When I joined Winchester in 1962, it still manufactured guns that radiated a sense of the quality that the “Winchester” name stood for, but there were problems in the wind. The company had not kept up with the times. They were losing money with the guns and covered their losses on ammunition sales. The old manufacturing methods could no longer be used for a variety of reasons, most of them foolish. Consequently the company hired the former president of Frigidaire, Lowell Krieg, to solve the problem. Forbes called Krieg“The man who fires presidents.” He came in as an expert, he left as one too.
Unfortunately, his ideas on how to make refrigerators were not compatible with making guns. They might produce a functional gun now and then, but even that was questionable. He began using cheaper materials. He brought in sheet metal in its early stages, replaced walnut stocks with birch and “Hawaiian p--s elm”, and used poorly finished aluminum instead of machined steel, and so on. They dumped the “updated” line on the market in 1964. Out with the old and in with the new. The problem was, nobody wanted them. The guns were noticeably inferior. The market rejected Krieg’s Winchesters to the point that the old, pre-‘64 guns became the post-‘64 Winchesters’ worst competition.
Prior to ’64, People used to refer to the Winchester salesmen with respect as the “Winchester man,” but after ’64, store owners would say, “Here comes the s--- peddler.”
Buyers don’t have the same mentality when buying an appliance as when they purchase their beloved gun. Not only that, but when you have built up a good name over years, it’s a very hard thing to get back when you tarnish it. Winchester started to believe that they sold guns based on their name alone, and that they could give the public any old thing as long as it said “Winchester” on it. They had to learn that the quality of the gun mattered a great deal. And once people think you make junk, they don’t change their minds easily or even at all.
If it wasn’t for the turmoil of the 1960’s, which created a new type of buyer looking for cheap guns, coupled with the sales of Winchester’s Model 66 to commemorate its 100th year in business, I dare say the company would have gone bankrupt long before it did. As it stood, they hung on for a while, but they never recovered from that misstep of building Winchesters like you would build a washing machine for Sears.