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Thread: Vanguard History Part 2

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    USA, North Carolina, Franklin

    Default Vanguard History Part 2

    The Vanguard was marketed as "The Weatherby for Standard Calibers", or "An Affordable Weatherby". For Roy Weatherby to decide to take the Howa Golden Bear and make it the economy grade Weatherby must have taken some soul searching.
    Not that the Golden Bear was a bad rifle. Indeed the excellent quality of workmanship must have helped convince Roy Weatherby to take the production of the flagship Mark V to Howa. But the Vanguard went against everything that Weatherby had worked toward. Beginning in the 1940's, the seminal characteristics of a Weatherby rifle were high quality, often decorated, polished blue metal surfaces, high gloss finish, contrasting wood inlays, grip caps, white lines, high combs, deluxe grade wood, and angle cut fore-end caps. When he and Fred Jennie completed work on a massive multi-lugged action, the perfect vessel for the other thing that characterized Weatherby rifles was ready. The other thing was the Weatherby power. That power took the form of wildcatter Roy Weatherby's blown out H&H based cartridges. Huge case capacity along with little body taper and an unusual venturi shoulder made for high velocities and a healthy diet for slow burning powders. The story has been often told of how Roy Weatherby had a hunting failure which was attributed to the lack of performance of America's favorite 30-06. In the southern California area, the work of two cartridge experimenters, Powell and Miller, gave Roy the idea of making a more potent type of cartridge for hunting. The rest is history.
    The Vanguard changed all of that. Not only did it come in standard calibers, but even when it came in magnum calibers they were not Weatherby magnum calibers. Writers of the day speculated that Roy Weatherby saw the Mark V as the ideal vehicle for his high powered cartridges, and not the Vanguard.
    The idea of Weatherby making an economy rifle was also a bit like Ferrari building a Corolla. In spite of that, the Vannie was an attractive thing. I remember looking at ad copy of the early seventies and lusting after a glossy beauty displayed on a polar bear rug. No blonde haired young vixen could have looked any better on that rug. Alas most of my money in those days was spent on lunches at school and the occasional soda.
    So, what did the first Vanguards look like? According to what data I could find the first rifle for sale bore the number 0011. Earlier serials are around, but you may have to look in Weatherby's vaults to find them. I found a picture in one of Weatherby's early owner's manuals of a rifle marked W0002. Here is what those early rifles looked like.
    The bolts were unfluted. Stocks were high gloss walnut with cut checkering of rather average quality. Rosewood angled fore-end caps and grip caps with white line spacers. Barrels were free floated with a small rectangular bedding pad behind the fore-end cap. The trigger guards were pointed on the bottoms unlike todays Vanguard. The Sako style dovetail receiver top was gone. Front and rear receiver bridges were drilled and tapped instead of taking the Sako style rings of the Golden Bear. The rifle had no safety lug like a Sako. The third (safety) lug was a hold-over from the old model 98 Mauser. It never was a bearing lug, unless a massive failure allowed the front lugs to set back enough to allow it to bear. The guilde rib rode in the right hand lug raceway of the Vanguard very much like the Sako. It was hold on to the bolt body by two soft steel collars, again something like the long extractor is held on by its single collar in a model 98. The guide rib actually took the place of the long Mauser extractor as an anti-bind feature to keep the bolt from cramping in its travel. A cut in the right hand locking lug in today's Howa rifles rides on the right receiver rail to serve the same function. The right bolt lug of yesteryear rode on top of the right receiver rail instead of in the middle. The extractor of the early Vanguard looks a lot like they do now, with one very big difference. The earlier extractor only went back as far as the rear of the front locking lug. Much shorter than now. Also it relied on a sprung plunger with a lip to hold it in its mounting hole in the bolt. The extractor in all Howa made rifles of today are held in by a pin and are much longer. The spring is also set up differently. The early bolt had a slotted left locking lug and bolt face which allowed the Sako style ejector to function. No sprung plunger like today's bolt. The ejector pivoted from a bolt stop assembly which looked like the Sako also. Today's bolt stop is much simpler, but probably neater. The bolt vents were completely different. The three bolt vents on the right side are feature which allow the Vanguard to be styled like the Mark V. The old bolt had a large vent on the bottom which would vent gasses through the magazine well and a small vent in front of the firing pin collar which could vent through a hole in the guide rib. Today's Howa 1500 branded rifle has the three vent holes, plus the one in front, but vents down through the magazine opening as well.
    When the NRA through the offices of the American Rifleman tested their first Vanguard in 1970 they mentioned no other calibers as being available other than the 30-06. Other calibers came soon afterward. Trigger guard of their test rifle and the floorplate were "non-ferrous alloy". The bolt sleeve looked a little different than todays model, but was fully enclosed in the rear unlike todays Howa 1500 or the old Golden Bear. The bolts took apart just like a Sako, which is still true today. An extension served as a cocking indicator since the shooter could no longer tell whether the rifle was cocked or not due to the enclosed fitting. The enclosed bolt sleeve, while serving to guard against gas blow back was also a big styling feature which allowed the Vanguard to resemble the "other" Weatherby, the Mark V. Ammunition of the 1970's was probably not as good or varied as what is available today, but in spite of that their test rifle shot well. The barrel was 24", which was an inch shorter than the old Golden Bear. Price was projected to be $199.50.
    The economy grade Weatherby must have indeed been a gamble as well as a compromise of principles at some level. But how did that gamble pay off?
    (to be continued)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Phoenix, AZ
    Blog Entries

    Default Re: Vanguard History Part 2

    More good reading. I think the gamble payed off in the long run because you can get most of the popular Weatherby chamberings in an affordable Weatherby rifle. That said, it may very well have brought many of todays Mk V buyers into the fold.

    "It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession; I have
    learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first."
    - Ronald Reagan

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    USA, North Carolina, Franklin

    Default Re: Vanguard History Part 2

    Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	5355Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	5356I suppose a picture would do?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    CT, USA

    Default Re: Vanguard History Part 2

    It appears to me that Roy was an astute businessman; after all the dealings he had been through building his business from the get-go. I would presume if I may that he understood that an affordable Weatherby would be a good seller, and would as you say; bring shooters into the Mk V fold. Future business directions dictate that companies must change over time to compete in the marketplace sucessfully.

    When comparing the Vanguard to the Mk V, I always kind of thought that the Vanguard was a "carbine" version of the Mk V...a little lighter and more handy rifle. Sort of like the M1 carbine is to the M1 Garand; they'll both get the job done...but one can reach out there a lot better. There is no substitute for the strong 9-lug action, and longer barrels typically found on the Mark V...they have proven themselves.

    All in all, there is definitely a place in the marketplace that the Vanguard has fullfilled for Weatherby. A rugged rifle built to "Take It".

    Thanks for the history, it is enlightening to know how some of our favorite rifles have come to be, and evolved. Do you have an early or should I say "Pre-Vanguard" we could see?

    Last edited by ssteven; 11-03-2011 at 16:57.
    Accuracy is Uniformity.

    Wby Vanguard SUB MOA .257 Wby Mag
    Wby Vanguard Deluxe .270 WCF
    Wby Mk V Super VarmintMaster 7mm08
    Wby Mk V Accumark .257 Wby Mag
    Wby Mk V Fluted 270 Wby Mag
    Wby Mk V Deluxe .300 Wby Mag - German
    Wby Mk V Deluxe .300 Wby Mag - USA
    Wby Mk V Fibermark .340 Wby Mag - Japan
    Wby MK V Custom .375 Wby Mag
    CZ 550 Safari Magnum .458 Lott

    Steyr SSG69 PIIK .308 Win
    Browning/FN Safari Grade 7mm Rem Mag

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    USA, North Carolina, Franklin

    Default Re: Vanguard History Part 2

    Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	5361Here are a couple of pix of the Golden Bear/pre Vanguard. The top photo is the lowest grade, and the one in the Taico ad is the next grade up. They look very much like a Sako, including the grooved receiver top and crossbolts in the stock.

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