Britain's biggest-selling airgun magazine
The Webley Vulcan break-barrel air rifle was launched at the 1979 Game Fair during an era of air rifle manufacture defined by one thing - power!
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In terms of airguns, the 1970s can often be summarised by one word – ‘power’ – or the hunt for an airgun as powerful as the law allows. At a time when chronoscopes were far from common, most air rifles performed well below the UK’s energy legal limit of 12 ft.lbs., but if a rifle was known to fall short of the limit, it would often be ignored and a full-power, foreign-made air rifle chosen instead.
This hunt for power had an effect on airgun manufacturers, and Webley introduced the Vulcan break-barrel at the 1979 Game Fair, which was capable of performance approaching the legal limit, thanks to a piston washer arrangement patented by Harold Ressugan. The standard Vulcan went on to be made in three ‘series’, albeit this term was not used by Webley until after the Series 3 variant had been established. As well as these three base models, a number of special variants were also offered by Webley & Scott Limited, including a Special Export or SE model in 1980.
The May 1980 issue of Airgun World included a reader competition with a Vulcan in Special Edition specification as the main prize. This is the first reference to a ‘special’ Vulcan I have found, and this new model was intended for the American market. It featured a hand-chequered, French walnut stock, as well as a gold-plated trigger and safety catch. The following June issue included an advert for the SE placed by The Mart in Lowestoft for a Vulcan Deluxe at £89.95. This was at a time when the Standard Vulcan was advertised for £45 by the same company. With a 50% price mark up on the standard model, the SE was never a best-seller and continued to be advertised for some years to come. Webley sources informed me over two decades ago that around 100 SE models were sold across the U.K.
We can see from the Airgun World competition referred to above, that the earliest ‘special’ was termed the SE – Special Export. The Mart advert mentioned above confuses matters by referring to the rifle as the Vulcan Deluxe, which was incorrect. Webley did offer a deluxe version of the Vulcan, but this was not until the Series 2 model was announced in the September 1981 issue of Airgun World, the first adverts for ‘The New Model’ appearing the month before.
The Vulcan Deluxe also had a walnut stock, but it was not of the same high grade as the SE. The deluxe also came with sling swivels as standard and a pistol grip cap, whereas the SE had neither of these features. By 1984, Webley were referring to the SE as the ‘Vulcan Custom’ in their comprehensive airgun guide, whereas the deluxe was still called the deluxe. The Vulcan Custom name was also used when Webley offered the rifle with a Sporter or Tyrolean-style walnut stock, which was produced in 1984 for the company by Custom Stocks of Sheffield, again according to the original Webley factory sources referred to previously.
I once owned an SE with an exquisite walnut stock, but I considered the gold-plated trigger and safety a bit too ‘blingy’ for my conservative taste. I have often regretted selling the rifle and it was not until recently that I was able to source a Vulcan Series 1 action in an SE stock. Whilst not an official Webley model, I was instantly reminded of my old SE when I saw it and rightly or wrongly, I prefer it without that gold bling.
Using some of the serial numbers quoted by author Chris Thrale, in ‘Webley Air Rifles’, as having passed through Pax Airguns, I estimate my Vulcan was probably made toward the end of Series 1 production during the first quarter of 1981. It had previously been safely stored by a Webley specialist collector for some 30 years and remains boxed. There are two possibilities to its origin; perhaps the original owner specified they wanted a Vulcan in a walnut stock when placing an order, or Webley ran out of gold-plated triggers and safeties before SE stocks, so it is possible that some rather special Vulcans reached gun shops to delight owners that were expecting a standard plain beech stock.
Over the chrono’, the .22 Vulcan consistently performs between 11.1 and 11.8 ft.lbs., which is just as advertised, albeit a little too close for comfort in my opinion. With a reach-to-pull length of 13½ inches, the stock is a little short, a criticism that was made when the rifle was new. A further criticism is the trigger pull weight is fairly substantial at around 5lbs. This can be adjusted down to around 3lbs, but you need to be careful that sear engagement is not set too light, so the sear slips.
Notwithstanding these typical Vulcan traits, the rifle is very consistent and accurate with open sights (no, I did not fit a scope when testing!) downrange.
The Vulcan is now rightly considered a classic and I was delighted to add this very attractive one to my own modest Webley collection.
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