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A look at Benjamin Transition Models (1930s-1997)  


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14th June 2019 15:22  

A look at Benjamin Transition Models (1930s-1997) 

With thanks to Marty for the text and pics, first posted on the American Vintage Airguns forum.




The purpose of this thread is to look at exterior components of Benjamin’s transition models beginning with the third variant Model no. 3XX, which was Benjamin’s last in a series of what is referred to as; “Push-Pull Pump Style” compressed air models (1934-1940), and ending with Benjamin’s 39XPA with the “P” style trigger group which was replaced by an entirely new “Trigger Pack” beginning in 1997.

My intentions are to be as accurate as possible using guns from my collection, member’s guns, and those found online to fill in the gaps. If there is any misleading information, please bring it to my attention. For the purpose of this study, changes with respect to exterior components will be used to determine; “Transition Models”.
The first two photos show a third variant Model no. 322, courtesy of 'rsmith15', which transitioned into the first "Under-Lever" pneumatic pump version. The model shown is a 1942 312 “Under-Lever” pneumatic pump. The last photo, courtesy of Trev’s Airgun Scrapbook, has  a caption that reads; “MODERN MECHANIX December 1939. New Benjamin Air Rifles have a lever hand pump”, which shows this same model. 
Notice how similar these two guns are; the positioning of the front site from the muzzle, the “windage adjustable” rear sight, the safety, the trigger & trigger guard, & the two piece bolt, including the cam plate, bolt guide screw, tension spring & ball bearing (rsmith15 confirmed same spring & ball bearing). What is unique to the first under-lever pump models is the use of flathead fasteners to secure the forearm grip.

Note; No stamped serial number on either one.




The photos below shows the 1942 312. As stated earlier, this model followed the model 3XX "Front-Pump" 3XX ('34-'40).  

Note; silver nickel over brass followed by black nickel.



Next gun is a 1943 Benjamin 312. This gun is identical to the '42 312, including the box



Here's where it gets interesting. I purchased a gun a while back completely disgusted with the purchase. The gun has sat in a dark corner of my safe until now. The reason; a separated barrel.

Be that as it may, for the purpose of this discussion it plays an important role. As it turns out the gun is a 1950 312. This gun has the same nickel finish as the two previous 312 models. In addition to this, it's box is interestingly similar to that of the "smooth tootsie roll" forearm Montgomery Ward gun, including the docs, which leads me to believe the two guns might have been manufactured during the same year or shortly thereafter. I set up the photo so it looks similar to that of the MW gun so you can judge for yourself.

Also included are photos of the guns parts list & parts diagram.

Note; no stamped serial number.




I think I can say with a certain amount of confidence the Montgomery Ward model followed the 1950 312. It has all the characteristics of the previous 312's for the exception of the bolt. Including what appears to be the same bluing technique. I also asked a friend who had one of these guns for a short period of time to look for a serial number. He found none.

I have looked at several vintage Benjamin air rifles in recent years & the oldest stamped serial number I have found is; H17171 (first three photos). I believe this was Benjamin’s first tube stamped serial numbered air rifle. If anyone has found or has a Benjamin air rifle with an earlier number please let me know, especially if it is on a different transition model.

I refer to this gun as Benjamin’s ‘Fill-in’ model. Here’s why; I have yet to find this model with its ‘bluing’ still intact. They’re easy to spot because of that rear sight that is better suited for an air pistol rather than an air rifle, & the barrel & tube finish is either coming off in chunks or is down to the brass.  The 3rd photo, courtesy of ‘cronseracing’ is a prime example of what most look like on auction sites. It’s too bad because you can see what a recently refurbished eBay gun (last photo) of this model looks like. My guess is Benjamin was busy experimenting with a cost effective method for bluing to take the place of the high cost nickel plating. The new bluing technique lasted for the remaining years of this collection with only slight variations, from a dark brassy look (for a lack of better term) to an almost black appearance.

It is also important to note this gun has the same safety & front sight location as all the previous models, & the flat head fasteners to secure the forearm are no longer used.

So the Montgomery Ward model & the Benjamin 'flaky Paint' model should fall into the gap in my collection represented by the two red arrows ('50-'68).





Next is a 1968 312. Several significant changes beginning with the breech cap which changed after January 1956. It no longer has the model designation. The model designation is now located on the right side of the receiver including the guns caliber. The trigger mount 307 has been replaced with a 307A mount, an optional Bar-V & Bar-O rear sight is offered, a new safety with a finger tab, and the fastener at the muzzle end of the tube is no longer used. The front sight is also located closer to the muzzle. Please refer to the parts list & parts diagram for additional changes.

This model is shown with the optional peep sight 273, & also shows the new 'bluing' finish which remains through to the last model of this collection in one form or another, meaning different variations in tone & in some instances slight variations in texture.



Changes to the 34X series seen here in a 1969 347 includes a new front & rear sight, & perhaps the most significant design change of all, a safety that has been moved behind the breech cap. This safety which is better known as a “tang safety” is found on all remaining models of this collection (for the exception of the 397C) & defines what is known as the “P” style trigger group. In 1997 Crosman introduced what is known as a “Trigger Pack” whereby the safety is located next to the trigger. This trigger pack remains on current production models.

The 1969’s parts list & parts diagram also includes for the first time, Benjamin’s “Telescopic Sight Bases”, & even though the peep sight #273 is shown in previous docs, this doc shows the peep sight in detail, including all three discs in small, medium, & large sizes. This peep sight fits all models in this collection, from the 1942 to the 1982 34X & might fit older models as well. 





The 34X series took some time to sort out. There was some discussion a while back concerning the order & or years by which the plain & checkered stock & forearm versions were manufactured. They were in fact manufactured in the following order; plain, checkered, & back to plain again, & ending with a mismatch towards the end of production where Benjamin was clearly using up new old stock inventory.

First up is a 1972 that recently sold on eBay & one I would have gladly purchased to fill another gap in this collection but the well ran dry as they say.





Next is a 1982 ‘Checkered’ 342. Looking at other photos made available by the seller of the one above, the two guns are identical for the exception of the checkering.   

Next is the Benjamin “Centennial” Model 87. Here is a link discussing the model in this collection on AVA; benjamin-centennial-model-87-t8635.html
Next is a 1990 non checkered late model 342. Both front & rear sights have been redesigned. The rear sight is a simple design but IMO the best in the collection. 

I mentioned previously that I have seen several checkered & plain stock mismatches but a mismatch like the one in the last photo leaves me scratching my head every time I see one. Evidently Benjamin made a few special order combos.

The doc is similar to the previous checkered model.  

Next is the 1991 S392P, by far my favorite go to small game gun when extra knock down power matters. All guns I have tested in this collection are extremely accurate & the same holds true here. Vintage Sheridan’s are my other favorite guns, extremely accurate, although the slight difference in caliber of a Benji makes a huge difference. Guy’s say a solid hit on small game is followed by a dance. No dance with this hammer of a gun. I own a few acres in a rural area of our state & this S392P is always with me while irrigating. I’ll cruz the ditch banks looking for bullfrogs. A Dan does just fine but the 392 shoves those little rascals about a ½” into the mud. I’ll hunt the same area in the winter months for cottontail & jackrabbits & this gun is always with me.

There are significant changes from previous models. The entire gun was redesigned, most notable is the much larger hammer & trigger assembly. The 1993 S397P & 397P are exactly like the S392P except .177 vs .22 Cal & both were manufactured from 1993-1995. 
I did this bobcat carving scene a while back & it makes this gun all the more enjoyable. 


Next is a Benjamin 397C which was manufactured from 1994 to 1998. As I mentioned earlier the ‘C’ stands for Carbine & the basic definition of a Carbine is a smaller version of the model it represents, in this case the early 1990 model 397P. If you look close at the photos below you will see the similarities. The gun is obviously much smaller all the way around & you cannot get a true sense of how small it is until you shoulder one, so much smaller in fact that a hold for an adult is very awkward. What I can say is it is a Benji fanatic’s dream gun for a son, daughter, grandson, or granddaughter. I can’t think of a better way to introduce young folks to the sport.

What gets most people’s attention is the Sheridan ‘Rocker Safety’. I made a double take the first time I saw it & thought for sure it was a mod of some sort. This is the only Benjamin specific vintage or none vintage gun to use this safety.

‘JKM6442’ asked this question; it looks like Benjamin intended the 397C to be a “boys rifle”. Were they advertised as such? The answer is yes. The last photo is a Benjamin flyer advertising many guns from this era, including the 397C. Here is what Benjamin said about the gun (just in case the print is too small);

“C. Easier to carry, pump & handle. Our .177 cal. Carbine is the ideal choice for younger shooters, women, or anyone who likes a compact high-performer.”

Last in this collection is a 1996 model 392PA. The significance of this transition model is it is Benjamin’s last model with the “P” style trigger group. Attached are photos of this gun & a 1997 392PA with the new Crosman ‘Trigger Pack’ I found online. This new style trigger pack is still used today & although I have never tested a gun with this style trigger I can say with certainty I am in no hurry to do so.

The stock spring in the photo of the 1996 392PA is believed to have been implemented by Crosman to stiffen the trigger pull. It is the only gun in this collection that has one. There is nothing more than a circular cut-out inside the stock directly below the sear.  There is absolutely nothing holding the spring in place & it falls out when the stock is removed. 


Attached is a photo of all the bolt designs from this collection. The only ones not shown are the three models missing from the collection. If anyone has these models please include a photo similar to the ones below or a complete tear-down photo of the bolt assembly similar to the second photo of this thread.
I did not take apart the model 87 or the model 397C for good reason; both these guns have the combination hex/ flat driver bolt guide screws that are impossible to remove without the proper socket. I have no idea what prompted Benjamin or Crosman to use this ridicules combo.  I’m not even sure where a guy can find a socket that small with the proper clearance. It is also important to note that the preceding bolt screws were allen wrench designs.  
I included the 397C’s detailed photo of the parts I was able to remove for the first time. You can see that someone already tried to remove the screw & buggered it. The bolt lock cam is also unique (the part that rests underneath the cams cover plate) to this model & obviously another flaw. If you look close you can see how it rubbed against the bolt. Also included is a photo of what the bolt looks like (solid, not vented). 
If anyone has a 397C please let me know if yours has the same bolt guide screw & bolt lock cam.

Note; the Benjamin Model 87's bolt is identical to the 1990 Model 342.