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The SPAS 12 Project LLC 2020

Special thanks to contributors Alexander H.,  Cole C.,  Zach G., Alex G., Paul S., Craige H., Neil Z., Rick J. Mark M., Tom S., Ben O., Taylor S., Joseph D., Anthony D., Steve P. and David B.

Development of the SPAS 12

Very little information is readily available regarding the early production life of the SPAS 12.  Combining the information found in this recently translated article from the Italian firearm magazine "Diana-ARMI", the questions answered by the Technical Manager of Franchi responsible for production of the SPAS 12, and an in-depth look at one of the earliest known SPAS 12's, we can see a little glimpse of how our favorite shotgun came to be.

The Luigi Franchi SPAS 11

Developed as a modified version of the Franchi 500.  Notice in the parts layouts below that the design features the action spring being contained in the rear of the weapon and being hidden by the tube stock.  The Franchi 500's recoil system configuration didn't allow for the stock to fold, which became an important feature requested by their military/police demographic.

It's very interesting to note that the Diana-ARMI article seems to have featured two different versions of the SPAS 11.  While both seem to share the same receiver and stock, it looks like two different front-ends were used between Franchi's supplied images of the soldiers posing with the weapon in contrast with the more detailed images that were displayed on the cover and first two pages of the article.  Not only does the hole pattern on the heat shield change, but the soldiers SPAS 11 seems to have no action-sleeve at all, begging the question of how it would be switched from pump to semi-auto, or if that version was even capable of that feature yet.  Check the images below to compare the two prototypes, paying attention to the front section.

Both the Diana-ARMI article and the technical manager note that a folding stock was requested by the miltary and police outfits, so a change had to be made.  The switch was then made to ditch the Franchi 500 series of recoil system and receiver and a new design was created where the action spring/recoil system was located at the front of the gun around the magazine tube, this removed the necessity of having a fixed stock and allowed for the folding stocks we all know and love today.  Hence the SPAS receiver was born, and around it was built the PG 80 series.

Early SPAS 12's

These are images of the first incantation of the SPAS 12.  Note the grip safety, the Variomix threaded 18" barrel, and what appears to be a permanently welded tail section of the stock.  The stock itself is solid and no lightening holes have been cut.  The sling mount on the magazine extension also appears to hang lower than the production models.

Pictured in both of these advertisements is an early/prototype SPAS 12.  The differences from this SPAS and the production models readily apparent.  The pistol grip features no texturing and the pistol-grip safety is visible and shows a different version of mechanical safety, perhaps an early version of the lever safety or even a crossbolt style.  The folding stock lightening holes have been moved backwards slightly to accommodate what appears to be a welded-open tail piece for the stock.  No pivot pins or detents are visible in tail section suggestion it was permanently in that configuration.  Also visible is a smaller thread protector than we're used to seeing in the States, most likely threaded for Variomix chokes. 

Earliest Found SPAS

There are three SPAS 12's known to the The Project that exhibit features "in between" the SPAS 12's featured in the above advertisements and the mass produced models that were available to the general public.  One resides in Italy, and the other two (believe it or not) are in the United States owned by private collectors and fellow SPAS enthusiasts.  One such owner was nice enough to snap some photos of this rare shotgun to share for everyone to enjoy.

The features on this gun are incredibly interesting.  The folding stock retaining bolt is outfitted with a hex-key hole for easy removal.  This has been rarely seen on other very early SPAS 12's, but it's rarity makes it worth mentioning in this article.  The gun also features an intact grip safety.  The owner of the gun was gracious enough to dismantle his pistol grip on this SPAS as well as another production model to compare.

The features on this gun are incredibly interesting.  The folding stock retaining bolt is outfitted with a hex-key hole for easy removal.  This has been rarely seen on other very early SPAS 12's, but it's rarity makes it worth mentioning in this article.  The gun also features an intact grip safety.  The owner of the gun was gracious enough to dismantle his pistol grip on this SPAS as well as another production model to compare.

The grip safety pistol grip on the left shows a very simple mechanism, the remnants of which are visible even in the production models.  A metal "L-shaped" piece was affixed to a plastic plug and kept under tension by a spring.  The L-shaped piece would stick through the back of the trigger group and rest against the back of the trigger itself blocking the trigger from being pulled.  Gripping the safety would move the L-shaped piece away from the trigger and allow for it to be removed.  According to the technical manager at Franchi, it was removed at the request of military/police forces before final production. 

The grip safety was removed and instead of remolding a new pistol grip, Franchi made a plug to fill the hole and sent it on to production.  This is now an unpopular move, given the grip-plugs fragile nature since the plastic that was used for the plug became extremely brittle with age.
 

You also might be noticing the difference in the sling swivel drum at the top of the pistol grip.  On the production guns these were a function-less piece of brittle plastic that was fairly useless as a sling mount.  On this 18" SPAS, however, the swivel drum is referred to as a "stock fastening drum". 

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The drum was made of steel and held two pins in it's axis, so that when the drum was rotated backwards the pins would unlock allowing the folding stock to be removed from the pistol grip.  It is nothing short of infuriating that this feature didn't make it to production.  See it in action in the video on the right where the owner of the gun removes and shows the axis pins retaining the folding stock. 

 

It is unknown why this feature was left off of the production shotguns as it seems like it would have been a fantastic feature for the gun to have.  It would be easy to chalk it up as a financial constraint, but it can't be said for sure at this point. 

There are no known variants of the SPAS that have been spotted as being "in between" this 18" model and the production run of guns.  It would be our assumption that shortly after this SPAS was obtained that Franchi went into producing the SPAS 12's that were eventually sold in the United States by FIE and then later, American Arms.

Hopefully this article has been as fun to read as it has been to compile and write.  My most heartfelt thanks to the owner of the featured SPAS 12 for sharing such an incredible piece of SPAS history with everyone.