Special Guns Episode 15 Beretta SO Q&A2


Special Guns with Roger Rule

Episode 15 – Beretta SO5 EELL Over-and-Under Hand Detachable Locks


PART 1  {Virginia and Roger sitting behind table}

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 15th Episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.

VIRGINIA: What do we have today?

ROGER:   In the last few episodes, we have been featuring mostly shotguns.  In the evolution of the over-and-under shotgun, we have covered three successful models.  In the last episode, it was the great Browning Superposed.

Shortly after seeing that the March 1926 patents were granted for the Superposed, Pietro Beretta of the Beretta Co. realized the forward thinking of Browning and recognized too that Browning was after a new market sector.  Beretta decided that this market was something his company should explore as well.

Let’s look at Beretta history a bit, so you can see where Pietro Beretta fits in.  A fact a lot of people are not aware of, is that not only is Beretta the oldest gun company in the world, but also they claim they are the oldest original-family owned company in any industry.

VIRGINIA: The oldest company?

ROGER: The oldest family owned company. Beretta has been owned by the same family for nearly 500 years. They trace their gun business roots clear back to 1526 when Bartolomeo Beretta sold 185 arquebus (ar’-qw-bus) barrels to the Arsenal of Venice. They have always been located in Italy’s gun mecca, Val Trompia – a northern Italian river valley. They started in what was the little village of Gardone. In no time, their name became synonymous with quality, and word spread beyond Italian borders. By the end of the 17th Century, Beretta had become the second largest gun barrel maker in Val Trompia.

Under the guild system, the knowledge of their gun fabrication was passed on from father to son for several generations until the guild system was abolished by Napoleon after his conquest of the Venetian Republic in 1797.

During the two world wars, Beretta built guns for the Italian army.  After both world wars, Beretta, under the leadership of Pietro Beretta who had taken over the company back in 1903, became proactive in obtaining their share of the sporting arms market in the U.S.

PART 2 {Audio-only}

In the 1980s, Beretta established its popularity in North America when its Beretta Model 92 pistol was selected as the service handgun for the US Army in 1985.  With Beretta’s success, they acquired several Italian competitors – Benelli, Franchi, and others; and by the end of the 1980s, Sako of Finland.

Now, go back to the era when the Browning Superposed came out in 1935.  This was during Pietro Beretta’s management. While Pietro was actively seeking the production of small arms for the military and law enforcement, he did not ignore the sporting arms that had been the company’s strength. He was very much aware of the English over-and-under guns, particular Boss and Woodward.  Although those were technically brilliant, they were low volume and too high priced for his company, which was large and needed to produce a volume output for his factory.  He could see that Browning’s Superposed, on the other hand, could be manufactured in a much higher volume with a price that created a different market sector than the small market of the higher-priced English guns that were made entirely by hand.

Beretta turned to his in-house designer, Tullio Marengoni, to begin the development work for a competitive over-and-under for the Superposed.  Marengoni worked at Beretta all his life, starting with his apprenticeship in 1894 and becoming chief designer in 1904, a post he held until his death in 1965. Marengoni did not like Browning’s design. He found its under-lugs clumsy and unrefined.  In a Beretta catalog later, the Browning Superposed would be described as “very high, heavy, and ugly” an insult that the Italian trade would continue to use against the Superposed for the next 70 years.

To reduce the height on his design, Marengoni rejected the under-lug system and instead turned to a locking system that mounted the barrels low in the action body on stub pins, and locking them by means of a cross bolt that emerged from the upper left of the receiver similar to the Kersten crossbolt. Additional locking was provided by angled barrel shoulders that engage angled cut outs in the receiver walls.  This last feature would become so successful that it would be a Beretta signature.

Another big difference from the Browning was that Beretta used their own “Monobloc” barrels, pioneered by Beretta in 1913, and now a system used on most shotguns today except for the very expensive handmade guns.

In the Monobloc system, the barrels are made separately from the breech block, then soldered in place reducing distortion and allowing for very precise alignment.

Pietro Beretta recognized early on that even Marengoni’s design would be expensive to build, so he opted to add a premium specification, planning it from the onset to be a true sidelock to give the gun additional value.

The new gun became known as the SO gun and was commercially available in 1935, hitting the market about the same time as the Superposed, which had been delayed several years caused by John Browning’s untimely death.  But, with war hanging over Europe, the productions of both guns were limited. Prior to the war, the Beretta catalogs listed three grades for the SO: S-1, S-2, and S-3.  After the war, the guns reappear unchanged but with higher grades, the EL (Extra Lusso) and later, an even more lavish grade, the EELL grades.

The SO4 was first introduced in 1968; the SO5 in 1969; and the SO6 in 1989.  In 1990, a smaller SO for small gauges was brought out, the SO9.  There is an SO-10 but it is entirely a different gun.

PART 3 {Roger and Virginia sitting at the table, gun in holders}

For gunmakers, the Olympics have always been considered the high-point of the sport and winning Olympic medals foster gun sales. With his Beretta SO3EELL, Liano Rossini won the first gold medal using an SO, winning the Trap competition in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. Since then, many gold medals have been taken with other SOs and recently Russell Mark of Australia has won multiple gold medals using his SO5.

For our episode today, I have located a very special SO5EELL with hand detachable locks.

But let me explain some background of how I was first intrigued about this gun.  I have told my story about my introduction to the great Boss over-and-under in Episode 11.  I learned to appreciate the low profile of that gun’s side mounted trunnions and it was after I owned and shot my own Beretta Diamond Pigeon that I realized it too had such a low profile, designed with a different system, but again without an under-lock and hinge pin. The frame is hardly taller than the stacked barrels.

My own research then showed me that Beretta’s great SO had that same low profile feature.

I knew one prominent gun dealer that had handled nearly every make of expensive shotgun and was wealthy enough to own any gun of his choice.  During a phone call with him one day about another matter, I changed the subject and asked him: “Of all the shotguns you have owned and used, if you had any shotgun of your choice for sporting clays, what would it be?”

He answered, “That is not a hypothetical question because I do shoot the one I would most rather have.”

And then he added: “My Beretta SO5.”

On another occasion, recently, still exploring this question, I talked to a trap shooter at my club that has shot in many, many competitions.  I asked him what he thought about the Beretta SO5.  He said he could never afford one, but he could tell me one thing.

I said, “What’s that?”

He said, “When I’m in a big competition, I know I’ll see Krieghoffs, Brownings, Berettas, Perazzis, and Kolars, but if some guy pulls out a Beretta SO, I know he’s the one to beat.”

VIRGINIA: Is this one in 20 gauge?

ROGER: No Virginia, not this one, this is a 12 gauge, with 28” barrels, 2 ¾” chambers, and it comes with a set of 5 Briley thinwall chokes. And the fact that it has hand-detachable locks is a plus, not all SO5EELLs have hand-detachable locks.

VIRGINIA: That’s where you can remove the sidelocks without tools?

ROGER:  Yes, and the procedure for these is masterfully concealed similar to the Franz Sodia sidelock over-and-under that we saw in Episode 10.

As you can see, this gun is absolutely beautiful and one of the top of the line, not only for Beretta, but also for fine shotguns in general.

VIRGINIA: Is this a new gun?

ROGER: No, it’s another pre-owned gun, its serial number tells us it was built in 1969, which would be one of the first SO5EELLs.

VIRGINIA: What does EELL stand for?

ROGER:  Well, we are told that EL stands for extra lusso and our English word “extra” is exactly the same in Italian.  Lusso in Italian means luxury. So, until someone tells me different, I have always assumed EELL is extra extra lusso lusso, or in Beretta’s case, this is the highest luxury grade available.

Let me pick it up and point out its quality features.

{Stand up, pick up gun, remain holding gun to end of Part 3}

Right off, its high grade is given away by the heavy full coverage engraving and the remarkable high-grade figure of the Turkish walnut stock.  So, let’s focus on the finish first.  The sidelocks and the action’s receiver (top, top tang, sides, and underside) are all coin finished.  The parts that are rust blued are the barrels with their low profile matted ventilated rib, the forearm iron, the Anson& Deeley forearm release, the trigger guard with its long lower tang, the safety button, and the pierced top lever. There are two screws in the lower tang that are engraved and two round escutcheons on the forearm that are engraved and all four of these are coin finished which create a pleasant contrast to their blue and wood backgrounds, yielding a rich stylish look. All of the bottom screws are indexed as is the screw for the pistol grip cap.

The single selective trigger is gold and has a checkered face.  There is also a gold crown on the top lever with a gold filled “S” for Safe above the safety button.

Mechanically, the safety is manual as preferred by competition shooters, the ejectors are automatic, and the trigger is selective.  To select the choice of barrels, the safety button is shifted right or left: when pushed to the left, one red dot shows which means the lower (under) barrel will fire first. When pushed to the right, two red dots show indicating the upper (over) barrel will fire first.

For inscriptions, on the bottom of the receiver at the hinge, we see “Beretta Italy.”  Also on the bottom of the receiver, in a very thin semi-circle banner surrounded by heavy engraving, we find “P.Beretta Gardone Italy” in very small font.

On the right side of the chamber wall, in two lines, it reads: P. Beretta, Gardone, VT  (VT is for Val Trompe valley) and underneath that, “Made in Italy.”  Forward of that, further down the barrel, the distributor’s information: “Garcia Sporting Arms Corp. Teaneck (Tee-neck) N.J.”

On the left side of the chamber wall, it reads “12 Gauge, 2 3/4 in. – 28 inches – and further down the barrels on the left, it reads, “Boehler & Antinit Steel.”

On the lower tang, the serial number, 35383, is inscribed.

Examining the engraving, first we see it is full coverage, masterfully executed in a deep relief bouquet of flowers and acanthus scroll designs. The engraving conceals 8 set screws, including the replaceable locking shoulders on the barrel, which secure key screws on the frame and the forearm iron.

The craftsmanship is so outstanding that it hides the Kersten style crossbolt and the two disguised trapdoors on the right sidelock.  These trapdoors can be opened with a fingernail to expose the procedure for detaching the locks by hand.  We will look at those closer in a few minutes when we have the gun disassembled.

As to the engraving, it is incredible. Its coverage includes the top of the receiver the beaded fences, the top tang, the top lever, both sidelocks, both action sides, the forearm iron, the forearm release, the underside of the receiver, the trigger guard, and the long lower tang. All these parts are engraved.

VIRGINIA: This gun is another one with some great wood!

ROGER:  Yep, you’ve got that right, Virginia.  The stock and forearm are Turkish walnut in  exhibition grade as you might expect for the EELL upgrade. And, it meets that expectation clearly, with exceptional wood with excellent color and contrast showing warm brown colors with deep brown and black streaks.

The finish is perfection, with hand-rubbed oil, finished by hand.  The stock has a classic comb without flutes and a Prince-of-Wales shaped pistol grip adorned with a horn pistol grip cap with an engraved screw.  The butt is finished with a color-coordinated brown leather covered recoil pad.

VIRGINIA: I like the leather-covered pads better than the red rubber ones.

ROGER: They certainly look more custom.  How about the forearm?  It is a slender field style forearm with a reverse angle tip, conservative, but professionally designed.  The checkering on both the stock and the forearm is a fine 26 lines per inch, flawlessly executed.  For the stock, it has two panels of point pattern on the grip that do not wrap around but are conjoined with a v-shaped border on top of the wrist that ties both panels. The forearm has two panels of point pattern checkering that tie together at two places on the underside creating a nice diamond shape surrounding the Anson & Deeley release.

All borders are single border, very conservative and hard to execute by hand without run-overs and there are no run-overs.

For dimensions, the length of pull is 14 7/16”, the drop of comb is 1 ½” and the drop of heel is 2 ¼”.  The weight of the gun is 7 lb. 7 oz. and the stock has neutral cast for either the right or left hand shooter.

Let’s journey over to our sideboard and examine the disassembled major components.

VIRGINIA: Let’s do it.

PART 4  {Gun disassembled in case, Roger speaking off camera}

Here we are with our Beretta SO5EELL disassembled in its three major components, compartmentalized in its dark chocolate brown hard case with two combination locks.  I believe the case is faux leather although it is pretty good.  The interior is covered with a rich blue color with a gold Beretta logo and name style. Accessories include two Beretta gun socks, two Beretta marked nickel snap caps, a Beretta marked nickel round oil bottle, and a Briley neoprene case with three Briley thinwall chokes with its own wrench.  Two more chokes are in the barrels.

Let’s look at each part:

{Pick up the stock and action}

First the stock and receiver: with the top lever held to the right, we can see the top crossbolt, which on this part of the action, looks like a Kersten top bolt oriented with its long axis in the horizontal position instead of in the vertical position typical of the German/Austrian guns. Up close here, we can see the pierced top lever clearly.  Notice the walls of the action form an additional lock up with the complimentary parts on the barrel block, which are these Beretta signature angled locks. On the tops of the receiver walls, we see the serial number on the left side and SO5 on the right side.

Looking inside the receiver, we see that the strikers are bushed for removal and repair.  In the inside bottom of the receiver which would be the water table on a side-by-side, there are four Gardone and Brescia proof marks. In the hinge area inside, we can see Marengoni’s idea of mounting the barrels low in the action body on stub pins instead of the traditional underlug locking system used on most guns including the Browning Superposed that caused its action-height to be much taller than this SO design.

While I am holding the stock and action frame, let’s look at one of the biggest novelties of this gun: the hand-detachable locks.  Notice on the right sidelock, if you look very close, you will see two locations for fingernail slots. When you flip these open…

{open the trapdoors of the detachable locks}

…little round trap doors pop out at 90 degrees to the background.  The trapdoor lids or doors are actually the heads of threaded bolts.  These go through the right sidelock and connect to the left sidelock. You can turn them like turning any bolt, unscrewing them (lefty loosey) until the bolt comes out of the sidelock on the other side, the left sidelock.  Once unscrewed, you can then press the bolts back through adding pressure to push the left sidelock out.  Sometimes, when the lockplate is tight, you need to tap the action knuckle against the palm of your hand to free the left sidelock.  Once it is out, it is easy to poke a stylist or any not harming probe back through the action to remove the right sidelock.

These are all low tolerance high fitting parts so they don’t easily come out, especially on mint-condition guns like this one, so I am not going to go through the process here. There is a great YouTube video by Dan Moore showing how to do this on similar detachable locks for a Holland & Holland, which I recommend here for those of you who want to see how this is done.

            {Set down the stock and action, pick up the barrels}

Now looking at the barrel assembly:  For the locking top bolt, instead of ears or lugs with holes such as in the Kersten top bolt, this merely has lugs, which allow the sliding top bolt to ride over, thus locking the action when the action is fully closed.  Under them are the automatic ejectors, which can be disassembled and reassembled by hand for easy cleaning. At the top of the barrel breech assembly, on both sides, we see two lugs that mate up with the receiver when the action is closed. The forward ones align in front of the action, the rear ones are the angled lugs that mate to their complimentary lugs on the sides of the receiver when closed.

Now looking at the front lower side of the barrel breech assembly, we see the two cut-outs for the hinge stub pins, which by-pass the need for a full hinge pin from side to side, thus further enabling the low height of the action.

So, basically, what Marengoni did was: he avoided the hinge bolt or pin, and set the locking lugs on the sides of the frame rather than underneath it, to keep the profile low.  This was essentially the same principal John Robertson did for Boss, but using a different mechanical configuration.

Then as an added measure, Marengoni used the proven principle of the Kersten top bolt, modifying it in an improved way to make it easy to build, yet just as strong.  This design is truly genius for an over-and-under shotgun and allows for a low profile, as low as the Boss, but with an easier design to construct.  While we are looking at this, notice the jeweled sides of the barrel breech assembly.

For markings, on the left side of the upper barrel, we see “GAM70” and “18.3” which is European for 12 gauge and proofed at 18.3 Tons.  Under this on the lower left barrel is marked “MG1.400” and again, “18.3”   On the right side, there are no markings.  On the underside, we see the Brescia and Gardone proof marks again, and in Roman Numerals, XXV, SO5, and the serial number.  Then on the bottom of the lower barrel, forward of the barrel breech assembly, we see 166E and the Brescia and Gardone proof mark again.

Moving forward down the barrels about 4 inches from the barrel breech assembly we see the locking lug for the Anson & Deeley forearm latch.

{Set down the barrels and pick up the forearm}

Looking at the forearm, the interior metal is jeweled, held by 3 screws and these are engraved.  And lastly, the forearm iron levers are gold plated for a lifetime of wear.

PART 5  {Roger and Virginia sitting at the table, gun in holders}  {QUOTES}

VIRGINIA: This gun just looks like real quality.

ROGER: A lot of folks agree with you about that. And looking at Beretta’s website, we find what the company, itself, writes about their SO5:  (quote)

“SO5: Olympic-level Sidelock Competition Shotgun – The best competition shooters in the world choose the best shotguns in the world and with five gold medals in five different Olympics and countless awards in prestigious international competitions, champions consider the SO5 over-and-under the finest competition shotgun ever made.  A premium gun in every respect, the SO5 is a sidelock shotgun optimized for bringing clay shooters to the podium, also thanks to the ability to personalize it to the competitor’s individual measurements.” (close quote)

For more information about the quality of materials and specifics about the mechanics, please feel free to check out Beretta’s own website at www.beretta.com   All their models are listed as well as their current manufactures suggested retail prices of each.SO5: Olympic-Level Sidelock Competition Shotgun

The best competition shooters in the world choose the best shotguns in the world: and with five gold medals in five different Olympics and countless awards in prestigious international competitions, champions consider the SO5 over-and-under the finest competition shotgun ever made. A premium gun in every respect, the SO5 is a sidelock shotgun optimized for bringing clay shooters to the podium, also thanks to the ability to personalize it to the competitor’s individual measurements.

SO5: Olympic-Level Sidelock Competition Shotgun

The best competition shooters in the world choose the best shotguns in the world: and with five gold medals in five different Olympics and countless awards in prestigious international competitions, champions consider the SO5 over-and-under the finest competition shotgun ever made. A premium gun in every respect, the SO5 is a sidelock shotgun optimized for bringing clay shooters to the podium, also thanks to the ability to personalize it to the competitor’s individual measurements.


In closing, many who follow fine shotguns place the Beretta SO5EELL at the top of the select few best guns.  Richard Rawlingson, sportwriter for Fieldsports Gazette, claimed the Beretta SO to be one of the most influential guns of the 20th Century.

The SO5EELL is a flagship sidelock over-and-under representing Beretta’s finest craftsmanship, a magnificent example of the highest grade Beretta and truly a Best Gun.

That’s it for today, thank you Virginia, and thank you viewers for watching, and if you enjoyed this episode, 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 will be looking at another Italian over-and-under with a revolutionary change.