THE SIDE-LEVERS (1985-1991)

Over the 3 years following Air Arms’s birth as an air rifle manufacturer many improvements were made to the range they inherited from Sussex Armoury and in 1985 there was a revamp of not only the rifles but also the company’s image and ambition.

Although demand for the military style rifles was down due to changing attitudes and tends, the Hi-Power, Firepower and Combat continued to be produced. They began to be referred to as “Mk2” versions as they benefited from the greatly improved side-lever action used on all the Air Arms rifles.

Early in 1985 a new wood stocked rifle was introduced in the form of the Camargue, named after the region of France that was home to the fine walnut used to make its impressive stock. It was referred to as the “Rolls- Royce” of British airgun manufacturing and due its popularity there was soon a waiting list to acquire one. An auto-load version was also available.

Camargue

Length: 101cm/39.75in

Weight: 3.6kg/8lb

The hand finished French walnut stock with a full Tyrolean cheek-piece was made by Custom Stock. There was hand cut chequering on the palm swell and fore-end as well as ventilated recoil pad.

 

Sling swivels and sights came as standard with optional barrel weight or silencer available.

Advert from April 1985

This focus on improving their rifles stocks led Air Arms to consult further with Paul Rogers of Custom Stock. With vastly improved actions and newly designed stocks, 3 new models were introduced in July 1985 to replace the Woodsman, Supra & Rapide.

Named after 2 of the world’s winds, The Bora, Mistral & Mistral Auto-load (AL), joined the Camargue and Air Arms now had a line up that they felt could challenge the German springers that were still favoured by many. The first advert seen in Airgun World for the new range carried the message “We think we have given you the “best” – why not buy “British”?” To reinforce the message, 3 key words - Power, Precision & Pride – were used in adverts and marketing material of the time.​

Bora

Length: 92cm/36.2in

Weight:  3.5kg/7.7lb

 

Mistral

Length: 101cm/39.75in

Weight: 3.6kg/8lb

The new improved range was well received by critics and shooters alike and the company’s reputation as a serious player grew.

Retailer Sharpshooters Limited had a close relationship with Air Arms and heavily promoted their rifles. In 1985 they offered the "Sharpshooter AL", which they marketed as a carbine version of the Mistral AL. The barrel is the same length as that used on the Bora.

 

Around a year later in mid 1986  Air Arms formally introduced it into their range as The Hunter.​

The Hunter

Length: 92cm/36.2in

Weight:  3.5kg/7.7lb

The Bora, Mistral & Hunter rifles had a Custom Stock made oiled beech stock with raised cheek-piece, chequered pistol grip and rubber recoil pad. Some adverts showed chequering to the fore-end but the ads also had wording noting the chequering as none standard.

The Mistral had a 15” barrel and the Bora an 11” barrel.

Sling swivels and sights came as standard with optional barrel weight or silencer available.

Around the same time as the Hunter being introduced by Air Arms, Sharpshooters started to promote the SAL - an auto-load version of the Combat. The rifle later became available through other retailers. Air Arms are unable to confirm what SAL stood for. I would guess Special Auto-Load or Short Auto-Load.

S-AL - Auto-load version of the military socked Combat.

Length: 94cm/37in

Weight: 3.4kg/7.5lb

1986 also saw the launch of the “show stopper” of the Air Arms side-levers, the Khamsin - named after an Egyptian wind. With its smooth operating, deeply blued action and beautifully figured, walnut thumb-hole stock, the Khamsin was an instant favourite and is still much loved today.

Khamsin - Early Stock

Length: 101cmm/39.75in

Weight: 4.08kg/8lb

Initially the Khamsin had a walnut thumb-hole stock with an ambidextrous cheek piece. Later version had a  right or left hand dedicated cheek piece. The stocks featured chequering to the pistol grip and fore-end, as well as a Wiking vented butt pad.

Khamsin - Later Stock

Length: 101cmm/39.75in

Weight: 4.08kg/8lb​

As they had always done, and as they have done since, Air Arms continued to act on feedback from their customers and over the next couple of years many tweaks were made to the side-lever actions.

Airgun World Annual 1986

May 1988 saw the launch of the EX88, also know as simply the E.X., with early adverts referring to it as “The New Mistral”. I have read that Air Arms designed the EX88 with the Scandinavian market in mind, with the export version having a maple stock. I have to date not been able to confirm this.

The EX88

Length: 101cm/39.75in

Weight: 3.6kg/7.95lb

A carbine version of the EX88 was offered and named the Bora E.X.

Bora EX88

Length: 92cm/36.2in

Weight:  3.5kg/7.7lb​

The EX88 featured a beech sporter stock with chequering to the pistol grip and a Wiking vented butt pad.

 

The final side-lever  launched was the SE90 - the "SE" stood for special edition and the "90" for the year of release - although it actually came out at the end of 1989. An auto-load version was available and the rifles was basically the same as the EX88 but with a different stock. 

SE90 Deluxe

Length: 101cm/39.75in

Weight: 3.6kg/7.96lb

The SE90 had the same action as the EV88. 

 

The sporter stock was offered in either beech or walnut. The walnut stocked version was named the SE90 Deluxe,  The stocks had chequering to the pistol grip and the deep fore-end. It had a raised cheek-piece and a Wiking vented rubber butt pad.

 

The rifle came with a silencer as standard. This was 5” or so long and being made of steel was rather heavy at 1/2lb, which is claimed helped it to be particularly well balanced.

All the side-lever rifles had the same deeply blued side-lever actions but with differing barrel lengths and configurations. The rifles launched in 1985 benefitted from improvements to the actions including a newly developed 2 stage, multi-adjustable trigger.

 

Air Arms continued to use Walther 12 groove match barrels. Standard rifles had a 15” barrel and carbine versions had an 11” one.

1989 Advert

Even with the previous improvements, criticism that the Air Arms rifles were quite noisy in operation had continued. Due to the re-design the new actions were a lot smoother and quieter in operation. The new actions also had a longer scope rail.

The new wooden stocks were longer than the previous ones, had an improved butt pad and on the underside there was no longer any wood between the trigger screws.

 

In early 1986 adverts referred to the “Mk2” versions of the rifles but to date I am not sure exactly what changes had been made. There was also reference to a Mk2 Khamsin in September 1989 but again I am unsure as to the changes.

Khamsin Pictured in Airgunner Annual 1988

Over the 10 years of producing their side-lever rifles Air Arms had transformed them from rickety, unrefined rifles to smooth operating, quality built and dependable rifles. However, they never quite managed to get the same acclaim as the much preferred under-levers. Realising this, Air Arms developed their own under-lever rifle.

At the back end of 1991 production of the side-lever rifles ceased as Air Arms released a rifle that to many was, and still is, the greatest spring rifle of them all – the TX200.

Stripdown Guide - Airgun World - September 2005

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