Ruger is not known for overhyping its products, so when company spokesman Ken Jorgensen stood up in front of me in the conference room at Ruger’s Newport, New Hampshire, plant and said, “we’re about to show you the most significant change in revolver design in the past century,” he had my attention. He also had to convince me he wasn’t just blowing smoke—especially considering that what he was holding appeared, at a casual glance, to be simply another small-frame snubnosed .38.
The Ruger Lightweight Carry Revolver (LCR) is a compact five-shot .38 Special that weighs only 13 1/2 ounces, has a fully shrouded hammer and double-action-only trigger pull, a 1 7/8-inch barrel, and is rated for +P ammunition. It is essentially the same size as a classic S&W Chiefs Special or Taurus Model 85, and maintains basic holster compatibility with those guns. But here’s the kicker the LCR’s lower half, which contains the entire operating mechanism, is constructed of polymer. Yes, that’s what I said. The Ruger LCR is a +P .38 Special revolver with a plastic frame; it is the first such specimen in the history of firearms.
The LCR consists of three major modular subcomponents an upper-cylinder frame/barrel assembly, a lower-frame fire control housing assembly, and a cylinder/crane assembly. The cylinder frame/barrel assembly is constructed of a 7000-series aluminum forging with a 1714 stainless-steel barrel sleeve threaded into the barrel shroud. There are also hardened insert bushings for the center pin and firing pin opening in the recoil shield at the rear of the cylinder window. The barrel is controlled for barrel/cylinder gap by its thread-in depth (so there is no filing required at the breech end), allowing for a precisely finished and dimensioned forcing cone area for consistent transition of the bullet from the cylinder into the barrel. There are no moving parts in the cylinder frame/barrel assembly except for the cylinder-release latch mechanism; it merely serves as a housing for the cylinder crane assembly and interfaces with the lower-frame/fire-control housing.
The black finish on the aluminum cylinder frame/barrel unit is a two-element coating, consisting of a hard anodized outer surface to which is fused a baked-on black polymer surface filler. The resulting finish has a C60 Rockwell hardness—essentially hard as a file—and Ruger’s testing consultants finally gave up on trying to make it rust after a month of continuous saltwater exposure.
Ruger also tested the finish for resistance to body-secreted chemicals, and to common cosmetic substances that a carry-concealed handgun might encounter when carried either on the person or in a purse. It proved impervious to everything they could think of.
The cylinder/crane subassembly consists of a black forged 400-series stainless cylinder, which is aggressively fluted and has the smallest overall diameter of any .38 Special revolver on the market. The black stainless crane is the only part on the gun that is a casting. The cylinder opens by pressure on a thumb-latch that resembles that on all other current Ruger DA revolvers. However, unlike other models, the LCR does not employ a front cylinder latch at the crane/frame interface, but instead uses a spring-loaded front latch insert in the forward end of the ejector rod housing—similar to that on Ruger’s original Security Six/Speed-Six line, or the classic S&W Hand Ejector.
The center pin in the LCR’s ejector rod and the front latch insert in the shroud are each made of titanium, to reduce their mass and inertia—thereby ensuring that the cylinder stays locked, even under recoil. Both these parts are spring-loaded, and when the gun moves backward in recoil, those springs compress. High-speed photographic analysis of the LCR when it is fired revealed that a steel center pin and latch insert has sufficient mass/inertia at rest to unlock fully, allowing the cylinder assembly to be momentarily “unlatched” at the exact instant that the weapon is fired. Using lightweight titanium for those parts prevents that from happening. (Titanium’s low inertia is why it has long been used for firearms parts that do not need to resist moving in a hurry—such as firing pins on fast lock-time rifles.)
The heart of the LCR design, of course, is the polymer lower frame assembly, which Ruger calls the “Fire Control Housing.” Sideplate free, it is constructed of a high-intensity proprietary composition glass-filled polymer, and contains all the revolver’s operating parts trigger mechanism, hammer/sear mechanism, cylinder-rotation mechanism, and cylinder locking bolt system. In a sense, the design takes its point of origin from the original Ruger Security Six design, which (like the subsequent GP100, RedHawk and SP101) featured a modular steel trigger assembly; this could be removed as a unit from the bottom of the sideplate-free upper frame. In these earlier designs, however, the hammer mechanism was contained in the upper frame. In the LCR everything is contained within the polymer lower unit.