The Mercury Automatic Pistol

I happened across this little pistol- where else?- at Pinto’s Guns in Renton, WA. It was obviously a well-made gun, but I had never heard of it before. I was intrigued.

The gun is a straight blowback, striker-fired single-action semi-auto that is almost entirely conventional in details and operation. It is all-steel construction with a rather nice blued finish and black plastic grips. It came with two seven-round magazines and instructions in the original box.
These guns were manufactured by L.Robar & Company in Liege, Belgium. It is the .22 LR. Version of their “New Model Mélior,” which was renamed the ‘Mercury’ for the sale in the United States after 1945. These were imported to the United States by Tradewinds, Inc. of Tacoma, Washington. They were available finished in Blue, Nickel and reportedly there were even engraved models. After the Gun Control Act of 1968 was enacted these guns could no longer be imported.

I’ve only ever seen two of these weapons; this one and one that was offered for sale last year, which was finished in Blue with wooden grips. There is little available about them online; numbers produced etc. The serial number is not necessarily meaningful; it is stamped rather haphazardly into the frame and slide, and was almost certainly applied by Tradewinds rather than Robar.

While many of the features of this little gun are common, this is unusual- with the recoil spring around the very short barrel it is exposed in the ejection port. To make this less problematic there is a split sleeve fitted over it that partially covers it.

Field-stripping the gun reveals that, while much of the mechanism is ordinary there are some significant departures. You start by removing the magazine. The recoil spring is held in place by a screwed-in bushing in the front of the slide, for example. This is not an arrangement that inspires confidence; it’s all too easy to picture it unscrewing while you are firing the gun and spewing its guts downrange. In practice it works fine though. It didn’t budge even during a protracted range-session.

Once the recoil-spring is removed you simply pull the slide all the way to the rear and lift the back end, whereupon it shoots the firing-pin spring and retainer across the room. If you are smarter than me you cup your hand over the back of the slide so that the retainer slams painfully into your palm, but at least you don’t have to track the bloody thing down… Anyway, once you accomplish this the gun is field-stripped for cleaning.

There are not a whole lot of parts, but God help you if you lose them- spares are practically unobtainium. Except magazines- those turn up now and then.

There are some quite clever bits; the firing-pin spring is also the sear-spring. Instead of a heel-release to drop the magazine there is a Beretta-style button-release located on the left grip panel. Like a lot of Belgian guns it’s a liberal mix of features cribbed from all over and a bit of native innovation. The safety is another interesting feature; when in the ‘off’ position it is spring-assisted; start it moving and it snaps to the ‘fire’ position all on it’s own. I’m a bit ambivalent about this- on the one hand it makes it very easy to ready the gun to fire; on the other hand it seems a bit like an accident waiting to happen.

The slide does not lock back after firing the last round in the magazine, but it is possible to manually lock the slide to the rear using the safety. Honestly I am not sure why you would, but it’s an option.

I am relatively certain that this gun was carried a bit but had never been fired. A couple of reasons for this; one is that the patterns of wear and the lack thereof. There’s also the absolute lack of carbon or soot in any part of the gun’s interior. But most telling to me- it doesn’t work.

Here’s a size comparison with the S&W Escort. The Mercury is significantly smaller, although it is by no means the most compact pocket-auto made. It’s magazine also holds seven rounds compared to the Escort’s five rounds.

Both magazines took some fiddling to get a round to chamber, and experienced nearly constant failures to feed, and when it didn’t fail to feed it failed to go into battery. Occasionally it would fail to eject. I considered that this might be attributed to using fifty-year old Sears-brand ammo, but when I tried a box of CCI Mini-Mags (the gold standard for .22 Semi-autos) it was actually worse.

When it did go bang accuracy was quite acceptable for a pocket auto with micro-scopic sights. I had no difficulty putting rounds on-target at 3-7 yards; the gun points very naturally.

Working on the theory that the gun might need breaking-in I kept shooting, and it got better. A bit better. After a while it would chamber the first round out of the magazine pretty reliably, and it was possible to sometimes fire 2-3 rounds in a row. That was as good as it got, so I dug out the pliers and began to adjust the feed lips on the magazines. It took a bit of experimentation, but by the end of it one of the magazines was functioning quite well; I could fire all seven rounds without a bobble most of the time. The second magazine still had some small issues, which I eventually traced to the front-seam of the magazine, which was opening slightly near the top. I’ll solder that soon and try it again. In the end I put about 170-175 rounds through it.

Fired at 3 yards
Fired at 5 yards.

I fired the bulk of the shots at seven yards while I fiddled with the gun; basically the target looked enough like the 5-yard target (only with more holes) so I didn’t bother photographing it.

I’m pretty sure that I will get this gun to be pretty reliable in time, which is good; it’s kind of fun to shoot these little ‘mouse-guns’ and I have plenty of .22LR on hand to run through.

I expect that painting the front sight with bright-red enamel will make it quite a bit easier to shoot accurately, and I will likely replace the plastic grips with some nice exotic hardwood. Anyway it is an interesting gun, and I’m having fun with it- which is the point after all.

Merry Christmas! I hope that your holiday season is filled with joy and togetherness.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 25 December 2018

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