The original BSA Meteor was never intended to be full-powered like the later Meteors were; that was the preserve of the heavier, tap-loading Airsporter – the top-of-the range BSA air rifle of the time. Medium-powered or not, they’re not to be underrated; many MkI Meteors are still giving excellent service with just an occasional drop of spindle oil on the pivots, and a little non-dieseling chamber oil (silicone oil blended with a little pure neat’s-foot oil) introduced into the cylinder every 500 or so shots. Among its many uses, pure neat’s- foot oil is good for use inside break-barrel airguns with leather piston washers, like the Meteor MkI, which has a leather piston washer with a neoprene buffer sandwiched between two steel-bearing washers situated behind.
The new BSA Meteor MkI was very well advertised – the advertisement in July 1960’s edition of Meccano Magazine being repeated for six months without change until Christmas that year. Interestingly, while the Meteor with optional plastic telescopic sight is illustrated, the advertisement refers only to ‘BSA air rifle’ – possibly to help clear stock of the old Cadets and Cadet-Majors. Indirectly, it may have also helped sales of BSA’s flagship Airsporter.
The little plastic BSA-marked scope available as an extra for the MkI Meteor 54 years ago was a far cry from the sophisticated, modern- day air rifle scope – but this departure from open sights was a great novelty at the time. It’s also important in the history of airgunning, as these pioneering English scopes lead to virtually all air rifles now accommodating the fitting of a telly. They functioned well enough, but I remember the friend who proudly showed me the one he’d got for Christmas in 1959… had removed it and reverted to open sights when I saw him in the Easter holidays.
So let’s look at the standard, barrel-mounted open sights of the Meteor MkI. The recessed muzzle and the steel ramp foresight of the 1959 model Meteor – a change from the Cadet series and similar to the front sights fitted to the Club and Airsporter models. The metal element fitted into a slot in the ramp and was secured by the pin – a pointed-nose grubscrew corresponding with a dimple in the element.
BSA offered four different sizes of foresight at the time. All are labelled as ‘Part 1318’, and the one on the left here is marked ‘40’, while the pair in the centre are left and right sides of elements both stamped ‘41’. The two tallest blades on the right bear the same number ‘44’. I’ve also seen literature describing these elements as Low, Medium, High and Very High.
However, I’ve never seen anything documenting the size of the fourth version – either ‘42’ or ‘43’, or perhaps a number higher than ‘44’ – so for now, it will have to remain as a mystery. Should any collectors wish to check the number on their own examples, a tip is to apply a drop of Birchwood Casey Sheaf onto the pin an hour or so before, to make the blade’s removal a lot smoother.
I’m uncertain why four foresight elements of differing heights were needed when the rearsight was height adjustable. The Meteor was also made in .22 – oversize 5.6mm actually – from May 1959, so that could account for having two blade heights. Perhaps the others were to facilitate a quick sight-setting procedure at the factory? Incidentally, I believe the numbers relate to the height, in thousandths of an inch – certainly the ‘40’ I checked on a vernier scale measured up at 0.405in.
Although the MkI’s ramp-type foresight was dropped on the Meteor MkII update, a similar ramp set-up reappeared for later models… complete with the four element sizes, as shown in BSA’s 1970 Care and Maintenance leaflet for the Meteor Standard and Meteor Super.
Dovetailed-in to the breech end of the MkI’s barrel is the Meteor’s tangent-leaf rearsight. It’s shown in figure 6, and because it was assembled from pressings – a new thing for BSA – it’s not surprising that it looks influenced by the Diana No. 25’s rearsight. The BSA’s spring- loaded, click-adjustable slider corresponds with eight graduations on the pivoted blade and appears fractionally sturdier than that fitted to the British Milbro Diana, which had nine graduations.
Tangent sights like this make perfectly good open sights, but have a couple of weak points. The pressed rearsight assembly is only spot-welded to the dovetail section, so must always be ‘drifted’ for windage – using a properly-sized hard fibre or brass rod – by the dovetail section itself. Clouting the sight body will probably snap it off, leaving the little dovetailed base still in place on the barrel.
The other weak point is that the blade must never be pulled directly up by hand, or the blade will snap across the channel under the cross-pin holding it in; there’s very little metal under this groove.
The German tangent-leaf back sight, in which a slider moves along a bar-type leaf, was first fitted to Mayer & Grammelspacher Diana air rifles – the Models 25, 27 and 35 in 1936. They, of course, replaced the spring leaf used on older versions – but BSA did it the other way around. The Meteor’s open sights changed to a neat front sight, directly dovetailed into the barrel, and a screw-adjustable spring steel blade rearsight on the Meteor MkII, also directly dovetailed into the barrel. Windage adjustments therefore still required you to manually ‘drift’ either sight horizontally within its dovetail.
Constructed from plastic, the right side of is fitted with an English -made BSA 3x magnification scope, identical to the one illustrated in the BSA full-page advertisement in the November/December 1960 issue of Guns Review (and which was shown in Part 1). Its mounts – shown on the left-hand view of the scope in figure 8 – can easily be adjusted for eye relief in three positions, where they fix very positively on two pairs of slots raised out of the Meteor’s main cylinder. The scope can be removed without tools in seconds and also fits perfectly on the machined dovetails of my 1959 BSA Airsporter MkII (letter prefix GD). The ‘dovetails’ are 15.5mm apart, so most standard airgun mounts – at 11mm – won’t fit, although dedicated mounts for a MkI are available. The later MkII Meteor, in 1962, had a pair of shallow dovetails machined – rather than pressed and raised – into its cylinder, and these were spaced 11mm apart.
Given its novelty, and how scopes have gone on to become such an intrinsic part of today’s air rifle, I find the history of BSA’s telescopic sight as fascinating as I do their rifles. Its roots go back to Edwin Elliott (1878- 1968), who founded his firm E. Elliott Limited (later incorporating The British Optical Lens Company) in 1910. I believe Elliott diversified into producing other optical products, that included the BSA air rifle scope (later called the Mark I Telescopic Sight) in 1959 because of The Opticians’ Act of 1958. This legislation allowed only registered opticians to sell spectacles – a major blow to Elliott, who had hitherto been supplying these to chain stores like Woolworths. At one point, Elliott Optical of Birmingham had six factories and employed 700 workers, so diversification wasn’t such a bad move – though it’s a crying shame that such a healthy industry (like so many others) fell foul of the imports from Japan in later years.
The Elliott-made BSA telescopic sight shown here doesn’t quite coincide with the descriptions of the Mark I sight included in John Knibbs’ book, The Golden Century, which covers BSA’s gun production history. He describes it as being, “two powered with a moveable eyepiece to allow focusing and a moveable cross hair reticule for zeroing.”
Surviving examples I’ve examined are certainly marked ‘2X’ in a tiny circle (2x magnification), with adjustment of the reticle by standard turrets as stated, but they’ve had fixed eyepieces. Mine is marked, interestingly: ‘3X MADE IN ENGLAND’. It sports BSA’s piled arms trademark, has a fixed eyepiece and a click-adjustable graticule (non-image moving), the lateral and vertical alteration of which still works well today.
As per its moniker, its magnification setting is 3x, so perhaps mine is a late Mark I example, having the higher power of its replacement – the 3x power Mark II scope. Aside of the extra power, this later sight had a fixed graticule that was always permanently in the centre of the field-of-view (known as image moving), but with adjustment for elevation and windage arranged in the mount.
In November 1965, the then-current Meteor was advertised in Boy’s Own Paper – and by this time, two later BSA scopes were available: the Mark III 3×15 (country of origin unstated) and the BSA Mark IV 4×20. The latter was made in Japan to BSA’s specifications. By the mid-1960s, the Japanese scope manufacturers had really got a hold in the UK’s ‘airgun’ market, with the Webley 415 (4×15) scope and a new 4x power Nikko Stirling scope being advertised in August 1965. The Nikko was advertised by Frank Holroyd, Price Street, Birmingham 4 with sales patter that included phrases like ‘get a real telescopic sight’ and ‘replace that old scope on your air rifle with the excellent new Nikko Stirling model’. Such inferences suggest – unfairly in my opinion – that Elliott’s English-made optic wasn’t a ‘proper’ scope.
Just as the Meteor’s arrival had heralded a change in production techniques of its Cadet and Cadet-Major forebears, the Meteor underwent a cost saving exercise. Its finish was changed, with the chemical blue of the originally-released MkI being altered to a black-stove enamel. While this produced quite a tough, rust-proof finish, it also presumably meant less of the expensive polishing time that is required prior to successful blueing – although in latter years, the Meteor’s metalwork has reverted.
It’s difficult to know how many BSA Meteors have been produced since 1959 – I’ve heard figures from one million to over three million from authoritative sources. As impressive as these estimations are, the Meteor still has a very long way to go to catch the Daisy No. 25 – even though, unlike the Meteor, that gun’s no longer in production. It’s been widely written that 25 million No. 25 pump guns have been produced since the brilliant (but cantankerous) Fred Lefever invented it – but that seems scarcely credible. I suspect that “more than eight million” – the figure stated by Daisy boss, Cass H. Hough in his 1976 book, It’s a Daisy!, is a more accurate figure for the airgun produced and sold in 58 variants from early 1913 until 1979.