Kellgren & KelTec: A Retrospective

— Daniel ReederCADRE Dispatch

In 1991, Swedish-born George Kellgren opened up a little CNC shop in Cocoa, Florida. That little CNC shop would later become a giant in the firearms industry. I might be a little biased since we’re talking about the designers of one of my favorite firearms of all time — a little PCC we’ll touch on later. Today, we’re talking about KelTec.

KelTec’s Founder, George Kellgren

While Kellgren is most well known for his own company, KelTec, he has substantial roots in the gun industry. He’s worked for several companies in the industry and co-founded several others, including Husqvarna, Swedish Interdynamics, Interdynamics of America, Grendel, and eventually KelTec. His experience in the sector definitely shaped KelTec’s focus on innovation. You could accuse KelTec of many things, but not trying something new isn’t one of them. 

KelTec's founder George Kellgren.
KelTec’s founder George Kellgren in a 2022 interview. (Photo Credit: KelTec)

Let’s dig a little bit deeper into Kellgren’s origins. Kellgren was born May 23rd, 1943, in Borås, Sweden. As a young man, he served in the Swedish Navy, and later worked for both Husqvarna & Swedish Interdynamic AB.

The first significant advancement in his career happened when he helped develop Interdynamic’s MP-9, (not to be confused with the other flavors of MP9 or the M&P 9), which would become a foundation for several products years into the future and have a lasting impact even today.

In 1979, Kellgren moved to the United States to help co-found the Interdynamic of America in Miami, where he worked until 1983. After leaving Interdynamic, he founded Grendel Inc. in 1987, a Florida-based firearms company known for innovative polymer-framed pistols like the Grendel P10 and P30. Unfortunately, the company closed in 1994 due to the Federal Assault Weapons ban. 

The Founding of KelTec

KelTec started as a small venture in 1991 in Cocoa, Florida as a small CNC shop, primarily producing parts for Grendel. With Grendel shutting down soon thereafter because of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, the little shop had a make-or-break moment; their income was gone. The company had to navigate these regulatory changes and adapt its business model. So, in short order, they pivoted and began the production of their own firearms, starting with pistols and eventually working into the production of rifles and shotguns.

KelTec Pistols

It’s time to get into the real meat and potatoes. Let’s dive into some of KelTec’s most notable pistol models and go over how each embodies the company’s innovation and functionality philosophy.

KelTec has quite the pistol lineup, including the P-11, P-32, P-50, and P-16. Here are a few of the highlights.

The P-11: KelTec’s First

The Keltec P11
KelTec’s P11 pistol. (Photo credit: KelTec)

The P-11 holds a special place in firearm history as KelTec’s first firearm. They even maintain that it was the very first 9mm polymer pistol designed for concealed carry. 

It was a significant model in the concealed carry market due to its size and lightweight design, making it ideal for discreet carry. Its design and features set a new standard in the market. Its whole selling point was that it’s secure and low-profile. It had a double-action trigger system, a 9-lb trigger pull for safety, and an internal hammer for drop-safe security. It also ran a compact 3.1″ barrel with a 10-round magazine standard.

Unfortunately for collectors, the pistol was discontinued in 2019, but it is possible to nab one aftermarket for a reasonable price.

“With its ergonomic design, perceived recoil, and practical accuracy, it’s a big pistol in a small package. Compact and lightweight, thanks to a locked breech design, the P11 also features a double action only firing mechanism that’s function surpasses all applicable SAAMI safety standards.” – KelTec’s Official Promotional Material.

KelTec P-32: The Pioneering Pocket Pistol

The P-32 is another significant model from KelTec’s history. It’s recognized for its locked breech design, considered pretty different from the traditional blowback designs used in most pocket pistols at the time. This adjustment in design allowed the P-32 to be lighter and more compact, making it a solid choice for concealed carry

KelTec's P-32 pistol. (Photo credit: KelTec)
KelTec’s P-32 pistol. (Photo credit: KelTec)

“Weighing just 6.6 ounces, the P32 is designed primarily for deep concealment. The small grip size and light recoil also make it ideal for shooters of small stature. The P32 is a semi-automatic pistol chambered for the .32 Auto cartridge. With an easy, smooth trigger pull and 7+1 capacity, it’s perfect for a variety of carry situations.” – KelTec’s Official Promotional Material.

Carbines, Rifles, and Shotguns, Oh My!

KelTec’s contributions to the firearms market don’t just stop at pistols; they also develop and manufacture rifles, shotguns, and pistol-caliber carbines. Some are immensely successful like the SUB2000, the KSG series, or even later, and more recently, the SUB2000 Gen 3.

SUB-2000: The Folding PCC

Initially released in 2001, the Sub 2000 pistol caliber carbine was one of KelTec’s first forays into manufacturing outside of the pistol space.

The Sub 2000 is a semi-automatic folding carbine that is incredibly portable. The Carbine’s objective, as stated on their website, is to pick up where pistols left off.

The Sub2000 Mk.2. (Photo Credit: Keltec)
The Sub2000 Mk.2. (Photo Credit: Keltec)

I won’t hide my bias; this must be one of my favorite firearms. It’s a little bit goofy, and very practical. The older sub-2000s are offered in 9mm and .40cal, but it seems like the newest version, the Gen 3, is only available in 9mm now since it just got announced during SHOT Show 2024.

Additionally, the older sub-2000s are available in a few different mag types. But the Gen 3 is only available in Glock 17 and 19 mags.

“You’re looking at a semi-automatic folding carbine that comes with more pistol magazine options than a cat has lives. Offered in 9mm or .40cal, the SUB2000 picks up where handguns leave off. Folded, it tucks away nicely in situations where space is limited, but it’s quick to deploy in situations where time is of the essence.” – KelTec’s Official Promotional Material.

RFB and RDB Series

The next significant addition that KelTec brought to the market was the RFB & RDB series — Rifle, Forward-ejecting Bullpup, and Rifle, Downward-ejecting Bullpup, respectively. Their major claim to fame was changing how the ejection port works. Both are gas-operated semi-automatic rifles that eject the brass forward or downward. 

They’re both Bullpups, too, which is a pretty divisive subject in and of itself in the firearms industry, but KelTec likes to push boundaries, and the Bullpup size cannot be denied its efficiency.

The RFB or "Rifle, Forward-ejecting Bullpup" from KelTec. (Photo Credit: KelTec)
The RFB or “Rifle, Forward-ejecting Bullpup” from KelTec. (Photo Credit: KelTec)

The RFB is chambered for the 7.62×51mm NATO, and most RDB models are chambered for the 5.56×45mm NATO. KelTec has also introduced RDB variants in other calibers, like the RDB-C in .223 Wylde.

The RDB or "Rifle, Downward-ejecting Bullpup" from KelTec. (Photo Credit: KelTec)
The RDB or “Rifle, Downward-ejecting Bullpup” from KelTec. (Photo Credit: KelTec)

“Like no ordinary bullpup, the RDB series of rifles redefines the platform. You’ve never experienced balance or a trigger quite like this in any other design. The RDB is completely ambidextrous due to its patented downward-ejection, magazine catch/release placement, intuitive safety and reversible operating handle. The RDB series of bullpups delivers a 5.56/.223 ballistic advantage in a very compact package that’s easy to manipulate for just about anyone.” – KelTec’s Official Promotional Material.

The KSG Series

Another of KelTec’s beloved but arguably strange weapons platforms is the KSG bullpup 12-guage.

Few shotguns are more recognizable at a glance, and the love it’s received in media hasn’t hurt this at all, either. It’s been in three John Wick movies, a Terminator movie, a Marvel movie, the first Suicide Squad, AND a Fast and Furious movie.

The KSG Bullpup from KelTec.
The KelTec KSG. (Photo Credit: KelTec)

It is a Bullpup, and it has dual tube magazines, so it’s sci-fi-looking and functional. Depending on their size, the dual tubes let it carry between 12 and 14 shells. Plus, it still has a reasonably sized barrel despite being compact as it is. It’s just an all-around nifty shotgun.

“In 2011, we introduced the KSG and completely changed the world of tactical, pump-action shotguns. Pick your favorite variant or collect them all… we won’t blame you. All of our shotguns are chambered for 3″ shells and fire a wide variety of projectiles. The dual tubes feature a selector switch that we affectionately call, the world’s fastest reload. We should also mention that they’re all downward-ejecting and completely ambidextrous.” – KelTec’s Official Promotional Material.

KelTec Innovation

KelTec’s journey from a humble CNC shop in Cocoa, Florida, to a trailblazing gun manufacturer is just more evidence you should always try to put quality and innovation first. I, for one, am excited to see what KelTec makes next.

Get the Safariland Newsletter

Get the SITREP on promotions, product news and exclusive offers.

Sign Up

Find a Dealer

Find a dealer near you with Safariland’s dealer locator.