MarColMar CETME: A Rifle You Will Regret Not Grabbing
An exciting modern sporting rifle on the market that is different from your average AR and AK, the MarColMar CETME L isn't something you see every day, but it should be.
Who is MarColMar?
Based in Richmond, Indiana, MarColMar Firearms in the past two decades have been a solid hit with collectors through re-manufacturing uncommon, rare, and unique military rifles. By nature, they make limited runs of high-quality firearms that earn a good reputation in use when introduced and then, once the supply is exhausted, tend to become highly sought after.
Best known today for their CETME L rifles, MarColMar started in the early 2000s making semi-auto versions of the belt-fed PKM - Kalashnikovs, and they then switched gears to produce Bulgarian AK-74 clones for a while. From there, they tackled the UKM, Czechoslovakia’s Cold War-era universal machine gun, in 2013, making about 350 rifles which collectors have gone bananas over. Since 2019, they have been in the CETME game.
What is a CETME L?
The Centro de Estudios Técnicos de Materiales Especiales, or CETME group, was formed in Spain just after World War II and hosted several exiled German firearms engineers to include Ludwig Vorgrimmler, late of Mauser, where he had a hand in the development of the wartime MP43/MP44/Stg.45 rifles. Vorgrimmler soon had a roller-delayed rifle prototype developed for Spanish Army trials, the Modelo 2, which competed against a rifle created by a team of former Rheinmetall engineers who had submitted their gas-operated Modelo 1. By 1957, the reliable and forward-thinking Vorgrimmler gun was adopted by the Spanish as the wood-stocked CETME 58 in 7.62x51mm then the next year, with some tweaks from HK, by the West German Army as the polymer-stocked G3. Collectors in the U.S. of course know the G3 as the HK 91 and clones thereof.
While the Germans scaled-down the G3 to produce the 5.56 NATO HK 33 and 9mm MP5, the Spanish rebooted the roller-locked design in a clean-slate 5.56 NATO carbine in the early 1980s as the CETME L.
Since the gun was not just a shrunken G3, its internals such as the bolt, carrier, and rollers are all smaller compared to the HK 33, and the gun has a softer recoil due to its lighter reciprocating mass. It also has a shorter handguard that leads to more air circulation and a simplified rear sight instead of the HK drum-style sight.
The MarColMar CETME L
MarColMar's commercial version of the CETME L is still a 5.56 NATO caliber, roller-delayed blowback that is a dead ringer for the original –the product of a $2 million R&D process to recreate the gun for a U.S. market. Using a 16.1-inch cold hammer-forged Nitride barrel, it has a fluted chamber and uses standard metal-bodied AR-15/M16 magazines.
Their receivers are made in-house and use a robot welder with a Fanuc arm rather than an orangutan with a Harbor Freight MIG welder.
Using the new stamped steel receiver and furniture made from Nylon 66, the guns incorporate relatively few Spanish parts – and those that are upcycled are carefully selected and refinished. The MarColMar guns have all American-made new springs, new trigger boxes, and multiple small parts in addition to their new-made, semi-auto-only receiver and furniture to make it 922 compliant.
The whammy card on the magazine well is that it is long and very straight in construction. Made to accept STANAG mags, and the gun ships with an Okay Industries mag.
We have found that most metal-bodied mags work well with the gun, including those from D&H and C-Products. Ironically, surplus Spanish-made CETME L mags won't lock into place (perhaps for 922 compliance?) nor will plastic mags such as PMAGs due to the angled mold line that corresponds to the bottom of the AR-15/M-16 magwell. Still, metal-body AR/M16 mags are cheap and abundant and, if you have a bunch of PMAGs, they can be modded easily to fit your CETME.
MarColMar stresses that the CETME L has been designed for SAAMI Spec. 5.56 /.223 ammunition. The 1-in-7-twist barrel favors 62-grain bullets, but 55 grain can be used as well. The manufacturer also recommends only brass-cased, copper-jacketed ammunition be used for the CETME L, as steel case ammunition can fill the barrel flutes with lacquer.
When it comes to reliability, we put about 1,000 rounds through our borrowed CETME L test gun (thanks, Alex!) and experienced no reportable issues. We used Winchester 55-grain bulk and Federal green tip for the tests.
About the worst problem we must pass on is that the gun can sometimes frustrate those accustomed to ARs when it comes to mag changes. You have to present the magazine to the well very deliberately rather than rocking it. The short charging handle twice left us with a funky jam when short-stroked over a full mag. Both of those are training issues rather than gun issues. We also found that downloading the mag to 28 rounds rather than 30 works and seemed to cut down the short-stroke over a full mag issue.
The gun is incredibly soft shooting, feeling akin to a SCAR 16 or Bushmaster ACR.
It is also very accurate, although the trigger, being for a military-style rifle, is creepy.
How long will the CETME L be in production by MarColMar? Well, they say they bought about 10,000 parts sets in good to excellent condition but intend to only cherry-pick the best of those to turn into finished rifles, so you can expect it to be somewhat less than that figure.
While they may have spotty availability now, odds are they are already on the endangered list, making this one a "man, I wish I would have bought one of those when they are around" kinda rifle. Just saying.