WGP STO Autococker
©Ravi Chopra, 1999
With custom versions of his $400 Autococker selling for prices up to and above $1500, Budd Orr must occasionally have paused in his daily pursuits and thought to himself; "Why not me?" and "Wheres my cut?" WOrr Games has always been caught between their own insistence that the stock Autococker is just perfect as it comes from the factory, and the players undeniable desire
no, make that need, for "better performance."
Now, to understand whats going on here, you must understand the players need. Ive found that when you ask someone what they mean when they say they want "better performance," they almost always reply that they want better range and accuracy. Range and accuracy depend most importantly on the individuals ability no gun or gizmo will make you a better player. Assuming you have the skills, the two things that matter most to providing best range and accuracy are your barrel and paint. You want a good quality, clean barrel and top-notch round paint that fits snugly in the barrel without sticking. Strangely, the first things people start to change on their Autocockers are the front-end components (the autococking system), the valve, the bolt, and the in-line regulator none of which have any significant effect on range or accuracy.
The other thing that people frequently say is that they want to know what they have to change to "make the gun shoot right." The legend of the unreliable Autococker is a myth born of lousy airsmithing, rumor, and aftermarket manufacturers bias. The simple fact is that the stock Autococker has worked just fine straight out of the box for many years now, and for the last two or three years the stock gun has worked extremely well. The problem stems from the fact that the Autocockers settings, unlike most other paintguns, are very easy to adjust. This makes it simple for the experienced airsmith or player to tune the gun how he or she likes. It also makes it simple for any nimrod with an allen wrench to transform a perfectly functioning Autococker into an extended stay in the staging area.
So how did Budd Orr and WGP approach this? How did they dip into the high-end tournament market, satisfying the players subjective desire for something different and "better" without compromising their values? Their answer is the STO.
The original STO was a decent start. It had many different parts from the stock gun. The ram in particular may have been the fastest, lowest pressure ram around. But many of the parts on it were essentially stock with a slightly different look. It wasnt much to write home about cosmetically either. It had some conservative surface milling with "STO" carved prominently on its side and a small P-block, but the anodizing remained the plain-Jane matte black that the stock Autococker carried. Its center feed was really its biggest selling point. In my opinion, it didnt go nearly far enough from the stock gun to attract the serious attention of the high-end set. To make things worse, a variety of companies have come out with sub-$1000 fully customized autocockers that ended up saddling the STO with the reputation of being a high-priced, center-feed stock Autococker.
To compete more effectively in this market, WOrr Game went back to the drawing board to redesign their flagship product into something more appealing to the tournament and high-priced fashion set. The product of that work is the new for 1999 STO Autococker. I think youll agree with me when I say, its a big improvement.
As always, I start with the thing people notice first and foremost: the trigger. The STO trigger is now, for the first time, radically changed from the stock Autococker. Most of these changes are implemented to shorten and smoothen the trigger pull.
Lets start with the trigger plate. As with the stock 1999 Autococker, the STOs trigger is polished to a perfect finish and chrome plated. This makes for an exceptionally smooth trigger pull. Ive been a proponent of plating trigger plates for smoother action for years now and I consider this being implemented as stock equipment a very good thing. The trigger plate is also changed in that the hole for the timing rod has been reduced from an oval to a round hole just big enough for the rod to pass through, just like the ANS trigger plate. This change is probably the most controversial thing about the STO.
The oval hole in the trigger plate was there for a reason. The slack around the timing rod allowed the sear to rock down before the 4-way was switched when the gun was fired, and allowed the sear to rock back up before the 4-way switched back on the trigger release. Without that slack, you cant really get the mechanical sequence of events in the correct order. You either have to have the gun start to cock before it fires, or the block has to start returning before the sear has risen far enough to catch the hammer. The way they get it to work is by counting on the time delay inherent in switching the 4-way and getting the back block into forward motion being long enough for the sear to rise and catch the hammer. This all depends on a quick trigger release. If you very slowly release the trigger with the STO, the hammer wont be caught by the sear. This does not happen in regular play, but it does bear mentioning. While all of this makes for a shorter, faster trigger, it also reduces the long-term reliability. It wont be a problem when the gun is new, but after a year or two of hard play, STO owners should expect to have to have the gun serviced by WGP for retiming and a possible sear lug replacement. This is all exactly the same as in the ANS Autococker. For a more detailed description of all of this, refer back to my article on the ANS Gen-X Autococker in issue 122 of Paintball Games International from May 1999, or at my web page (http://www.paintballravi.com/index.html).
Like the stock Autococker, the STO also now comes with a stainless steel threaded timing rod for improved reliability and easier timing. Major kudos for this addition.
The STOs timing is completely different from that of the ANS gun, though. WGP has always timed their Autocockers rather conservatively to eliminate any chance of blowback. This STO does not break from that mold. There is still a relatively significant gap between where the trigger fires at the beginning of the trigger pull and where it cocks a the end. This gap ensures that there is no blowback to hinder feeding during rapid fire. At the same time, you need to really learn to pull the trigger back all the way to avoid short-stroking.
The STOs trigger components are built into a carbon-fiber .45-style trigger frame. It is as comfortable as any other .45 frame on the market and comes wrapped in a nice set of rubber Hogue grips. The carbon fiber is light and has adequate strength for most players, though people who run extremely heavy nitrogen systems bottom-line may want to consider replacing it with a metal frame for increased strength. As with the stock Autocockers frame, I do feel that the carbon fiber drags a bit more than a metal frame would, but its more than made up for by the exceptional smoothness of the chromed trigger plate. WGPs .45 frame also lacks the guide-screws and stop-screws that virtually all aftermarket .45 frames carry. As a result, the STOs trigger is not as slack-free or adjustable as would be possible with a custom frame. For most people this wont be a big deal. People who want to add a 2-finger trigger shoe, or who like to twiddle around with their triggers for a more custom feel will likely want to have the set screws installed not a big deal for most experienced custom shops.
On the whole, the 99 STO Autococker has a very smooth and fast trigger. It is on the longer end of the spectrum, perhaps best comparing to P&Ps excellent long-stroke triggers, though lacking that final degree of refinement that the most expensive Autocockers tend to have.
The Front End (Pneumatics)
In my opinion, the autococking components at the front of the STO Autococker are the place where WGP has always gone wrong. The problem hasnt been in the performance of the stock parts WGP has been using front-end components with adequate or excellent performance on the STO from the very beginning. Their problem has been appearance. The STO front-end has always looked a lot like the stock gun. The 4-way was just an aluminum version of the stock brass 4-way. The ram was actually reasonably different, and a superb performer to boot, but it was typically anodized in the same flat color as the 4-way. The regulator was the standard Sledgehammer from the stock gun a perfectly good regulator, but anodized the same thin, ugly black found on the stock gun not even anodized to match the 4-way and ram. What do people buy when then buy custom front-end parts? Parts with the reputation of being the "best"? No. They buy matching colored or chrome components.
With the 99, WGP has improved performance across the entire front end and given it the custom look that will dissuade most players from touching it. To start, the entire front-end is beautifully polished and chromed, giving it a consistent custom look that wont look nasty next to the next guys $1500 custom job.
The regulator has been changed a bit. Its essentially the same as the old Sledge, but its been redesigned with rounded edges and improved for better flow. It still isnt externally adjustable, and now it isnt even compatible with the Twister kit. Though personally Id like an adjustable reg, for most this wont be a problem. The Sledge comes properly set from the factory and giving people an extra knob to twist just invites trouble. People who really need an adjustable reg can easily buy and install an aftermarket part.
The ram is the one part I wish they hadnt changed. The old STO ram was an awesome part. Super-fast, ultra-reliable, easy to repair, buttery smooth. The new STO ram appears to be a stock ram with a swiveling front end hose barb. I think its a little smoother than the stock ram, but I just dont think it quite matches the original part. On the upside, it is shorter than the old ram and has fewer parts and seals, meaning it should be more reliable over the long term. I definitely wasnt disappointed with this ram, it is fast and smooth. Perhaps my preference for the old ram is just nostalgia.
The new 4-way valve is dynamite. Theyve replaced their aluminum stock valve with the Angry 4-way from Belsales, the same valve that has come as stock equipment on the superb Evolution Autococker for years. This small, brass, short-throw valve is superbly smooth, doesnt leak, and has an exceptionally short throw contributing significantly to the triggers excellent feel. Palmers Quickswitch may be better, but not much.
The Guts (Internals)
The internals in the STO are not much changed, and are probably the one area that has been most significantly surpassed in the aftermarket arena.
Up front, the channel in front of the valve is opened up wide, and has been for some time now. This has been a superb change in the Autococker body in that it dramatically reduces operating pressure (Autocockers from WGP now run in the 300-400 psi range) and improves efficiency markedly. WGP has resisted the urge to install one of the now all-too-common air reservoirs up front to expand the chamber further. Frankly, I dont think they make much difference and its absence is not missed here.
The valve is the same venerable exhaust valve found in the stock Autococker. Not much to say here. It works, passing gas effectively to the bolt when smacked by the hammer. It is of note that WGP did change the cup seal some time ago to a much more durable material that is less likely to extrude or nick. Its functional and reliable, but doesnt offer the best efficiency around. Expect to get about 800-900 good shots from a 68 ci 3000 psi nitrogen system.
The hammer is also similar to that found in the stock gun. Stainless steel, fat lug, Nelson-style spring, externally adjustable. The only thing missing is a set screw to ensure the lug doesnt back out, though I dont expect that to be much of a problem. The stock hammer has pretty much caught up to the aftermarket standard. It may not be as pretty as some aftermarket kits, but it works just as well.
WGP has put some work into the bolt. The new bolt really is a sight to behold. The first thing youll notice is that its completely chrome plated. Not only does this look hot, but it is buttery smooth and absolutely flies when the gun cycles. It has also had the traditional front o-ring removed. It has long been believed that the front bolt o-ring was required to prevent blow-back. A long series of excellent aftermarket bolts without any o-rings at all seem to have disproved that theory. The fact that this o-ring is the one that is most commonly chopped and lost probably makes its elimination a good thing. The bolt face has been changed as well. No, it doesnt have any venturi design, but now it does cone open at the very front. Does it make a difference? I doubt it. But it looks cool. Naturally, its been narrowed down and drilled out for minimum weight.
Accessories & Extras
The STOs biggest selling point has always been its center-feed. Center-feed has become the feed of choice for most players. Its lower than traditional side-feeds and doesnt hang the hopper out one side or the other. Additionally, it eliminates the need for an elbow those irritating, all-too-easily-broken parts that you used to have to carry three or four of just in case one broke. Elimination of the elbow also makes cleaning out the feed and breech much easier if you chop a ball or pop one in the breech.
One of the most common complaints about the stock WGP in-line reg was that it wasnt externally adjustable. In response to those complaints WGP has come out with a new adjustable reg which takes things further by being carved into a cool for-grip. This is a huge improvement. I found the on-field performance to be superb and had no velocity problems all day. I hope to have a full performance review of this reg done some time in the near future.
Stock barrels are almost always junk. Though never terrible, WGPs stock barrels have never really been terrific performers. No longer. WGP has worked out a deal to include a custom two-stage J&J barrel with each STO Autococker. These half-stainless, half-aluminum, straight ported barrels follow in the tradition of Smart Parts and DYE. They look cool and shoot extremely well. It should be noted that this barrel has a relatively small bore, so those who shoot a lot of Nelson will likely want to find a larger-bore alternative. Most, though, will feel no need to replace this superb barrel.
Rounding out the package are the standard bits and pieces required to make a good Autococker. It has a chrome ball detent to prevent double-feeds. Hogue grips for a comfortable, firm grip. A relatively plain beavertail to keep you from thumbing the cocking rod and prevent said rod from smashing a hole in your goggles.
You want to talk about big improvements? The looks of the STO are the single most significantly improved aspect of the gun. Its gone from a pretty bland, weak attempt at a custom look to a total knockout.
First, the bodys milling looks much better than it ever did. No, it isnt going to embarrass any Westwoods or Twisters, but the simple diamond-cuts and slotted rail give a simple, uncluttered, and handsome look. Add in the P-block and custom-cut, small front-block and you have a slick, consistent, custom shape that looks great.
The anodizing is absolutely dynamite. The entire gun is done out in gloss black with a slanted, brilliant blue swash through its middle that speckle-fades out into the black at its edges.
The rest of the gun is done out completely in chrome and polished stainless steel.
Aesthetics are definitely a personal thing, but I really thought this gun looked great. The combination of the clean, uncluttered milling, gorgeous anodizing, and chromed-out bits and pieces makes for a cool custom appearance without looking garish or overly showy. I was definitely not ashamed to be seen with this paintgun in hand.
In play, the STO really is a nice gun. The smooth, fast trigger was very easy to get used to, and a pleasure to shoot once I got into a rhythm with it. Even with the cheap, on-sale Zap I was shooting, the gun was dead-nuts accurate. The only problem I ran into was an early cup-seal leak that allowed a small barrel leak. This is not uncommon with new guns where the cup seal has not yet broken in. Crank the pressure up until it seals (about 450-500 psi for me) and rechrono it at that setting for a day and it should break in quickly. The next time you play you should be able to turn the pressure back down to 350 psi or so.
The STO comes with a suggested retail price of $800 or so, a price that puts it right into the thick of the low-price, fully loaded custom Autococker market. No one buys at retail, though. With just a little looking it isnt hard to find STOs selling in the $650-$700 range, a price at which they are a tremendous value.
The STO is as fully featured, custom-look, and high-performance as anything in this price range. Id even go so far as to say that it compares favorably to Autocockers much much more expensive. As with any paintgun, each person has to decide for him or herself what they like in a paintgun. Some will be wowed by the slick look and smooth, fast trigger. Others will find the STOs long trigger pull and slack feel, or the lack of an adjustable Sledgehammer may be reason not to buy.
Either way, Id strongly recommend people looking into buying an Autococker in this price range give the STO a good look. Its dramatically improved over the old STO: shoots better, looks sweeter, more features, similar price.
All material at this site is © Ravi Chopra, 1999