The H&K G3 and FN FAL are the two most iconic, prolific and functional battle rifles to come out of the Cold War. While the FAL managed to reach a more symbolic status, the G3 rifle managed to stay in wider service for longer, and with a higher average satisfaction level from its users. Their rugged reliability and relatively low cost have kept G3s in service with many large but less wealthy nations like Turkey and Mexico, while the platform’s inherent modularity has also prolonged its lifespan with groups like the Swedish Home Guard. Whether you’re interested in a G3 rifle as a historical novelty or as a serious shooter, there are options available, but there are some important things to know before diving headfirst into the platform.
For those looking to round off their Cold War small arms collection with a G3, there have been several enticing options imported over the years. Like with many firearms, however, their authenticity directly scales with their price. In the early 1960s, shortly after the G3 was put into military service, semi-auto H&K rifles were made for export to the United States and elsewhere. They were imported first by Golden State Arms Co., then SACO and eventually H&K themselves before the model was banned by executive order in 1989. The rifles imported during this period and by these companies were the only H&K-made G3s to enter the United States, and whether they’re marked as a G3, HK41, HK91 or SAR9, these rifles are about as authentic as they come, and they all bear price tags to match.
Collectors who appreciate authenticity but aren’t quite rich enough to afford a German-made example can turn to other licensed imports. Still expensive, but not as much as genuine H&Ks, there are Portuguese and Greek-made G3 rifle imports known as the FMP G3 and SAR-3, respectively. The largest difference between these guns and the German-made ones is the roll mark, so you decide how much that is worth to you.
When it comes to collectible G3 imports in this category, the further back you go the closer it will be to the original military pattern, with incremental changes and updates having been made along the way. The only examples in the States that are more authentic than the early 60s semi-auto HK imports are genuine military G3s registered under the NFA.
Some very dedicated H&K fans in America would cringe at the thought of shooting some of the rarer models mentioned above. With their collectability relegating most authentic G3s to safe queen status, it falls onto other G3 clones to be shooters.
The bulk of the rifles in this category will be dedicated to PTR Industries, the company responsible for keeping the G3 platform alive in America. Built using HK-licensed tooling purchased from Portugal, the company really took off after the Assault Weapon Ban was allowed to sunset in 2004. Finally able to produce and sell clone-correct semi-auto G3s, PTR eventually transitioned from using a mix of imported surplus and new parts to their guns being 100% made in-house.
PTR makes several G3 rifle and pistol variants to suit different needs. The GI PTR 100 is their most historically accurate G3 clone, featuring no optics rail, an original “SEF” steel lower receiver and surplus green German furniture. Other variants feature a welded-on top Picatinny rail, black furniture and polymer “navy” lower. Barrels are available in either the original 18-inch configuration, 16-inch or even 8.5-inches in a pistol format. These options from PTR give the freedom to choose between a classic Cold War-style setup or a G3 rifle that’s ready to be brought into the 21st century.
The only other shooter-grade G3s in the States worth mentioning are the scantly imported Zenith clones from Turkey and the pseudo-G3 C308 builds from Century Arms that use a combination of CETME and PTR-made components.
The G3 rifle platform is praised for its high level of modularity despite its design dating back to the 1950s. That being said, it is still not as modular as an AR and some considerations must be made before purchasing a base rifle. Based on the direction of modification and intended use of the gun, the user will want to consider the barrel length, welded optics rail and lower receiver style before committing to a specific model. Even when only considering the options available from PTR, this can enable the user to configure their G3 into everything ranging from a CQC weapon to a designated marksman rifle.
Due to its longevity of service in different armed forces across the world, the G3 has more modern upgrade options available to it than the FN FAL. There are modern free-floated handguards that enable the mounting of bipods, lights or lasers, as well as modern stocks that can majorly improve the ergonomics when the rifle is used with an optic. Some models of PTR come with modernized handguards straight from the factory, but the company leading the charge of G3 modernization is Spuhr out of Sweden. Their products have been purchased by the Swedish government on a large scale for modernizing their home guard’s issued G3s. Spuhr furniture is quite expensive, but it’s also the objectively best upgrade package for the G3 currently on the market. For those who plan on running an optic on their G3, the addition of a Spuhr stock would be enough to majorly overhaul the platform’s ergonomics and usability.
Whether you want a classic Bundeswehr beauty to hang on your wall or a serious fighting rifle, there’s a G3 rifle out there for you. As shooters, understand that they will likely never beat a modern AR-10 in any metric besides perhaps reliability, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth considering. Surplus G3 magazines are still abundant and cheap and the rifles are known for eating any ammo you feed them, no matter how dirty. Whether you find yourself an original German, Greek or Portuguese example or an American-made PTR, expect it to be a very enjoyable gun that will likely stay in common use for quite some time.
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