The RV-85 flare "rifles" are a surprise and a real curiosity.
Reactions and speculation:
From an offhand glance, they somewhat resemble a VZ-58 or AK-47 assault rifle (or semi-auto equivalent.) On closer examination, there are surprises:
First, the most obvious thing is that these "rifles" are very heavy and very well-built, almost ridiculously heavy and tough for a mere flare gun. It looks stronger than many shotguns I've seen. The finish and polish of the metal and woodwork is very nice - better than the average military rifle. This is pretty much the "Cadillac of surplus gas/flare guns".
Second, the sights are almost an absurdity: these are adjustable assault-rifle-style sights, apparently designed for direct fire rather than the indirect fire ladder sights you might see in the closest sane relative of this gun: a grenade launcher. This gun was designed for more accuracy than would be needed for a simple flare or smoke signal gun.
Third, both of the examples I got came with nice, sturdy canvas covers, an extensive set of tools, spare small parts (springs and firing pin), documentation, and a paper test target used at the factory to demonstrate the accuracy of the gun. The sorts of things that a collector would be quite happy to see, and you practically never see these sorts of things shipped with original military-style guns and equipment (actually, I've NEVER seen them shipped with a military surplus gun!)
My first reaction on seeing one of these in an ad was that it was merely a military surplus flare gun that would probably not have seen much use. I was already familiar with Czech flares, and I would not expect that it would take much of a gun to fire them: they don't have a lot of pressure behind them.
However, on closer inspection, there is more to these guns than meets the eye. They were designed for accuracy and durability, and I have to conclude that they were used for more than just firing some light-duty flares.
The RV-85 is basically a single-shot, smooth-bore, 26.5mm gun, resembling a decent civilian shotgun, except for a military-style pistol grip. The receiver and barrel are heavy-duty milled steel. The sights resemble those seen on a military-style rifle (I would compare them loosely to those on an AK-47 or SKS.) The action resembles that of a civilian single-shot break-barrel shotgun. There is a safety, and on the left side of the receiver are two threaded holes that some have speculated might have been used for as yet unseen add-on sights of some sort (possibly M-203 -style quadrant sights for indirect fire?)
The chrome-lined barrel, ergonomic wood furniture, heavy milled components, rubber butt-pad, comfortable rifle sights, nice finish, and assorted accessories and tools suggest that this gun was produced by people who cared a lot about what they were doing, for people who were expected to treat the gun well and use it for purposes that require skill and precision.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of information out there yet about these guns. I would have to imagine that the rank-and-file Czech military was not the primary customer for these guns, but instead police departments or special forces units. These guns appear to be quite capable of firing the Czech aluminium-cased 26.5mm flares and smoke cartridges that have been on the US surplus market for quite a while and were used in military-surplus flare pistols (like the CZ-44), but there were apparently some special cartridges designed specifically for the RV-85: longer, partly of cardboard, with thick fluted rims (to prevent loading into pistols) and "penetrating" projectiles that were evidently intended to penetrate barricades and expel tear gas into a fortified room. Based only on what I can see of the gun itself, I can't help but think the gun might have been intended for other purposes as well, and information about other types of crowd control (or perhaps even door-breaching) cartridges might turn up with future research.
Condition and interest for collectors:
Every example of this gun that I have seen has clearly been surplus with plenty of shelf-wear on the box, but otherwise in virtually new and unused condition; I would think it had never been fired after the factory test-fire in the 1980's.
The condition, fit, and finish are beautiful: I would compare this favorably to my new-in-box VZ-61 Skorpion produced for the civilian market.
Both guns arrived in excellent condition as a complete set, including shoulder strap, canvas case, tool pouch, complete tool set, spare springs and firing pin, original documentation (in Czech), original test target and inspection log, and other excellent items. The only thing missing might be the (hypothetical) secondary sight (or whatever screwed into the two holes in the receiver); whatever this was, might not have even been produced in any real numbers.
I take it that not very many RV-85's were produced, and the few original ones that make it to the U.S. may be the only ones we'll ever see, which could make this a great collector's item at a good price for the condition, collectability, workmanship, and quality of the gun and accessories. Current prices seem like a bargain for collectors, and this gun might appeal a lot to collectors of European military surplus in general, and collectors of curios and relics, Czech militaria, and/or military surplus oddities in particular.
Of all the flare guns that might be registered with the BATFE and used as Destructive Devices, I would probably trust this one the most to safely stand up to the shock and pressure of a rimmed pistol, mid-range rifle, or light shotgun round; 26.5mm baton, tear gas, anti-personnel, and even grenade-type rounds seem like they would plausibly be safe to use in this gun. (I would still have safety concerns, but nowhere near as many as I would for other flare guns.)
Unfortunately, surplus 26.5mm flares aren't as easy to find as they used to be. As of this writing, they can cost $4-$6 or more a round even in bulk. Adapters for common short 12-gauge flares can be obtained (shotgun shells shouldn't fit most of these adapters), and 26.5mm reloading supplies are becoming a little more common (to CYA, consult with the BATFE before attempting to purchase or build anything but flares or smoke rounds, though.)
CTD's Curio & Relic Forum
- Manual and other materials translated to English (I intend to do this myself when I get more spare time to do the translating.)
- More information about the mysterious two threaded holes in the receiver.
- More background on why this gun was made, what it was supposed to be used for, who the customers were expected to be, and why the majority of them were shipped to the US after decades of storage in new and unused condition.
- More information about any specialized cartridges that the RV-85 would have used exclusively.