In part 1 and part 2 of this article, I talked about the history of Romanian AKs and their most unexpected users. Now it is time to talk about the production of those guns and some of the issues I experienced while inspecting and repairing them.
After the fall of Communism, some people thought that the demand for weapons will quickly disappear. But that wasn’t the case for Romanian AKs. In the early 90s, the Yugoslav war created a huge demand for robust and cheap firearms right at the Romanian border. The guns that were made to repel both Soviet and NATO invasions ended up in the hands of paramilitaries fighting in the bloody civil war with their former neighbors.
Unlike other Warsaw Pact countries that generally concentrated their Kalashnikov rifle production in one place, Romania was more ambitious. There were a total of four factories that at some point in time produced Romanian AKs. The two best-known are Cugir and Sadu.
Cugir Factory was founded in 1799 as an iron-processing facility and began manufacturing firearms in the early XX century. It was the first plant that started manufacturing AKs in Romania and still makes them to this day. This is the factory that made WASR semi-auto AKs that are still available in the US.
Sadu factory (Uzina Mecanica Sadu) located in the district of Gorj in the town of Bumbesti was founded in 1939 and quickly became one of the leading Romanian manufacturers of ammunition. In the early 70s, the factory went through a transformation, adding to its product line two different things – refrigerators and md 65 AK rifles. Manufacturing of ammo and firearms are two vastly different processes, so naturally, the quality of Sadu-made rifles was often questionable. To see an example, you can watch the following video:
There was a third factory called Carfill, that has a stamp that looked like a pizza slice with the number 11 in the center. Unfortunately very little is known about this factory.
The newest Romanian AK manufacturer is called Nova Modul. They started manufacturing firearms around 2014 and are better known for the 9mm pistol caliber carbine DRACO NAK9 imported to the US by Century Arms.
Now, after we reviewed the history of Romanian AKs and looked at the main manufacturers, let’s address the issue mentioned in the name of the article. Why do Romanian AKs have a controversial reputation? Let’s look at the gun part by part and see what usually goes wrong with it.
The barrels on Romanian AKs are almost flawless: durable, reasonably accurate, and chrome-lined with good corrosion resistance. I personally never had a problem with a Romanian barrel. My friends complained about chrome lining damage inside the barrel, but the guns never keyholed or showed significant loss of accuracy.
Once in Northern Iraq, I wanted to test the accuracy of some Chinese AKs, and Romanian Kalashnikov was used as the benchmark I was testing against. That day, an old Romanian AK was almost twice as accurate as a newer Type-56-2 with side-folding stock.
Romanian receivers are what separates them from the rest of AKs. I don’t know what was going on at the factories, but many Romanian full auto receivers had some serious problems with hardness. Some sources say that in 1983, after an attempted coup, Ceaușescu jailed many top managers from defense factories, disrupting the production of arms which led to decreased quality.
My friend is a chief armorer of a police force in one of the African countries, and while working on this article, I interviewed him to get some additional data from someone who had to deal with Romanian AKs more than I did. I repaired hundreds of AKs from Romania, maybe a thousand at best, but he had to deal with thousands of guns over a long period of time.
The most common problem they have with Romanian guns is cracking receivers. They crack on the right and left sides of the pistol grip and in front of the mag release. The bolt carrier rails often crack, and the auto sear trip on the bolt carrier wears out prematurely.
And other times, the receiver is too soft, so the bolt carrier rails are deformed, and subsequently, the bolt carrier is getting stuck. I personally experienced this problem. Once in Iraq, a security guard came to me with this exact problem, the bolt carrier on his Romanian AK was stuck in the rearward position. I looked at it, and the rear of the receiver was clearly stretched out beyond spec. I had my tiny plastic hammer with me, and with the utmost confidence, I told the guy: “Gimme that, and I will fix it in a second”.
One hammer hit and the part of the receiver that I hit bent inward like it was made out of aluminum. I started to quietly panic. After such substantial deformation, it is really hard to bend it back in spec and not destroy the bolt carrier rails. “Wait a minute, I need to take a closer look” – I told him. I was desperately trying to look professional and sent the guy away, so he won’t see my embarrassing attempts to fix something I just broke.
I started to slowly bang the receiver back into its original shape. It only took a couple of light hits with the same plastic hammer, the receiver was back in spec, and the bolt carrier moved without a hitch. I was relieved, but it happened many times, and every time it felt like some Romanian AK receivers are made out of recycled Coke cans. Obviously, the majority of the Romanian rifles don’t have that problem, but that is how mass production works: some batches are perfect, and some batches are too soft or too hard.
There was this one rifle in Baghdad, Romanian AK made in 1988. One of the very few guns I could never repair, cause the barrel was loose in the trunnion, and the gas block was also wobbling. I even recorded a video about it. In the proper workshop, with the right tools and some spare parts, I could easily fix it, but in the field, there is very little one can do.
One more Romanian AK from the same factory was the only gun I’ve seen that had a headspace so tight that it didn’t seat rounds all the way in the chamber. You could never close its bolt on a GO gauge. I polished locking lugs for a while, so eventually, it started closing on the live round. I’ve never seen that before or after on any factory-built gun. The rifle had the original bolt with the matching serial number, but it was just the way it was put together – with minimal attention to detail and quality control, which can be deadly when you’re dealing with weapons.
That happens in mass production, and considering the tragic history of Romania and the things the country went through, it is not surprising to see that sometimes factories didn’t care that much about quality. But nothing lasts forever, the Ceaușescu is gone for good, factories survived the fall of Communism and these days, Romanian AKs remain to be one of the best value guns for the money on the international defense market, and Romanian parts kits in the US are often used for some of the most premium kit build AKs.
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