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5 Best Retro AR Rifles of 2024 & 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!
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    Updated Feb. 2024: Removed discontinued/suspended Colt, Windham Weaponry, and DSA products. Added H&R 635, H&R 723, and FN 15 M16 Military Collector.

    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.

    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.


    1. Best "Modern" Retro Rifle

      Brownells BRN-180 Uppers

    Table of Contents


    How We Chose the Best Retro ARs

    The entire team at Pew Pew Tactical had a hand in contributing to this post. Our expertise spans hunters, recreational shooters, competitors, instructors, and prior law enforcement.

    1. PPT Team SHOT Show 2024
    PPT Team SHOT Show 2024

    We constantly test gear and regularly update articles as new models become available, so if you’re favorite isn’t here, check back soon!

    Best Retro ARs You Can Buy

    1. Harrington & Richardson M16A1 Rifle

    Best Retro Rifle
    at Palmetto State Armory

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons


    • Great attention to detail
    • Fun to shoot
    • Lightweight for its size


    • Goes out of stock frequently

    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.

    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.

    A new production H&R M16A1 clone. (Photo: u/OKB1)

    H&R already has various models listed for sale, but their M16A1 is the very definition of retro.

    With the classic A1 furniture, including the iconic triangle handguard, and correct A1 H&R marked receivers, this rifle is perfect for those wanting to channel Vietnam War vibes.

    The 20″ pencil barrel keeps things light while maximizing velocity and allows for a rifle-length gas system. Not only do these rifles look cool, they are light and soft-shooting, just like originally intended.

    2. Harrington & Richardson 723 Carbine

    Best Retro Carbine
    at Palmetto State Armory

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons


    • Extremely lightweight
    • Fun to shoot


    • Muzzle device can't be changed easily

    We get it, not everyone wants a full-size AR — that is where the H&R 723 comes in.

    These guns feature an A2 lower with adjustable carbine stock alongside a 14.7-inch barreled A1 upper pinned and welded out to 16 inches.

    H&R 723 Carbine shoot left

    Coming in right at 6 pounds, these rifles embody the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) mindset. No frills here, just a light rifle that handles like a light rifle.

    Whether you are looking for an old-school carbine, or a base to start a particular clone build, the 723 has you covered.

    Be sure to check out our full review of the H&R 723!

    3. FN American FN 15 Military Collector M16 Rifle

    Best 90s-2000s Classic
    at Kygunco

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons


    • Includes KAC RAS rail
    • Excellent build quality
    • Soft shooting


    • Expensive

    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.

    FN 15 M16 Military Collector series with ACOG. (Photo: u/APFSDS_Enjoyer)

    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.

    While Colt may be the definitive retro AR in everyone’s mind, FN was the one that snatched the military contract away from them. Since FN is a military contractor, a level of authenticity is already built in.

    Features include the famed KAC M5 RAS quad rail for attaching the brightest 200-lumen light 2008 had to offer, flip-up rear sight, correct ambi safety selector, and a military UID tag.

    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)

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

    Add a three-point sling and those ridiculous spare mag holders on the buttstock, and you’re ready to step back 20 years in time.

    4. Brownells BRN-180 Rifle

    Best "Modern" Retro Rifle
    at Brownells

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons


    • Allows for folding stocks
    • Piston-driven system shoots clean
    • Modular


    • Upper and lower must be purchased separately

    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.

    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.

    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.

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

    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.

    Be aware that Brownells no longer sells complete BRN-180s, so you will have to buy the upper and lower separately.

    at Brownells

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

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

    5. Harrington & Richardson 635 9mm Carbine

    Best Retro AR PCC
    at Palmetto State Armory

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons


    • Accepts Colt SMG magazines
    • Cheaper than 5.56 to shoot
    • Great foundation for a Form 1 SBR


    • 16" barrel isn't ideal for a SMG build

    Once again, we are cheesing the list a little here while still keeping it to ARs.

    Up next, we have the H&R 635, a 9mm AR SMG that just oozes 80s vibes. With 5.56 prices still higher than we’d like, 9mm doesn’t seem so bad.

    These guns are compatible with Colt SMG magazines and feature slick side A1 uppers with the correct gas deflector and 6-hole handguards.

    (Photo: PSA)

    Although these guns do have 16-inch barrels to comply with NFA regulations, the fact the front sight block is pinned right in front of the handguard makes these excellent candidates for Form 1 SBR builds with a barrel chop, thread, and crown.

    What do you think of the H&R 635? Rate it below!

    Readers’ Ratings

    5.00/5 (495)

    Your Rating?

    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.

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

    M16A4 FSB
    Iron sights on rifles are not only fun but can help improve another area of marksmanship that is often overlooked in modern times.

    Pick up an authentic M16A1 clone, and you’ll be amazed at just how light the gun is while still being easy to shoot. Carbine variants are even handier and replicate the feel of guns from movies like Black Hawk Down, Heat, and Blood Diamond.

    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.

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

    When we first published this article, there were a handful of companies making retro rifles. Since then, Colt has suspended their retro line, Brownells has discontinued their retro line, and Windham Weaponry has gone out of business.

    Palmetto State Armory is now the primary manufacturer of retro AR-15s under their Harrington & Richardson line. So naturally, this list will be H&R/PSA heavy.

    Even though there are fewer makers of retro ARs right now, PSA is making up for that by offering more options than all the previous companies combined.

    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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    6 Leave a Reply

    • Commenter Avatar

      Yup, retro might be fun but those of us who had the m16A1 in the service will cringe to see the retro models with the A1 iron sight adjustments. One of the examples had the A2 sights - so much easier to use. I will smirk in amusement to see the noobs struggle to click the sights with a cartridge, and learn it is not as cool as they originally thought.

      March 4, 2024 6:22 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        Eugene Stoner in his review of the M16A2 stated that while the new A2 was great for target competition and range work, it was superfluous and unnecessary for the regular infantry soldier or marine. He figured that you fix you combat zero on a weapon and you leave it alone and that an adjustable rear sight was a temptation for noted troops to fiddle with on the battle field. Mr Stiner also stated that once in combat, few troops actually changed their Windsor or elevation adjustments.

        Additionally,, the ability to add a great optic unit such as the ACOG put iron sights as a secondary sighting system. Get the original Retto AR15A1 and place annACOG on it!

        April 24, 2024 8:27 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Monte Walsh

      I built one as a tribute model. Before completing it I was hooked! Yes you can buy nice clones but you can’t beat locating original parts and furniture, assembling them and finally zeroing them! Completed several now, mainly A1s. Fun projects!

      March 3, 2024 9:35 pm
    • 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
      • Commenter Avatar

        I get your response, but for many of us- Old School AR15A1 is good-enough for our civilian enjoyment. The Retto is nice & light unlike some of the AR 9 lb variants. There is an old saying , ‘ You can shoot it all day or you can carry it all day, but you can’t have both! Amen- I am getting older and I feel every pound that I handle or lift. I love a 6.5 rifle!

        April 24, 2024 8:31 pm
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