Chiappa Firearms is one of those companies that’s hard to describe, because it makes and markets a lot of products in a lot of different sectors of the shooting industry, both in the United States and around the world. In its own modern, 84,000-square-foot factory in Brescia, Italy, Chiappa manufactures 40 firearm models—from muzzle-loading replica Springfield Model 1842 muskets to the state-of-the-art Rhino revolver. The company also makes FAS pellet rifles and pistols, as well as the Kimar line of blank-firing pistols.
In the United States, Chiappa owns Charles Daly, which sells a full line of value Turkish-made shotguns, including side-by-side, over-and-under, pump, auto-loading and the world’s only triple-barrel break-open shotgun. Charles Daly also makes its own 1911 clone and a unique AK 9mm pistol that takes Glock and Beretta 92 magazines.
As if that weren’t enough diversity, it owns the ACP Laser Training System. ACP allows shooters to experience more realistic firearms training through a number of ingenious adapters that easily turn real or airsoft firearms into realistically-recoiling laser training guns. They can be used in video simulation or, with special vests that detect laser pulses, in live training scenarios—the latter being a much more serious type of laser tag. Chiappa President Rino Chiappa is an NRA member, SASS competitor, hunter and target shooter.
Firearms manufacturing became the family business in 1958, when his father started Armi Sport, making parts for historic black-powder replica firearms in 1958.
By age 10, Rino could run every machine in the shop. Chiappa is still a family-owned business today: Rino’s wife, Susanna, daughter Giada and sister Silvia work together at the factory. We were fortunate enough to get an invitation to visit Italy, tour the Chiappa factory and then have a sit-down with Rino Chiappa to talk about his passion.
GUN WORLD: Chiappa Firearms makes wildly different guns using different materials and production methods. What drives the product selection process for a company that seems to be able to go in any direction?
RINO CHIAPPA: I think the direction CF has taken in these years is simply a mirror of the ownership’s nature. The passion for our work and ambition to take on any proposed challenge brought us to develop products completely different from one another.
GW: You’re continually upgrading your factory machinery and already do all your machining operations in-house. What other capacity do you wish you had or feel you need to be more efficient and competitive?
RC: We visit many software, machine and processes exhibitions, because we are convinced that it’s the only way to always stay up to date. At the moment, our company has mostly to grow in making our name and products known to the customer. In past years, we invested in products and technologies; now, it’s time to invest in marketing and distribution.
GW: Do you have plans to add more historic reproductions to your product line?
RC: There are still historic firearms to reproduce of more or less complexity in manufacturing. Unfortunately, a quiet market situation caused us to reduce development of new replica models for now, because it is always more difficult to reach the production volumes needed to amortize the initial cost of tooling.
GW: You went into direct competition with Miroku of Japan and Taurus’s Rossi in Brazil when you started making replica 1886 and 1892 Winchesters in 2010. Breaking into someone else’s niche market is a bold move. What were you thinking, and has it worked out as planned?
RC: It is surely difficult to compete with Rossi’s prices. It’s easier to confront Miroku on that point, but they enjoy the advantage of the Winchester name on their items. I believe there is room for our type of products, because our unique strength is that we continue to produce these vintage arms with artisanal methods. We place a high importance at the fitting between wood and steel and hand-finishing that we can do really well. Rossi and Miroku do not come close in that area.
GW: Whose crazy idea was it to make the Civil War Spencer repeater and 1887 Winchester lever-action shotgun?
RC: My motivation to produce the Spencer rifle and carbine came from a conversation I had years ago with a competitor. He said that he analyzed and drew up the Spencer; and, after quite a lot of evaluation, he decided not to make it, because the gun was too complex.
For the 1887 shotgun, the idea was to have my own shotgun for Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS). I am a CAS shooter and didn’t want to use a product made by another company. I saw some shooters using the Chinese Norinco 1887, but they didn’t have good reliability and speed in feeding.
This is the reason I approached Tom Lassiter. He’s one of the best CAS shooters in the U.S.A. and very knowledgeable on the 1887. We cooperated with him to develop an 1887 really good for competition. Tom has been using one of our 1887s in the past years, and I lost count of how many times he won the American CAS shotgun championship.
GW: With a retail of less than $200, your line of cast-zinc .22 LR pistols [1873 Colt, M1911 and M9 auto] are bargain-priced and really useful for training. I frequently hear shooters express doubt about how good they can be for that money and how long they’ll hold up. Can you address those concerns?
RC: We have 30 years of experience using zinc alloys, going back to our Kimar line of blank guns begun by my father. We do our own zinc die-casting in-house on machines that are best suited for this type of work.
The knowledge to know what’s best was acquired over a long period, and we can obtain reliable results and process reductions leading to greater efficiency and lower consumer cost that most other companies cannot even imagine. We know what can and can’t be done with zinc alloy casting better than anyone.
GW: The lever-action .22 rifle market is pretty small. How’s your .22 LR LA322 takedown lever-action rifle doing against your competitors?
RC: It’s gaining in the market. There are some fine rifles out there, but consumer bias against guns cast in Zamak 12 alloy has always held some of our competition back. Obviously, it’s unfair, but the people want what they want. Our LA322 weighs a full pound less than [that of] our primary competitor; and now, the standard LA322 retails for about $100 less, as well. The fact that you can break our LA322 down into two parts makes it a better choice for travel or backpacking. We do a survival version that is hard-chrome plated and has a soft-touch rubber coating on the walnut stocks for better grip.
GW: Most manufacturers don’t make any survival rifles. You make three. Do you know something I don’t, or were you just tapping into American apocalyptic angst?
RC: Continuous market research is the thing that guides us to develop “different” products. People wanted a super-light, minimalist survival rifle that was affordable. So, we made the Little Badger. Market reaction was so good, so we decided to continue on that route. The M6 rifle and X-Caliber inserts development was really fun. We like to make unique products like that. In the case of the X-Caliber sub-caliber barrel inserts, they had wide-ranging practical applications, because they could be used to adapt any break-open 12-gauge shotgun to various calibers, not just our M6.
GW: What’s the story behind the Charles Daly Triple Crown and Triple Threat three-barrel shotguns?
RC: The need to give our American division, based in Ohio, a complete range of products brought us to cooperate with Turkish manufacturers. The companies we work with are high-quality gunmakers with many years in the market producing many models for us and others, too. Charles Daly is a very well-known brand in the U.S., especially in the shotgun business. This is the main reason we bought it. Once again, they distribute fine shotguns and now, also some truly unique guns such as the Triple Crown and the PAK-9 pistol, which is the only handgun derived from the rugged AK-47 rifle design.
GW: The one receiver material AR shooters are more suspicious of than anything else is plastic. Why did you make your .22 LR replica M4 carbines with polymer receivers instead of Zamak 12?
RC: The reason is quite easy. Today, you can have polymers that reach mechanical strength very close to steel, and making polymer pieces is, with no doubt, the best way to keep production cost down. As you know, the .22 LR has low pressures, so it was natural going with polymer for an extremely price-competitive product.
GW: Your FAS air rifles and pistols and the FAS 6007 .22 pistol look like guns you’d see in the hand of Olympians. Are they used by any Olympic competitors?
RC: FAS Italy marketed these rifles for years to serious competitive shooters, including Olympians. The original owner and founder was an Olympic shooter from the Italian team, and he developed and designed the products. We bought the name with the intention of making the guns to support competitive shooter training.
GW: Which is the Chiappa product you feel the most strongly about?
RC: That would be our Rhino pistol—and not because it’s named after me! More than any other firearm we make, I feel that revolver’s design represents a historic paradigm shift. I could talk to you for hours on it.
GW: In that case, I think we should save it for another interview!
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.