When Did 870 Express Quality Go Down?

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I've got an older Wingmaster that's been the end of many ducks and a fair few quail and rabbits. It's a 2 3/4" gun with 26" IC and 28" Mod barrels, both vent rib. I've also got an 870 express that I inherited which is marked 870 express magnum. 28" bbl w. rem choke and vent rib. Matte finish. SN A390XXX. 1980 model. It's a 3" gun. The express is 100% the functional shotgun as the Wingmaster. No rust problems with either gun.
I have two expresses bought in the late nineties and neither are of the quality of the Wingmaster I got in 1982. I thought they would smooth out with more shooting, nope, they got worse. They continue to work, but are not the pleasure to shoot that the Wingmaster is to this day. It's not just the finish that was a short cut (I'm fine with that_, but fit as well. Specifically, cycling the action is far smoother on the Wingmaster. Both the expresses, from day one have sort of a stutter step mid pump that the Wingmaster doesn't. And the expresses have more shells through them, but as I said, never smoothed out and the catchy nature while cycling just got worse with both. Other expresses I've handled had the same problem. Total sample of four expresses over the years. When friends would ask about buying a shotgun and would point out the budget express at Walmart, I'd strongly suggest a used Wingmaster instead. The express is serviceable for what it is and for what it costs, but I prefer the Wingmaster.
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Instead of a particular date, it's more likely it was a slow progression. My 12ga 870 Express was purchased in 98ish. No cosmetic issues except when it got rained on and I didn't re-oil it right away it did rust a few times, which I can't blame on Remington. It functions fine, except it hangs up on aluminum hulled shells. I've never fired the steel shells some are talking about.

A couple buddies of mine bought some 870 Express's later around 02-05. One guy had 4 870 Express shotguns between 12 and 20 gauge. I had a 20 ga as well purchased around that time. Again, no cosmetic issues, but we all had extraction problems with both aluminum and brass cased shells with these shotguns, where the sheel would hang up in the chamber and you couldn't pump the gun without considerable force. It was blatantly obvious whenever we shot together that something was very different about my 870 that was 5 or so years older, compared to the other newer ones. I sold my 20 ga that had problems, but my buddy that had four 870's spent a lot of time on the phone with Remington. Had to send one back because he couldn't get the barrel off, turns out the barrel was warped. As far as the extraction he found if he took a fine file to a particular part of the chamber and removed some material it would fix the extraction problems.

It sounds like issues have continued from there, with Remington either doing a worse job with their parkerizing, or using a lower quality steel supplier.
The Express shotguns were notorious for having rough chambers that would give issues with steel-based ammo, even the brass plated steel based ammo. The solution was a simple one - run some 0000 steel wool and oil on a dowel in a cordless drill to polish and smooth it up - but they never should have left the factory that way.
The Express shotguns were notorious for having rough chambers that would give issues with steel-based ammo, even the brass plated steel based ammo. The solution was a simple one - run some 0000 steel wool and oil on a dowel in a cordless drill to polish and smooth it up - but they never should have left the factory that way.
Absolutely. The Express had a number of cost-cutting measures - flat/unfinished rib, poor surface finishing, and rough chambers. I don't think that any vintage was better than any other - they were made to be inexpensive by skipping many of the Wingmaster finish machining / touch labor processes.

I wound up buying chamber hones to clean them up, because it was the only way to get them to work reliably with any steel-base hulls. (Winchester SuperSpeed and similar were the worst...)
My circa 2002 express 20ga always worked awesome. No, not quite as smooth as my dads old wingmaster, but also a lot cheaper. It ate any shell I fed it, and continues to do so, though now with a new 18.5" barrel.

At the time I bought it, I had held a Mavrick 88 and M500. I thought they both felt clanky. Forends rattled and the pump action was loose. The Remington had none of those discrepancies, and still doesnt.
My first gun back in 2009 was an Express. It worked OK, but the factory magazine extension was so rough that loading it full was a pain and could deform the shells and jam up from time to time.

I eneded up trading it for an old 870p that was probably from the mid 1970s, which I found better in every way.

That went the way of a vintage mid 60s Ithaca DSPS which is a gem.

I finally bought a 590a1 to semi retire the Model 37, and that battle axe is my favorite gun that I own.

The Express soured me enough to stay away from the budget end of the shotgun spectrum.
I think they went to pot. When they started with the saftey trigger lock ! I bought one years ago( 20 ga. ) for my oldest son and made a point not to get the trigger lock. A tractor trailor couldn't haul what he's killed with that gun ! With that said 870 Express is NOT a Wingmaster.
As a retired smith I would have to say that most of the horror stories about the Express finishes rusting were from guys who never oiled their guns and stored them in a soft fleece lined case under their bed and had relative humidity in their home of over 50%. That's like laying the soft case on a wet sponge and leaving it there. Every single rusted 870 I saw was due to lack of care and poor storage practices. That is not the fault of Remington. Never store any gun in a soft case. Those cases are for transport only - never for storage. They soak up moisture like a sponge and transfer it right onto the metal. I have an 870 Express bought new in 1992 and I have never had any rust problems with it. And it runs as good as any Wingmaster I ever shot. You have to keep any gun made from carbon steel oiled or it will rust (unless you live in the Southwest desert). 870s made after 1997 are generally pretty poorly built with some pretty cheap parts and little internal polishing or deburring. They can be reworked and will run fine but out of the box they will have issues. My two centavos......
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Wingmaster used to be standard. All metal trigger group. Better fit and finish. Good looking hot blue.
Then along came the Express....probably named after how it was manufactured... plastic trigger group, a few more plastic parts, and the garbage bead blasted black oxide finish youd expect from a free toolkit that was included with furniture from China where some assembly is required. The wingmaster continued on although was a higher grade and more money........
To wrap this up, every 275$ express ive used has functioned just as good as any 870 Ive Ever fired.
They just plain WORK! And so, aside from the obvious changes to make the gun less expensive, they work about the same. YRMV
"...all metal trigger group.." Yup, made of Zamac pot metal. I have seen more of those pot metal trigger housings fail than the nearly indestructible nylon ones they replaced them with. But forged steel would have been better.
Wasn't the 870 named because the material cost to produce the weapon was originally $8.70? Maybe just folklore, but it has been THE standard for pump shotguns ever since.

As far as "smoothing out" the action on the 870, if it doesn't feed, fire, extract and eject perfectly in a 100 round range session, it needs the chamber polished, and it needs the action bars lubricated for proper break in. If the pump-action is still "sticky", you probably bent the action bars trying to extract that stuck shell. I currently own 7 different 870s, and have built several others from used parts, most of these were Express actions with the plastic trigger group. All have functioned exceptionally well after proper break in and a quick polish of the chamber.
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