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5 Best Retro AR Rifles & Why You Need One

Retro is cool again and we've got the lowdown on the best retro AR-style rifles on the market. Come see which AR models we picked!

The AR market is absolutely flooded, and that seems to be a good thing for most American shooters.

If you want an AR-15, you can get one in nearly every combination of parts and pieces possible. From the ultra tactical modern URGI wanna-be to a growing retro market.

What I Carried M16A4 Clone (1)
The classic lines and feel of the AR-15 can get lost in the sea of ever-evolving modifications and improvements.

Today we are talking about the latter. Most current gun owners weren’t born early enough to experience the guns of old, and besides, who doesn’t love retro guns?

But affording something like a real Colt SP-1 can be tough…

Luckily, the retro market has been growing, and with the AR-15’s popularity, there are some great options for those who want to experience the classics.

Summary of Our Top Picks

  1. Best Retro Rifle

    Harrington & Richardson Retro M16A1 Rifle, Gray

    These faithful reproductions are reasonably priced and extremely well-executed.

  2. Best Retro Carbine

    Harrington & Richardson Retro 654 Slick Side 14.7" Carbine

    These slick-side carbines are an awesome look into what the short AR-15 was before the days of the M4.

  3. Best Budget Retro AR

    Windham Weaponry A1 Government Rifle

    Prices on these fluctuate, but if you can catch them for under $1000, these rifles are fun while providing that retro vibe.

  4. Best Optics-Ready Retro Rifle

    DSA AR-15 20" Service Series 5.56x45 NATO A4 Rifle

    This clone-correct flat-top A4 gives you the ability to shoot with classic irons or mount a cool era-correct optic for full LARP.

  5. Best "Modern" Retro Rifle

    Brownells BRN-180

    It may not be a true retro rifle, but its design cues and operating system borrowed from the original AR-18 make this a cool one.

Table of Contents


Why You Should Buy a Retro AR

One of the biggest reasons the retro AR market is so dominant is because a variant of the AR-15 has been the service weapon for the United States military for decades.

M16 Progression A1 to A4
From top to bottom: M16A1, M16A2, M4A1, M16A4

You and I could find a pile of modern AR-15 rifles at any gun shop or gun show in about five minutes, but a retro AR is something special — It’s like a living piece of history

It might not have been made in ’68, but it’s the closest you are going to get without paying the price. You’ll be able to embrace the original platform and experience what generations of Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen did.

Modern optics help enhance your accuracy and your speed, but if you want to have a little fun, then iron sights are the way to go.

Iron sights on rifles are not only fun but can help improve another area of marksmanship that is often overlooked in modern times.

Even with just iron sights, these guns can be enough for most practical uses and make for handy, lightweight semi-auto rifles.

Pick up an authentic M16A1 clone, and you’ll be amazed at just how light the gun is. Additionally, many retro ARs have a 20-inch barrel, which means they use a rifle-length gas system.

What does this mean? It means if you’ve never shot one, you are in for a treat. These rifles are super smooth shooters with minimal recoil and minimal muzzle rise.

Brownells had their Proto line of ARs which were reproductions of the original top-charging Stoner design. Sadly, these have been discontinued.

There is something to be said for a gun designed essentially to fun plinking gun. You can step back from serious training and embrace the fun of shooting an old gun without all the bells and whistles.

Now that we know why retro ARs are so much fun, where can you get one? I’ve gathered a few companies making moves in the retro market.

Best Retro ARs You Can Buy

1. Harrington & Richardson / Palmetto State Armory

Corporate structuring is weird. Palmetto State Armory bought Harrington & Richardson when Remington finally went under.

Then, PSA purchased the premier retro receiver and rifle manufacturer NoDak Spud. Now, the guys at NoDak work for PSA under the H&R label.

The H&R M16A1 is an extremely faithful reproduction. Details like the correct A1 pattern lower and 20-round waffle magazine really stand out. (Photo: Chris Eger, Guns.com)

NoDak Spud’s fame came from their attention to detail. Since they transitioned the owner of NoDak into the CEO role at H&R, he’s been bringing that same expertise to a larger market and company capable of high-volume production.

H&R already has various models listed for sale, including the M16A1, 604, 654, 711, and 723. More variants are expected to be available as production ramps up.

Best Retro Rifle
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

As always, PSA also focuses on the builder and has already released barrels, uppers, lowers, as well as retro rear sights and parts.

PSA has been known for making affordable AR-15s. While the H&R line is a little more expensive than I had hoped, they are still reasonably priced, especially considering the quality, variety, and attention to detail.

Best Retro Carbine
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

What do you think of H&R? Rate them below!

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2. Windham Weaponry

Windham Weaponry is a rebranding of the original Bushmaster company. They are still going strong and produce some awesome rifles, including the Windham Weaponry A1 Government.

As the name implies, you’re getting an M16A1(ish) clone with all-new everything.

These rifles are made in the original Bushmaster factory in Windham, Maine, and the quality reflects that. (Photo Credit: u/GlockKnuckle)

It’s a buy-it-now option that won’t require you to hunt down triangular handguards or a fixed carry handle upper. With the A1 Government, you get a straightforward rifle, similar to what the Army used.

The A1 Government uses an A1-style rear sight, A1 grip, A1 handguard, A2 buttstock, A2 Government profile barrel, and an A2-style lower.

Admittedly, it is a bit of a mish-mash of A1 and A2 parts, but it still exudes the classic feel and performance of the ARs of old.

Best Budget Retro AR
at GrabAGun

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

The A1 Government represents that and shows you that even back then, the M16 and AR-15 series were destined for greatness. The Windham Weaponry model is fairly affordable and looks and feels great.

Windham Includes a hard case and an old-school black web sling to ensure you’re ready to patrol the jungles of your backyard.

3. DSA M16A4

DSA is well known for producing high-quality FAL clones and various upgrades to the FAL platform. They have since expanded into the AR market and have tapped into the retro market.

When you think of a retro AR, you likely picture an M16A1 or A2. But how do we define retro? Well, my definition happens to include the M16A4.

The M16A4 was the last of the M16 series and served both the Army and Marine Corps during the GWOT. I qualify it as retro because it’s out of combat service and mostly seen among reservists and recruits these days.

With all the advancements and changes to the AR platform, the M16A4 almost feels older than it is. (Photo: US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Jailine L. Martinez)

This big rifle is complete with all its faults and advantages. The shortcomings mainly include the long length of pull and off-balanced design due to the heavy Knight’s Armament quad rail.

Yep, DSA includes the famed quad rail for attaching the brightest 200-lumen light 2008 had to offer. Your rail won’t be bare because you also get the OG forward grip from Knight’s and a rear sight…until you get your ACOG, of course.

Unlike other retro guns, this one was designed to accept optics. Like all rifle-length AR-15s, it’s a very smooth shooter, recoil is basically nil, and the concussion is much calmer.

Best Optics-Ready Retro Rifle
at DSA

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Add a three-point sling and those ridiculous spare mag holders on the buttstock, and you’re ready to step back 15 years in time.

4. Colt Retro Reissues

Is Colt doing something cool? What! No way!

Colt has stagnated for years, relying on their history, AR-15s, and 1911s to keep them afloat. But a few years back, they finally gave in to creating something new (well, old) with their Retro Reissue and AR-15 Military Classic line.

(Photo: Gun Digest)

This includes the most accurate representations of the M16A1 out there. Colt held nothing back with this gun. You get exactly what you expect; they even scored right with the little details.

The Colt M16A1 retro reissue comes complete with a 20-round magazine and a 1:12 twist rate. On the outside, everything is correct, including the forward assist, the sights, the handguard, the lower, and the stock.

The XM177E2 was a staple of the MACV-SOG special operations unit during the Vietnam War. (Photo: The Colt AR-15 Resource)

Aside from the M16A1, they also produced an XM177E2 “Commando” variant. This includes an NFA complaint pinned and welded extended flash hider designed to look like the original moderator.

Colt built the XM177E2 with the classic telescoping stocks, the original 1:12 barrel twist rate, and A1 sights. The stock is even the proper vinyl-acetate-coated aluminum design. It’s the grandfather to what would become the iconic M4.

These guns even feature authentic roll marks and typefaces from the era. It’s only missing that third selector position.

at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

So, what’s the downside? Well, Colt being Colt, apparently only made 2,500 of each, and they cost $2,500 each.

Hopefully, with CZ taking over Colt, we’ll see some more retro reissues so we can continue to LARP Vietnam with Colt-stamped guns.

5. Brownells BRN-180

When I said Retro ARs, I didn’t specify AR-15s, now did I?

Brownells used to partner with NoDak to make a ton of retro AR-15s, but they left that market. Although they still produce parts and accessories for retro rifles.

BRN180 video
A BRN-180 on a Daniel Defense lower. The BRN-180 uses the operating system and other external design cues from the original ArmaLite AR-18.

However, as far as complete rifles go, they produce a modified version of the AR-18 that’s admittedly been modernized.

It might not count as a retro rifle to some, but the BRN-180 is my wildcard choice.

This short-stroke gas piston gun comes in both .300 Blackout and 5.56 and is available in various barrel lengths.

Best "Modern" Retro Rifle
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

True, the guns have M-LOK handguards and optics rails, but they stick to the dog leg charging handle and early flash suppressor design of the AR-180.

Additionally, these guns come in true rifle-length variants, and Brownells released a folding stock that resembles the original.

BRN-180 Fighting Rifle and Kit
BRN-180 Fighting Rifle and Kit

It’s not quite retro, and I hear that argument, but maybe we can very nicely bully Brownells into making a more retro variant.

We have a full review of the BRN-180 packed with more details!

Final Thoughts

I personally love the retro market…I love retro shotguns, handguns, ARs, and I like it when a company returns to its roots and produces something a bit different from the modern fold.


Retro firearms deliver a different experience. If firearms are a hobby for you, then these guns are a great way to experience the past without potentially spending crazy money on something that is more fit for a museum than a gun range.

Which guns would you like to see make a comeback? Let us know your thoughts and favorites in the comments below! Interested in retro guns other than ARs? Check out our article on the 7 Best Retro Reproductions: Classics Reborn!

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2 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Art B

    A complete AR-18/180. While it is my understanding that the AR - 180 was constructed out of folded metal for budgetary considerations, they are a good firearm with many good features - and a couple of fixable problems. Brownell's has captured many of the good features with their short stroke upper. Many features of the lower are of note also. From the folding stock - with the ability of shooting the firearm with the stock folded, to the take down mechanism plus more. The main problem with the 180, from what I have seen, is the hammer hooks having a tendency to break off. With no spare parts available, it rather limits the usefulness of a stellar gun!

    March 14, 2023 11:16 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Chuck Cochran

    It's nice that they've done this for the Die Hard Traditionalist.
    Frankly though, at those prices, they can keep them. Even the budget model is $200 to $300 more than a decent modern AR, and if you want an Optic, to mount on top of the carrying handle, another $100 to $200 for a good mount.
    Nostalgia's nice, if you can afford it.

    March 14, 2023 5:58 pm
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