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GTW MEET THE MAKERS

Aguirre y Aranzabal

Gun maker Aguirre y Aranzabal (AYA) has built a reputation for good looks, reliability and competitive prices. We sent Stan Piecha to find out more.

G

iant Spanish gunmaking company AYA has two English holidaymakers to thank for making it world famous. Although the company was founded in 1915 in the Basque town of Eibar ­ initially making parts for more established firms ­ it wasn't until 1958 when a remarkable and totally unforeseen twist transformed AYA into a household name. Brothers Andrew and Peter King were on holiday in Barcelona when they stumbled upon a gun shop and decided to take a look around. What they saw was a selection of side-bysides and a few over-and-unders varying from utility grade to

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quite fine. But what they all had in common was the low prices on the sales tickets ­ a fraction of the cost of English makes. The British gun trade was going through a tough period at the time, with companies having come through the Second World War finding it even harder to survive the peace. The Kings saw an opportunity and acted on it by contacting the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in London for a list of the country's gun-making firms ­ all located in the Basque Country. They talked with a number of gun makers and were met with a `take it or leave it' attitude until they visited AYA, which ran the largest factory in Eibar, and were

General manager Inigo Lopez is continuing the good work at AYA.

greeted by welcoming managing director Agustin Aranzabal who was desperate to become the first Spanish company to break into the British market. The King brothers agreed to help AYA produce an English range ­ with the severe classic elegance associated with London gunsmiths ­ specifically

for the UK market and catapulted the company from a regional business into one of the world's great names in shotguns. They returned to the factory with a Holland & Holland sidelock and a Westley Richards boxlock for the company to use as patterns and the two guns were to provide the basis for AYA's four greatest models ­ the No1, No2, No4 and the No4 De Luxe. At the same time the Kings set up Anglo Spanish Imports (ASI) ­ which continues to thrive as the biggest distributor of AYA guns ­ while sending English craftsmen to the AYA gun makers in Spain to teach English techniques such as rib

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MEET THE MAKERS GTW

We develop our own products following English traditions. It is a recipe that has brought us huge success and not one we are likely to change.

laying, best blacking and stock finishing. From that moment the company quickly developed a reputation for solid quality at an impossibly low price and being able to put a nicely balanced and finished gun within reach of the average game shooter. But please do not suggest to AYA that its models are merely cheap copies of elite weapons such as Purdeys, Holland & Holland or Boss. AYA general manager Inigo Lopez told Gun Trade World: "Our models are certainly not copies. We develop our own products but following English traditions. It is a recipe that has brought us huge success and not one we are likely to change. "I think we have made our mark with guns that have good looks, reliability and competitive prices. "We have suffered some adversity during our history but managed to overcome it because of our long gun-making tradition. "We have always worked very hard and closely alongside ASI to make guns in the best English tradition. We are by no means perfect ­ we are human ­ but we also continue to improve. "We have six different models at the moment with the No2 and No1 being the most popular and considered the favourite choice of the most traditional

hunter. They all feature traditional English gun making while retaining an affordable price. However, we are working on a new model, which we hope will be ready for IWA 2011." The company also brought out an anniversary model in March to mark its 50-year presence in the UK market. Before a worldwide decline in fine-gun sales in the 1970s, AYA employeed a staggering 500 people. These days, 29 people cope with all the orders with last year generating a turnover of 1.8m. Inigo added: "We control 95 per cent of the entire process of making guns. We machine out our own frames, barrels, fore- »

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GTW MEET THE MAKERS

ends and stocks, plus we supply parts for the rest of the gun makers in Spain. "We have some of the world's finest craftsmen working for us but the biggest challenge these days is recruiting new people to train. We feel it is our responsibility to recruit new blood into the industry and, while it requires a big investment on our part, we do it to ensure AYA will be around for another 100 years of gun making. "Our main export markets

continue to be the UK and the USA but we are now working hard to break into the Russian market in a bigger way, while becoming an even bigger presence in the rest of Europe. "The Spanish shooting and hunting scene is still very important to us and in good shape, with around 800,000 hunters in the country making it a powerful money maker. "The problem is that the Government does not see hunting as a way to improve our economy. It means the domestic

market remains small and is why we have always focused on the export market." ASI, based in Saxmundham, Suffolk, continues to be the company's main distributor but there are also agents in 29 other countries, ranging from El Salvador to Pakistan to Thailand, and there are 12 distributors covering America. With prices ranging from 2,865 (VAT not included) to 27,500 for English styling ­ and often a superior quality to many of the revered London

names in shotgun-making history ­ it's easy to see why one AYA fan described the company's guns as sensibility redefined. GTW

AYA T: +34 943 82 04 37 F: +34 943 20 01 33 E: [email protected] W: www.aya-fineguns.com

History of AYA

THE name is short for the tongue-bending Aguirre y Aranzabal, which comes from founders Miguel Aguirre and Nicolas Aranzabal. The pair perfected their skills under Eduardo Schilling, a German who worked out of Barcelona before moving back to Eibar, a Basque town on the banks of the River Ego steeped in gunmaking history. In 1915 they started producing components for established gun companies and were steadily expanding year on year when, like so many other gun makers,

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were forced to leave Eibar when General Franco incited the Spanish Army to revolt and began the Civil War in 1937. They returned the following year when the war ended and the two partners decided to move from making components to manufacturing complete guns, with the AYA name engraved on the barrels. After the Second World War, which had little impact on Spain as they were officially neutral, AYA found a market for exporting a

basic range of shotguns to America where returning servicemen were anxious to take up sport shooting once more. The company really took off when it teamed up with the King Brothers, but when the entire Basque firearms industry was hit by declining demands in the early 1980s, AYA and around 20 other smaller companies decided to amalgamate and form Diarm SA. A new factory was built in the town of Itziar but it never really got off the ground and was closed

down after a couple of years. That was when Imanol Aranzabal, a descendant of the founder and a former executive of both AYA and Diarm, assembled the best gun makers from Diarm and resurrected the AYA name. They repurchased the remaining stock of AYA parts and set up shop on the second floor of a building in Eibar and by 1989 they were back in the business of making fine guns while Anglo Spanish Imports resumed its role as distributor, looking at ways to appeal to a new

generation of English fine-gun lovers. The result was the No1 De Luxe ­ an instant hit. Since 1988 the company has steadily expanded its network of dealers and customers worldwide while making variations on its standard models to suit individual tastes. In 2001 it moved to the present premises with traditional long workbenches, while installing state-of-the-art machinery and adopting advanced technology to ensure it carries on Eibar's long tradition of making fine guns.

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