Sunday, September 09, 2007
Sunday Smith #13: Model 49, 1963
Colt's Detective Special revolver was selling like gangbusters in postwar America, and Smith had nothing that really competed with it. The Military & Police was available with a 2" barrel, but was noticeably larger and the I-frame .38/32 Terrier, while smaller, was chambered for the .38 S&W cartridge, which was rather anemic by comparison with the .38 Special round. In 1950, though, Smith launched a potent return salvo in the shape of the .38 Chiefs Special, which was created essentially by lengthening the frame of the old Terrier to allow a longer cylinder which would accommodate the longer cartridges of the .38 Special.
The new frame size, which would eventually replace the I-frame entirely, was designated the "J-frame" and it soon spawned a host of variations. In 1952 an alloy-framed version, termed the "Airweight", was released. In 1955 Smith responded to Colt's offering of a screw-on hammer shroud by offering the "Bodyguard Airweight". The new revolver was basically a Chiefs Special Airweight with a built-in hammer shroud that prevented the hammer spur from snagging on the wielder's coat or a pocket when drawn, like Smith's "Centennial" models, but still allowed the revolver to be thumb-cocked to allow for single-action shooting, which a sizable minority of the revolver-buying public preferred over the double-action-only Centennial.
Soon after, Smith made the change from model names to model numbers, and in 1959 yet another variation on the Chiefs Special was introduced, this time termed just the "Bodyguard" and cataloged as the "Model 49". It catered to those who didn't trust the longevity of alloy-framed revolvers (or found their recoil objectionable,) by replacing the aluminum of the Bodyguard Airweight with standard ordnance steel.
The Model 49 pictured above was made in 1963, and was picked up back in 2003 for under $350, reasonable for a decent Bodyguard of its vintage. The flat thumbpiece for the cylinder latch (on the other side of the gun) was discontinued in '66 and the "diamond grips" went away in '68, but the gun itself remained in production until 1997. Plan to spend anywhere between $225 and $400 or more for one, depending on its age and condition.