Purdey has developed a working relationship with Perugini & Visini, the Italian firm which makes an over-under of high quality based upon a Perazzi-style action.
But the plan is not to import a P&V-manufactured gun to the UK and re-badge it. Instead, Purdey has created a gun based on a generic Perazzi-style action. Contrary to rumour, the major components of the new machine made gun will be made in England.
Assembly and stocking will take place in Italy, and the gun will be returned to England for finishing.
Richard Purdey notes: We want to be completely open and upfront with everyone on this gun, as we firmly believe that drawing on a proven design and redrawing and re-engineering it is a better way to go than trying to reinvent the wheel. Likewise it makes a lot of sense for us to work with a partner like P & V which has built this type of gun and has current skills in doing so, and offers additional capacity.
This is a true Purdey, he adds albeit of a type not made previously, and made with a much greater level of highly machined parts in order to offer a gun in this market sector. But it is Purdeys Hammersmith team that has created this new derivative of an established design which now incorporates a lot of Purdey precision engineering skills and gunmaking craftsmanship.
Much of the work on what is presently known as the Sporter will be completed in the Purdey machine shop at its factory in Hammersmith.
Action body, barrel monobloc, fore-end iron and other major parts are to be made there but the barrels will be put together by Perugini & Visini in Italy, and a number of other assembly operations will take place in that firms Brescia workshop to cut production costs.
The cost of a classic Purdey side-by-side now begins at £57,340. A sidelock over-under based on an improved Woodward design costs £67,562.
The Sporter will cost in the region of £20,000 to £25,000 including VAT, a price made possible by the style of gun and its innovative method of manufacture.
The price of the new Purdey will be pitched significantly under that of the entirely British-made Holland & Holland Sporting model (£36,490) and just above the Churchill Imperial (£19,950).
Who will buy the Purdey Sporter?
The gun is designed for enthusiasts serious about their shooting, who want, and can afford, the very best gun of its type.
Many, one suspects, will be interested in both game- and clay pigeon shooting (and the gun as conceived is suited to both).
The Sporter will enable Purdey to create a wider customer base and welcome potential customers into the Purdey fold at an earlier stage in their shooting careers.
What about the manufacturing methods?
Any recent visitor to the Purdey factory will have noticed that the firm has embraced the new technology to a remarkable degree.
However, this has not replaced traditional gunmaking, but complements it.
The machine shop is increasingly central to the Purdey manufacturing operation, headed with great enthusiasm by Ian Clarke, and is equipped with the latest thing in CAD (computer-aided design)/CAM (computer-aided manufacturing), CNC (computer numerical control) and spark erosion.
It is a place that hums not only with sophisticated plant but with new ideas, and has a creative ethic that might be summed up as handmade by machine.
For Purdey, the Sporter is not just a new model a huge event for a gunmaker who still makes the classic Beesley sidelock patented in 1880 and the Woodward-style overand- under patented in 1913 (the rights to which Purdey acquired in 1949) it is a means of achieving better utilisation of its ever more sophisticated machining facility (which needs to run on a 24-hour basis to remain cost effective).
It is also a way to maintain its London skill base.
Keeping together its highly skilled workforce is a problem for a company that makes only about 85 guns (75 shotguns and 10 rifles) annually.
The Sporter project is a logical development for a traditional firm interested in its long-term survival. Purdey did not restrict itself to best guns alone in years past (nor did it make every gun sold under its name).
Purdey has seen the potential for a broader market now, and has decided to cater for it without dropping standards but by developing production methods.
The new gun is based on an action type recognised as one of the best yet conceived.
A similar action is used by Perazzi, Perugini & Visini, and Gamba among others in Italy, Kemen in Spain, and Churchill and Holland & Holland in the UK have also produced predominantly machine-made over-unders of similar type.
Nigel Beaumont, Purdeys director of gunmaking, has led the research and development team.
The Sporter is very much his baby (though the input of special consultant Steve Murray must be noted). Nigel comments: We decided that the generic Perazzi type action was one of the best yet produced for this type of gun. We have the capability to produce all the parts for it in-house the whole gun as developed and improved exists in our intellectual property.
Several specific technical challenges had to be met.
The tightness of the jointing, the gape, the auto-safety system and the ejection all had to meet Purdey standards. This has meant subtle re-engineering of key components. For example, the ejector limbs will be made in the UK; the cheaper option would have been to produce them in Italy.
We needed to make our own, they are the backbone of the ejection mechanism, Nigel says. The first Sporters will be 12-bores; a 20- bore may join the range in due course. Barrel options are 28in or 30in with Teague chokes (there is a 32in prototype but this will not go into production yet).
Actions may be colour case-hardened, black or brush-polished. Engraving options are fine rose and scroll, large scroll or plain. Stocks are pistol gripped with traditional oil finish. Deliveries are anticipated early next year. The first 10 guns are planned as unique launch editions.
Purdey will reserve two consecutive serial numbers for each new gun ordered. This is to allow for pairing or a later addition of a matched 12-bore or 20-bore.
What are the new guns like to shoot?
I have had the chance to shoot two prototypes extensively at Andy Castles West London Sporting Targets (located next to the West London Shooting Ground). The first was a colour case-hardened, 32in barrelled gun (it is not the intention to manufacture the Sporter in this barrel length immediately).
Its balance was well forward of the hinge pins like many long-barrelled guns it felt muzzle heavy.
The barrels, which were quite tightly bored at 18.4mm (.728in), were both choked half and half. All-up, weight was (7lb 15oz).
The stock had a fairly wide-radius pistol grip. The second gun was black-actioned and had 28in tubes.
It was similarly stocked with a well-formed English-style full pistol grip. Although it weighed in at 7lb 12 oz, it felt much lighter than the longer prototype, perhaps because of a more conventional balance just forward of the hinge point.
The bore size was also more open at .733in. Chokes were quarter and half.
Trigger pulls on both guns were set at about 4lb for the first pull, and 4lb 4oz for the second. Both guns shot well.
I thought that the longer-barrelled gun seemed to shoot a little high though, regardless of its bend dimensions (which were about 1.1⁄2in and 2.1⁄8in). This puzzled me, but will be academic I suspect, as the intention is to lower the breech slightly to improve the gape further. This will have the same effect as lowering the back-sight on a rifle (provided rib depth at the muzzles remains constant).
The 28in gun was a great performer. Superlatives are in order.
I shot a round of skeet clay-pigeons with this gun (a game originally devised to simulate game-shooting) and connected with all birds. I moved back, and still the gun connected with every pitch disc aimed at.
It was monotonously consistent to shoot. I started to shoot skeet birds from the Low House as they emerged. They were all broken within a few yards of the trap-house mouth.
Within 30yd it was hard to miss with this gun.
It is a super piece of kit proof that you cannot go far wrong with relatively lightweight tubes, a bit of weight between the hands, and a wider than average bore size.
Was anything wrong with the guns? I thought the action sculpturing a little busy on the longer-barrelled gun but this is just a matter of taste.
I also think that a detachable lock mechanism is unnecessary. A fixed-lock gun might be made simpler, slimmer in the hand, and perhaps at an even more competitive price.
But to get these wonderful guns to this stage is an extraordinary achievement. The fact that they are predominantly made in England by Purdey must be the gunmaking story of the year.
James Purdey & Sons
Tel: 020 7499 1801