Photos & Report
by John Malloy
Spanish Llama semi-automatic pistols, styled after the Colt 1911 design, were imported into the United States from 1951 until 2005, over half a century of continuous availability. Many shooters and students of firearms have some familiarity with them.
Less well known, however, are Llama revolvers. Many students of firearms are not even aware that revolvers were made under the Llama trade name. However, such revolvers were made in some quantity, and are typified by the Llama “Martial” and “Comanche” models.
Gabilondo, the Spanish firm producing the Llama pistols, had produced revolvers for many years. Many were originally made under the “Ruby” trade name for export sales. For many years, though, such revolvers were not sent to the United States.
Llama pistols and revolvers were produced by the Spanish firm of Gabilondo y Cia. (Gabilondo and Co.). The original Gabilondo firm had been founded in 1904, in the Eibar region of Spain. For a decade, the firm produced inexpensive shotguns and handguns, primarily revolvers.
By 1914, the company had introduced the “Ruby” .32 ACP-caliber autoloading pistol. The simple 9-shot blowback pistol incorporated a number of Browning features. Crude by some standards, it functioned reliably and apparently was accurate enough. When World War I broke out, the French army tested the Ruby, anddesperate for armsadopted the Ruby for regular issue, in spite of its small cartridge.
Ever more guns were needed, and subcontractors (and copycats) began making “Ruby-style” .32 pistols. This led to confusion as to what a Ruby really was. However, the Gabilondo company had been established as a substantial power in Spanish firearms production.
By 1931, Gabilondo brought out what was to be its most popular pistola big-bore autoloader called the “Llama,” based on the Colt/Browning 1911 design. Soon, all the firm’s semi-automatic pistols went under the Llama name. Their revolvers, however, continued to be marketed as Ruby revolvers.
Gabilondo guns were used during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, but apparently production ceased during or after World War II.
By 1949, Gabilondo had resumed full production of revolvers and autoloading pistols. Looking for export opportunities, potentially in the United States, the Spanish gunmaker had discussions with the American firm of Stoeger Arms Corporation. Stoeger introduced the Llama semi-automatic pistols in America in 1951. They were among the first imported handguns to appear in the United States in the post-WWII years. The Llamas were well received in America. The Llama name soon overshadowed the Gabilondo name. Before long, the company became known as Llama-Gabilondo.
Gabilondo had introduced a revolver under the Ruby trade name in 1929. However, revolver production was discontinued when the Spanish Civil War began in 1936. Then, in 1949, postwar revolver production resumed. Gabilondo became the sole manufacturer of revolvers in Spain.
A story is told that a man with connections to both the Spanish government and to Gabilondo was involved in drawing up requirements for sidearms for Spanish police units. The final specifications were for a .38-caliber revolver. It would be double action, feature a 4-inch barrel and have a 6-shot swing-out cylinder. Another specification was slipped inthe revolver must be made in Spain! Gabilondo, as the only Spanish revolver maker, was assured of contracts for some time.
The Gabilondo revolvers were based on the mechanism of the Smith & Wesson, and had the general S&W appearance. Well-made revolvers, they established a good reputation.
In 1962, more than a decade after the Llama semi-automatic pistols had been imported by Stoeger, revolvers made by Gabilondo were also introduced into the United States. At this distance in time, it is difficult to reconstruct the situation. However, it seems likely that an understanding was reached between the Spanish maker and Stoeger, the US importer. The Llama name by then had gained acceptance in the US, and Stoeger apparently preferred that name for the revolvers. The Ruby name was dropped. That change allowed Stoeger to offer both the pistols and the revolvers under the Llama trade name.
The Llama revolvers were based on the Smith & Wesson Military & Police design. They were offered in .38 Special, .32 S&W Long and .22 Long Rifle.
An outstanding new addition for the 1969 product year was the Llama Martial revolver. The Llama Martial became perhaps the best-known of the Llama revolvers of the time, and introduced the basic features of future revolvers made by Gabilondo. It was an up-to-date .38 Special revolver with adjustable sights and a ventilated rib on the barrel. The Martial also had Gabilondo’s new concepts in the lockwork and internal safety devices.
The hammer of the Martial moved up and downas well as forward and back during its travel. At rest, the hammer nose was in a position too high to make contact with the frame-mounted firing pin. When the hammer came backeither by thumb cocking, or by a double-action pulla cam arrangement in the mechanism changed the position of the hammer. When the trigger was pressed to fire the shot, the eccentric lowered the hammer on its way forward. Thus, the hammer nose could strike the firing pin, but only when the trigger was pressed. When the trigger was released, the hammer moved back to its high “safe” position.
Thus, the Llama Martial introduced a simpler mechanism that worked as well as contemporary American-made revolvers, and it sold at a lower price.
With time, the revolver line, now based on the .38-caliber Martial, underwent some subtle changes. In 1970, a .22-caliber Martial was added. By 1975, a .22 Magnum version was also available.
In 1976, a very slight modification of the Llama Martial was introduced. It had a slightly reshaped trigger and the hammer spur was shortened. Gabilondo apparently felt these changes deserved a new name, and called the modified Martial the Comanche revolver.
By 1978, the Martial name was no longer applied, although the basic Martial mechanism continued to be used. The revolver line had grown to the point that Stoeger and Gabilondo felt the models needed new nomenclature. The more “American-sounding” name “Comanche” was chosen over the military-sounding “Martial.”
The Llama revolver line then consisted of the Comanche I (.22 Long rifle), the Comanche II (.38 Special) and Comanche III (.357 Magnum) . Two years later, in 1980, a larger-frame revolver, the Super Comanche IV, in .44 Magnum, was introduced. The big .44 frame was also used to build a Comanche V in .357 Magnum chambering.
By the 1990s, Gabilondo had run into financial problems. A decision had to be made to place emphasis on the most profitable products. The line of semi-automatic pistols was the better seller. The revolvers were dropped, and were no longer imported. The last published listings for Llama revolvers apparently appeared in 1994.
Modification of the features of the pistol line to appeal to American shooters kept the Llama automatics selling for some years. Eventually, the company could no longer remain profitable. The Gabilondo companyand the Llama namewent out of business in 2005.
The Llama Martial revolvers introduced a simpler mechanism which allowed them to compete with established American revolvers. They did not sell as well as Llama semi-auto pistols, but had some modest success. It has been some time since the Martial and Comanche revolvers have been produced. The Llama Martial, and its offspring, the Llama Comanche line, however, can still be found occasionally in the used-gun market. They have little collector interest, and are generally offered only as shooters. The revolvers still have a reputation for providingas they did when newdependable service at an affordable price.
Llama handguns were some of the first firearms imported into the United States after World War II, and Llama revolvers are an interesting sidelight in this line of Spanish guns.