July 2000:

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CETME Modelo C, 7.62x51mm Type:  Self loading rifle
System of Operation:  Delayed Blowback
Caliber:  7.62mm NATO 
Capacity:  20 round detachable box magazine
Sights, front: Elevation adjustable post
Sights, rear:  Four position elevation flip aperture
Length: 40.75" 
Barrel length:  19.75"
Weight:  9.7 lbs
Retail Price:  $875.00
The last great German assault rifle design of World War Two, the Sturmgewehr 45 (StG45) never saw series production, due in large part to Germany's defeat and subsequent occupation by Allied forces.   As did many prominent Germans, infamous Nazis (and sometimes people who were a little of both), the StG45's designer, Dr. Vorgrimmler fled the defeated nation.  Dr. Vorgrimmler's problem was to find a country that would willingly accept a German refugee, especially one with a substantial connection to the Nazi war industry.  (The recent unpleasantness had left most of Europe, if not the world, with a certain predisposition toward former German officials. . .)  Franco's Spain, whose existence was due in large part to the aid provided by German arms during the Spanish Civil War,  welcomed the doctor with open arms.

Dr. Vorgrimmler, and what staff he brought with him from Germany, were put to work in the Centro de Estudios Tecnicos y Materiales Especiales (CETME), or the Center for the Study of Special Technologies and Materials, in Madrid.  By the early 1950's, Dr. Vorgrimmler's design team had developed a new select fire rifle for the Spanish military called the CETME Modelo A.  The Modelo A was chambered for a cartridge known as the 7.9x40mm, a developmental evolution of the German wartime 7.92mm Kurz round (7.92x33mm), and shared the StG45's roller-locked delayed blow back action.  Technically, the CETME Modelo A was a great success.  However, the world, or at least the non-communist world was, under the influence of the United States Army Ordnance Corps (more specifically, under the onerous influence of Colonel Rene Studler of the Ordnance Corps), moving towards a uniform adoption of what was to become the 7.62mm NATO cartridge.

The Spanish despite not being members of NATO, saw the writing on the wall (and the advantages of cartridge uniformity with potential allies), and CETME brought out the CETME Modelo B.  The CETME Modelo B was little more than a product improved Modelo A chambered for a 7.62x51mm cartridge.  We say a 7.62x51mm cartridge instead of the 7.62mm NATO because the Modelo B was actually chambered for two distinct cartridges!  The first of these cartridges was what we'll call the 7.62x51mm CETME.  This round fired a 112 grain bullet at between 2,450 and 2,500 feet per second (fps) muzzle velocity, and generated significantly lower chamber pressures (approximately 42,000 psi) than the NATO round.  The CETME round represented a compromise to the Spanish commitment to the original intermediate round concept as embodied in the 7.92mm Kurz and the need for interoperability with allied forces.  The other cartridge was the standard 7.62mm NATO round, with its 147 grain bullet, 2750 +/- 50 fps muzzle velocity, and 50,000 psi chamber pressure.  By switching bolt groups for one with a different angle on the locking piece cam, and switching springs for a set with thicker diameter wire, the CETME Modelo B could be converted to fire the 7.62mm NATO.

The final iteration of the 7.62mm CETME rifles was the CETME Modelo C.  The Modelo C was designed to fire only the 7.62mm NATO cartridge, and was the most handsome of the group, with stock and handguards made from poplar wood (hence the rifle's nickname of "Chopo" or poplar).  Like all delayed blowback firearms, the chamber is fluted to aid in extraction.

The CETME was later produced under license by Heckler & Koch as the G3 rifle; indeed, all G3 rifles produced up to 1961 were required to have the word "CETME" imprinted on the receiver.  The G3 incorporates subtle changes to elements such as the sights, magazine and furniture, but it is functionally identical to the CETME.

This rifle served the Spanish armed forces (and those in several other parts of the world) well into the 1980's and 1990's when it was finally replaced by the Heckler & Koch G36 5.56mm assault rifle.  All military CETME rifles were delayed blowback select fire weapons.

CETME rifles have always had a strong following in the United States.  In fact, a semiautomatic version of the CETME was once imported as the CETME Modelo Sport. However, these rifles now command prices upwards of $2,600.00 which places them out of the reach of most shooters.  Likewise, the expense, rarity, and effort involved to legally own one has placed select-fire CETME's similarly out of reach.

In 1999, St. Albans, Vermont and Boca Raton, Florida based Century International Arms purchased tooling from Tempe, Arizona based Special Weapons, Inc. which had formerly been used by Special Weapons to produce high quality investment cast stainless steel (legally) semiautomatic G3 rifle receivers.  Additionally, CRUFFLER.COM was told by Century that the company purchased a large number of unissued and excellent condition issued CETME rifles as well as the attendant spare parts.  Century engineers made subtle changes to the Special Weapons tooling, the most prominent being the inclusion of a CETME style rear sight base (the CETME iron sights differ substantially from those of the G3, hence the need for a differently machined rear sight base).  The CETME rifles, upon arrival in the United States, were disassembled and the receivers destroyed in accordance with federal law.  Century then built new CETME style rifles by assembling the parts kits onto the newly produced stainless steel receivers, retrofitting the required number of US made parts to comply with the law, and refinishing the guns.  These are the firearms now being offered for sale to US shooters.

OK, we admit it.  The CRUFFLER.COM staff are suckers for Spanish firearms, as we think they are among the best kept secrets on the US market.  Between the staffers here there are an embarrassing number of Astras, Stars, Llamas, Rubys, Spanish Mausers, and the like.  In fact, we're among the few people we know not born in Spain who can properly pronounce "Bonifacio Echeverria."  So, when Bryan, the sales manager at AIM (AIM is one of the best distributors of military surplus firearms in the USA, in terms of price, service, and product) let us know that CETME's had arrived, we practically tripped over ourselves to get one!

Two days after we placed the order, the BBT arrived, bearing the long cardboard box containing the rifle.

Upon opening the box and giving the rifle a once over, we were quite pleased.  The gun was finished in an attractive matte black enamel or polymer finish, while the internal working parts were left in what appeared to be their original grey parkerizing.  The stock and handguards were made from beautifully stained and figured poplar wood.  In an nutshell, this was one of those moments when you say to yourself "if this gun shoots as good as it looks, it's going to be an absolute tack driver."  Finish was of the  baked on enamel type was simply beautiful.  It was marked on the side of the magazine well with the manufacturer's name (Century International Arms), the place of manufacture (St. Albans, Vermont), the model (CETME), and the caliber for which it was chambered (.308 (7.62)).

The rifle came with an original CETME 20 round magazine.  CETME magazines can be distinguished from similar looking G3 magazines as they are slightly curved (however, G3 magazines will function in the rifle).  Seating the magazine required a healthy tap on the baseplate.  Similarly, removing the magazine required depressing the magazine latch button and then rotating the magazine forward out of the receiver as one would do with an M14, FAL, or AK series rifle.

On the "My! Isn't that neat!" front, the CETME comes with a cleaning kit built into the rifle.  At the front of the cocking tube, beneath the front sight is a flat metal disk.  Immediately behind this disk are two opposed holes in the cocking tube.  A drift (or the nose of a cartridge) can be used to depress two detents visible through the holes.  Once depressed, the disk can be drawn towards the muzzle, revealing an aluminum tube with a screw top.  Unscrewing the top reveals a weighted pull through, a bore brush, and plastic ampoules of oil.

CETME rifles, like their G3 cousins, disassemble from the rear.  The two pins are pushed out of the bottom of the buttstock where it attaches to the receiver, and the butt can then be withdrawn to the rear, taking the operating spring and guide rod with it.  The pistol grip and trigger pack should then either fall off or be easily removed.  At this point, the muzzle can be raised and a rearward tug on the cocking handle should be sufficient to send the bolt and bolt carrier group out the rear of the receiver.

That's how it should work, not, unfortunately, how it did work.  Only one of the buttstock push pins came out with finger pressure.  The other was stuck tight, and required a drift and a nylon headed hammer in order to be removed.  Once the pins were out, the buttstock pulled off with a little effort.  Next, we tried to remove the trigger pack.  We were not successful.  The unit might as well have been welded to the receiver, as everything short of a sledgehammer was tried in order to loosen it.   This alone made the rifle unacceptable.  If the trigger pack cannot be removed, normal maintenance is impossible, and the rifle will eventually turn into a very expensive paperweight.

The bolt group came out with some effort, and the rest of the rifle disassembled normally.  With the bolt group removed, we were able to inspect the barrel and discover what appeared to be an immaculate new bore.  An inspection of the bolt group revealed that there were no proof marks whatsoever present.  Additionally, no proof marks were apparent on the barrel.  This lack of proof marks allows for some interesting speculation.  One thing that is certain is that these parts were never assembled onto a CETME rifle in Spain; by Spanish law they would have had to have been proofed prior to either the rifle's acceptance by the military or export.  So, we are left to ponder whether these parts were spares never assembled onto completed rifles or rejected parts.  Based on the almost new condition and apparent functionality we can speculate that these were spares, but there is no way to say for sure.

Checking the Headspace on the CETME
Before we reassembled the rifle, we checked the headspace.  Checking headspace on a CETME, as with a G3, is made interesting because of the unique roller locking action.   On a traditional locked breech self loader such as an M14 or an FAL, a headspace gauge is inserted into the chamber, and the bolt/carrier slowly moved forward until either resistance is felt or the bolt closes.  If this resistance is felt, this is an indication that the distance from the chamber's datum line to the breech face is less than the length of the gauge.  If the bolt closes, this indicates that the distance from the datum line to the breech face is greater than the length of the gauge.  Put another way, the headspace distance is less than the length of the shortest gauge that has an effect on the bolt's forward motion.

From this, certain conclusions can be drawn.  For example if the bolt closes on a .308 Winchester GO gauge that is 1.630" long, but not on a .308 Winchester NO-GO gauge that is 1.634" long, one can be reasonably certain that the distance from the datum line to the breech face is greater than 1.630" and less than 1.634", or that the headspace measurement is:  1.630" < Headspace < 1.634".

A roller locked delayed blowback gun's (such as a CETME) headspace may also be considered to be less than the length of the shortest gauge that has an effect on the bolt group.  However, the means of identifying such an effect are different.  The traditional methodology of moving the bolt forward until resistance is felt doesn't work. This is because headspace in these guns is not a function of static lugs and recesses but rather of the position of the locking rollers along the inclined portion of the locking piece.  The headspace measurement on a CETME, then, is less than the length of the shortest gauge which has the effect of camming the locking piece (and consequently the bolt carrier) rearward when in the chamber.  Rearward movement ot the locking piece can be determined by using graduated feeler gauges.

On our test gun a .356mm feeler gauge would fit into the gap between the bolt and bolt carrier, but a .381mm gauge would not.  This was also true when we used a .308 Winchester GO gauge (1.630"), and a .308 Winchester NO-GO gauge (1.634").  However, when we placed a .308 Winchester FIELD REJECT gauge (1.638")into the chamber, the gap widened enough to admit a .406mm feeler gauge.  From this we can conclude that the headspace measurement on our sample gun is less than 1.638" and therefore within specification for both .308 Winchester and 7.62mm NATO.

Nevertheless, we were disappointed.   Our beautiful CETME was not only permanently assembled but it was also made from parts of indeterminate origin and suitability for service!  However, as we've said before, we think that everyone can have a bad day.   To this end, we phoned AIM, and asked them to send another CETME.  A few days later the second CETME arrived.

The second rifle suffered from a similar foible as the first - namely that the buttstock pins did not come out easily, and required a drift.  However, the trigger pack did come off easily, the magazine dropped free easily, and headspace on this rifle was even tighter than on the first, as the gap widened on a NO-GO gauge.  Despite all this, we were still troubled by the fact that no proof marks were to be found anywhere on either the barrel or bolt.  Repeated calls to Century for an explanation as to the origin of the parts yielded no results.

Shooting the CETME
Based on our inspection, we concluded that the second rifle was indeed safe to shoot, and, hoping that it would shoot as good as it looked, we trundled off to scenic lovely Fairfax, Virginia, and the NRA range to find out.

We brought along some representative FMJ military ammunition with which to test the rifle, to include (note while this was all nominally 7.62mm NATO ammunition, only the Portuguese ammo bore the NATO cross in circle headstamp, so we will refer to the remainder of our test sample as "7.62x51mm" ammunition"):

The CETME offered more than acceptable accuracy.  We used a standard NRA B-2 target with a 3" black center.  Shots were fired at a uniform range of 50 yards (the maximum length possible at the NRA range).  The rear sight was set for 200 meters, as the aperture was preferred to the 100 meter battle sight notch.  Four shooters, with differing experience levels, tested the gun.  The results were surprisingly uniform:  The pattern was high, as was to be expected when using 200 meter sights at 50 yards, and roughly centered, with the groups showing a tendency to print slightly to the right.
The best group consisted of four rounds right on top of one another, with the worst being about three inches and consisting of ten rounds.  Average was about one and a half to two inches, which translates to three to four minutes of angle.  This level of accuracy was consistent with all ammunition types tested.   This was well within specification; most 7.62mm NATO battle rifles are designed to shoot to three or four minutes of angle when new.  Additionally, since none of the testers qualified as match grade shooters, we believe that the gun is capable of significantly better accuracy 
Those Pesky CETME Sights

CETME sights are what we'll call "somewhat" adjustable.  That is to say, the rear sight has no adjustment capability whatsoever except for the indicated range leaves, and the front sight is adjustable for elevation by rotating it clockwise or counter- clockwise, much like an AK47 or FAL sight.  The problem with the front sight is that it requires a special spanner tool to make the adjustment, and the CETME rifle as distributed by Century does not come with this tool. 

Enter into the picture a gentleman named Steve Dale.  Steve is a skilled machinist as well as a shooter, and set his considerable talents to producing just such a tool as needed to adjust CETME's front sight.  Starting with a quality nut driver, Steve mills the shaft to provide the two prong profile necessary to adjust the CETME sight.  He sent CRUFFLER.COM a sample of his work, which we found to be excellently made, as well perfectly suited for the task at hand.  For those interested in obtaining such a tool for either the CETME or MAS 49-56, you can contact Steve at

than we achieved.  The CETME we tested compares well with FAL's, M14 style rifles, and G3 style rifles that we have previously fired.

This was the biggest surprise of the day.  Having fired HK 91's and G3's in the past, we expected the CETME's recoil to be similarly punishing and unpleasant.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Recoil was experienced as a mild push that was not unpleasant to even the most sensitive of the testers.  We fired an HK 91 for comparison, and found it to be as unpleasant as we remembered.  We cannot fully explain this difference in felt recoil.  However, we do note that the CETME does have a substantial muzzle brake, that it weighs noticeably more than the HK 91, and that it has a soft rubber buttpad.  Whether there are systemic or mechanical factors that contribute to making the CETME pleasant to shoot, we cannot say.  However, all testers agreed that the test CETME was among the most comfortable rifles chambered for 7.62mm NATO that we've had the pleasure to shoot.

This is the fly in the ointment.  A very little fly to be sure, but a fly nonetheless.  Let us start by saying that we experienced no failures to feed, extract, or eject when operating the rifle in self loading mode.  However, chambering the first round in the magazine was often problematic, with the bolt stopping about halfway to the closed position.  We attribute this to Century's refinishing process.  While the parkerized bolt contrasts nicely with the black enamel receiver, and the parkerized magazine looks great, that self same parkerizing provides a rough to the touch surface that greatly increases the friction between critical moving parts (i.e. bolt/carrier to receiver and follower to magazine body and loaded rounds).  When compared, the HK 91 bolt/carrier was found to be glassy smooth to the touch, as was the magazine interior.  This can be overcome in the short run by vigorously retracting the bolt for loading, and we expect the rifle to "wear in" very well, thus obviating the problem.  Nevertheless, we would have liked it if Century had paid a little more attention to the functional mechanics and a little less to aesthetics when refinishing and assembling the rifle.

CONCLUSION - "G-D gave you a soul, your parents a body, your country a rifle.  Keep all of them clean." (from the Spanish Paratrooper Creed)
The CETME, when all is said and done, is a neat rifle.  It has all the EBR* coolness of an H&K G3 with what we believe are superior aesthetics, superior recoil reduction, and a bit more interesting history.  It is accurate, reliable (once you get the first round chambered), and currently the market is practically overflowing with G3 spare parts, magazines, and 7.62x51mm ammunition.

However, we caution that you should be prepared to thoroughly inspect the CETME before you do anything else when you get it home, as 50% of the CETMEs that we tested (Ok, so we had a sample size of two. . . .) would not permit routine disassembly for maintenance and cleaning.  This is evidently a reparable, seldom encountered problem, but one you should be aware of and not accept on a new gun.

Overall, we liked the CETME a lot, but were disappointed by what can only be considered a lack of quality control.  Nevertheless, if you're in the market for a neat (from technical, historical, and aesthetic standpoints) 7.62x51mm self loading rifle, and can go into the deal with open eyes and prepared for any reparable technical glitches then you'll be quite happy with the CETME.

 If you have any questions about where and how to go about acquiring a CETME,  please contact AIM.

CRUFFLER.COM would like to extend a warm thanks to Mr. Peter Hills for the generous provision of his time and expertise, without which this month's review would not have been possible.

And now, our Buy-O-Meter rating for the CETME:

EBR = Evil Black Rifle - you know, the kind that drives anti-gunners up the wall!

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