The mid-1980s through the early 1990s saw the emergence in the United States of new and interesting semiautomatic rifles. The more notable imports included the futuristic Steyr AUG, three Heckler & Koch models (the HK91 and HK93 rifles and HK94 9mm carbine), three different-sized UZIs, Daewoos, Galils, an FN FAL imported by Browning and a Chinese bullpup derived from the AK-47.
Domestic arms makers also enjoyed what some consider a “golden age” for new and novel small arms. Most of these domestic makers were small shops, so they focused on easier-to-build carbines chambered in the 9mm Luger—a caliber whose growth was helped by the trend toward “wonder nine” pistols that accelerated after the U.S. military adopted the Beretta M9.
These new carbines included the Feather AT-9, Federal Engineering XC-900, Claridge Hi-Tech, Wilkinson Terry, Weaver Arms Nighthawk and a carbine version of the Cobray M-11. The last two were the worst made of the lot.
But besides being 9mm semi-autos, these guns all shared another commonality: They inevitably went out of production through design faults, business failure, death of the owners or the notorious Clinton Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) of 1994.
“…if I could only buy one pistol-caliber suppressor, the Obsidian would be the unit, because it can handle high-volume fire, will last a very long time and has modularity that allows it to be shortened when a lighter, shorter suppressor is needed.”
THE LINDA RE-EMERGES
Until 2016, that is, when Patrick McFarland reintroduced the Wilkinson Arms Linda carbine. A gun-savvy 30-something from Philadelphia, McFarland had purchased the parts years ago from the vestiges of Northwest Arms, the company that last made the Linda, around 2005.
McFarland exited the buttoned-down “Big 4” corporate accounting world for something much more fun; gun-making is far better suited than bean-counting for a guy who rides fast motorcycles, hang glides and likes traveling to off-the-beaten-path locales in foreign countries. With a design that looks like an amalgamation of styles from the late 1960s to the early ’80s, the Linda carbine has obvious appeal to those who thrive on the unique. And no gun buyer better fits that description than McFarland, who collects pre-1994 AWB hardware—the more obscure, the better.
The Wilkinson Arms carbine was always a niche gun most often seen in the late 1980s to early ’90s, but its design dates back considerably earlier to the late 1960s, when Ray Wilkinson invented the J&R Engineering M68 carbine, which was followed by the M80. The M80 was succeeded by the Terry carbine (with some design changes) after J&R dissolved and a new company was formed. The Linda was first made as a pistol; then, a second, “stretched” version was made and succeeded the Terry as the company’s only carbine.
The later-made carbines share the same receivers and mechanics, but the Terry had a solid wood buttstock, a plain barrel with a conical flash hider and an easier-to-remove barrel mount. In contrast, the Linda used its signature ventilated barrel shroud and round pipe with wood buttplate stock. Wilkinson Arms’ product line also included three pistols, also named after family members (Terry and Linda were Ray’s daughters).
The current-production Linda carbine is made almost entirely with the original parts used on the predecessor model that was last made by Northwest Arms in 2005. However, the Linda underwent a bit of a facelift, with a high-grade walnut forend with angled surfaces that replaced the plain-grain, rounded-edge birch or maple original. And you can now have her finished with Cerakote or the original black powdercoat paint. Although the Linda retains a striking, albeit dated, figure, she can be ordered with some modernizations: Picatinny-style grooves milled atop the original Weaver-style receiver rail, a threaded barrel, and an adapter to fit collapsible AR-15 or folding AK-style buttstocks. A LE-3 model also offers upgrades to the original.
The Linda is a hammer-fired, single-action, blowback-operated rifle that uses a detachable magazine that feeds through the pistol grip. Like the UZI, the Linda uses a “wraparound bolt” as a result of which the forward part of the bolt extends about 5 inches forward of the breech face. The design also uses a recoil spring that wraps around the front of the bolt rather than sitting behind it, thus allowing for a short recoil buffer. The short buffer makes the Linda much easier to adapt into a pistol than a 9mm AR-15, with its long buffer tube. It also makes a rather long receiver, with the Linda carbine being sometimes mistaken for an SBR due to the rather short (8 3/8 inches) exposed portion of the barrel.
With dimensions of 31.5 inches in length and weighing just 6 pounds, the Linda is a lightweight and handy piece that’s about a ½ to 1 pound lighter than the current crop of 9mm AR-15-style rifles. The receiver is made from extruded 6061 T6 aluminum and is attached with two screws to a grip frame milled from cast aluminum. Two receivers are offered: an original design and one with recoil slots cut into the top rail for mounting optics and accessories.
The Green Mountain barrel is 16 inches long. It is button rifled with a 1:10-inch twist typical of the 9mm Luger and is covered with a steel ventilated shroud that was in vogue on semi-autos of the late 1980s to early ’90s. The knurled, screw-on barrel nut attaches the barrel to the receiver.
Controls include a left-side reciprocating charging handle, crossbolt-style trigger blocking safety and push-button magazine release located behind the trigger guard. The Linda ejects through an abnormally long port for a 9mm that includes a hinged dust cover similar to the AR-15. One can’t help but wonder why the port is so long, but a circular slot in the bolt seems to support conjecture that the design originally accommodated switching the charging handle to the right side. There is no bolt catch to hold the action open, nor does the magazine’s follower arrest the bolt after the last round is fired. This functionality was typical of the Linda’s peer group, including the UZI, Feather, HK 94, XC-900 and others.
Construction and parts quality are generally very good—and sometimes superior to contemporary 9mm carbines. Except for a few neatly stamped steel parts, the internals are milled from steel billet, not the castings or MIM parts now considered “the standard” design spec on most but the pricier custom guns. Moreover, the only plastic parts you’ll find on the Linda are the grip panels and backstrap. Even the magazine follower is carefully milled from aluminum—mute testimony to gun-making of times long gone (although unhappily, the mag body has one foot in the past with crude, but functional, spot welding and no witness holes).
The Linda has fixed sights: a protected aperture rear and protected front post with a rather short, 7.75-inch radius. For those who wish to mount a holographic sight, the iron sights are easily detached by removing hex head screws. However, mounting an optic while keeping the irons attached might require switching the charging handle to the extended version sold by Wilkinson Arms.
Some of the Linda’s more interesting, yet discordant, features are the buttstock and furniture. A study in aesthetics that clash rather than harmonize, this carbine uses handsomely grained satin-finish wood for the forend and buttplate but features glossy, plainly checkered, black, plastic grip panels and a black, plastic backstrap. My wish list for the Linda is wood or G10 to replace the plastic in these areas. Although it might appear otherwise, the minimalist tubular steel stock is sturdy, very well made, fits tightly into a slot in the receiver end cap without wobble and secures with a single screw. Two stock lengths are available; my sample had the shorter stock to give a 15-inch length of pull.
I tested the Linda for accuracy using three different loads at 50 yards from a Caldwell Tack Driver rest. The Linda’s potential accuracy is hampered by its iron sights, which are rudimentary.
And, at only 7.75 inches, they have practically the same sight radius as a 6-inch-barrelled revolver—which is hardly conducive to precision aiming at targets 50 yards away. However, the stock properly aligns the shooter’s eyes with these sights, thus limiting optical sights to low-mount designs with relatively small objective apertures.
These matters made me turn to an EOTech EXPS3 holographic sight that, while not magnified, is far better at 50-yard sighting than the native sights. The EXPS3 is designed for the tall sights and straight stock of the AR-15, and using it all but eliminates the necessary cheek contact with the stock. But as imperfect as this was to test the Linda’s accuracy, it worked from a bench rest position. The smallest five-shot group of .88 inch and best group average of 1.26 inches show that the Linda is accurate using the Winchester Winclean 147-grain BEB load. This load consistently shoots very well in two other carbines I have tested and would be better known for its superior accuracy if it were sold at the big-box retailers. The 115-grain FMJ practice loads showed unimpressive results (see the table on page 78) but certainly would be improved if you use a magnified optic. The Linda was also reliable, with only two failures to feed the flat-nosed Winchester Winclean in more than 200 rounds tested using three different loads.
“Construction and parts quality are generally very good – and sometimes superior to contemporary 9mm carbines.”
The Linda’s iron sights were not regulated, shooting 1.5 inches low and 4 inches right from the point of aim. Although the elevation can be corrected by filing down the front site blade, there’s no easy way to correct for 4 inches of windage. As a result, mounting an optic is the best way to wring out this rifle’s accuracy and realize its fun factor as a nimble and well-handling piece. The Linda is balanced at its midpoint, tucks neatly under the arm and is very comfortably carried with one hand. A Lyman electronic gauge measured the trigger pull weight at 6.3 pounds. The travel was smooth but had some creep; even so, this did not impair my ability to break a good shot.
“With a design that looks like an amalgamation of styles from the late 1960s to the early 80’s, the Linda carbine has obvious appeal to those who thrive on the unique…”
The cross-bolt safety and magazine release buttons are small by contemporary standards and not easy to activate, and engaging the safety is best done with the left hand. The mag release sits behind the trigger guard, as on most pistols, but it is too far forward to activate with the thumb, and the mags are not drop-free. To remove, depress the mag button with the left-hand thumb while grasping and then retracting the mag with the lower left-hand fingers.
My sample Linda has a ½x28 threaded barrel, so I tested it with the Rugged Suppressor Obsidian. The Obsidian is a fairly new model that is designed with versatility in mind. It has a .45-caliber bore but can be used on multiple smaller calibers, including subsonic .300 BLK, and can be reconfigured from long (8.6 inches) to short (6.7 inches) when the user desires a tradeoff in sound suppression for less weight and length. I used the full-length version but changed the end cap to 9mm for a bit more flash capture and used Rugged’s fixed-barrel mount on the Linda. The Obsidian is full-auto rated and is very durable—being constructed of 17-4 PH stainless steel baffles throughout (rather than mixing with aluminum). It’s more than what’s needed for the less-intensive firing frequency a field rifle such as the Linda is typically used for.
However, if I could only buy one pistol-caliber suppressor, the Obsidian would be the unit, because it can handle high-volume fire, will last a very long time and has modularity that allows it to be shortened when a lighter, shorter suppressor is needed. Besides, buying one versatile suppressor and changing end caps, module size and mounts to fit many different pistols and rifles saves multiple $200 transfer tax payments.
The Linda and Obsidian worked well together. There was no perceptible shift in point of impact, nor was the very slightly perceived increase in back pressure problematic to shooter comfort or function, even with left-handed operators who were closer to the ejection port. The Obsidian also stayed snugly attached to the muzzle, as did the end cap and modular section.
As expected, using the Obsidian long configuration (weighing in at 12.8 ounces) makes the Linda muzzle-heavy, and the shorter version (10.7 ounces) might work better for you. Rugged rates the Obsidian at a very effective 123.7 dB in its dry, long-can configuration—but understand that your ammo selection will impact the results.
THIS LADY HAS STYLE
The Linda has styling that appeals to those who thrive on the unique. But retro looks aside, this rifle performs well with ammo it likes. It also has handling qualities that make it a great choice for plinking and carrying afield without leaving you wanting for a sling. For those who can’t get excited about owning yet another plastic-stocked, look-alike, me-too rifle, Linda might be just the girl.
Mean Velocity (fps)
|Winchester USA 115-grain FMJ||
|Winchester Winclean 147-grain FMJ||
|Remington UMC 115-grain FMJ||
NOTES: Group size was the best and the average five-shot group in inches, shot at 50 yards from a Caldwell BR rest and measured center to center. An Eotech sight was used. Velocity was measured in fps, 15 feet from the muzzle, measured with an Oehler 35 chronograph.
ACTION: Semiautomatic; blowback operation
CALIBER: 9mm Parabellum
OVERALL LENGTH: 31.5 inches with shorter stock
BARREL LENGTH: 16 inches
WEIGHT: 6 pounds, 4 ounces, unloaded with magazine
HEIGHT WITHOUT MAGAZINE: 6.625 inches
SIGHTS: Fixed aperture rear; protected blade front; 7.75-inch radius
STOCKS: Walnut forend; plastic grips; fixed buttstock
FINISH: Black powdercoat or optional Cerakote
CAPACITY: 31+1; 18+1
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.