to help reduce muzzle rise during fully automatic fire. When designing it, Soviet engineers recognized that right-handed shooters had a tendency to pull the rifles up and to the right under recoil. As a result, they designed the brake to have a rotational offset to vent gas at an upward-right angle. Most people who see this think that the brake is installed incorrectly.
An interesting quirk of the U.S.-made brake installed on the Century AK Bullpup is the fact that it features a secondary notch that allows it to be set at an opposing angle for use by a left-hander. Although it is of questionable use in a semiautomatic rifle, it is a thoughtful addition. However, this feature is rather ironically of even more questionable use for southpaws on this bullpup rifle for reasons that will soon be discussed.
I requested a test-sample 1975 AK Bullpup from Century for this assignment and received one shortly thereafter. To be very frank, I was initially skeptical about the quality of fit and finish and the overall sense of completeness the rifle would exhibit considering it was not designed from the ground up as a bullpup.
These concerns disappeared once I opened the box. Upon handling, the AK Bullpup struck me as a solidly put-together and well-designed adaptation. The conversion stock assembly was solid and stable, and the rifle just simply exuded quality. The handling characteristics were also surprisingly good, with it shouldering well and exhibiting a relatively small amount of the butt-heaviness so common in bullpups. It sat well on the shoulder, and the sights were quite good.
I noted that the polymer pistol grip was particularly comfortable, featuring a generous, yet comfortable grip circumference with molded-in finger grooves. However, when I removed the magazine and rocked it forward as is required with an AK, I noted that there was very little clearance between it and the rear lower face of the pistol grip. I suspect that under stress it could be difficult to reload the rifle.
Getting Behind (and Forward of) the Trigger
I took out the 1975 AK Bullpup with a selection of American Eagle, Winchester and Wolf ammunition. Once I was set up at the bench, I started testing. As this rifle is a bullpup design, the ejection port is located in the buttstock portion of the rifle, and it should only be fired from the right shoulder. This was of particular interest to me as a southpaw, and it was the source of irony over the fact that the slant brake can be adjusted for left-hand use. Although I am a southpaw, I shot this rifle from the right shoulder.
As is common with bullpups, the trigger pull was quite poor. Weighing in at 10½ pounds, it was long, gritty and extremely heavy. This is no doubt due to the necessity of the long linkage bar connecting the new trigger to the rifle's original trigger. In addition, I noted that the triggerguard was a tad on the small side, allowing very little room between the trigger and the front, inside face of the triggerguard. Also, the location of the new triggerguard right under the barrel caused the area to get quite hot after a magazine of rounds was fired through the rifle.
However, despite these quirks, the 1975 AK Bullup proved to be surprisingly comfortable to shoot. Recoil was mild, and muzzle rise was almost non-existent. The polymer cheekpiece was comfortable, allowing me to get a good cheekweld, and the sights proved to be quite good. The balance was incredible, and the pistol grip was comfortable and hand filling. Despite the difficult trigger, the 1975 AK Bullpup proved to be very accurate. There were no malfunctions during the testing, with the rifle performing like the best of many bullpups.
For those looking for a Kalashnikov-style rifle with a unique and modern twist, the 1975 AK Bullpup from Century Arms International should definitely fill the bill. With a reasonable price, good quality, reliable performance and dependable accuracy, this one should be hard to pass up.