Recently a gentleman on one of the gun forums asked how he could identify the origins of a sporterized Mauser rifle he had obtained. It was a short barreled 7x57mm rifle without any markings except for a Mark number on the bolt body. Unfortunately I had to tell him that identifying these home-grown sporters can be just about impossible in many cases. Here's what I told him, and I hope the information will be helpful to anyone else trying to identify one of these rifles.
"In my experience your rifle could be just about anything. I was around and participated in the prolific hobby of converting military Mausers to sporters, having done it at least a dozen times myself to at least six models of military-issue Mausers from 1967 to 1995."
"There were so many hobbyist modifications to them that it is hard to say just which model you might have......some owners actually buffed away markings deliberately. The short Mannlicher style carbines were usually 1909 Argentine Mausers, but they were chambered for the 7.65 Argentine/Belgian cartridge, not the 7X57. However, 7x57 carbine barrels were available through surplus parts houses in this country as late as the 90's." (I was clumsily trying to explain that his rifle could have been rebarrelled to its present caliber. JP)
"There were a large number of European Mausers after WWII that were quietly provided to Israel and other middle eastern countries that had all markings removed in order to conceal their national origin, but these were usually 8mm's, not 7X57's (often rebarrelled to 7.62 Nato). Many of them were Yugoslavian, but I have heard of others as well. The MK II makes me suspicious that yours may have been one of these rifles, or one of their bolts at least, although I only know of this being done to M98's, not the earler models. If there are any proof marks left on the metal anywhere, they may be your only means of identification, and then only of the part the proof mark appears on, for reasons explained below."
"The other variable at work here that throws a huge monkey wrench into identifying sporterized Mausers is that they may not have the original bolts or barrels in them - a huge number of imports into this country were Model 93's, 95's, Mexican, and Brazilian 1908's, all in 7X57 and without matching bolts, and some of the cheapo mass sellers threw together their own permutations out of surplus parts, which was also done by gunsmiths. Parts guns abounded because of the standardization of Mauser parts made in any number of countries, and Johnny Cash Cadillacs were not uncommon at all. (Refers to a song in which Cash stole parts from the Cadillac factory he worked in for years, and when he finished his Caddy, it had parts from twenty different Cadillac years and models in it.)"
"For several decades in this country, brand new 7x57, 8x57, and 7.62 Nato Mauser barrels were available in the white for as little as $25 and a goodly percentage of them were carbine barrels. I personally rebarrelled an M1909 7.65 Argentine rifle with a brand new 24 inch 8X57 military barrel in 1995, which would completely throw off anyone trying to identify the origin of the rifle. i.e., Argentine Mausers were not made in 8x57mm. As I implied earlier, tons of new parts were still available in the 90's, and the seller or the previous owner could have switched any part in the rifle that suited their fancy. Refer to Mr. Cash's Caddy again."
"All of this makes having your rifle's headspace checked before firing or spending any money on the gun a very good idea. Replaced bolts were sometimes known to have headspace issues. I'm sorry for this hodge-podge of information, but this is how a zillion sporterized Mausers came into being and trying to identify their origins once sporterized is anyone's guess. Best of luck in your quest."
The original Mauser parts storm that hit this country occurred in the fities and sixties when the world's armies began to reequip with more modern weapons systems. So they sold off all of their Mauser rifles and parts, which were then available to hobbyists for decades. To further complicate matters, in later years the former Warsaw Pact nations released captured and indigenous Mauser bolts, bolt parts, receivers, magazine assemblies and other parts in shipload quantities, with and without identifying marks. And guys like me had no qualms about trying to build decent sporters out of them. These facts form the basis for the answer I gave the gentleman above.
Naturally, some sporterized Mausers were made from rifles retaining all their original parts, but I would guess that ten times that amount were not. During the heyday of this hobby, from the fifties through the eighties, huge quantities of Mauser rifles were imported into this country with mismatched bolts. Sellers were quick to say that the headspace of these rifles had been checked and found to be within factory specifications, but this was not always true. Thus my admonition to the gentleman to have his rifle's headspace checked. Mismatched bolts were so common that distributors usually charged a premium for a Mauser with the original bolt in it, and this is still commonly used as a reason for charging a premium price for a military surplus rifle.
Part of the appeal of the homemade Mauser sporters was the recreational aspect of doing the work yourself. But not all gun owners are mechanically inclined, and more than a few got in over their heads. In some cases these well-meaning fellows either damaged their rifles or compromised their safety. Home-grown trigger jobs and do-it-yourself installation of aftermarket triggers and safeties were quite common, (and quite commonly botched,) and some of this work rendered these rifles unsafe. So a wise buyer of one of these sporters should certainly have it professionally inspected for correct functioning of the trigger and safety.
Determining if a sporterized rifle's bolt is the original bolt can be nearly impossible. Most Mausers had the serial number on the bolt stamped into the bolt handle, which was often cut off and replaced with a handle suitable for use with a scope. This makes identification of a bolt possible only through analysis of any proof marks left on it, and sadly, even this analysis may only give one the nation of the part's origin and nothing else.
I doubt that he knew it at the time, but Johnny Cash gave us the most honest analysis of this subject possible when he recorded his Cadillac song. The song says it all on the subject of how so many of those sporterized Mausers came into being. Best wishes to all.