Perazzi - the Ferrari of shotguns

2008 marked the 40th anniversary of one of the most successful guns of all time. Richard Rawlingson reflects on the achievements of Daniele Perazzi.

The gunmaking dynasty has become almost a cliché. Every maker it seems claims to be the seventh generation from a line of craftsmen born with gun oil under their finger nails. By implication, only those with a certain DNA can produce fine guns; breeding is everything and you are either born with a silver file in your mouth or not.

All complete tosh of course - although it all helps keep the brochure writers going through another few pages of flowery prose. One man in particular has spent the last half century and more proving that gunmaking genius is an acquired skill not a genetic inheritance; his name is Daniele Perazzi.

Although a native of the Brescia region of Northern Italy that is home to most of the country's gun trade, Perazzi had no connection with the industry. Born in 1932, the third of four children from an ordinary working family, he was happy just to find a job when, at the age of fourteen, he started as an apprentice in a small gun factory. He was clearly a quick learner and also an independent spirit, for within six years he struck out on his own, operating from a workshop in the basement of his house as first an outworker for other firms and then making the first tentative move into building his own guns. Weekends were spent at nearby shooting clubs selling his products. He patented a design for a single trigger and sold this to other makers to finance his growth.

In the early 1960s two other men played a major part in the Perazzi story. In 1960 he joined forces with a young automotive engineer who had trained with car giant Fiat. Ivo Fabbri was another dynamic personality who applied fresh eyes to the process of gunmaking. Inspired by the great English over-under guns of Boss and Woodward, they set out to apply modern production techniques to these classic designs. Both the Boss and Woodward were hand made 'best' guns with price tags that put them beyond all but the wealthiest. But why could traditional skills not be combined with industrial methods to make a more affordable product?

The second key influence was champion trap shooter Ennio Matterelli. Then, as now, competition trap and skeet shooting was a major sport in Italy and Matterelli a rising star. He had strong views on gun design and in the Fabbri-Perazzi partnership found a company that could translate them into steel and walnut. With the new gun they produced, Matterelli won gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, setting a new world record score of 198/200 in the process.

The partnership with Fabbri was short lived. Perazzi shrewdly saw his future in volume production of high quality guns. In 1965 they went their separate ways, leaving collectors to fight over the output of their brief collaboration. Perazzi continued to work with Matterelli however and together they developed a new gun for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, the model which would be the cornerstone of the business for the next 40 years.

The early guns had all been sidelocks, broadly combining the Boss locking system with Woodward style lock work. The new design, a master stroke from Perazzi called the MX8, introduced for the first time the now famous detachable trigger mechanism. The locks were built up on a plate that also holds the trigger and guard, the whole unit dropping out of the receiver on release of a latch. The advantages for a competition gun were obvious. Perazzi favoured V-springs over coil for their superior trigger pulls; the downside of V-springs is that when they eventually wear out they break without warning. Coil springs on the other hand just get tired with age. The detachable trigger group made spring replacement a simple job and gave peace of mind to the competitor.

The MX8 had innovative features that have had a major influence on gun design. Mattarelli was concerned about the heat in Mexico, so specified a high rib and corresponding high stock to minimise problems of heat haze from the barrels. A by-product of this was to place the stock lower in the shoulder, delivering straight line recoil and reduced muzzle flip. The MX8 also featured a screw-in choke in the bottom barrel, one of the first guns to use this now almost universal idea.

The perfect script would have given Matterelli a second gold medal in Mexico, but it was not to be. Many more triumphs would follow however as the MX8 soon became the gun of choice for the world's elite shooters. That remains as true today as ever, with 11 of the available 15 medals at this year's Beijing Olympics going to Perazzi users. Outside of the Olympic arena, Perazzi shooters have continued to rack up major competition success, none more so than multi-world sporting clays champion George Digweed. To mark the 40th anniversary of the MX8, Perazzi have produced a limited edition called, appropriately, the MX40.

Today, Perazzi produce around 3,000 guns each year from their state of the art factory in Botticino Mattina near Brescia. The competition pedigree is reinforced by the use of Italian racing red for the company colour scheme. The inference is clear: Perazzi is to shooting what Ferrari is to Formula One. The company sits apart from the rest of the Brescia trade, both physically and spiritually, with a smart, modern factory away from the narrow confines of the Val Trompia that is home to most rival makers. With an impressive showroom and international standard shooting ground next door, this is a company that has a very clear idea of its image and how it wishes to interact with its customers. Clients are encouraged to travel to the factory to select their stock blank and final fitting and they can see the guns being made in the public viewing area.

The mistake many make however is to view Perazzi merely as suppliers of race-tuned hardware to target shooters. As game shooters around the world have embraced the over-under format, so Perazzi has responded with a range of beautifully crafted and supremely elegant field guns. The classic detachable trigger design has since been joined by the fixed-trigger, coil-sprung action used on the MX12 and MX2000 series guns and small gauge models.

Because the company is geared towards hand finishing using volume produced parts, there is virtually no 'standard' Perazzi. Every gun is a bespoke model to some degree because of the bewildering number of permutations. A check of the current options shows four gauges (12, 20, 28 and .410), eight levels of engraving - many the work of some of the region's top names - and seven grades of wood. Other variables at the buyer's choice include barrel length, choke, rib height and width and fore-end style. You can specify single or double triggers and pistol or straight hand stock; the chances are that your gun will not have an exact twin - unless of course you order a pair!

Daniele Perazzi has proved then that you do not need two hundred years of family history to be a great gunmaker, although he has perhaps founded a new dynasty of his own. Today the business is being taken forward by his 48 year old son Mauro and daughter Roberta and they will ensure the Perazzi name continues to flourish. At the start of it all however it was genius, not genes, that created the Perazzi legend.  www.perazzi.com

The workshop

The genius of Danielle Perazzi is to be found in the company's impressive workshop. A counter for visitors runs its full length, and the attitude, enthusiasm and professionalism of the 100-strong workforce is there for all to see.

At the outset he correctly identified a niche between mass production and top end hand made guns. The reality at Perazzi is that all the donkey work is delivered on site by highly sophisticated machinery, whilst the finishing touches are all completed by skilled craftsmen. In fact the extent of hand finishing comes as a surprise to most visitors. This is seriously high quality gunmaking. The extent of testing is similarly impressive, with three separate tests on the barrels alone - micro-cracks, wall thickness and true.

Other key factors of the Perazzi story have come in acknowledging the importance of barrel weights, trigger pulls, gunfit and general handling quality. Much of this has been learnt from the demands of Olympic standard competition shooting, but the attention to detail in all areas found Perazzi a big following with game shooters.

Gunfitting is undertaken not only by the vastly experienced Fabrizio Salvini but also Mauro Perazzi, who like his father has both charm and talent in equal measure.

Customers will be fitted with a try-gun, though both men can calculate dimensions fairly accurately purely on vision. The try gun is then used on the pattern plate which is installed in a tunnel at the end of the workshop. It's a remarkable piece of kit - they have a large metal plate which runs on rails in the tunnel. The plate goes back 30 yards, a shot is taken, and then it revolves to reveal the other side for a second shot. Any necessary tweaking of the try-gun will then be made.

The customer will have visited a room full of walnut blanks of varying grades and prices, and made his choice. Stockmaker Cinto may have guided him, and will then later deliver a flawlessly finished stock in the chosen walnut. Nearby is a family run restaurant where plates of home-made pasta and a spot of vino not only pass the time until the stock is finished, but also complete the experience. The stock will be ready later and fitted to the action (which will have probably been ordered six months earlier) for vetting.

It is a remarkably efficient and enjoyable process, personalising the purchase in a very special way. The gun will have been ordered through a local UK dealer, who in fact may well have something appropriate on the shelf. But the visit, at no extra expense (other than flight and accommodation), has to be worth serious consideration.

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