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Buildsheet: The Sleeper Retro AR Clone Build

Retro and clone AR builds have exploded in popularity over the last decade. Whatever the reason, rebuilding black guns from bygone eras is a thriving subculture of AR owners. Whether replicating prototypes from the 1950s and ’60s or reproducing the specific guns of special units, cloning is more popular than ever. 

True retro AR clone builds take weeks or months of research and scavenging, depending on your level of dedication, to find period-accurate ev-er-y-thing down to pins and screws. We love retro style, but we also enjoy the benefits of modern engineering. So began the Sleeper Carbine, a gun with groovy retro-style powered by modern parts under the hood. The long-nose aesthetic of the XM177 is iconic in retro circles, but easily recognizable by most for its pop-culture prowess. Our goal was to take visual cues from some “transitional” versions of the XM, as seen in movies like Blood Diamond and Black Hawk Down — variants of the CAR-15/XM177 that bridged the gap between true Vietnam-era clones and the modularity of post-GWOT rifles. 

The heart of any rifle is its barrel and bolt group. We started with a Sionics 11.5-inch patrol barrel. While notably thicker and heavier than a period-correct XM barrel, Sionics tubes are known for their incredible durability and accuracy beyond what’s accepted from most 4150 CMV AR barrels. We mated this to a Pamax Tactical X-SLICK bolt carrier group. While the Pamax website doesn’t go into any substantive detail about X-SLICK, they do advertise the following bullet points about it:

  •  Coefficient of friction equal to NP3
  •  Twice as corrosion resistant as NP3
  •  Able to withstand temperatures up to 1,200 degrees F
  •  Service life of 6,500 rounds

Furthermore, the X-SLICK can be had in a variety of colors, including camo patterns, to match the exterior paint job of your rifle. Our tan Pamax BCG recoils into an Armaspec Stealth Recoil System. The SRS is a multi-stage buffer system with captured, nested springs. This drop-in unit can be purchased preconfigured for any of the standard buffer weights (C through H3, plus 9mm and big bore versions) and replaces both the buffer itself as well as the buffer spring.

Sleeper Retro AR Clone buildsheet

With our operating system thoroughly modernized, we looked at more internals. Rise Armament triggers have become one of our fast favorites, and the Blitz series offers substantial improvement over Mil-spec AR triggers while maintaining a sub-$200 price tag. The controls are entirely Strike Industries, including extended mag release, enlarged bolt catch, short-throw safety, and latchless charging handle. The enhanced takedown pins, serrated castle nut with sling loop end plate, and vented trigger guard with built-in mag guide are also from SI, with the latter two being possibly the most visually jarring features on a pseudo-retro AR.

If the barrel and BCG are the heart of a rifle, the receivers are its foundation. In this case, the lower comes from Echo Nine Three in Texas. Better known for their line of AK accessories borne from a career in the Mid East, E93’s receiver is essentially sterile, with extremely low-key roll marks — no good ruining a nice, clean clone rifle with obnoxious branding on the magwell. The upper receiver is an M16A1/C7-style upper from Luth-AR. The beauty of Luth-AR’s retro uppers is that they’re available cut with M4 feed ramps, making them compatible with any modern, high-performance AR barrel. For retro AR clone the purist, they do have non-feed-ramp versions available as well. The “fill-in parts” — teardrop forward assist, A1 pistol grip with no finger ledge, CAR buttstock, and A-frame front sight/gas block — all came courtesy of Brownells’ retro AR line. They’re one of several large manufacturers carrying the torch for the retro/clone crowd. 

The finishing touches on this rifle — the seven-hole CAR handguard and extended tube-style flash hider — were from TNTE Sales. TNTE specializes specifically in retro and military clone rifles, from Stoner prototypes to GWOT-era military clones. The 5.5-inch flash hider is a unit of their own design, machined from solid steel and just long enough to pin and weld on an 11.5-inch (or longer) barrel to save $200 on a tax stamp. 

We’ve always said that an effective carbine needs three accessories: an optic, a light, and a sling. The red dot is a Riton X1 Tactix RRD in an A.R.M.S. #16A carry handle mount. This mount has been out of production for years, but we were able to get our hands on one, only to find out the body tube of the RRD was the wrong shape for the #16, which was designed specifically for Aimpoint CompM2 sights. So we had to have the mount machined down to fit. Now it looks seamless, provides a super tall mount in line with today’s tactical wisdom of higher-offset red dots, and has a “pass through” to use irons underneath the dot.

Our white light is a SureFire 6P, upgraded with a Malkoff Devices drop-in lamp assembly. This cool-white LED unit ups the output of the vintage 6P from its OEM 60 lumens to a more respectable 250 lumens. Luckily, Impact Weapon Components still makes a Mount-N-Slot light mount compatible with the handguard holes of both CAR- and M4-style handguards. 

Our sling is a Troy Industries GAU-ODG. In Vietnam, Special Forces teams would remove the metal attachment hardware from their slings and sew in loops of paracord for a sling that didn’t jingle or rattle on patrol. Troy pays homage to this design with the GAU strap, made of surplus military-issue canvas straps and brass adjustment sliders. Our sample slider is heavily oxidized and leaves a green film on the fingertips anytime you need to adjust your sling length. We snipped one of the paracord loops to use the sling mount on the endplate of the buffer tube, which we tied off and melted with a lighter for a secure hold. 

Finally, the “field expedient” paint job is actually KG Gun Kote, painstakingly applied by P4 Coatings. All of the lines between colors were hand-feathered to ensure a faded, splotchy, field-worn appearance, perfect for a retro AR clone. 

The Sleeper Parts

Upper Receiver: Luth-AR C7 with M4 Feed Ramps: $150
Lower Receiver: Echo93: $105
Trigger Guard: Strike Industries Fang: $30
Trigger: Rise Armament Blitz: $200 ($189 if you Buy from Primary Arms)
Bolt Carrier Group: Pamax Tactical: $125
Buffer System: Armaspec Stealth Recoil System: $80
Flash Hider: TNTE XM177 Extended: $45
Optic: Riton X1 Tactix RRD: $200
Light Headlamp: Malkoff Devices Drop-in: $40
Light Mount: IWC TMC Mount-N-Slot: $40

Total: $1,015


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