Chinese Preban AK Imports Part 1 - Clayco Sports
The Clayco Sports AKS, often referred to simply as the "Clayco", was the first Chinese manufactured AKS to be imported to the United States, and only the second AK to be imported behind the Egyptian Steyr Maadi, imported about a year prior.
In 1980, the United States granted most-favored-nation (MFN) status to China increasing its trade relations with the world and ultimately paving the way for the importation of Chinese AK rifles. In 1983, a company called Clayco Sports, in Clay Center Kansas imported the first samples of Chinese AK's, designated the AKS or AK Sporter. These first "Preban" Chinese imports were exported out of China by North Industries Corporation, more commonly known as Norinco, or Norinco Export.
The Clayco AK was imported in both fixed stock and folding stock configurations. The fixed stock models were manufactured in the Ling Hua factory, while the folding stock models were manufactured in the Min Shan factory. This information is stamped on the left side of the receiver on both models as well as the markings; "AKS SEMI-AUTO". Arguably the most recognizable stamping on these AK variants is on the left side of the dust cover. It reads; "alterations to this firearm are unsafe and illegal". Clayco rifles had sheet metal steel receivers that followed the Chinese standard 1.5mm thick sheet metal vs the 1.0mm found on most AKM's, as well as the "Chinese" rivet pattern for the front trunnion. Like most other Chinese variants, the fixed stock models had a hooded front sight and a silver colored bolt carrier. The folding stock Clayco's had an open front sight and blued bolt carrier. Both Clayco models featured a ported gas tube, and blued steel finish typical of Chinese AK rifles. The most obvious feature however was the furniture. The rifles were imported with a dark Reddish Brown, or Blackish Green plastic furniture. The Chinese didn't really know what American's wanted and tried to align their product with the "Black Gun" look that was becoming popular at the time. The plastic furniture gave the rifles a very distinctive look.
Despite the very high quality production of the Clayco rifles, the choice of furniture ultimately prevented the import from being a success as it robbed the rifle of the iconic AK-47 look that had been engrained into the minds of prospective buyers from Vietnam footage, pictures, news media of the day, or even facing them in Vietnam themselves. The general impression in the United States was that "real" AK-47's were wood, and that the Clayco's were just cheap Chinese plastic. The argument could be made that the Clayco Import rifles were ahead of their time as 20 years later Americans would come to favor Black "Tacticool" polymer parts in any capacity possible with many (typically the unsophisticated) referring to wood bearing rifles as "fudd guns".
It is believed that the poor sales of the Clayco Import contributed to the demise of the business. Clayco Sports LTD dissolved in 1987 without ever importing another batch of AK's or seeing the Clayco reach any respectable level of desirability or value. As time has passed however, enthusiasts have come to respect the Clayco for its very high quality construction, unique story, and unmolested pre-ban originality. Today, Clayco's are popular among collectors and demand prices in line with their other Chinese Pre Ban counterparts.