The gun business has a way of resurrecting old models long after they seem dead and gone. Some, like the AMT AutoMag, reappear after decades of dormancy, while others like the Bren Ten and Wildey Survivor still await reclamation. Common factors for successful comebacks are enthusiasts who have the will—and the coin—to make it happen and a cadre of customers drawn to these guns out of nostalgia or a desire for the unique, even when the design has long been eclipsed by newer models with contemporary features. Having been reconstituted multiple times with several owners, the Wilkinson Arms Linda is perhaps most exemplary of this peculiar life cycle, and the version currently made is moderately evolved from its original design.
Wilkinson Arms traces its roots to California, where Ray Wilkinson, whose company made go-cart parts, built a wooden mock-up of a 9 mm rifle and walked it over to a neighboring business owned by Bob Penney that made commercial M1 Carbines in a bid to provide funding. The two partners formed J&R Engineering in the mid-1960s and named its first semi-automatic carbine the M68, later succeeded by the M80. With its pistol-grip design, aluminum receiver, conical flash hider, top-mounted cocking handle and quick-detach barrel, the M68 was likely regarded as an inventive, if not cutting-edge rifle.
Orders for the new carbine were strong and J & R prospered for a few years, but closed shop soon after the passage of the 1968 Gun Control Act (GCA), which established the Federally Licensed dealer program. J&R had sold its carbines by mail order, but for reasons unknown, stopped manufacturing guns under the GCA’s confusing new paradigm. The remaining parts were made into rifles and sold by Penney and his son under the name PJK.
Later on, Wilkinson restarted operations under several names, improved the design and subsequently moved the operation to Parma, ID, in 1982. The revamped carbine was named the Terry after his daughter and the company’s product line was expanded with .22 LR and .25 ACP pistols named after his daughter Sherry and wife Diane. A pistol version of the Terry carbine was added and named the Linda—after another daughter. This was among the earlier “large-format pistols” and was marketed with a neck strap that attached to a slot on the back of the frame. The Linda was later offered as a carbine as well, differing from the Terry with respect to the stock and a having barrel with a ventilated shroud instead of a conical flash hider. It is that design that is most like the one made today.
The late 1980s to mid-1990s was the golden age of 9 mm carbines, many of which were niche designs like the Linda and the Terry. Small shops across the country made imaginatively designed carbines bearing now obscure names like Weaver Arms’ Nighthawk, Federal Engineering XC-900 and Feather Industries’ AT-9. Unhappily, things changed abruptly in 1994 with the passage of the “Assault Weapon Ban” championed by then-Senator Joe Biden, whose animus toward lawful gun ownership is once again on full display as President. The AWB stopped production of the Terry because it had a pistol grip, took a removable magazine and was equipped with a threaded barrel and flash suppressor, but the Linda was unaffected.
After Wilkinson’s death in 1998, the company shut down until Boyd Gray bought the assets, restarted production in 2000 as Northwest Arms and moved its operations to Washington. The cycle repeated itself yet again after Gray became ill and was near retirement without a successor in 2015. In stepped Patrick McFarland, a 30-something gun enthusiast from Philadelphia who left a career with a Big Four accounting firm to buy the assets of Northwest Arms and form Wilkinson Arms in Murphy, ID. McFarland discovered Northwest in his search for a replacement firing pin for his Sherry pistol and kept in touch with Gray thereafter.
The Linda is blowback-operated, hammer-fired and feeds from a detachable magazine housed in the pistol grip. It is 31.5 inches long with a 16.5-inch barrel and weighs 6.25 pounds unloaded, which is lighter than most 9 mm AR-15s. The Linda comes with a 31-round, double-stack magazine. Two models are offered: the standard and the LE-3. The LE-3 has shallow recoil slots on a portion of the receiver’s integral top rail and comes with an AR-15-style collapsible stock. You can also attach a side-folding stock like the STAP from Midwest Industries or the one used on the SIG Sauer MPX using an optional 1913-rail adapter.
The receiver is made from 6061 T6 extruded aluminum and contains the bolt and recoil-spring assembly. It is joined to a cast-aluminum grip frame by two Allen screws. The fixed stock on the standard model is quite sturdy and made from .75-inch-diameter tubular steel with a walnut buttplate that matches the fore-end, contrasting sharply with the black plastic grip panels and grip backstrap. The barrel has a 1:10-inch twist rate, is covered with a ventilated aluminum shroud and can be ordered with a muzzle threaded ½x28 tpi for common accessories or sound suppressors.
Controls consist of a left-side reciprocating cocking handle, a trigger-blocking crossbolt safety and a magazine-release button behind the trigger guard first incorporated on the M80 to replace the heel-clip release of the M68. The mechanism does not lock the bolt rearward automatically on an empty magazine nor does it have a provision to do so manually.
The rudimentary fixed sights have a rather short 7.75-inch radius with a protected front post and a protected aperture rear. The standard model Linda has a plain .75-inch dovetail receiver rail that can be converted to Picatinny style using a clamp-on rail from Evolution Gun Works made to fit the CZ 550. The LE-3 version has a slotted rail except for the portion where the rear sight is mounted. Mounting a magnified scope will require you to remove the rear sight, which is attached with two screws.
Like the Uzi and the Beretta CX4, the Linda uses a “wraparound” or telescoping bolt where its forward section covers about 5 inches of the barrel when in battery. This feature, along with a recoil spring that surrounds the forward section of the bolt instead of being placed behind it, puts the ejection port close to the rear of the receiver. It also gives Linda the illusion of being a short-barreled rifle (it isn’t), because only 83⁄8 inches of barrel protrudes from the front of the receiver.
The spring-loaded ejection-port cover resembles the AR-15’s. When open, the cover rests on a small rubber bumper imbedded in the grip to prevent it from marring the receiver’s finish. It’s a thoughtful, nice, finishing touch.
The Linda is constructed with well-made, well-fitted parts, none of which are plastic aside from the grip panels and the backstrap. Except for the springs and few neat stampings, the internal parts are milled, not metal-injection molding. The welds on the buttstock are cleanly executed. The action parts are hot-salt blued, while black Cerakote is used to finish the receiver, grip frame and stock.
Like the rest of this rifle, the steel magazines have a retro 1970s vibe about them with spot welds, no witness holes, and a milled aluminum follower–a rarity nowadays if ever there was one.
The Linda was equipped with an EOTech EXPS3 holographic sight and tested for accuracy and load preference firing from sand bags at 50 yards. This carbine performed best with Winchester’s Winclean 147-grain TMJ load that printed a smallest and average five-shot group of .88 inch and 1.26 inches, respectively, while mean groups with the other practice loads were 2.6 inches and 2.9 inches. There were two failures to feed the flat-nose Winclean rounds in 200 rounds of testing using four different loads.
The iron sights weren’t regulated to point-of-aim, putting shots 1.5 inches low and 4 inches right, but fixing this is simple. For elevation, file down the front sight blade and test your zero. The precise amount to remove can be determined by successive attempts or by using a formula found on the internet. For windage, drill two oval-shaped holes in the rear sight housing that allow it to move laterally, then remount it using these holes.
The Linda’s controls are workable, but not ideal. The magazine release is reachable with the firing-grip thumb, but the diminutive crossbolt safety is easier manipulated using the support hand. The magazine locks in place with a full load even when the bolt is forward, but does not drop free. The cocking handle points 45 degrees upward, which encourages the user to tilt the gun to the port side while retracting it allowing for a visual chamber check. A more prominent handle would be easier to grasp, especially if you mount an optical sight. The trigger has a 6.3-pound pull weight that is not gritty, but has some creep and a slight overtravel.
The Linda could use sling mounts, but balances nicely just ahead of the trigger guard and is comfortable to carry afield with one hand. The tubular stock has a 15-inch length-of-pull and is not uncomfortable when mounted against your cheek, as its drop-at-comb places your dominant eye exactly behind the iron sights. However, red-dot sights should be low profile or your face will be positioned too high on the stock for a good cheek weld. Using the optional adapter to switch to the MPX or STAP stock solves that problem because those stocks have a straight-line comb that places your eye at ideal height for most red-dot sights. Though the STAP stock crowds the charging handle when folded, the Linda is still operable and has an overall length of 22.25 inches for less cumbersome transport and storage.
Unlike most of the 9 mm carbines from the golden age, the Wilkinson Arms Linda survived both anti-gun legislation and the misfortunes that befell the various companies that made it. Though it would have much better ergonomics with bolt-hold-open capability, the Linda is well made and reliable. With its subtle amalgamation of 1970s/80s design features that sometimes clash rather than harmonize, Linda’s unapologetic retro appeal is a welcome enticement from the monotonous mass market of Glock-magazine-fed ARs.