Upstairs, Downstairs: Mauser’s M98 & New M18

Mauser unveiled yet another new rifle in its lineup, barely a year after it reintroduced the venerable Model 98.  The new rifle is called the M18 and in some ways it could hardly be less like the Model 98.  The differences between the two are striking, but oddly enough, so are the similarities.

A good place to start is price.  The basic price of the new Model 98 is $9,100; the price for the new M18 is $699.  That’s a difference of $8,401 — or roughly the price of a quite decent hunting trip.

The 98 has a smooth, beautifully machined and finished action with a lovely walnut stock and most of the features of a fine custom rifle.  The detachable scope mount is ingenious as well as finely made, the rifle shoots extremely well, and it has the best factory trigger I’ve ever experienced.

The new M18 is something else.  You can clearly see its Mauser lineage.  It’s a bolt-action with three locking lugs and a low bolt lift.  The stock is composite instead of walnut and there’s a short Picatinny rail that accepts any Weaver ring.  The staggered-box magazine is pure 98, but is detachable and made of polymer.  The safety blocks the trigger rather than locking the striker, and has a third position that also locks the bolt closed — a huge benefit — and the trigger on the M18 is every bit as good as the one on the M98.

The M98 I had for testing was an 8×57 JS, while the M18 is a .270 Winchester.  It has not been out to the range yet, but I will be very surprised if it is not the equal of the M98 for accuracy and consistency.  After all, those are the features that riflemakers have mastered in terms of producing extremely accurate rifles for remarkably low prices.

This is not intended to be a comparison of the two, or even a review of the M18.   But handling them and examining them back to back, what strikes me is the operational resemblance on the one hand, the difference in price on the other, and at the same time what appears to be a completely different philosophy behind them.

A rifle really has one purpose — to put its bullets down-range reliably, into the same spot, shot after shot.  Pretty simple.  The M98 does that beautifully, and I expect the M18 will as well.  I’ll let you know if it doesn’t.

The new (120-year-old) Model 98 is a connoisseur’s rifle.  It’s a pleasure to use, a joy to handle and look at, and a thoroughbred in every way.

Conversely, the M18 is a utilitarian tool at a price anyone can afford.  In fact, you almost look at it and think that, at that price, you really should buy one, or two (or three!) and keep them around to carry in the truck, park in the henhouse or lend to your inept brother-in-law.  You get no tiny shivers when you pick it up, no thrill when you work the bolt and it does not caress the cheek.  But, undoubtedly, it does the job.

The M98 is a throwback to the Victorian age of Art Nouveau, when even everyday items were designed to be aesthetically pleasing works of art.  Craftsmanship was revered, and quality was demanded.  Conversely, the M18 is a product of the modern machine age when costs are cut relentlessly and the lowest price wins.

Some riflemakers pursue this with seemingly no attention to actually using the rifle.  They have atrocious triggers, ho-hum two-position safeties, feeding difficulties and accuracy in name only.  But hey!  They’re cheap!

Mauser, on the other hand, seems to have taken it as a personal challenge to their technological expertise:  Can they produce a rifle at a startlingly low price that still delivers the goods — a bullet down-range every time, accurate, reliable, with a beautiful trigger pull, yet aesthetically not even at the party, much less the guest of honor?

It’s astonishing to me that these two rifles, so alike yet so different, can emerge from the same factory at Isny.  I wonder if the workers on the two production lines are allowed to eat lunch together, or even converse.  It’s as if they are living in parallel universes, following different philosophies.–Terry Wieland

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