Photos by Jill Marlow
With the end of World War II, all of the research and efforts that had been turned towards the conflict had to find a place to go. Peacetime created new challenges and the inventors, tinkerers and entrepreneurs were ready to take them on headfirst. Things such as television, which were developed prior to hostilities, finally came into its own. Other innovations, such as computers and radar, were successfully being domesticated.
A plethora of new products emerged. Some went from strength to strength. Others, such as Ford’s Edsel, despite having some worthy aspects, were colossal flops. The firearm industry was not without its ups and downs, too. Two handguns stand out as exemplars in the down category: the space-age Gyrojet, which fired Hale-style mini rocket projectiles, and the subject of this piece — the Dardick, an eccentric experiment.
While special in many respects, the Dardick had basic design flaws that doomed it to failure. Also, it might have fared a bit better if it hadn’t looked so much like a Buck Rogers’ ray gun, but perhaps not.
The system was designed by David Dardick, a friend and colleague of Melvin Johnson, inventor of the Model 1941 Johnson semiautomatic rifle. Work on the piece began in the late 1940s and it wasn’t until September 1954 when patent papers for the so-termed “Open Chamber Gun” were duly filed. A patent was granted in August 1958.
A Shapely Idea
The Dardick was unlike any other firearm ever seen. At the heart of the mechanism resided a three-cavity cylinder with, as delineated in the patent, “open chambers” of triangular cross-section conformed to accommodate plastic-cased, triangular-round, i.e., “tround,” cartridges of similar shape. (More on trounds later.) These were fed into the cylinder by means of an integral, spring-loaded, grip-enclosed fixed magazine.
The revolver, because of the nature of the mechanism, was oddly configured and protected by a bulbous, aluminum-alloy clamshell held together by Allen screws that also protected an intricately machined, steel receiver and works. A stark, nontapered barrel, crowned with a front sight approximately the dimension and shape of a moderately-sized axe blade, jutted unapologetically from the amorphous frame. This effectively prevented the gun from maintaining any pretense of grace.
A Japanese, large-style, Type-14-shaped triggerguard projected forward from the action. The gun’s thick, rectangular grip owed its size to the magazine housing. Its mass depended almost vestigially from the frame. There’s no question that the contrivance had style of sorts, but of a kind never before seen on a handgun.
Still, the piece exhibited some intriguing and downright clever features. Unlike most solid-frame revolvers that had loading gates at the rear of the cylinder, the Dardick’s was positioned on the right side of the frame. Spring loaded, it automatically opened when a button at the rear of its housing was pushed downward. This exposed the magazine and its plastic follower.
Ammunition was loaded in a manner similar to that employed in a standard semiautomatic pistol by pushing one round in on top of the other. The line of cartridges snaked around the grip, under tension, allowing the revolver to have a considerably larger capacity than more traditional revolvers. Capacity was standardized at 11 in the Model 1100 and 15 in the Model 1500.
Dardicks were built to be multi-caliber. One gun could easily be altered to fire either .38 centerfire rounds or .22 rimfire. The barrels were changed out by simply turning a screw in front of the frame which allowed a pair of rounded flanges to slip in or out of mating grooves on the barrel.
A safety lug on the .22 barrel prevented one from firing .38 ammo when the smaller caliber barrel was installed. Another screw on the frame, just below the rear sight, could be rotated 180 degrees to alter the firing pin position to discharge rimfire or centerfire, as needed. Because of the gun’s odd shape, the hammer was lowered and had a drooping spur to ease thumb-cocking.
The rear sight was particularly clever in that it incorporated a pair of small wheels allowing the square-notch blade to be easily adjusted for elevation and windage. On the right side of the action, above the loading port, an elongated window permitted the shooter to see if a round was actually in the firing position. It might be noted, that as the Dardick employed the open chamber, trounds were held in firing position laterally by the chamber itself and uppermost by being buttressed against the inner portion of the steel receiver’s topstrap.
Of course, all these elaborate mechanics relied upon the efficacy of the triangle-shaped round. The tround cartridge available as loaded rounds in .38 and .30 caliber still exist, but I’ve never seen a barrel for a .30 caliber, nor promotion of this load by the company. An adapter for .22LR was made from very 1950s’-chic, pastel-colored plastic.
Trounds were configured to conform to the inside of the chamber, permitting the round to remain in position for firing and subsequent ejection out of a large port on the right side of the action. To shoot the piece, one simply loaded the magazine and then pulled the trigger. This rotated the cylinder, properly positioning a tround. The next pull ejected the first case and fired the next round. The hammer employed an automatic rebounding safety.
Because the cylinder has only three chambers, the hand required to rotate the cylinder had to be longer and more intricately designed to maintain a reasonable trigger pull. This resulted in the loss of mechanical advantage over that of a more traditional-style six-shooter, which requires a much shorter hand throw. Herein lurked one of the gun’s major problems, a less-than-effective double-action (DA) trigger pull.
Still, Dardick felt confident enough with his brainchild to form the Dardick Corporation, the logo of which is emblazoned on both sides of the revolver’s grip. Production began in 1958 with the guns sold in handsome boxes. An optional “Switch-Hitter” rifle assembly was also offered, which allowed the shooter to turn the handgun into a carbine by removing the shorter barrel, sliding the gun up into an aluminum housing and fixing it to the rifle barrel. Despite the revolvers’ odd look, they balanced reasonably well and were not uncomfortable to grip.
The Model 1100 measured 7 inches overall and weighed 31 ounces. The Model 1500 came in at 9 inches and 35 ounces. Finish was blue and grips were brown, checkered plastic.
Despite receiving a considerable amount of press (mostly based on the gun’s novelty value), the Dardick fell flat. To begin with, it was expensive at almost $100 a throw, which was about $20 to $30 more than the price of a loosely comparable standard model, a conventional Colt or a DA from Smith & Wesson. It could only be fired with proprietary trounds, and users found the piece quirky and not particularly reliable.
After a year, it was all over. In 1960, the Dardick was taken off the market and the remaining components were sold to the Numrich Arms Corportion. (Note, Numrich Gun Parts Corporation still sells Dardick parts at gunpartscorp.com). It is estimated that no more than between 50 and 100 completed Dardick revolvers were manufactured.
David Dardick was not finished as a designer. He also came up with a .50-caliber salvo tround-charged machinegun that was tested by the Naval Weapons Station (NWS) at China Lake, California. Firing ball ammo, explosive rounds and flechettes, the machine gun performed reasonably well and garnered favorable reviews. It was ultimately not considered for adoption.
Dardick did have some success with the “Terra-drill” that employed a tround loaded with three ceramic projectiles which, when fired into rock, etched the surface and allowed a drill bit to get a proper purchase.
Thanks to our good friends at Pinto’s Gun Shop (pintosguns.com), I was able to borrow a prototype Dardick revolver obtained from the estate of a gun designer who worked for Hi-Standard and Dardick. The gun was similar to the 1100, though with a 6-inch barrel, which was more commonly seen on the 1500. The 1100 originally sported a 4-inch barrel.
Pinto’s had some aluminum adapters made to allow the revolver to be fired with .38 Special ammunition. Original trounds sell for a good bit on the collector’s market, and experience has shown that the original ammo is not all that reliable. Over the years, the plastic has warped and causes feeding and firing problems.
After some false starts, I ferreted out some vintage Winchester 146-grain midrange target ammo that functioned fairly well in the revolver. Still there were problems. Feeding from the magazine was hopeless as rounds generally either jammed in the cylinder or fell out when one opened the loading gate to correct a stoppage. Still, after some effort, it was possible to get a number of loads to function properly. When they did, the gun was a lot of fun.
Accuracy wasn’t too bad when shooting off-hand at 20 feet; groups came in at an average of 3¼ inches. Our best group measured 2¼ inches. Spreads were in no way improved by the gun’s tendency to erratically misfire. The DA trigger pull, which was long and iffy, also didn’t help group sizes much.
The Dardick is unquestionably in the top echelon of firearm curiosities. After working with one, I must admit a certain amount of respect for some of its features, if not for the whole. I suppose the sheer audacity of the concept is to be admired, if nothing else.