MIAMI VICE: Television Fame, But Unrealized Fortune
For many, myself included, their introduction to the Bren Ten was its appearance on the television show "Miami Vice." Originally airing in September of 1984, the 60-minute weekly crime drama ran for five seasons. The combination of action, music, and fashion was extremely popular with the 'fashion' concept even extended to the equipment being used. Two of the most notibles in this area would have to be the 1972 Ferrari Daytona Spyder 365 GTS/4 and Bren Ten pistol, both used by Don Johnson's character, Detective Sonny Crockett.
While Crockett used a .45 caliber Browning BDA (Sig P220) in the pilot episode, he was equipped with a Bren Ten Standard Model for the remainder of the first two seasons. The director of the show, Michael Mann, wanted every detail to stand out and make a statement. Apparently the BDA didn't fulfill this criteria, and so Mann asked his technical advisor what kind of gun would 'Sonny Crockett' use? Jim Zubiena was one of the best competitors in IPSC at the time and knew about Jeff Cooper's involvement with Dornaus & Dixon. He immediately suggested the Bren Ten. In the spring of 1984 Michael Mann contacted Mike Dixon about his interest to use the Bren in the show. Dixon agreed to provide two blank-firing guns at no charge, but made it clear that the guns belonged to Dornaus & Dixon and not the studio. In return for the free guns Mann agreed to showcase the gun in an episode and list the company in the credits.
Mike Dixon gave Tom Dornaus two weeks to build the pistols. Tom had no experience building blank-firing guns, but one thing was clear. As the 10mm Auto cartridge was still brand new there was no supply of 10mm blanks available. Because of this, both guns were actually chambered in .45 ACP to take advantage of easily obtainable .45 blank cartridges. Tom also had to modify the pistols' locking system converting them to blowback in order to get them to work with the low presure blanks. Mann also specified that the guns had the same finish as the Special Forces Light models to improve their visibility on camera. In addition to the two blank guns, Michael Man also requested two additional fully functional guns be provided should any live firing be required for the show. These two pistols were never used, however, and were eventually sold by Dixon in 1991 to a collector. The serial numbers for the four 'Viced' guns are as follows:
- 83SMXPCM1 - .45 caliber blank firing, blowback pistol with hard chrome slide and 10mm markings.
- 83SMXPCM2 - .45 caliber blank firing, blowback pistol with hard chrome slide and 10mm markings.
- 83SM01577 - Fully functional 10mm Standard Model with hard chrome slide.
- 83SM01578 - Fully functional 10mm Standard Model with hard chrome slide.
To carry his hard chromed Bren, Sonny Crockett first used a Ted Blocker "Lifeline" shoulder holster. Don Johnson didn't like the way the holster fit and carried the gun though, and so the Lifeline was eventually swapped for a Galco "Jackass Rig." I am not sure which exact episode this change was made though.
Once the guns were shipped to the studie there were problems almost immediately. At first it was suspected that the blanks being used were causing problems, but upon further inspection it was realized that the blowback conversion was causing unreliable extraction of fired cases. Further modifications were made to address these problems and with both guns working flawlessly they were returned for use in the show. With the completion of the first season the two blank-firing Brens were returned to Dornaus & Dixon for servicing. Tom Dornaus was reportedly surprised by the amount of abuse the guns had received!
As a 'thank you' to Don Johnson for helping to make their pistol a movie star Dornaus & Dixon provided him with a Standard Model with Johnson's name as part of the serial number. Apparently the actor tried to use this connection to get a Bren Ten for a friend, but Dornaus & Dixon informed him that the friend would have to wait in line with the rest of their not-so-patient customers. This is understandable considering that the company had already gotten complaints due to the belief that by providing guns to the television show it was further delaying delivery to customers who had been waiting some time for their Bren Tens.
As already noted, the Bren Ten was only used for the first two seasons. When Dornaus & Dixon shut down in 1986 Michael Mann felt that Sonny Crockett would only use the most up to date and modern equipment and so the Bren needed to be set aside. Cast in its place for season three was the S&W 645 in .45 ACP. (As this was a transitional period for the big Smith & Wesson pistol I believe that while it was marked "645," it was actually a 645 frame with a 3rd generation 4506 slide.) Being a 5" stainless steel gun it mimicked the profile of the hard chromed Bren Ten pretty well and most non-gun savvy watchers probably didn't even notice the change. Interestingly, the special effects department didn't bother changing the impressive sounding blast of the Bren!
With the Bren Ten being retired in favor of the S&W 645 in Season Three, the two blank-firing Brens were supposed to be returned to Dornaus & Dixon as per the original agreement. This never happened though. Pistol 83SMXPCM1 was presented by Don Johnson to the Las Vegas Planet Hollywood. For some reason, however, the plaque that was included in the display identifies the pistol as Sonny Crockett's "Detonics automatic pistol." While Crockett did use a .45 ACP Detonics Combat Master in an ankleholster as a backup gun along side his Bren, these are obviously two completely different firearms.
The Miami Vice Bren was apparently at Planet Hollywood for a number of years, but I have heard from a number of people who have visited the Las Vegas establishment and reported that it wasn't in its original location and were unable to locate it. It's possible that Don Johnson came back and retrieved his iconic Bren Ten, but I have not been able to verify this one way or the other.
As for the second Bren (83SMXPCM2), this was reportedly sold to a Bren collector along with a number of magazines and one of the Galco shoulder holsters used in the show.
I've always felt that Miami Vice was a great show in general, but if you're specifically looking for episodes with some good Bren Ten content there are a few episodes where the Bren really shines.
Skipping straight to the second season premier, "The Prodigal Son" has numerous great shots of the Bren in action, but probabyl the most noteworthy is towards the end where the mighty Bren Ten serves as an anti-aircraft weapons! Yes, this is the famous scene where Sonny Crockett foils the escape of the bad guy by shooting down his helicopter. Of course this more due to a lucky shot rather than the awesome power of the 10mm cartridge, but it's still worth a standing ovation from the Bren fanboy club!
The next 'must watch' scene is in episode fourteen of the second season. In "One Way Ticket" it's not a gun battle with the Bren Ten mowing down legions of bad guys, but rather a range session where Sonny is working out his frustrations by putting the Bren through it's paces on the police pistol course. Lots of good shots here of the Bren Ten blasting targets!
One final note on the Bren Ten's performance in the television show... I always loved the sound effects that the studio used for the Bren. While Detective Ricardo Tubbs' .38 snub nose revolver always tended to sound like a pop-gun, Sonny's Bren had a much more authoratative sounding punch to it. I don't know how they did it (it certainly doesn't sound like .45 blanks), but it is oh so cool!
Other Miami Vice Tech
Soldier Of Fortune
by SOF Staff
Modifying semiautomatic (and full automatic) firearms for use with blanks is a major undertaking. As there is no bullet being pushed down the barrel there isn't the mass for the expanding gasses to push back against and operate the cycling system of the gun. Springs and locking systems often need to be extensively altered in order to achieve proper cycling of the weapons. There is also a lot that goes into the blanks themselves. Movie makers love lots of bang and flash (which is actually the oposite of most serious firearm users) and this requires specific smokeless powders be used which can also impact the function of these guns. While the two Brens still needed some fine tuning to work with blanks, I think it's impressive that Tom Dornaus was able to do the conversions with basically no experience in this very specialized area of gunsmithing!