June 14, 2016
In 1932 the Great Depression had the nation in its grip, but with eternal optimism, Remington released its Model 32 over/under. John Browning had introduced sportsmen to his Superposed a year earlier, but as innovative as Browning's design was, perhaps the 32 went a step farther.
Previously, over/unders were hand-made, bespoke shotguns from Woodward and Boss in England. Sleek with barrels lying deep in the action, so did those of the 32 whose lockup was a sliding hood that covered the rear of the barrels and held them solid to the action when fired.
Distinctive, too, were the 32's separated barrels, devoid of the traditional side ribs, which made the gun lighter and allowed faster barrel cooling. Sadly, the entry of the U.S. into World War II brought an end to the 32.
Jump ahead to 1973, and Remington reintroduced the classic 32, renamed the 3200. The barrel-to-action fit was beefed up, and the safety was radical and practical. So was the manufacturing. The 32 was produced with manual fitting and machining; the Remington 3200 took advantage of CNC machining that took much of the hand work out of the equation and lowered the price.
To quote my late friend Michael McIntosh, "It doesn't matter whether da Vinci used a hammer and chisel or an air hammer to create David, what matters is the finished product." Today the august firms of Holland & Holland and James Purdey use computer-machined parts in their $100,000 bespoke shotguns, but Remington was one of the first.
Old Meets New
Remington kept the original barrel design with the separated tubes joined at the breech with reinforcement midway down their length. At the muzzle, the bottom barrel was silver-soldered to the top.
The barrels hinge on trunnions mounted on the sides of the action like Boss and most Italian-made over/unders. They pivot on cutouts in the monobloc into which the tubes were silver-soldered.
Like Perazzi, the monobloc has cuts on both sides that nestle into matching surfaces on the sides of the action, taking up recoil. Holding the barrels to the action is the unique sliding hood of the 32. Rotate the top lever to the right, and the hood retracts and the barrels rotate open on the trunnions.
When the barrels are swung shut, the hood slides forward. Not only does this ensure a solid lockup, but if a primer is pierced, the action-sealing hood keeps everything within the gun.
The Remington 3200's mechanical triggers are not dependent on the recoil of the first shot to set the trigger for the second, an outstanding attribute. The first 3200s were engraved with a pointer on one side of the action and a setter on the other. Early on, these guns were recalled due to a flaw in the top action tang, which caused a crack.
My skeet gun developed this crack and the replacement receiver had the dogs with wreaths surrounding them, and Remington added a dot between OU and the remainder of the serial number. Another issue was with the firing pins. Instead of being separate parts — hammer and firing pin — the pins were forged as part of the hammer, hence they did not break.
With repeated firing, and especially dry firing, the holes in the face of the breech would become elongated, and the firing pins protruded too far into the fired primer, causing them to stick.
Remington does not stock parts or service 3200s anymore, but Laib's Gunsmithing (320-796-2686) in Minnesota can make any necessary repairs.
Formed on multiple lathes, the stock and forend were checkered 20-lines-per-inch by a CNC-driven setup. Rumor was Remington purposefully programmed in minor imperfections that would appear in high-quality hand-checkering. Both stock and forend were finished with DuPont's very tough RK-W finish. The walnut stocks' figure varied depending upon grade.
Field and Magnum models had plain-grained wood, but higher grades such as Special Skeet, Special Trap, Competition and One of 1,000 carried dark-finished walnut with good figure and grain.
The Remington 3200 safety caught everyone's eye. Virtually every double gun used the traditional sliding, thumb safety. Remington's was a complete departure, and one of the very best ever put on a shotgun. It pivoted side-to-side. In the center position, the gun was on safe.
Thumb it to the left and the bottom barrel fired first, to the right the top barrel shot first. For clay-target shooters who preferred not to put their guns on safe, the 3200's safety was placed either right or left, then the safety was removed and the screw returned to the hole locking the barrel selection.
If there was an objection to the Remington 3200, it was weight. Clay shooters like heavy guns because weight helps soak up recoil and heavier guns tend to keep swinging. But the Field-grade models were a little too heavy.
One exception was the 3200 Magnum. They only made about 900 between 1975 and 1977, and it's a great waterfowl gun. I looked for several years and finally found one at a gun show that came from a 3200 collection. What set the 3200 Magnum apart was it weighed 9 pounds, 3 ounces, and had 30-inch barrels. Constructed of extra thick, tough Remington steel, they were made especially to shoot steel shot!
In 1975, Remington and other ammo companies were experimenting with steel pellets, and recognized that this shot, many times harder than lead, were the projectiles of the future. So the 3200 Magnum was built. Both barrels are choked full, precisely bored to .035. I normally hold my shot size to No. 2 or BBs, and velocities around 1,400 fps, as designers didn't envision the higher velocities we are seeing today.
With modern emphasis on composite stocks and semi-autos, there is little reason Remington would resurrect the 32 or 3200. One of their engineers told me that there were safety problems with the 32, but that doesn't hold much water given that Krieghoff adopted the basic 32 design and has sold thousands of K-32s using most of the original design.
Many of us speculate that the 3200's short nine-year life was due to the fact that everyone who wanted one bought one. Tough as a boot, they don't much wear out. Like so many classics, the Winchester Model 12, Browning Auto-5, and others, the 3200 has faded into memory, but if you can find one, it will be a joy to shoot for years to come.