I’ve long since thought that Diana has taken an increasingly back-seat position as the British airgun market has developed. But on a recent invite to the Dianawerk factory in Germany – a report on which will be coming next issue – I was encouraged to see just how committed this famous airgun-making name is to turning out 21st century airguns.
Certainly, with the exception of last year’s P1000 pneumatic – which was rather innovative – Diana’s spring-gun offerings have remained somewhat ‘old school’ when competitors like Air Arms, BSA, Weihrauch (and now Walther) have started to go high-tech and ‘modern’. My recent look behind the scenes, however, really brought home to me how wrong this state of affairs is – and having been ‘wowed’ with its carbine-barrelled Model 280 sporter already, I’ve been similarly impressed with its fixed-barrel carbine offering in the shape of the Model 52. This one’s the T-06 version, a suffix that signifies a much improved trigger and highlights the engineering prowess of Dianawerk.
The 52’s chassis is based on a sliding breech and inner-piston assembly – the system that’s been made so popular in the Weihrauch HW77 and HW97 models, and the Air Arms TX200. The main difference, however, is that the Diana’s cocking method is via a sidelever, rather than an underlever. Older airgunners will equate sidelevers with the 1970s and 1980s, remembering, no doubt, other famous sidelevers of the day like the Webley Osprey, Tracker and Viscount, not forgetting the Air Arms Bora, Mistral, Camargue and Khamsin that developed from Sussex Armoury’s side-cocking range.
So are sidelevers a little unorthodox these days? Well, I’d say they probably are, as the underlever system looks far more aesthetic – but that’s not to say sidelever-operated actions are any less effective. Indeed, the accuracy I have achieved from this .22-calibre test gun has been on a par with my own TX200 Mk3 HC. It’s just that, when viewed from the right-hand side, the Diana looks a little… ‘ungainly’.
That’s a pity, because I think in all other aspects, the Diana 52 T-06 is a rather attractive springer that can turn heads – at least from one side. Mayer and Grammelspacher – Diana’s parent company – will no doubt call the look ‘traditional’. You can’t criticise them for that; plenty of airgunners like such a rifle.
But I think the 52’s design fights with itself in a few areas. The woodwork is beautifully shaped and presented, with the metalwork very well polished and blued… but then Diana goes and spoils things by adding a rather crude-looking sidelever and an anti-beartrap system that wouldn’t be out of place on an air rifle from the 1960s. When it’s up against stylish kit like the TX, HW and LGV models, the 52’s going to be pipped at the post every time on looks when, in fact, it’s certainly capable of matching these in-vogue guns in terms of shot-for-shot performance.
The Model 52 is a big rifle – even with the dinky-barrelled carbine version that I’ve been testing. That’s because it was designed as a mega-powered supergun, capable of power levels in excess of 20ft/lb in both .177 and .22. The sub-12ft/lb versions sent to the UK are, therefore, simply running on tick-over.
It’s not all good news, mind you. They have quite a long stroke and a weaker spring, which does make the action time – the milliseconds that elapse between the trigger releasing the piston and the pellet leaving the barrel – a little slow by comparison with other fixed-barrel springers. Even with the ultra-short, 300mm barrel of this carbine, you certainly need to maintain good follow-through if you are to eke out the best. Shoot it ‘properly’, though, and you will be more than happy with the results – I frequently printed sub-inch groups at 40 yards, RWS Superdome being the rifle’s pellet of choice, a smiedgeon ahead of Webley’s AccuPell that returned a high muzzle power. The 52 is also considered a great gun for after-market tuning.
Despite a snub-nose front end, the gun’s chunky enough to fall into the heavyweight category, and I’d certainly choose your optics carefully. I went with my old AGS Mini-SWAT – a scope that didn’t add too much more weight. The Diana sports a ramp, rather than milled dovetails – or should I say ye olde ramp? It really is a scope mounting system that was around with the ark. Yes, it works… but if you’re going to say ‘traditional, at least give us a ramp that’s a a decent length to fit a modern day scope.
To be fair, there are a couple of holes in it to accommodate mounts with arrestor pins in, and even un-pinned, my SWAT didn’t budge despite being married to the ramp in two-piece mounts, rather than a one-piece belt- and-braces job. That, I’d say, is because there’s very little recoil from what is, effectively, a very tuned-down action.
Unlike many top-end fixed-barrels, the Diana comes with open sights fitted. Without any glass on board, the 52 feels mid-balanced in your shoulder – and this, combined with the lack of recoil, does assist accuracy. And despite a relatively short sight base, they’re among the best-built opens you will see on a springer. Sporting a decent square notch, the all-metal rearsight clicks positively for elevation via a numbered thumbwheel, and a smaller knurled windage screw works in conjunction with a lateral vernier.
Up front, the parallel-post foresight blade sits on a sliding ramp and can therefore be raised or lowered as a secondary form of elevation adjustment. This is ingenious as it allows the gun to zero-in successfully whether it’s built as a 6ft/lb model, or a 20-plus one. A protective hood would have been the icing on the cake – but, otherwise, I’ve no real complaints about the 52’s open sight set-up. It’s a shame that 99.9 per cent of airgunners won’t use them – especially as the distance the rear is from your eye, and its closeness to the foresight, means you don’t have any major focusing issues.
Surprisingly, despite the extra weight from the sidelever running the full length of the action’s right-hand side, the rifle’s handling doesn’t feel lopsided – and while my test rifle spat out ammo bang on the UK legal limit, recoil was also very tame.
The beech woodwork is a big part of this model – it’s only 150mm shy of being a stutzen on the carbine – and it’s been well thought out and beautifully finished. The long forend will give you a hold no matter what stance – or angle – you’re shooting at, and its round edges and relatively flat underside fall into the palm of your leading hand very comfortably. That hand will probably be the left one as the butt’s cheekpiece – profiled rather like Weihrauch’s HW35 Export’s stock of old – is right-hand biased. Both the forestock and grip have pressed chequer panels, and while not as sharp as laser-etching, they do succeed in offering additional grip where it’s most needed.
The cheek doesn’t sport a particularly high comb, but it’s high enough for scope use – though I did find, when trialling the opens, that my head was positioned a little too far left; the butt appears to have some semblance of a cast (angled away from the centreline), but it’s not quite enough in my opinion. However, the rake of the grip is just about right for a sporter. Finished off with a rubber butt pad, complete with white line spacers, I’d say this is a pretty good handle overall.
Pretty good is an understatement for the trigger, though – that’s more like a dream! Incredibly light, with no creep whatsoever, Diana has certainly set out to match Weihrauch’s famous Rekord trigger – and were it not for the latter’s longstanding reputation, I’d say the T-06 trigger could have well been the overall spring-trigger benchmark, had it come first.
The T-06 is fully adjustable, too – and my only gripe is that the blade’s a little too straight. If Diana were to put more of a curve into the 52’s blade, I think it would have something to give the HW and
TX ranges a run for their money. While I can’t vouch for its operation on a full-fat Model 52, on the sub-12ft/lb version it’s an absolute stonker and really adds yet another ingredient into an accuracy recipe that’s very tasty indeed.
But where there’s sweet, there’s also sour – so let me talk a bit more about that unsightly sidelever! I’ve said the system feels a little dated… and it’s also not the most aesthetic of components, either. It’s made of a U-shaped bar (to save weight while retaining strength and rigidity), and though all very well engineered, the section that houses the pivot looks like a carbuncle on the end of the cylinder. Oh, and the grip section of the arm is topped off with a plastic sleeve that is best described as an afterthought.
As this gun has an extremely long piston stroke to facilitate the high power levels, it draws back quite a way until the trigger sears are engaged – around 160 degrees – where it automatically sets the resettable, plastic safety switch at the end of the receiver.
During the cocking sequence, you will hear a clickety-click as the inner air chamber slides over the spring-loaded, stepped ratchet system that protrudes from underneath the outer cylinder. Hunters will be glad you can rid the gun of this cocking noise by slightly depressing the ratchet-release catch on the left-hand side of the action with your ‘holding’ hand. You also need to depress that catch when you come to return the lever once the rifle has been fully cocked and then loaded.
It works – and so it should, as you need to put your hand inside the action to load a pellet directly into the rifling of the barrel – but it looks really crude. How anyone in Diana’s design department can be proud of such an effort is beyond me. It’s nothing more than a bent piece of metal and really quite unbecoming of a rifle as stylish (in the main) and well-engineered as the 52.
As for the linkage – in essence just a rod – between the sidelever arm and inner cylinder, it‘s also a bit of a monstrosity. I’ve seen these bend in the past, too, where shooters have tried to force the sidelever shut while forgetting to disengage the ratchet. It’s all a bit Heath Robinson if I’m totally honest – although the upside is that the system is safe and does allow the rifle to be safely decocked if required.
I can’t help thinking that if the sidelever was better presented or, indeed, was replaced by some form of underlever cocking system, the Diana 52 T-06 Carbine would be nothing short of outstanding – possibly a rifle to usurp the current ‘top two’. As it is, though, it’s a very nice rifle that’s a match for all the competition around it in every respect… except looks. If looks happen to count with a prospective buyer, however, the 52 really only has half a chance: you have to be looking at this Diana from her good side if you’re to become smitten.