Remington’s “Classic Caliber” program has become something of an institution with gun collectors. The annual Classic Cartridge selection, however, is not normally the stuff of gun tests. After all, the various calibers that have earned classic status are mostly old-time favorites that have been around since Elizabeth Taylor was a bobby-soxer. And the classic-stocked Model 700 Remington bolt rifles with which the Classic Cartridges are combined have likewise been reviewed and re-reviewed until there isn’t much left to pick at.
Remington’s Classic of 2002 in .221 Fireball, however, deserves more than a passing glance, because it is an interesting departure and, perhaps, harkens of things to come.
The little .221 Remington was originally released in 1963 as a companion round for the simultaneously introduced XP-100 handgun. This bolt-action handgun, with its Buck Rogers styling, sent shock waves across a complacent shooting industry because it blurred the previously well-established distinction between long guns and pistols. The first time I saw the .221 fired I was transfixed by the blaze of fire that erupted from the XP-100’s muzzle. I am solidly convinced that the fiery spectacle was Remington’s inspiration for naming its new baby the “Fireball.”
The XP-100 pistol and .221 combination is now out of production and likely to remain so.
And so too was Fireball ammo for a while. Now united with a full-size rifle (not for the first time, by the way) and with factory ammuntition again available, the Fireball is getting new life as a member of the ballistic equivalents of miniature pets. Like a toy poodle, it’s not good for much of anything, but it sure is a lot of fun to play with.
As introduced originally, the Fireball yielded 2,650 feet per second (fps) at the muzzle of a 10-inch barrel with a 50-grain, .22-caliber bullet. Now with a 50-grain V-Max bullet, and fired in the M-700’s 24-inch barrel, velocity is 2,995 fps-not far behind the .222 Remington’s 3,140 fps.
Toy poodle or not, the .221 Fireball is a fundamentally accurate round. For accuracy testing we mounted a Leupold Vari-X II2 6-18X scope in Talley rings and bases. Firing was at 100 yards with currently manufactured Remington 50-grain, A-Max loads and, for comparison, an earlier production lot (1997) loaded with Remington 50-grain PSPs. The accuracy difference was not as great as anticipated, given the accuracy reputation of A-Max bullets, with the older ammo averaging 1.788 inches for five 5-shot groups and the Remington 50-grain A-Max bullets averaging 1.458 inches.