Southern Cross Small Arms TSP Chassis - test & review

PUBLISHED: 16:13 16 October 2020

A smooth rifle to shoot from the bench with a broad range of ammunition to its liking

A smooth rifle to shoot from the bench with a broad range of ammunition to its liking

Archant

Chris Pakrin puts explores the Southern Cross Small Arms TSP Chassis with Howa 1500 in .223 Rem, transforming the rifle’s traditional looks

The mag needed an unusually firm squeeze to lock the latch in position, loaded and unloadedThe mag needed an unusually firm squeeze to lock the latch in position, loaded and unloaded

BRIEF OVERVIEW - Southern Cross Small Arms TSP Chassis with Howa 1500

PROS: Excellent cheekpiece adjustability; HACT triggers never fails to impress ; 1 in 8” Twist rate on the barrel

CONS: Joint tolerances lead to movement with just screw tension alone maintaining alignment; Stiff magazine retention spring

VERDICT: An economically priced chassis option for the ever-reliable Howa barrelled actions, it is heavy though and weight cannot be removed in a design which seems slightly compromised at key joints/locations.

I was a big fan of the internal and external ambidextrous mag releaseI was a big fan of the internal and external ambidextrous mag release

TECH SPECS - Southern Cross Small Arms TSP Chassis with Howa 1500

Barrel: Heavy barrel, 21.6mm muzzle diameter, length 610mm/24”

Overall length and weight: 1115mm/43.5” and 5.14kg/11.35lbs

Muzzle thread: 1/2x28”

Stock: Aluminium Chassis with AR15 Compatible grip and butt, adjustable length of pull and cheekpiece

Length of pull: 336mm-13 ¼” (including 2 of 5 supplied 4mm spacers)

Trigger: 2 stage HACT breaking at 1449gr

Safety: 3 stage with bolt lock

Magazine: AICS compatible 5 round detachable

The long 24” barrel assures adequate velocities with its 1 in 8” twist making for a wonderful chambering and barrel combinationThe long 24” barrel assures adequate velocities with its 1 in 8” twist making for a wonderful chambering and barrel combination

PRICES

SCSA TSP Chassis: £483.99

Howa Action with heavy barrel, cerakote graphite black: £801.99

CONTACT: Highland Outdoors 01858 880 491

Fully floating forend but not always central for this long lever anchored with just bolt tensionFully floating forend but not always central for this long lever anchored with just bolt tension

Southern Cross Small Arms TSP Chassis with Howa 1500 - in dpeth test & review

I have covered many Howa rifles in the past and generally find them to be modestly priced, reliable and accurate rifles with a broad range of stock options. The Southern Cross Small Arms option is an intricately machined 6061 T-6 aluminium chassis made in three main sections (butt, receiver/magazine section and fore-end) with a matt black finish.

Mine was sent assembled with a Howa barrelled action fitted, but the chassis is a set of interconnecting parts that can be assembled with Allen keys with inlets for Howa 1500 Mini, Short and Magnum actions, Lithgow LA102 Short Action and Rimfire Action, Tikka T3 Short and Magnum Action, Remington 700 Short and Long Action and the Sauer 101.

All show compatibility with AICS magazine systems with an ambidextrous release lever accessible from both inside and outside the trigger guard, which is a nice feature. This is all part of the machine inlet stock showing a recoil lug clamp for added security.

M-Lok slots wrap the fore-end’s walls and underside with a generous free-floating margin for the barrel. This allows for a multitude of bipods or accessories and clearly marketed towards PRL (Precision Rifle League) type shooting where the narrow but stiff fore-end makes it far easier to navigate barricades and the often narrow slots and rest positions.

The stock is quite heavy though with a forward bias from the overall 1.97/4.1lb and that’s before the rifle itself is even added, never mind any accessories, ammo or optics. Maximum 25mm length of pull adjustment is available with all of the five supplied 4mm spacers added between the chassis and a firm and comfortable recoil pad which grips the shoulder for a solid feel when loading the bipod.

I especially liked the cheekpiece with adjustment vertically, laterally, and angularly to avoid the need to cant your head to one side – this is a very appealing feature indeed. It shows twin locking levers to the right side for the underside pins and one has a simple O-ring on it to aid repeat placement when removed.

Slight downsides are the sprung locking levers, which impinge on the cheekpiece when it is completely down – the bolt of this Howa is blocked from removal with it down anyway. This gun needs the cheekpiece up in high shooting position, so the bolt will actually slide underneath it, so something of a mixed blessing. I far prefer T-bar locking levers, levers or dials are too fiddly in my mind, as the former are too long while dials don’t offer enough grip. The T shape is just right and I’ve commended stocks before using this feature.

QD sling cup mounts are bonded into the stock at the fore-end and there’s also one where you might want to use it as a mounting position for a barricade stop. The included A2 grip is AR-15 compatible and as is usual for the format, shows very short 72mm reach from the throat to the trigger blade, which I find such a shame on a nice trigger like the HACT unit.

Familiar Howa 1500 action made for a great test partner on this stock with it inherently reliable natureFamiliar Howa 1500 action made for a great test partner on this stock with it inherently reliable nature

Quality trigger

Howa continue to improve the design with every incarnation getting seemingly sweeter than the last. This one showed a vertically serrated blade with a delightfully crisp break at just over 2lb, which was in itself consistent within 30g each time it was measured.

This two-stage unit collaborates with the three-position safety catch atop the right side of the action with forward for fire, middle safe and rearward with bolt lock – silent, simple and effective. The screws on the trigger unit are heavily daubed in white thread-locking compound so I left it well alone, but Howa triggers usually show decent adjustability.

The bolt on the heavy 21.6mm diameter barrelled action (in .223) is a two-lug affair with 90° opening, claw extractor and plunger ejector. Feed and function from the AICS-style five-round magazine was smooth with no bullet damage and reliable extraction/ejection and minimal mechanical effort.

One downside was that the magazine needed a very firm squeeze to lock it into position, which required a grip atop the action to secure it; this was a shame, as otherwise all was sweet. Once in, it was fine and release/mag change via the innovative catch that slots through the spacious trigger guard, allowing trigger finger or removing hand to operate it ambidextrously, was good.

The other slight downside on the action was the unnecessarily long bolt stroke of 104mm, but I am told rifles should normally be supplied with a modified bolt stop that restricts the travel for smaller cartridges. Having said that, I’m a shooting writer, so perhaps it would have been a good idea to have supplied the rifle in the state it would be received by a regular retail customer? Scope mounting is straightforward with a supplied Picatinny rail atop the action screwed in place at four locations.

The SCSA chassis is no lightweight at 1.86kg/4.1lb before an action is added, so bear this in mind. Minimising recoil is a factor key to performance on PRL type shoots to assist with spotting bullet impacts and I doubt you’ll need to add much weight to achieve that.

Multi axis adjustable cheekpiece is a real highlight for the stockMulti axis adjustable cheekpiece is a real highlight for the stock

Form factor

The rifle is stable to aim due to this weight and the fully adjustable cheekpiece is one of the best I have used for comfort, although were it mine, I’d be tempted to place a thin layer of adhesive foam on the top to minimise the cold and vibration, of this fully metallic design.

The stock exhibits a slight ring from the shot. The recoil pad is unobtrusive and functional; additional bolts are supplied if you run all the LOP spacers and should you need to go further, I don’t see any problem in additional ones because they interlock with each other for a firm fit with no rattle.

The three sections of the chassis need an eye keeping on them, although the beefy Allen bolts do offer plenty of torque to keep everything tight and I would use threadlock for surety. The rear joint behind the vertical grip had quite a wide air gap of the computer-machined components, which seems a bit lazy as a full contact wedge mechanism or interlocking joint, like a dovetail, would have added free security with no additional machining complexity on the multi-axis machines used to make a stock like this, surely?

Similarly, the fore-end joint, if pushed laterally, will slip and leave the barrel misaligned. Regardless of having strong fasteners, the stock is effectively a long lever and zero mechanical interlocks is a weakness, leaving the barrel visibly offset to one side of its channel.

Given the complex machining elsewhere, the lack of mechanical interlocking seems a shortfall at these two key junctions, but the stock is made to a price and perhaps we can’t expect the earth!

This Howa has the graphite black cerakote finish to all metalwork and I must say was silky smooth throughout, a definite tick mark for the rifle from me. Threaded ½”x28 for a moderator or brake, I found the gun pleasing to shoot, with minimal recoil and linear recoil from the front heavy balance in well-supported prone positions as well as tripod or bench.

There is no barricade stop, but there are plenty of anchor locations to add one to suit your preferences and the trigger was a belter with a deft two-stage feel and predictable let off. I used Federal and Hornady 40-55gr Varmint ammo and Remington 69gr BTHP match ammunition for a quick test and all maintained sub-MOA results on paper. With an 8” twist rate on the barrel, this is the kind of action crying out for experimentation with handloads up to the 77gr.

Simple O-ring position indicator is OK, in fairness I use electrical tape wraped on my own rifles, so complexity is not always mandatorySimple O-ring position indicator is OK, in fairness I use electrical tape wraped on my own rifles, so complexity is not always mandatory

AMMO USED

Federal Ammunition: GMK, 01489 579999

Hornady ammunition: Edgar Brothers, 01625 613177

Remington ammunition: Raytrade UK Limited, 01635 253344

RIFLESCOPE USED

Schmidt & Bender 5-25 PMII: Schmidt & Bender (UK) Ltd., 07719 567916

SCOPE MOUNTS USED

Tier One, 01924 404312

The Howa HACT triggers seem to keep improving every time, a little heavy but ultra-crisp and adjustableThe Howa HACT triggers seem to keep improving every time, a little heavy but ultra-crisp and adjustable

Howa 1500, .223 in the FCSA chassisHowa 1500, .223 in the FCSA chassis

5 round steel AICS type magazine5 round steel AICS type magazine

69gr Remington BTHP showed best performance on target but all ammo types remained sub M.O.A.69gr Remington BTHP showed best performance on target but all ammo types remained sub M.O.A.

The incorporated picatinny rail is a nice addition to the overall chassis designThe incorporated picatinny rail is a nice addition to the overall chassis design

Neat muzzle thread for recoil/noise control accessoriesNeat muzzle thread for recoil/noise control accessories

Forend locking and QR system up closeForend locking and QR system up close

The tolerances of rear end fit are clear in this photo. Something that perhaps needs a little more attentionThe tolerances of rear end fit are clear in this photo. Something that perhaps needs a little more attention

Groups were sub M.O.A. at 100 metres with all factory ammo before even being run inGroups were sub M.O.A. at 100 metres with all factory ammo before even being run in

Latest from the Rifle Shooter