I stopped by a local gunshop that had 10 of the $299 CETME rifles on display. I have one from the original "unissued parts, cast stainless steel receiver" lot, and I've been very happy with it. I was planning on buying one of these $299 guns simply to use as a shooter, and truck gun.
After examining all 10, I was severely disappointed, for a number of reasons:
1. It might have been possible to put together a decent set of wood by picking and choosing between the furniture on all 10 guns, but I doubt it. Some of the wood was so bad it looked like it had been shaped from a warped 2x4 with a dremel tool. Others had decent wood and the metal looked like it had been beaten by a ball pein hammer.
2. Those holes in the receiver look like a bad idea. The new stamped receivers (not the old Hesse ones) have openings in either side of the receiver that are just behind where the bolt is seated in the chamber. This apparently doesn't matter for function, but implies that the design of the stamping is incorrect since these openings shouldn't be there.
3. The ejection port is slightly further forward than on the previous receivers and the edge of the bolt carrier could be seen with the action completely closed. This really surprised me, but all of the guns had this issue. Once again, not a function problem, but seemed indicitive of lazy design.
4. Bores were all black holes; they might have cleaned up well, but even with bore light in hand it was difficult to get any idea what the bores looked like.
5. Sights look like they were tack welded to the top of the stamping. Standard CETME rear sight is bad enough, but to just mount the sight on a little tab that's tack welded to the stamped receiver seems like a really bad idea.
On a positive note, they also had a rack of Yugo SKS rifles for $129. I picked out one with an excellent bore, matching numbers on the receiver, bolt carrier, and trigger guard, a nice tiger stripe wood pattern, and excellent overall metal finish. Since I had bought an unissued, unfired example when they first came out (at the $300 price) and couldn't bring myself to shoot that perfect specimen, I know have a shooter Yugo to play with. At the $129 price and the good selection to pick and choose from, I've been thinking of heading over their again tomorrow and picking up another nice example or two, just to stick in storage or for when my kids are big enough to shoot them.
I believe the Yugo sks is the best bang for the buck these days. We have a few in our shop and I've been toying with the idea of buying one for my dad. He is 65 years old and the other day he said to me "I'm thinking of getting some kind of semiauto rifle to have around incase I need it." LOL I'm converting him!