The Zenith Custom Shop


Roller-delayed blowback firearms are legendary for their quality, endurance, reliability, and accuracy. Quite honestly, they have few rivals. But in a world dominated by plug-and-play AR-15s, the undersupported and more mechanically complex roller-delayed system can be intimidating. Where can you turn if you want to clean up the trigger on your Z-5RS or MP5? And if you don’t want to spray-paint your HK91 because you prefer that beautiful factory finish, where can you go? The answer is the Zenith Custom Shop.

Zenith Custom Shop gunsmiths JR Pannell and DE Williams are highly experienced with the roller-delayed system, and capable of everything from refinishing moderately used guns to completely refurbishing decades-old MP5s that have been languishing in someone’s safe or armory. With more than 50 years of gunsmithing experience between them, JR and DE can fix virtually any problem your roller-delayed firearm might present. Here is a quick summary of some of the most popular services the Zenith Custom Shop offers.

Barrel Replacement. Roller-delayed firearms are extremely popular for their “shootability.” If you visit a range that rents out machine guns, you will inevitably find an MP5 (or maybe a Z-5RS) on the wall, if not in use on the range, as most everybody likes to shoot iconic firearms. The downside to this is parts wear, especially long-term barrel wear, which at some point begins to affect accuracy. And if you examine a roller-delayed firearm, you’ll understand that replacing the barrel is not a simple matter for the shade tree gunsmith. Fortunately, our Custom Shop can remove the worn-out barrel on, for instance, a rental machine gun, and replace it with a factory-new barrel, restoring its accuracy and giving the business owner and his customers years of further shooting enjoyment.

Trigger Enhancement. Do you love your roller-delayed gun, but find the trigger a bit irksome? Despite arguable advantages in certain circumstances, many people find heavy triggers detrimental to their pistol-caliber carbine shooting. If you’re among them, send your firearm to our Custom Shop and allow us to fix it for you. JR and DE can clean up your factory trigger and leave you with a crisp, 4.5- to 5-pound trigger that’s more consistent and reliable, giving you a competitive edge on the firing line.

Magazine Well Adjustment. Often the most intimidating part of a roller-delayed firearm is the stamped metal receiver. While these are supremely durable, compared to the receivers on a platform like the 98 Mauser, they simply do not look it. This helps explain why so many gun companies in Germany were reluctant to tackle manufacturing the MP 44, one of the most legendary firearms in existence. If your mag well needs an adjustment — if you want that perfect, wobble-free fit — send your firearm to the Zenith Custom Shop and ask them to make it so.

Finishing Services. Do you want the finish on your roller-delayed firearm restored to like-new HK black? Or how about a custom camo finish that makes your gun blend with a particular rural landscape? Then again, maybe you would prefer something that really stands out, like robin’s egg blue, so everybody remembers clearly who outshot them on the range. The Zenith Custom Shop can make any of these a reality. JR and DE are both certified DuraCoat applicators who can impose nearly any finish you’d like on any firearm you choose.

But tell us what you need. Is it a factory-level overhaul? Help with a problem you can’t diagnose or solve on your own? Your agency’s firearms refurbished? Since Zenith is a licensed manufacturer of NFA items, our Custom Shop can manage repairs and modifications to agency guns as well, whether you have one, 20, 50 or more firearms that need attention. The Zenith Custom Shop is open for business, for all your roller-delayed blowback service needs. Contact us at 434-202-7790 x110 with questions or to request a quote.

A Brief History of MKE


On May 29, 1453, Constantinople fell to Mehmed the Conqueror, the leader of the Ottoman Turks. Byzantium’s 1,500-year history came to a thunderous end as Ottoman bombards — massive siege cannons firing enormous projectiles weighing as much as a ton — battered the ancient walls to rubble. The Ottoman bombards were cast and crewed by a man known as Orban (of Hungarian or, ironically, German ancestry) and his staff, who had recently offered their services to the Byzantine emperor, who apparently could not afford them. Mehmed found the investment worthwhile, however. MKE, the Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation of Turkey, traces its lineage to that fateful siege that ended one empire and gave impetus to another. Today, MKE considers those massive bombards its origin in weapons manufacturing.

Although MKE itself only dates to 1950, the companies and organizations from which it is descended date roughly to Constantinople’s fall. Having witnessed the power and efficacy of the bombards, no Ottoman force was seen without them again, although the Ottoman artillery corps certainly evolved over the centuries in concert with developments in military technology. As the Ottoman Empire expanded until the mid-17th century, then slowly contracted into its pre-World War I borders, MKE’s predecessors matured along with it.

The most dramatic and fundamental changes came in the 20th century, as the Ottoman Empire tried to compete on the world stage with European powers that had dramatically outpaced it due to the Industrial Revolution. The Ottomans found a willing partner in Germany and, together in 1909, they established their first native ventures into modern ammunition manufacturing. World War I brought the Ottoman Empire and Germany closer together, and they fought as allies for most of its duration. Although the Ottomans scored a stunning victory at Gallipoli, the war as a whole was not kind to them, and shortly after its end their territory was apportioned among various countries.

Unsatisfied, and feeling violated by the division of their country following World War I, an upstart army of formerly Ottoman Turks founded the modern Republic of Turkey after a protracted struggle, mostly with Greece, for a large portion of what is now western Turkey. Throughout it, the Turks improvised and recycled on a massive scale, reloading practically everything using spent cases recovered on the battlefield — from small arms ammunition to artillery ammunition. At the conclusion of the long and bitter conflict, which is still reasonably fresh in both Turkish and Greek memory, the Turks emerged triumphant. Incidentally, other than some “neatening of the borders” since that time, the Turkey of today is geographically unchanged. This conflict, in particular, impressed upon the Turks the importance of being able to fend for themselves. From that time forward, Turkey has striven to become as independent as possible, especially regarding strategic assets and defense, and MKE has been an integral part of that process.

Following World War II, with the world rapidly dividing itself, Turkey joined NATO. That was in some ways a natural thing for Turkey to do, considering the enduring and historic enmity between itself and Russia. MKE was founded in 1950, and its production and capacity expanded rapidly thereafter.

MKE has long made all sorts of small arms ammunition — from 7.92 Mauser, to .30-06, to .303 British — most of which was reserved for domestic use. Believe it or not, MKE still maintains the capacity to produce any of this ammunition at any time, seeing as the machinery and equipment remain in place in its now ultra-modern small arms ammunition factory just outside of Ankara. However, MKE is by no means limited to small arms ammunition.

In the 1960s and 1970s, MKE rapidly expanded to produce ammunition ranging from 20 mm all the way to 155 mm and 203 mm. It designed and produced NATO-standard general-purpose aerial bombs, aerial rockets, 40 mm grenades, hand grenades, and mines. MKE even manufactures 120 mm APFSDS ammunition for its Leopard 2 and M60T fleets. Further, it was MKE that managed and ran the Turkish end of the licensed HK production. The company continues to sell roller-locking and roller-delayed firearms around the world, and is an ascending player in the international civilian and military arms markets.

MKE also produces mortars, artillery tubes, 120 mm main guns for the M60T and the newly designed Altay, and the 155 mm gun for the new T-155 Firtina self-propelled howitzer. All of that is compatible with NATO systems, and produced in MKE factories that NATO regulates and inspects to ensure adherence to exacting standards. How many of your personal firearms are made by a company that can also make high-tech caseless tank ammunition and 155 mm gun tubes?

In short, MKE is not your average firearms company. It has a history and traditions that span centuries. Its various incarnations have survived the fall of empires and the shifting borders of a turbulent Europe and Middle East, and its operations and capacity continue to expand, as Turkey strives for independence in defense matters. The next time you pick up a Zenith Z-series rifle or pistol, be assured you are handling a firearm produced by a company with expertise in virtually every field of ballistics and precision military-grade production.



The HK Licensees: The True Right Arm of the Free World? PART 1


The FN FAL is often referred to as “The Right Arm of the Free World.” If one examines the NATO table of organization and equipment from the 1950s through the 1990s, this title seems difficult to dispute on the surface. However, the Heckler and Koch G3, and its more ubiquitous little brother, the MP5, can be found everywhere the FAL is and was and, frankly, beyond. The simple fact is, the roller-delayed system was the foundation for a more robust, more reliable firearm that functioned from Norway to Germany to Turkey to the Middle East, to the Belgian Congo and to Central and South America, without requiring modifications to accommodate for harsh climates. The G3 is so robust that it is still being produced for active service in some of the most demanding and unforgiving environments on the planet. The G3 is the West’s AK: It is iconic because it works. As such, HK has issued many licenses over the years. Here is a brief rundown of some of the places HK designs have been produced under license.

TURKEY: MKE (Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation) of Turkey is one of HK’s oldest contractors, and that should come as no surprise, since Turkey and Germany have a long history. Germany helped set up Turkey’s first modern ammunition factory in 1909, when Turkey was still the Ottoman Empire and not yet a modern secular republic. After West Germany and Turkey both joined NATO in the 1950s, their relationship continued to flourish. By the 1960s, MKE of Turkey produced HK products under license. The original housing for the German staff can still be found a short distance away from MKE’s small arms factory, which to this day cranks out perfect products on some of the original HK-marked machines. And MKE still bountifully exports the same models they have been making since they first partnered with HK.

GREECE: Hellenic Arms Industry produced HK licensed products for Turkey’s NATO ally, neighbor, and sometimes rival. Sadly, Hellenic Arms is now mostly defunct due to Greece’s economic trauma, but its G3s are still found in active service all over Greece. The company has also exported G3s, although not to the extent of the other contractors.

PORTUGAL: FMP (Fabrica Militar de Portugal) is another longtime producer of the G3 under license from HK. Like MKE of Turkey, many of FMP’s HK products were exported over the years, especially to Africa. Additionally, Portugal’s active involvement in Africa led to its FMP-produced G3s being selected for active service in Africa’s variety of harsh climates, where its ubiquity rivaled, if it didn’t exceed, the FN FAL. FMP G3s were found in service with practically everyone in Africa at one time or another, from Rhodesia’s legendary Selous Scouts and Grey’s Scouts to virtually every guerrilla movement south of the Sahara.

MEXICO: Surprising to some, Mexico is a longtime HK licensee as well. Scandals aside, a variety of HK products have been and are still produced in Mexico by SEDENA (Secretaria de la Defensa Nacional). Like Turkey, Mexico has a long history of relations with Germany and German arms manufacturers, which continued to flourish after World War II. The Mexican military and police use HK products extensively in their brave and ceaseless struggle against crime. Unfortunately, many of those products, including some directly from Germany, have illicitly found their way into the hands of the cartels.

SAUDI ARABIA: The Al Kharj Arsenal in Saudi Arabia is another longtime HK licensee. Outside the relative luxury of the large cities, Saudi offers some of the harshest conditions on earth, combining scorching heat with talcum-fine sand, which finds its way into every crack and crevice on man, beast, and firearm. There is a simple reason why HK-design firearms, as opposed to other platforms, are produced there: they work in unforgiving environments.

NORWAY: On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Saudi Arabia, the Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk of Norway produced the G3 for the Norwegian military. What Saudi is to sand and heat, Norway is to ice and cold. Much of Norway’s territory is north of the arctic circle. The most effective testimony to the robustness and reliability of the G3, and roller-delayed designs in general, has to be that countries in the two harshest environments on the planet (arctic and desert) regularly operate them, and produced them without modifications to the original design. If you can take a rifle from Norway to Saudi Arabia and not have to do anything special to get it to function, you have reliability by design.