Brownells Retro Rifle XBRNM16E1 Review: Initial Impressions

Who says you can’t go home again?  There is always something humbling about returning to your roots.

Today’s AR-15/ M16 M4 is a far cry from the M16A2 rifle I was first issued in the Marine Corps. In its contemporary form the M16 is no longer a stand-alone rifle, it is now part of a complete system.  A rifle working hand-in-hand with a rail, optics, and infrared laser make for a technically marvelous (and sometimes bulky) package.   If you compare them to the earliest variants of the AR-15, like the Model 601, the evolution of the platform is even more pronounced. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that this weapons system has its roots in a 1950s design (AR-10) that is nearly seven decades old.

I graduated boot camp in late 1994 and the Clinton era “Assault Weapon Ban” was in full swing.  Now 18 years old, I wanted a rifle just like the M16A2.  The closest thing I could afford was a Colt SP1 (if you are under 40 you need to understand they were the most inexpensive pre-ban gun back in the day). It looked a lot like an older version of the M16A1 with its triangular hand guards but had a few dimensional differences in the receivers.  I had fun with it but sold it a few years later to fund a rifle that looked more like an M16A2.  This is a sale I regret to this day.

When you start looking at the earlier version of the AR-15, you see a sleek rifle that is lightweight, easy to carry and simple to use. This sleek design has spawned a Retro rifle movement that’s had gun builders and collectors scouring gun shops looking for surplus or reproduction parts to complete rifles that represent the earliest iterations of the AR-15, the Model 601, M16E1, M16A1 and XM177.

These retro rifles have a number of features that had been improved upon on in later models, including slab sided lower receivers, thinner barrels, slower twist rates, and different flash hiders. Cloning an old gun could easily turn into a months-long process. Now, Brownells has answered the call and begun producing their own line of Retro rifles, to include clones of the Model 601, M16E1, M16A1, XM177 and original AR-10! While Brownells is a company familiar to gunsmiths as a source of parts and tools, they are new to the firearms manufacturing game.

Here are the details on the products they are introducing:

Brownells newly-created Retro Rifles™ line features four 5.56mm variants and two .308/7.62 variants. The 5.56mm models feature the correct styling for rifles issued to GIs in the 1960s. The .308/7.62 models reflect the lightweight styling of Eugene Stoner’s original AR-10® design.

Available and shipping now, the 5.56mm models include:

BRN-16A1 (#078-000-402)

  • Close copy of the iconic M16A1 first fielded in the 1960s
  • Matte gray anodized receivers
  • Black furniture with period-correct contours
  • Full fence M16A1 profile lower receiver
  • 20” 5.56 lightweight M16A1 chrome-lined barrel with 1-12″ twist
  • M16A1 Flash hider
  • M16A1 bolt carrier group with phosphate finish and chrome lining
  • Standard charging handle
  • 20-round Brownells aluminum magazine
  • $1,299.99 retail

BRN-601 (#078-000-400)

  • Close copy of original USAF contract rifle with green furniture
  • Matte gray anodized receivers
  • “Slab side” lower receiver, without a magazine release fence
  • As a result of no fence, front pivot pin is not captive
  • Roll pin to retain buffer tube (only cosmetic on Brownells Retro)
  • “Duckbill” early 3-Prong Flash Hider w/ split washer
  • “Slick side” upper receiver without shell deflector or forward assist
  • 20” 5.56 lightweight M16A1 chrome-lined barrel with 1-12″ twist
  • M16 “Slick side” Chrome BCG w/o forward assist serrations
  • Triangle 601 Charging Handle
  • Brownells 20-round Waffle Magazine
  • $1,299.99 retail.

XBRN16E1 (#078-000-401)

  • Copy of transitional rifle between 601 and M16A1, with features of both
  • Matte gray anodized receivers
  • Black furniture with period correct contours
  • Partial fence lower receiver
  • 20” 5.56 lightweight M16A1 chrome-lined barrel with 1-12″ twist
  • 3-Prong Flash Hider w/ split washer
  • Faux roll pin to retain buffer tube (only cosmetic on Brownells Retro)
  • M16 Chrome BCG with Forward Assist Serrations
  • Modern charging handle
  • Brownells 20-round aluminum magazine
  • $1,299.99 retail

XBRN-177E2 (#078-000-403)

  • An authentic copy of an early Special Forces carbine
  • Matte gray anodized receivers
  • Period-correct flash hider with grenade ring
  • Period-correct furniture, including collapsible stock
  • Full-fence M16A1 lower receiver
  • 7″ 5.56 lightweight chrome-lined barrel with 1-12″ twist
  • M16 Bolt Carrier Group with phosphate finish and chrome lining
  • Standard charging handle
  • Brownells 20-round aluminum magazine
  • $1,299.99 retail

Brownells also announced the BRN-10, the first .308 rifle in its Retro Rifles™ line.

The BRN-10 will have the “trigger-style” charging handle in the top of the receiver, under the carry handle, and the same lines and contours as the first production ArmaLite AR-10®s from the late 1950s.

With upper and lower receivers designed in conjunction with FM-Products, the BRN-10 is compatible with standard DPMS/SR25 components including triggers, magazines, barrels, bolt carrier groups, muzzle devices, buttstocks, pistol grips, handguards, and buffer assemblies.

It also features a newly-designed rear sight assembly with a peep sight adjustable for windage and elevation, with elevation setting viewable through the rear of the receiver.

Brownells is taking pre-orders now, with shipping slated for spring 2018.

The BRN-10 models include:

BRN-10A (#078-000-419)

  • Close copy of early rifles, such as issued by Netherlands
  • Chrome Retro BCG
  • 20” fluted barrel in .308 with 5/8″-24 threads & 1-10″ twist, nitride finish
  • Brown furniture including original-style handguard
  • Open 3-prong flash hider
  • BRN-10 receiver set machined from 7075 billet aluminum
  • Custom bolt catch, takedown pins, selector and mag release to match retro style
  • $1,699.99 retail


BRN-10B Brownells (#078-000-420)

  • Close copy of late-model rifles, as adopted by Cuba and other nations
  • Chrome retro BCG
  • 20” lightweight barrel in 308 with 5/8″-24 threads & 1-10″ twist, nitride finish
  • Black furniture including original style handguard
  • Portuguese-style closed-prong flash hider,
  • BRN-10 receiver set machined from 7075 billet aluminum
  • Custom bolt catch, takedown pins, selector and mag release to match retro style
  • Not compatible with 308 PMAGs due to lower receiver design
  • $1,599.99 retail

In addition to complete Retro Rifles, Brownells also offers a full line of Retro Parts, including 5.56 receivers, furniture, barrels and other parts. Retro parts in .308 will be available late in the year

To see both the Retro Rifles and Retro Parts, visit the


I was fortunate enough to secure an XBRN16E1 rifle for testing and evaluation.  This is a gun made from newly manufactured parts, not old surplus parts.

Shipped in a simple brown cardboard box, the XBRN16E1 has a similar external appearance to the M-16E1 adopted by the US Army in 1963 and first issued to troops in 1965. The rifle is well balanced, with a sleek feel. Unlike many ARs you’ll find today, the earlier style guns are lightweight and handle like a dream.

As mentioned above, the XBRNM16E1 replicates the look and feel of the rifle that served as a transition between the 601 and M16A1.  Most notably the lower receiver has a partial fence (above).  It has A1 style sights and a straight, non tapered slip ring for the handguards.

Behind the rear takedown pin, the lower includes a faux roll pin and ….

a teardrop-shaped forward assist that engages a correct chrome plated bolt carrier.

The lightweight chrome lined 1:12″ twist barrel has the correct style flash hider and bayonet lug.  It should be noted that the front sight is the square post style with 4-notches, this would be an easy swap for a surplus round front sight with 5-notches.

The A1 style stock has a standard buttplate, no trap door here!

Most of my reviews on this site are fairly technical.  I’ll take a bolt action rifle with a high-powered scope, set up with a bipod and a bag on the firing line and shoot tiny groups at distance.  This isn’t the case with this M16E1 clone.  Open sights and 55- grain ammunition are the name of the game.

Heading to the range with the lightweight rifle was a blast.  I forgot how much fun a light rifle can be.  The handling characteristics of this rifle are easily appreciated if you shoot a carbine that has a lot of stuff on it, or if you drag around precision rifles (both of which describe me).  This gun was plain fun to shoot, especially offhand.

To zero the rifle we set up some targets at 25 yards and got a course zero.  We moved back to 50 yards and dialed it in the rest of the way.  I didn’t need to make any windage adjustments, however, I did need to bump up the elevation on the front sight a bit (this is where the square front sight post was handy, since I had a tool for it).  Zeroed rifle in hand, my friends and I spent the waning hours of a cold winter day tearing up a berm full of scrap wood and bottles.  The gun is fun to shoot.  Shot after shot, mag dump after mag dump, it never missed a beat and the smile never left my face.

The rifle handled great and functioned flawlessly.  Fit and finish were perfect.  More importantly, shooting it brought back memories of that old Colt SP1 I used to own.  When you get behind a rifle like this, you not only appreciate the advancements in technology we’ve made, but how great the design was back in the day.

While the 1:12″ twist on this rifle wouldn’t help you win an across the course match, I would think shooting one at a 200 yard high power match would be a hoot.  You wouldn’t need to change your elevation and you could work up a serviceable load for that distance that would be competitive.

I’ll be shooting my Brownells Retro Rifle a lot moving forward.  I’ll also be reporting back with some hard data.  If you are in the market for a factory rifle that will help you appreciate the past, I’d seriously consider giving this rifle a look.

Until then, I’ll be chomping at the bit waiting for the BRN-10A to be released!

To learn more about Brownells line of Retro Rifles, click here.