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The Man and the Gun: Gordon Ingram and the M-10

John Wayne and his co-star, the M-10, in a Warner Brothers promotional shot from “McQ”.

Gordon Ingram and the M-10
By Rob Behr

Some firearms become famous from years of successful use.  Others make us nostalgic for our past.  Some just look sinister.  Gordon Ingram’s M-10 falls into this last category.  It was never a significant military arm, although it did end up in the hands of some specialized troops and agents around the world.  Its real fame came from dark places both real and imagined.  With an astronomical cyclic rate and compact size, the MAC-10 was a common tool of the cocaine cartels and their associated drug networks.  Politicians vilified it, along with its semi-automatic clones, and Hollywood provided plenty of time on the silver screen.    In the end, Ingram’s innovative weapon found a lasting place among iconic firearms because it became a movie star.

From L-R, John P. Foote, Gordon B. Ingram and Maxwell Atchisson, the ordnance engineers at MAC.

Gordon B. Ingram returned from service in World War II with a deep interest in firearms design.  He was not a man who was interested in ascetics.  For him, manufacturing ease and reliability were the key issues in a soldier’s weapon.  They had to be robust, with few moving parts that could break or be lost during maintenance on the battlefield. .  Most of his designs were made from welded stampings that could be produced with simple tooling and in large numbers.  He never pursued the civilian market until late in his design career.  His weapons were meant for war.

Starting a company that sold military-grade weapons right after World War II was an uphill struggle.  Military budgets has shrunk in the United States and the submachine gun role could be handled by the million-plus M3 Grease Guns that had been built during the war.  Other buyers enjoyed an ocean of surplus military weapons that could be purchased for pennies on the dollar.  Given the worldwide market, it isn’t surprising that Ingram’s first production design saw only light sales.

An Ingram M-6 military model. Most were sold to the Cuban Navy.

The Ingram Model-6 was manufactured by the Police Ordnance Company of Los Angeles, California.  It was intended as a lower cost option for police departments that would otherwise use Thompson-type submachine guns, and the design does have similar lines. The M-6 was offered in two patterns, a Police model with a vertical foregrip reminiscent of the M-1927 and a Military model with a straight forearm similar to the M1A.

An earlier protype Ingram undergoes testing.

Mechanically they were a simple direct blowback design that fired from an open bolt.  The M-6 was made in three calibers, 9mm Parabellum, 38 Super and 45 ACP.  With a nine inch barrel and a 30-inch overall length, the M-6 is quite maneuverable, which could explain why the Cuban Navy was one of the few significant purchasers of the weapon.  The weapon was select fire, controlled by how hard the trigger was pulled.  A short pull of the trigger produced single shots.  A longer pull produced fully automatic fire at a cyclic rate of about 600 rounds per minute. Sales were tepid, with some additional contracts going to the Peruvian army.  There was little interest from American law enforcement and none from the American military.  The M-6 was only manufactured from 1949 until 1952 producing about 20,000 units.

A disassembled M-10

In 1964, Ingram was back with a design that showed real promise for the military market. His Model 10 was beefy, weighing more than six pounds empty, but extremely compact.  He used a bolt that overhung the barrel which allowed a 4.5 inch barrel to fit into a firearm that was only 11.6 inches long with the stock retracted.  Cyclic rates are high with these compact weapons.  The published rate of fire for an M-10 in 45 ACP is 1,090 rounds per minute.  The 9mm Para version cycled at a stated 1,250 rounds per minute.  In the real world, the rate of fire is often reported to be much higher than the company’s literature indicated.

Mitchell WerBell

Mitchell L. WerBell III, the founder of SIONICS, designed a suppressor for Ingram’s M-10 design in 1967.  WerBell is one of the greatest characters to ever appear on the American firearms scene.  He was an officer in the Office of Strategic Services and later with the CIA.  Werbell’s company name, an acronym, reflects his cloak and dagger past.  It stood for Studies In the Operational Negation of Insurgents and Counter-Subversion.  Based on the corporate name, it seems that Gordon Ingram had met a true fellow traveler who could also see a mission for the M-10.  Ingram went to work at SIONICS as the chief engineer in 1969.  They co-founded the Military Armament Corporation, along with a group of investors, in 1970.

WerBell looks on during a weapons demonstration.

Production models of the M-10 (Now commonly called the MAC-10 after the company that built it.) and the smaller M-11 in .380 ACP varied little from Ingram’s prototype designs.  It is notable that there were magazine changes in both the 9mm Para and .45 ACP production models of the M-10.  Where the original protypes in 45 ACP had used unmodified M3 magazines, the management at MAC elected to modify the production models so that they could not use military surplus magazines.  They were modified so that these magazines would not lock into position, compelling users to buy magazines from MAC.

The 9mm Para prototypes has used 32- round Sten magazines, but the first production models used Carl Gustav 36 round magazines.  This changed after Sweden banned military exports to the United States in response to the continuing war in Viet Nam.  MAC responded to the embargo by using modified Walther MPL magazines.  This magazine is by far the most common of the MAC produced 9mm Para M-10s.

The SIONICS suppressor helped define the role for the M-10.  When used with a nomex sleeve to protect the shooter from the suppressor’s heat, it provided a gripping point for the weak hand.  This two handed grip, especially when combined with the M-10’s collapsible stock, made the firearm more controllable.    The suppressor used an effective two stage design that was designed to handle the Ingram’s high rate of fire.

The first stage of the SIONICS suppressor designed for the M-10.

The first stage used a perforated shroud that allowed gasses to pass into a tube that was filled with aluminum shoelace eyelets.  It sounds odd, but the system absorbed heat well and created thousands of shifting pockets to trap pressurized gas.  The second stage used a more traditional baffle stack with a wipe system at the end.  Noise reduction is very good for its time.  Here is a look at the suppressor’s schematics: 2007-3-14 MAC-SIONIC Suppressor Tech

Even though the M-10 and the SIONICS suppressor became available in the last years of the Viet Nam war, the American military never adopted the weapon system.  Even worse for the new company, the government also placed severe restrictions on the exportation of suppressors.  Without the suppressor, the M-10 was severely limited and some important international contracts were canceled.

Within a year, Ingram and WerBell were ousted by their investors and the company languished, abandoning weapons production in 1973 and finally filing for bankruptcy in 1975.

Other companies picked up where MAC left off, notably SWD and RPB Industries, and continued to build M-10 and M-11 variants.  Semi-automatic variants, still firing from an open bolt became a popular weapon for illegal conversion to fully automatic fire.  As the cocaine wars began to heat up, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms responded to this flourishing illegal market by banning open bolt semi-auto variants of the M-10 and M-11 in June of 1982.

The M-10 has always been a lightning rod for controversy and is often cited by politicians with a gun control agenda.

Military Armament Corporation ended weapons production a year before Hollywood discovered the flashy little machine pistol.  The M-10 made its movie debut with John Wayne in Warner Brothers “McQ” in 1974 and a star was born.  By the mid-80s it was making almost weekly appearances on shows like Miami Vice.  A weapon that David Steele famously quipped was only “fit for combat in a phone booth” found fame for its looks and questionable nature.  How very Hollywood.

Bruce Willis with an M-10 and SIONICS suppressor in the movie “Pulp Fiction.”