If you’ve ever read any of my previous articles, or seen any of the videos I’ve produced, you know that I have an obsession with pistol-caliber carbines. Fast-shooting with very little felt recoil, the idea of a little semiautomatic carbine chambered in an affordable, yet potent little cartridge has always fascinated me (and caused irreparable damage to my bank account).
The other firearms that are ruinous to my bank account are Cold War-era carbines and pistols whose designs seems torn between eras. From the wood-stocked Armalite AR-180 SCS and the integrally-suppressed Sterling Mk. V, to original UZI carbines with wooden stocks, Ruger’s AC556, and guns from around the time of the Vietnam War, I appreciate guns that have a unique feel and look to them, which is often lacking in modern firearms.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but these firearms share a design philosophy that is equal parts WWII-stamped subgun, atomic-age rocketry and 50s chic interior design. By this, I mean the designs are still functionally utilitarian, like war-time production guns, but feature blended, aerodynamic aesthetics featuring wooden accents, in an attempt to reduce weight and appear modern and streamlined, but also familiar.
I’ve always believed this was because engineers at the time were hitting the first real wall in terms of performance gains in small-arms tech. Firearms are a mature technology; the quantum leaps in accuracy, reliability and effective range seen during the First World War aren’t possible with today’s designs.
Because of this, engineers were willing to take risks on external and ergonomics design principles because they knew the underlying technology was solid. One of the coolest examples of this was the J&R Engineering M-68.
Chambered in 9mm Parabellum, the M-68 is an overbuilt, direct-blowback carbine built almost exclusively from plastic and steel. Introduced in the early- to mid-1960s by Ray Wilkinson and Bob Penny, the gun saw initial commercial success, providing them enough mail orders to keep their company, J&R Engineering, well in the black.
Unfortunately, the introduction of the Gun Control Act of 1968, all but wiped out the little company, and, within months, J&R ceased operations. The remaining assets and parts were transferred to Bob Penney, who sold M-68 carbines under the PJK company name. The M-68 was eventually redesigned with its bolt handle relocated from the top of the receiver to the left side; the carbine was reintroduced as the M-80 model, which featured a port cover similar to the M-16 as one of its improvements. Some years later, the new company, Wilkinson Arms, with Ray Wilkinson involved again, introduced the Wilkinson Terry Carbine, which featured an improvement on late-model M-80 carbines, namely, a standard thumb-activated magazine release instead of the earlier European magazine release located at the bottom rear of the magazine well.
In the early 1980s, the Wilkinson Linda Carbine was introduced. It had a shorter receiver than the Terry carbine, but the new firearm retained many of the same parts from the M-68, including the grip assembly and fire-control group. A pistol version was also offered. While the new gun did see commercial success, popularity waned, and, by 1989, the little pistol-caliber carbine was discontinued. Around 2005, and after the passing of the gun’s original designer, Ray Wilkinson, a new manufacturer, Northwest Arms, began producing an updated Linda Carbine. In 2015, Patrick McFarland purchased the Linda tooling, parts and rights and resurrected the company under the original name, Wilkinson Arms, to honor the original inventor.
Today’s Linda Carbine
Heavily based on the original Linda Carbine, it incorporates many of the M-68 original parts, as well as all the design improvements Ray Wilkinson implemented over the design’s lifespan. However, unlike the many of the early Linda models, the new Linda also features a 1/2×28 thread pitch (instead of the 9/16×20 thread pitch on the originals), making it ideal for mounting 9mm sound suppressors and other muzzle devices like brakes or compensators, though neither are needed at all.
The felt recoil on the Linda is very mild, and not simply because of the limited recoil impulse of a 9mm pistol round fired from a carbine. The other factor that dampens the recoil of the Linda is its overall weight—around seven pounds unloaded.
Another aspect changed from the original is the feed ramp. In previous iterations of the Linda pistol, the feed ramp was made of polymer and only cut for ball ammunition. This version of the Linda instead features and appears to have a more scalloped, more finely polished ramp to accommodate defensive and semi-wadcutter ammo.
While this change isn’t readily apparent, the differences in the wooden handguard are. While the original versions of the carbine featured a fully rounded, smoothly finished handguard, the new Linda instead opted for a trapezoidal, angular-cut handguard. While it certainly looks cool and likely reduces build time, it isn’t as comfortable as the original. Thankfully, the new Linda is totally compatible with original parts, allowing shooters to replace this handguard with an original one.
Lastly, the new Wilkinson Arms carbines visually differentiate themselves from the original guns with the inclusion of an engraving of “Murphy, ID”, which indicates the new location of the manufacturing facility, on the right side of the grip assembly. Cosmetic, material, and external differences notwithstanding, the gun is functionally identical to its original design—which is a good thing.
The simplistic, direct-blowback operating system of the Linda guarantees it will function, provided the ammo used is strong enough to positively cycle the bolt. But what’s really interesting is how much the design borrows from other successful submachine gun designs.
For example, the bolt itself is telescopic, like the Israeli sub gun, the Uzi. This is a brilliant choice, as it permits the carbine to be vastly shorter for two reasons. The bolt itself covers a portion of the barrel when in the locked position, and this allows consolidating the pistol grip and magazine well (like the Uzi and Czech Sa vz. 23), because the receiver doesn’t need additional internal space at the rear for a recoil spring. Another inspired trait is the method of barrel retention used on the Linda.
Just like the British Sten and the Israeli Uzi, the Linda secures its barrel to the receiver with a massive barrel nut located at the front of the receiver. Unlike the Uzi, the Linda doesn’t utilize an external spring-loaded catch to prevent the nut from walking itself loose. Instead, the Linda uses an internal, indented one (not unlike the American M3 “Grease Gun”) inside a massive notch on its barrel support sleeve that pulls double duty as an indexing point as well.
This notch also functions as a lever point for a screwdriver or oversized Allen key to assist in disassembly. When secure, the barrel support sleeve contains the bolt assembly and aligns the barrel and chamber with the magazine well. While this sounds somewhat confusing at a glance, it’s actually very straightforward in practice.
One last sub gun-inspired trait is the construction and design of the Linda’s rear sight. Just like the military versions of the Thompson SMG, the M1 and M1A1, the Linda’s rear sight is a simple, fixed aperture-type peep built from a single piece of folded steel secured by machine screws to the top of the receiver.
Shooters looking for something a little more compact can contact Wilkinson, and they’ll build pistol versions of the Linda to order.
What About Performance, Though?
I consulted shooters who owned the previous iteration of the Linda carbine, and most stated that the feed ramp gave them issues with certain types of ammo. The most problematic ones were those with either semi-wadcutter or hollow-point projectiles, as well as any round weighing over 124 grains.
Given that auto-loading firearms of the time struggled with these rounds, this isn’t surprising. Plus, the original guns utilized polymer feed ramps, which, after thousands of rounds, would change shape or wear out and rend the weapon totally unreliable.
Thankfully, Wilkinson has replaced the polymer feed ramp with a steel one, and polished it to function with both defensive and semi-wadcutter ammunition. Testing further confirmed this, as the gun never encountered a single failure to feed in the hundreds of rounds fired through it.
Four brands of ammo were used for the review, each representing different ends of the 9mm ammo weight/shape spectrum. Federal 115gr FMJ was used as a control, as it represents the most common grain and bullet type of 9mm ammo on the market.
HPR’s frangible 85gr OTP rounds were used to check how well the Linda’s barrel could stabilize lightweight, higher-velocity rounds. Next were my go-to defensive rounds from Hornady, its 147gr XTP Critical Duty rounds. These were chosen to see how well the Linda’s feed ramp could handle both heavier and hollow-point rounds.
Last was the wildcard of the group. A now-defunct company called Oath Ammunition manufactured a solid copper 100gr, pre-cut ball-contour round. In my experience, this round either performs exceptionally or terribly, with no regard to barrel twist or length—but I figured it would be interesting to include.
Accuracy from the carbine was superb with certain rounds. Let’s start off with the bad news first: the Linda hates Oath ammo almost as much as Pelosi hates guns. Fired from a rest, the Linda could only squeeze out six-inch groups at 50 yards! Initially, I believed the rounds were key-holing because of this abhorrent accuracy, but closer examination of the target proved otherwise.
The Good News?
The Linda was outstanding with every other brand of ammunition tested—even the lightweight frangible rounds. For example, Federal’s bargain ammo cranked out sub two-inch groups at 50 yards when fired from a rest. Meanwhile, Hornady’s 147gr Critical Defense rounds grouped slighter smaller, at 1.83 inches.
The belle of the ball was HPR’s ultra-light Black Ops 85gr OTF rounds. This little black bullet achieved an astounding 1.4-inch group at 50 yards!
Impressed, I pushed the Linda out to 100 yards with the help of a four-power, Nikon P223 scope. Here, HPR’s rounds didn’t perform quite as well as predicted, grouping a hair over four inches. Presumably, the lightweight bullet’s ballistic coefficient is not substantial enough to keep rounds in as tight a group at further ranges.
This was unscientifically confirmed by firing a few five-round groups with Horandy’s heavier 147gr rounds. The best of these groups measured 3.44 inches on an NRA SR-1, 100-yard reduction target. Still, the performance of the Linda might be further enhanced with the addition of a higher magnification optic than the Nikon four-power scope used.
And this brings me to my first qualm with the Linda: mounting optics.
While I understand the Linda was designed before widespread use of Picatinny rails, the method of attaching optics to the little carbine is far from ideal. The top of the receiver is adorned with a full-length dovetail rail like many rimfire carbines of the day.
While dovetail rails work great with airguns and rimfire carbines, they lack the recoil groove found on both Weaver and Picatinny rails. Effectively, this means two things. First, a shooter’s choice of optics is very limited, as few companies build their optics with this interface in mind. Second, the lack of recoil groove can lead to the optic shifting position and loose zero. Repeatability of mounting optics is also very difficult.
The other issue I had with the carbine is the design of the ejection-port cover. While it partially resembles those found on AR-15, M4 and M16 rifles, it differs in one truly unfortunate way: it can’t be fired when the cover is in the closed position. Rather, it can be fired in that position—once. Doing so destroys the cover’s ability to snap closed. This is an annoyance to be sure, but certainly not a deal-breaker. After all, the gun ran without issue for more than 400 rounds when test fired. This includes both with the standard thread protector installed and an Innovative Arms 9mm suppressor provided by SilencerShop. In both configurations, the Linda was utterly reliable with very little felt recoil.
Overall, the Linda isn’t going to dethrone high-dollar pistol-caliber carbines from military manufacturers like SIG and H&K, but it’s not meant to. Instead, the Linda offers old-world quality and nostalgic lines, coupled with modern reliability and, to some extent, modularity. This is where the Linda truly shines, as an “old-school-cool” PCC that would be equally at home as a plinker, suppressor host or excellent SBR candidate. It might not be the most tactical blaster in town, but the Linda scratches an itch that modern guns just can’t reach.