Much better, Budd
The '97 Autococker & Minicocker
© Ravi Chopra, 1997
The WGP Autococker is one of the oldest semi-automatic designs on the market. The very first ones available weren't even sold as semi-autos, they were converted from WGP Sniper pump-guns. Today, this nearly ancient paintgun design remains one of the most popular paintguns on the market, and is one of the two most popular tournament paintguns on the circuit. This longevity is not only a testament to it's superb design, but also to it's steady improvement over the years.
This advancement in the Autococker's design has rarely been the result of Budd Orr's initiative, though. Budd has always been decidedly conservative in the design of his paintguns. The resulting stock Autocockers always worked well, but didn't have the screaming, taken-to-the-edge performance that recreational players crave and tournament players demand. Performance improvements were almost always first made by custom airsmiths looking to give players a performance edge. Even the critical regulator upgrade to the now-stock Sledgehammer (the original stock regulator was pretty awful) was first driven by Glenn Palmer in the design and sale of the Rock. As certain upgrades became "standard" aftermarket add-ons, WGP would gradually add them to the stock Autococker. A good example of this was the addition of the Cooper-T ball-bearing-style ball detent as standard equipment a year or so ago.
Even with the gradual addition of options and upgrades to the stock Autococker, the 'guns you saw being used on the field were rarely anything even near the stock 'gun. In fact, the stock Autococker's lack of a beavertail made the stock configuration illegal for most tournament use! Budd Orr apparently got tired of seeing money for aftermarket modifications and add-ons that EVERYONE was adding to their Autocockers flowing into other people's pockets. He went back to the drawing-board and made some very significant changes and upgrades to the stock Autococker and Minicocker to bring them up to the "modern" standard of the 'gun. The results of his efforts are the '97 Autococker and Minicocker.
In my review of these two 'guns I will break it down into systems: trigger, autococking system, internals, extras, and cosmetics.
The biggest change to the trigger assembly is the new carbon-fiber trigger frame. This frame is similar to the carbon-fiber frames that Airgun Designs began putting on all of it's Automags a couple of years ago. The new frame is not only lighter than the old metal frame, but it is also made to tighter specifications than the old frames. The end result of this is that the trigger on the new Autococker and Minicocker has much less slop in it's action (less side-to-side and up-and-down movement). This has a much better, tighter feel than the old trigger. In fact, the new frame gives a similar trigger-feel to one of the old frames with a trigger-guide screw installed below the trigger.
An aluminum frame is offered as an option for anyone who might still want that. The aluminum option is advantageous to those who want to drill and tap the frame to install a trigger-guide or trigger-stop screw, or for those who want to anodize the frame in a custom color. Neither of the 'guns I had for evaluation had the aluminum frame, so I can not say whether or not the dimensional improvements of the carbon-fiber frame have also been implemented in the metal frame.
Apart from the frame, the trigger assembly is essentially the same as it was in the last iteration of the Autococker. Though WGP claims to have installed lighter trigger and sear-return springs, the weight of the trigger pull still feels as heavy as the old stock Autococker. The timing is also still rather conservative so the pull is still about 5 mm long. On the other hand, this does result in long-term reliability since it's less likely to go out of time as the result of a small change.
The 4-way valve has been polished for smoother operation, but the springing has not been lightened to take advantage of that improvement. This will be of advantage to people who respring the triggers on their own for a lighter pull since a softer trigger-return spring should still do the job adequately.
There is one truly bizarre omission from the '97 Autococker's trigger assembly, though. The stock 'gun retains the old slip-fit timing rod rather than including a threaded rod as stock equipment.
The Autococking system has seen some significant improvements. The ram and 3-way have been polished for smoother action. The Sledge Hammer regulator has been polished and honed, though I'm not sure how that would improve its performance.
In a change that falls under the "why didn't this come sooner" heading, the new Autococker and Minicocker BOTH now come with a cut block and a lightened bolt as stock equipment. The Minicocker has had the cut block as standard equipment since its inception, but Autococker owners were stuck cutting or replacing the fat stock block that it used to come with.
In practice, the smoothed action of the pneumatics and the lightened components combine for a faster cycle rate and a more stable 'gun when firing. I could not discern any real performance change from the Sledge Hammer as result of its honing and polishing, but it certainly didn't work any worse than previous Sledges. That is to say, it worked well, even in the sub-zero temperatures where I had chance to shoot it.
The internals of the '97 Auto and Minicocker are unchanged from the previous version.
The sear lug is the screw in the bottom of the hammer that the sear catches when the hammer is drawn back. The length of the sear lug (set by how far it is screwed into the hammer) sets how far back the trigger must be pulled to fire the 'gun. Adjusting the sear lug still requires removal of the grip frame, making the process of timing the 'gun long and tedious if you ever need to do that.
The hammer and mainspring are still the same as well. The mainspring is just large enough in diameter to allow passage of the cocking rod. Because of this, the rod can sometimes get caught in the spring when reinstalling it after adjusting the velocity. Additionally, this discourages experimenting with different spring weights as can be done with the larger diameter Nelson-style spring kits.
The valve is also unchanged. While there isn't anything specifically wrong with it, it would be nice if they would develop one that didn't require a special tool to access to replace a blown cup-seal.
The bolt, as I mentioned before is lightened, but otherwise the same as previous bolts. It has a single, large, center-hole directing the gas behind the paintball. In my experience, the stock-faced bolt is just as accurate and more efficient than any aftermarket venturi-style bolt.
Both the new Autococker and Minicocker come with a number of nice new extras to improve the feel and performance of the 'gun.
This has been standard on the Autococker and Minicocker for about a year now, but I think it bears mentioning. All Auto and Minicockers now come with ball-bearing-style anti double feed ball detents. The addition of this part as stock equipment eliminates the single greatest cause of problems people had with the Autococker: double-feeding. Though the ball-bearing detent is far from ideal since they can become jammed with paint and stop functioning over time, they are the most idiot-proof detents available and are easily replaced when jammed.
New, molded combat grips have been installed. They appear to be made of a cheap, hollow plastic, but I must admit that they are extremely comfortable. The old stock grips were the first thing you threw away when you bought a new Autococker. No longer. The comfort of these new grips will give most aftermarket grips a run for their money.
Since it became apparent that you could shoot an Autococker at dangerously high-velocities by pushing on the back of the cocking pin while firing, the beavertail has become required equipment to use an Autococker in a tournament. WGP has now added a nice beavertail as stock equipment to both 'guns, finally making them tournament-legal straight out of the box.
The cocking rod has been dramatically improved over previous versions as well. First, the knob has been cut in a hexagonal pattern making it much easier to adjust with a wrench than the old round, knurled knob. Second, the knob is drilled and tapped all the way through, and has a small set-screw in one end. This makes it very easy to precisely set the rod length and then lock it down tight with the set screw.
The bolt-retention pin has also finally been upgraded. The old 2-bearing pin broke and lost ball bearings very easily, leaving many players with a pin that wouldn't stay in. The more reliable 4-bearing pin, which has been available as an aftermarket accessory for several years, now comes as stock equipment on both the Autococker and Minicocker.
Finally, the Autococker has received a significant barrel upgrade. The new stock Autococker barrel is an 11" aluminum tight-bore that has been turned down to a 7/8" OD for lighter weight. The new barrel has a tough black hard-coat that is significantly more durable than the easily scratched anodizing of the previous barrel. The tighter bore also leads to improved efficiency, better clearing after a break, and somewhat better accuracy than the old barrel. Though it is no competition for the best aftermarket barrels currently available, the new stock barrel has been significantly improved. Sorry Minicocker buyers, the Mini still comes with the same old 7" anodized aluminum barrel it came with before.
Both the Auto and Minicocker have been the recipients of some significant cosmetic improvements.
First, both 'guns come with a very nice sandblasted satin-black finish that is much nicer and more even than the old black hard coat. They both also now come with stainless steel pump and cocking rods; much better looking than the old black rods.
The Minicocker has always come with shark-gill slots and slid all the way back to meet the 'gun body. The Autococker on the other hand had a plain shroud that stopped well short of the body when it hit the vertical ASA. No longer. The Autococker shroud is now cut with vertical slots and has a semicircle cut out of the bottom-back to allow it to fit over the vertical ASA. The problem now is that the shroud is not long enough to completely conceal the Sledge Hammer regulator when it is pulled all the way back to meet the 'gun body. The Sledge protrudes awkwardly into the elastic at the front of the shroud and tends to pull the shroud forward. A simple slot or hole cut in the elastic solves this minor annoyance.
The new Auto and Minicockers are significantly, and in all ways improved over the previous stock 'guns. The triggers have been tightened and smoothed, the 'guns have been lightened, the cosmetics have been improved significantly, and they finally come with the bare minimum required accessories to use them in a tournament. The only significant omission I can still find is the absence of a threaded timing rod.
The stock 'guns are so impressive now that I'd go so far as to say that the new '97 Autococker and Minicocker are the first WGP semis that are good enough to pull straight out of the box and play a tournament with.
And even with all of these improvements and additions, the things that players will probably appreciate most are the prices. The retail price of the Minicocker has stayed exactly the same as it was before, and the Autococker increased only slightly. This is an exceptional value since these same improvements would cost you much more to add on your own to the previous stock 'guns.
Ravi Chopra is a member of Detroit Fusion and is of questionable mental stability. He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the world wide web at http://www.paintballravi.com/index.html.
All material at this site is © Ravi Chopra, 1999