The pistol's reputation and looks have made it popular in cinema and novels and several versions are listed as "Curios and Relics" by the BATFE.
Because it was so rare and expensive, it was a prominent weapon used by the Alphabet Bandits in Beverly Hills Cop II and the custom made shell casings left behind at the crime scenes were ultimately their downfall.
The short-recoil operated Auto Mag pistol featured a rotary bolt with locking lugs located at the front similar to the M-16/AR-15 rifle. The Auto Mag is a heavy pistol designed to give handgun owners .44 Magnum power in a semi-automatic pistol. The .44 Auto Mag was designed to shoot .429 inch, 240 grain bullets at about the same velocity as the .44 Magnum revolver.
In 1970, Auto Mag Corporation president Harry Sanford opened a factory in Pasadena, California. The first gun was shipped on August 8, 1971, and the factory declared bankruptcy on May 3, 1972, after making fewer than 3000 guns. Production guns were made in .44 AMP (Auto Mag Pistol). Experimental pistols were made in .45 ACP, .30 AMP, and .357 AMP. Except for the .45 ACP guns, changing calibers required only the additional barrel and cartridges. The same frame, magazine and bolt could be used on both.
Auto Mag Corporation was short-lived for several reasons. The design team, which took the Auto Mag pistol from a fully functional and working chrome-moly steel prototype designed by Max Gera, to a more complicated and less reliable stainless steel pistol, disagreed with Harry Sanford about how the company should proceed. The design team was convinced the Auto Mag pistol was not ready for production and could not be produced at a profit. The design team believed that even with the correct finished design, the wholesale price of the gun had to be greatly increased or the company would go bankrupt. The design team was unable to convince Sanford, and they all resigned. The pistol was then rushed into production by a group that were not concerned with the gun making a profit but only that it got into production immediately. This led to expensive manufacturing processes, and later Pasadena guns were not fitted well as there was a constant push to get the product delivered.
Severe underpricing of the Auto Mag pistol to indicate huge market demand to potential investors made success impossible. A final analysis showed that the Auto Mag Corporation lost more than $1,000 on each pistol; each pistol sold wholesale for around $170. The pistols originally sold retail for $217.50. Used Auto Mag pistols now sell for around $3,000–$4000.