Aside from their standard line of military assault rifles, Arsenal of Bulgaria has also produced rifles for their civilian market for quite some time. Its unclear when the production of civilian rifles began, but best estimates are that production began in the early 1990s. An early offering was the SA-93, which was a 7.62 caliber semi-automatic rifle with a standard 415mm (16.3) barrel and a wooden thumbhole stock set that was painted brown. The part number designates SA as Semi-Automatic, and 93 as the initial year of release, in similar fashion to the designation of the original Soviet AK-47; Avtomat Kalashnikova 1947.
Between (1993-1994), a number of these rifles were imported into the United States. There were various importers, but the main importer appears to have been Dominion Investment Group (D.I.G.), a major firearm importer based out of Virginia Beach, Virginia. This was a group headed by a gentleman who was actually an attorney. Years later, he passed away from a heart attack, so associates assisted his wife in continuing the business by partnering with Intrac. Together they formed Intrac/Dominion Importing. Additional importers of the SA-93 were Dunav International Trading, Inc. (Lynnwood, WA), and Sentinel Arms (Detroit, MI), but there is no clear data as to how many or during what years.
The SA-93 rifle originally sold new for about $379, but today (2011) they sell new for about $900 - $1000. Used rifles can be had for $700 - $800. To this day, the SA-93 is considered one of the most desireable of the AK imports. This is partially because they were a 100% Bulgarian-made Kalashnikovs with a milled receiver, and partially because they had the traditional 45 degree gas block and vented gas tube just as the original Type 3 AK-47 (AKK). Aside from being a semi-automatic rifle, the only real difference from the military AK-47 was the stock set, lack of a lower tang, lack of a threaded barrel, and lack of a sling loop on the left/rear of the receiver.
Upon expiration of the Federal Assault Weapon Ban (9/19/2004), SA-93 owners could legally convert them back to military configuration and have a semi-automatic Bulgarian Type 3 AKK rifle. This process, typically referred to as Debanning, entails threading the barrel, replacing the Front Site Base (FSB) and Gas Block (GB), installing a lower tang on the rear of the receiver, installing a sling loop on the left/rear of the receiver, and replacing the thumbhole stock set with a Bulgarian milled stock set.
Upon debanning the rifle, one merely needs to ensure the rifle is 922r compliant, which requires replacing (5) Bulgarian parts for (5) US-made parts. Three parts can be satisfied by installing a US-made Fire Control Group (FCG), which consists of a trigger, hammer, and disconnector. The two remaining parts can come from a US-made muzzle nut and gas piston. Once 922r compliant, all the collector would need to complete the project would be to get their hands on an early pattern Bulgarian bayonet and Bulgarian brown leather sling, which is Arsenal-marked with a Factory 10 stamp. In today's market (2011) a deban conversion of the SA-93 in new or excellent condition is worth $1200-$1500.
The SA-93 was soon phased out and Arsenal created an extensive Hunting line with three sub-categories; Semi-Automatic Hunting Rifles (SAR), Bolt-Action Repeating Rifles (BARR), and Self-Loading Hunting Rifles (SLR). There was a demand in the US market for the SAR rifles, but due to the Assault Weapons Ban (9/19/1994 9/19-2004), only rifles from the SLR line could be imported. This was due to their configuration, as they could be categorized as Sporting Rifles. They had thumbhole stocks (opposed to a pistol grip with rifle stock), non-threaded barrels, and no bayonet lugs, which were all deemed as "military" features.
The SLR rifles were available with wood and synthetic thumbhole stock sets and were available in two barrel lengths; standard 415mm (16.3") and long 508mm (20"). They were also available with muzzle brakes and side scope rails for mounting optics. In the SLR line, Arsenal designates these three options with a post-fix added to the model number; Long Barrel (L), Muzzle Brake (MB), and Side Scope Rail (H).
Two models from the SLR line were imported by D.I.G. between (1994-1998); the SLR-95 and the SLR-96. Unlike the earlier SA-93, they had a 90 degree GB and a non-vented gas tube. The SLR-95 was dressed in a black polymer thumbhole stock set, while the SLR-96 was dressed in a painted wood thumbhole stock set. Similar to the SA-93, the prefix of the part numbers SLR stand for Self-Loading Rifle, while the second part of the part number again probably designated the initial year of production.
Of the two imported rifles, the SLR-95 was the more prevalent model. Two versions of it were actually imported; one with a muzzle brake pinned to the barrel, and one without. Both rifles originally sold new for about $300 - $350, but today (2011) sell new for about $800 - $900. Lightly used rifles in good condition can be had for $600 - $800.
Aside from the SLR-95 and SLR-96 rifles imported by D.I.G., Arsenal, Inc. (Las Vegas) also imported a rifle from Arsenal of Bulgaria; the SLR-101. They were virtually identical to the SLR-95, except for the fact that they only accepted non-military single-stack magazines. Arsenal, Inc. sold them in this stock configuration, as well as in modified forms, and designated them as the SLR-101 series.
The stock rifle was designated as an SLR-101-S. There was an SLR-101-SB and an SLR-101-SB1, which were both dressed in black stock sets with NATO-length buttstocks (1.25 longer). The SB was converted to accept double-stack military magazines, while the SB1 was not converted. There was also an SLR-101-SG and SLR-101-SG1. Their configurations were identical to the SB and SB1, with the only difference being that they were dressed in OD Green stock sets. The SLR-101 series of rifles offered by Arsenal, Inc., particularly the SB and SG variants, gave US buyers a change to own a Bulgarian AK-47 very close to the true military versions. They even had side scope rails for mounting various types of optics.
***Bulgarian Milled Import Builds (SLR-100/SLR-100H)***
A particular Bulgarian import that has been the cause of much confusion over the years is the SLR-100/SLR-100H. The rifle is a Type 3 milled AK-47, that looks similar to a debanned Bulgarian SA-93. The receivers are engraved with the model number, the 7.62x39 caliber, the importer, and "Arsenal Bulgaria". For this reason, many assume they are 100% Bulgarian-made imports similar to the aforementioned SA-93 and SLR imports. But the fact of the matter is that the SLR-100 rifles were not imports, but instead contracted custom builds for the Intrac Company, an importer based out of Knoxville, Tennesse. The rifles were actually demilled 1950's Hungarian AK-47 parts kits built on new Bulgarian milled (SLR-100) receivers. The receivers were imported from Bulgaria between 1999-2000.
They were assembled in the US by four different AK builders; Gordon Technologies, Blue Ridge, Ohio Ordnance and MSC. The Gordon Tech (G-Tech) builds were considered (by most) to be the best in terms of quality and workmanship, as well as quality of the parts kits. They should have a "G" proof mark on the barrel under the lower handguard, which means the rifle passed a rigorous Proof Load Test by G-Tech. This consisted of checking head-spacing, then firing an extra hot load through the rifle, then rechecking the head-spacing and inspecting the action for any damage. Quality of the Hungarian parts kits varied from builder to builder. Some had worn out barrels and worn/cracked stocks. Intrac also sold the receivers as stand alone items for other shops and private parties to use in AK builds. Therefore, if an SLR-100 rifle does not have any manufacturer engraving on the receiver, then there is a good chance that it's a private party garage build.
SLR-100 with Bulgarian leather sling & Russian slabside mag (Photo by AR15.com member cottontop)
As stated above, Arsenal of Bulgaria added an H to the end of their model numbers in the SLR line to designate a side scope rail. Unfortunately, this does not apply to the SLR-100 rifle builds in the US, as many of the builds engraved with SLR-100H do not have a side scope rail. Because the two rifles are the same, it has been unclear as to what the H designation means. Some speculate that the "H" might have been added to designate the rifle as being built on a Hungarian parts kit. Being that the receivers would not have been engraved until after arriving in a US bonded warehouse, this is a definite possibility.
To gain a better understanding of how the SLR-100 rifles came to be, we must look at the Global Trades Company (GTC) and Armory USA (formerly Arsenal USA), which were based out of Houston, Texas. GTC was one of the largest US importers of AK and associated firearm parts. In 1998, Armory USA (AUSA) was formed and became one of the largest manufactures of AKs in the US. Their head designer, Ivan Kolev, was actually the former head design engineer for Armory Co. in Kazanlak, Bulgaria going back to 1989.
In late 1996, Armory had obtained an import permit to import the SLR-95 which was already being imported by Arsenal, Inc. Unfortunately, the then managing director of Arsenal of Bulgaria, Mr. Krum Khristov, refused to allow Armory to import the rifle because Arsenal, Inc. was already importing it, and he had a policy of only allowing one seller in each market. But due to Armory having a Bulgarian partner, Ivan Kolev, that Mr. Khristov was fond of, he offered to produce an entirely new 5.56x45 caliber milled rifle to be designated the SLR-100. Prototypes were available by late 1997, so Armory immediately submitted an import application to Washington. Unfortunately, Armory was immediately notified that all import permits for semi-automatic rifles were suspended by executive order "National Health Emergency".
After sulking for a while, Armory realized that the prohibition was only for the importation of complete rifles, so with enough importable source parts, they could legally proceed with assembling the rifles in the United States. By late 1998, Armory had all of the necessary permits and licenses in place and was ready to proceed, but just as they were ready to start production, Mr. Khristov died from complications stemming from an auto accident. So Armory reps went to Bulgaria in late 1998 to complete the arrangements and buy the kits to build the rifles in the US. They signed a contract with new director and proceeded with builds designated as the SSR-99 and K-101. The initial production was actually a contractual joint collaboration with Gordon of Gordon Technologies who had a background in machining and an excellent reputation for building flawless weapons. All later production of the rifles was done by Armory's in-house staff. After that point, Gordon Technologies also began their own complete in-house production of rifles using the aforementioned SLR-100 receivers which required conversion from 5.56x45mm to 7.62x39mm.
Arsenal of Bulgaria did eventually proceed with production of the SLR-100 rifle, which is basically the 5.56x45 caliber version of their SLR-101 rifle. Like the rest of the SLR line, it's available only with a thumbhole stock. There is a base model (SLR-100), a scope rail version (SLR-100H), a scope rail with muzzle brake version (SLR-100-HMB), and a long barrel version (SLR-100L). The 7.62x39 caliber SLR-100 rifles built in the US on imported SLR-100 receivers are not to be confused with the 5.56x45 caliber SLR-100 factory built rifles.
You should definately hold on to the G-Tech K-101, as its a rare piece. Definately as good as.....or maybe even a tad bit better.....than an Arsenal SAM5.
nahhhhh. I'm too busy with my solitaire tournament I'm playing against myself at work. Perhaps Poly can do it.
I find all your work extremely interesting, as I have an SLR100 Blue Ridge, so thank you for the effort!
Nice reference guide. I bought a SA-93 when they first came out, which I later sold NIB/Unfired. I still have a lot of close up photos of the rifle (Especially the inside of the receiver), box and items it came with etc. if you want for your reference.