Episode 23 – Johann Fanzoj Express Rifle — Double Rifle, .500/465 NE

PART 1{Virginia and Roger sitting at table, rifle in rack}

VIRGINIA: My name is Virginia Hall and I’m here today to introduce you to Roger Rule, author of The Rifleman’s Rifle, and host of this series of episodes, Special Guns with Roger Rule.

ROGER: Thank you, Virginia, welcome and welcome viewers to my 23rdEpisode of this series.

VIRGINIA: What do you have for us today?

ROGER:The gun I want to cover today is a rifle that is very similar to the rifle we covered in Episode 4: a big bore double rifle specifically designed for big and dangerous game.

There are, however, several differences and one is major enough to include this rifle in this series in addition to the rifle of Episode 4.  That rifle was a boxlock rifle and while very well made, was produced from modern CNC methods and finished with a minimum of handwork.

The differences for our rifle today, arethat it is a sidelock double rifle, and one made totally by hand, an old-world, old-school representation of the true art of the gun. The maker is one of the most prestigious gunmakers in the world. And although a work of art, the rifle is still made to function as a tool, yet a toolthat would impress any professional hunter.

In Episode 4 we covered the history for the development of the big bore double rifle and the purposes for which it was intended.  I don’t wish to bore you with repeat information. If you are interested in learning more about the history of this rifle today and have not viewed Episode 4 of this series, I refer you to that video to understand how the big bore double rifle came about.

But briefly, for this video, I am going to include just this much. It was during the heyday of Safari hunting in the last two centuries that the big-bore double rifle emerged as the perfect medicine for the biggest and most dangerous game.

It was pointed out that these early double rifles had two separate locks with exposed hammers,and that eventually the double rifle evolved into the modern era witha boxlock action and internal strikers. It no longer had exposed hammers.

However, I also mentioned that, even after the boxlock double rifle became more common for safari use, many hunters still preferred the sidelock double rifle for insurance.  When a hunter is armed with a sidelock double rifle in the bush, far from gunsmith assistance, if one lock malfunctioned, the other lock, being totally independent, still allowed the hunter a serviceable weapon, albeit, with only one operating barrel.

Consequently, retro back to the sidelock, that rifle for insurance is what we have here today, a fine example of the very treasured big-bore double rifle made for dangerous game still made with two independent locks. It is the sidelock ejector double rifle; and, it is a best gun to boot, being made by a best-world maker.

VIRGINIA: Who is the maker of this gun?

ROGER:The maker’s name is Johann Fanzoj, an old and renown company, established in 1790.

VIRGINIA: Where are they located?

ROGER: Austria. In the pantheon community of Austrian gunmakers, the small town of Ferlach, located in the south of Austria. The Johann Fanzoj company is “the Michelangelo of Ferlach gunmakers” having received the equivalent of the Royal Warrant of Austria by being designated as the purveyor to the Imperial court of Emperor Franz Joseph I. That was in 1906, but the company looks back on a tradition of fine craftsmanship upheld for eight generationsunderthe Fanzoj name.

VIRGINIA: Do they make a lot of guns?

ROGER: Every year only a small number of exclusive rifles and shotguns leave the Fanzoj workshop.  Each firearm is an amazing work of technical engineering and an object of beauty with cultural value. Their gunmaking artistry has propelled the company into the worldwide elite of specialty and boutique firms making only best guns.

PART 2 {Audio Only} {Show two rifle video profiles, and Photos JF01, JF02, JF03, JF04}

Here’s a little history of the company.  World War I and World War II hit the Fanzoj family hard economically. The handmade best gun business diminished after WWII. At the war’s end, in 1946, there were 56 gunsmith companies in Ferlach. From then until now, there are only a handful of highly specialized family-firms left that continue to build hand-crafted hunting firearms. After the second worldwar, the family member Johann Fanzoj began his turn at ownership and management of the company. He was successful in expanding the company to worldwide recognition and opened new areas of business and trade. As an avid hunter himself, and world traveler, Johann was the first Ferlach master gunmaker to go on safari in Africa in the 1960s. His trip initiated the era of large caliber double rifles built in Ferlach; and specifically, those crafted in the Fanzoj company under his name. They have become highly esteemed working rifles among professional hunters in Africa. Johann’s good relations with high-profile personalities and V.I.P.s lead to Fanzoj hunting arms becoming treasured gifts presented by and to heads of state.

Today, Johann’s son, Patick Fanzoj, who had been in charge of technical management since 2005, became general director in 2016. Under his tutelage, they built a new facility and the company, Johann Fanzoj, received the status of “Manufactur.” This is a national standing recognizing them as having the machinery and technical skills for making all components in house. Each and every product is designed and built within their workshop by a team of highly skilled and enthusiastic craftsmen, who combine centuries-old knowledge of the traditional techniques of gunmaking with the state-of-the-art manufacturing technology. Their in-house production allows complete control over every step of the gunmaking process. This guarantees the highest quality.

PART 3  {Roger and Virginia sitting at the table, rifle in rack}

VIRGINIA: That sounds like they make a lot of guns.

ROGER: I’m told that each Johann Fanzoj rifle or shotgun is planned and built one at a time.  They are not a volume producer.  They claim that skilled manual craftsmanship makes up 80 percent of the total work involved, with hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours involved in a single project. All engravings are executed by hand by the best master engravers.

VIRGINIA: I’m hearing another expensive rifle!

ROGER: Well, let’s first take a look at it.

VIRGINIA:Is this a new gun?

ROGER: No, it was built in 1970. As I said, Johann’s first hunt in Africa was in the ‘60s; this rifle is one of his early doubles.  It has a three digit serial number, 495.

VIRGINIA:  What is the caliber?

ROGER: It is chambered in .500/465 Nitro Express, a large bore centerfire rifle cartridge developed by Holland & Holland of London and introduced in 1907, very similar to the more well-known 470 Nitro Express.

VIRGINIA:Does this rifle kick as bad as that rifle in Episode 4?

ROGER: Actually, I have not shot this rifle before so I don’t know, but let’s go to the range and find out.


PART 4  {Roger at shooting bench at rifle range, Virginia on camera}

ROGER:Virginia has just asked how bad this rifle kicks.  We are here to find out.  The ammo is 500/465 Nitro Express (hold up a round) and I am inserting one cartridge into my Johann Fanzoj double rifle. We are here at my club’s 200 yard range and I am ready to shoot this round to test the target location and the rifle’s kick.

{Load, firegun, set rifle down,}

The kick wasn’t as bad as it might have looked on camera.

PART 5{Virginiaand Roger sitting at table, turn gun around}    {Roger sitting, then stands, points out features on gun still on holders}

ROGER:So, Virginia, for your question about the kick, we found out that is was not bad at all, which is a credit to the weight and design of the rifle.

Let’s turn our focus to itsfeatures. As I said, this fits in our Special Guns series because it is a sidelock double barreled rifle instead of a boxlock. Also, it is handmade. Being a sidelock double rifle, it has two locks, each one of which mechanically controls one trigger, one sear, one striker, and one barrel each independent of the other, and mounted on the opposite sides of the receiver.

Let’s look at the metalwork first. As you can see the action components arefinished with case hardening colors.{Photos JF05 thru JF09}This is the finish of the locks, the top and bottom of the receiver, the top tang and action lever, and the forearm escutcheon withAnson & Deeley release, which you can’t see from this view.  We covered case-hardening in our Episode 3.  The result often resembles oil floating in water, or is it the other way round?  Other metal parts are blued: the trigger guard bow and lower tang, the safety lever, the barrels and the sights.{Photos JF10} {there is no JF11}

This rifle has nearly full-coverage hand engraving in tiny arabesque scrolls by a Johann Fanzoj master engraver. It is not signed as is the custom and common practice for German and Austrian gunmakers.

VIRGINIA: The engraving on this one looks so tedious.

ROGER:Another important metal feature that I should point out is that this big double has what we call a “bolstered frame” having additional metal reinforcement which widens the receiver and extends up to join the fences. {Photo JF12}This additional reinforcement is needed on big bore double rifles. Also the fences have sideclips, beveled flanges extending forward from the sides of the receiver that mate up to beveled sides of the barrels. {Photo JF 13}As part of the aesthetics, the fences are also beaded, another touch only found on the best guns.

{Pick up the rifle}

First, we’ll check for safety {open action} Looking at the empty chambers, we can see it is unloaded.

In covering more of the outward metal features: Looking at the sidelocks we can see they are seven-pin locks with an easy count of the stainless pins. Also, just above the front of the trigger bow on each sidelock, there is a larger gold pin with a tiny raised bar. These are cocking indicators.{Photo JF14}When angled from seven o’clock to one o’clock on the right side; and five o’clock to eleven o’clock on the left side, both actions are cocked. In other words, when a bar is slanted, its lock is cocked. When not cocked, the indicators lie level or in their horizontal positions.

The two triggers are contoured with hand checkered faces for better control and the front trigger is articulated, whichmeans the front trigger is hinged, built to cushion its impact on the shooter’s trigger finger during recoil when the rear trigger is pulled.{Photo JF15}

The action lever or top lever is nicely engraved with a border surrounding checkered steel on both sides for non-slip control.{Photo JF16}The safety also has a border surrounding checkered steel with a raised knob to facilitate its sliding motion. {Photo JF 17}When on safe, the word SAFE shows in gold-filled letters. Slide it forward and the word SAFE is concealed and the rifle is now ready to fire.

Looking at the underside of the receiver, we see that each side is scalloped to mate to the stock, and the Anson and Deeley release in the semi-beavertail forearm is inlaid and recessed in a nicely grooved elliptical channel cut into the walnut.{Photo JF18, JF19}

The barrels are 24 ½” long.

The safety, located on the top tang behind the top opening lever When the action is open, we see a Greener style cross-bolt that is slotted into the top of the action and into an extension of the quarter rib.  The quarter rib is hand engraved with cross-hatching between two engraved borders or boundary lines which are interrupted with a narrow flat area showing the maker’s name and city inscribed and gold filled, “Johann Fanzoj, Ferlach, Austria”. {Photo JF20}The rib carries a rear express sight with three leaves, one standing with two folding, all featuring gold-filled vertical centerlines for quick eye alignment to their shallow v-notches. The two folded leaves are marked “200” and “300.” {Photo JF 21}The fixed leaf also has a shallow v-notch. These are preferred by professional hunters for fast sight alignment when hunting dangerous game. The quarter rib ends with a cone-shaped terminus that makes an interesting transition to the smooth concave rib of the barrels. This terminus is a pleasing piece of sculpture with what resembles “Celtic” cross hatching and matches the style and shape of the front sight ramp, which carries a single silver front sight bead. {Photo JF22}

in the traditional position, is manual, not automatic, which is the preferred type of safety for a dangerous game rifle.  If you have fired both shots and a wounded animal turns to charge, you want to be able to immediately eject your empties and reload.  Under pressure, you don’t want to have to think about taking the safety off which would require an additional step.

Mechanically, besides having two best-built seven-pin sidelocks, the action is the time-tested Purdey under-lug system with two Purdey underlugs and a third locking Greener cross-bolt. It is configured with sideclips, a locking screw on the action screw, bushed strikers with locking screws, and intercepting sears. Besides the articulated front trigger, the barrels are automatic ejector barrels which mean the shells once fired, are ejected or kicked out of the gun when opened.  When they are not fired, the cartridges are simply set up to be removed manually. I’ve demonstrated automatic ejectors before in several videos. I think the first time was in Episode 4, so I won’t bore you with more repetition.

I would like to emphasize the mechanical feature of bushed strikers. These allow easy access for firing pin repair or replacement. Bushed strikers indicate a very high quality gun and these are not only bushed on this rifle, but also they have locking screws, another give-away that it is handmade.We’ll show a close-up of these in a moment.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the wood.

VIRGINIA:Nice wood on this one again, I like the dark streaks in the grain.

ROGER:The dense dark English walnut stock has fancy grain with the right kinds of figure for a rifle needing a strong stock to withstand recoil. {Photos JF23, JF24, JF25}The figure comprises contrasting dark and light parallel streaks that are not only attractive, but also set in the correct direction for stress.  And the shape of the stock feels perfect as the gun comes to the shoulder with precise sight alignment on the target.

{Aim the rifle}

Looking at the design, the stock is made with a pistol grip.  The comb is a classic comb without Monte Carlo and is not fluted, but carries a nicely sculpted “European” style cheekpiece surrounded byan artistically contoured bead or shadowline.{Photo JF26}

The forearm wraps around the barrels but is so slender and well done, it would probably be described as a semi-beavertail forearm.{Photos JF27, JF28} Where the forearm meets the action, there is a pleasing curved-design that accentuates the curved or scalloped mating to the sidelocks on the underside.{Photo JF29}

The checkering is hand checkering and is executed flawlessly at 22 lpi. {Photo JF30}The points of the diamonds are crisp and still sharp to the touch with no diamonds missing. On the pistol grip there are two panels of checkering each ending with a2-point pattern with double borders. Behind the sidelocks, the stock carries the traditional English teardrops or drop points (as first explained in my Episode 7). The pistol grip is capped with a traditional buffalo horn pistol grip cap with an engraved screw.{Photo JF31}

The forearm checkering is also generous, a 4-point pattern that wraps around in front of the Anson & Deeley release recess and terminates with a pleasing v shape at the nose. {Photo JF32}Again, the checkering is well executed at 22 lpi and is surrounded with double borders here.

The wood-to-metal fit is meticulously done as would be expected on a best gun.

The butt of the stock has a traditional Silvers red-rubber recoil pad, an African favorite that withstands weather conditions better than leather covered pads. {Photo JF33}

The final finish of the wood is a hand-rubbed French polished oil.

The rifle’s length of pull is 14 ¾”  and it’s a heavy gun, the weight is 11 lb. 2 oz. – a weight the shooter appreciates when subjected to its recoil, as I just discovered.

                        To disassemble the gun, it has the traditional double take-down design.

{Disassemble gun}

First,pull down the Anson & Deeley lever to release the forearm and remove it.  Then, pressing the top lever to the right, lower the barrels form the action and the barrel assembly is freed and separates.

Now let’s turn to our sideboard and examine the disassembled parts.

PART6 {Roger off camera, rifle components inleather case}

This rifle comes with two of the maker’s cases, a leather presentation case and a water resistant steel case. I have here the oak and leathercase with the components compartmentalized. The accessories include 500/465 Nitro Express brass snap caps, a nickel oil bottle and a key for the lock (hidden in the compartment with a lid).

{Pick up stock and receiver}

Looking at the receiver first, the sideclips show very prominently when the barrels are not attached.

The sidelocks fit so tightly, their separation from the receiver is indistinguishable with the wood to metal fit being perfect. Notice also the seven pins of the sidelocks and the cocking indicators.

Inside the action, the bushedstrikers are clearly visible now showing their locking screws which, as I’ve said, is another indication that it is handmade.

When I move the top lever to the right, you can see the two locking bolts move in the water table. These lock into lugs on the barrel flats. You can also see the movement of the Greener top cross bolt which is a third fastener at the top of the receiver.

Inside, on the water table, we see the serial number 495 and the date of manufacture, 70 and two Austrian proof marks

Notice the rectangular hole through the bottom of the receiver where one of the barrels locking lugs protrudes. When this occurs, the mating lug on the barrel is engraved and finished to blend in and match the bottom of the receiver.

While I have the receiver here in this close venue, note the locking screw on the action screw and note also how both are indexed together (a true sign of a best gun).

{Put down the stock and pick up the barrels}

Looking at the barrels, we see the automatic ejectors, and under those, the big locking lugs for the locking bolts in the receiver. On the front lug, you can see the semi-circle cut out which matches up with the hinge pin in the receiver.  On the backs of both lugs you can see the square notches that receive the sliding bolts that lock into them. This is the Purdey design.

Themetal protrusion from the rib above the ejectors shows the hole for the Greener crossbolt.On the underside, further down the barrel assembly about 4 inches and mounted on the underside of the rib, there is a locking lug for the forearm release.

Just forward of the barrel flat are inscriptions on both barrels: Bohler steel, the caliber marking 500/465 N.E. and Austrian proof marks.

For other markings, the serial number appears again on the right underside of the barrel flat, 495 and the year of its manufacture, 70.

Turning the barrels around and over now for a top view, the maker’s inscription shows clearly in gold filled engraved lettering, JOHANN FANZOJ, FERLACH AUSTRIA just behind the rear express sight on the cross-hatched quarter rib.

{Put down the barrels, pick up the forearm}

Now looking at the forearm, notice the knife-edge sides of the wood allowing it to wrap around the barrels for this semi-beavertail forearm.  This workmanship is impressive.  There are no markings inside on the forearm iron.

As I turn it over, the forearm iron is engraved to match where it meets the action.    Looking at the finished bottom side of the forearm, we see the grooved channel for the recessed Anson & Deeley forearm release. Notice the tight inletting of the very tiny points of the escutcheon. It is well-designed,color-case hardened and engraved.

Let’s return to our main set and re-assemble this rifle.

PART 7 {Video, Virginiasitting, Roger stands to assemble rifle – Quotes}

{Components on table, Roger picks up stock and barrels}

To re-assemble this rifle, again, it is the traditional double take-down design: First hold the barrel assembly at 45 degrees to the action, and hold the top lever to the right while lining up everything.  Then, raising the barrels locks it together.  Next, hold the forearm also at 45 degrees and insert it until the Anson & Deeley latch locks.

When not using the gun, the action should not be cocked, either snap the strikers with the snap caps or open the gun, take it off safe, and while holding both triggers back, close the action.

{Place rifle back on holders facing right, Roger sits down, on camera}

VIRGINIA: How is the condition rated for this rifle?

ROGER: Overall, the condition is excellent plus showing a few light handling marks. The mechanics and the bores are perfect.

VIRGINIA:And the 500-465 cartridge for this, is it popular?

ROGER:I’m glad you asked that, I wanted to mention something about this caliber. To answer your question, it is not popular in this country, but it should be. It is a great performing cartridge designed, as I’ve said, by Holland & Holland and nearly identical to the 470 Nitro Express. Here’s a little  history on the 500/465 Nitro Express.

In the late 1890s, the British Empire was facing a series of internal insurrections in India and the Sudan, and the .450 caliberMartini-Henry rifle was the most widely distributed firearm in the hands of the anti-British forces. Because of that, in 1907, the British Army banned all .450 caliber sporting rifles and ammunition from importation into India and the Sudan, two major destinations for the popular sporting cartridge, the .450 NE. While the .450 NE cartridges could not be loaded into a Martini–Henry rifle, it was feared the bullets could be pulled and used in making ammo for them.

What resulted, however, was a rush by British rifle and ammunition makers to develop a substitute sporting cartridge. Holland & Holland created this.500/465 Nitro Express, Joseph Lang created the .470 Nitro Express and Westley Richards created the 476 Nitro Express, among others.  {Photo JF34}

So our cartridge here is the 500/465 NE created by Holland & Holland by necking down the .500 Nitro Express 3 ¼” cartridge.  The 500/465 NE was designed for use in single-shot and double rifles as it is a rimmed cartridge. There is a fine testament to this cartridge published in the book, Cartridges of the World, by Frank C. Barnes. I will quote it here:

(quote)The 500/465 is rated as an excellent all-around number for Africa, including heavy or dangerous game. It is still tops for African game. Only one bullet weight is used, but those 480-grain slugs are available in solid, softpoint, and metal-covered split types. With the bullet weight of 480 gr. the factory load gives a muzzle velocity of 2150 ft/sec with an energy of 4930 ft/lbs.” (close quote)

VIRGINIA: Sounds like an awesome cartridge for Africa.

ROGER:  Yes, and brass is readily available from the popular 500 Nitro Express which can be necked down for the handloader.

As a last note, I’ve said this rifle comes with two cases: we just saw the leather presentation case. The second one is a water-resistant nearly air-tight steel trunk case, enameled green, with black foamfitted compartments for carrying both the rifle and a box of ammunition.  Both cases have keys and the maker’s labels.{Photos JF35 thru JF37and JF01 again}

To sum up, we only have to look at the maker’s website to see their claims: They state that the family’s continuous enthusiasm for their unique craft lives on. And that together they have formed a dedicated team and follow a consistent niche policy with a commitment to top-notch craftsmanship and design excellence.

Today, the name Fanzoj stands for one of the world’s premier gunmakers.

Their website states that (quote), “Johann Fanzoj’s firearms are mechanical masterpieces  as well as “objects of eternity” – a perfect blend of cutting-edge technology with centuries-old craftsmanship. Johann Fanzoj prides itself on producing the finest individual pieces for the most discerning and individual of people – utltra-customized creations for the adventure of a lifetime.” (close quote)

From examining this specimen of their fine work, I would say their claims were well founded and have been fully and completely realized.

That’s it for today, thank you Virginia, and thank you the viewers for watching, and if you enjoyed this video, I invite you to subscribe to my YouTube channel and share with others.  And, I hope you join us next week for another episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.  We’ll be looking at another very special rifle.