Sunday, September 23, 2007
Sunday Smith #15: Model 12-2, 1966
Experiments by Smith & Wesson and Colt in the use of aluminum as a material for firearms began to bear fruit in the early 1950s. Colt released the Commander, a 1911 with a shortened slide and aluminum frame, and the Cobra, an alloy-framed Detective Special, in 1950. Smith answered with the Military & Police Airweight in 1952. Among customers of the new lightweight revolvers was the U.S. Air Force, eager for a gun that did not weigh much with which to equip fliers.
The early Airweights had alloy cylinders. This ambitious attempt to save weight was a bit ahead of the materials science of the day and by 1954 the aluminum cylinders, plagued by catastrophic failures, had been replaced by ones made of standard ordnance steel. The Air Force soon abandoned their experiment, but the Airweight revolver was here to stay on the civilian market, proving popular with those who needed to tote a pistol at all times, but didn't want to suffer the weight penalty of an all-steel gun.
In 1957, the Military & Police Airweight became the Model 12, in accordance with Smith's new numbering policy. Longer barrels were introduced in the late '50s, although the 5" and 6" variants were quickly deleted from the catalog, leaving the traditional 2" and 4" lengths as the only options. In 1962, the ejector rod was changed from right-hand thread to left-hand, and the fourth (trigger guard) screw was deleted, causing a "-1" to be appended to the Model 12 designation, and later in 1962 the front sight was widened to 1/8", creating the Model 12-2.
The above revolver, a Model 12-2 from 1966 is from the first year when the flat cylinder latch (on the other side of the weapon) was replaced with the standard curved thumb piece, and only shortly before the diamond grips were deleted in 1968. It is an outstanding example of a revolver that has been fired very little, if at all, and was picked up in 2001 for somewhat less than $300. These days, a model 12 in this shape is worth something on the lines of $400 on the collector's market, while more worn examples can be found in the $200-300 range. Be very careful, especially when purchasing older models, that the frame is not cracked. Aluminum alloy as a material for firearms frames was still virgin territory in the late '50s and early '60s and cracks in the frame, especially where the steel barrel is screwed in, are not at all unheard-of. My personal 12-2 stays loaded with powder-puff wadcutter loads and has only been exercised a few times since I bought it for fear of damage. Although a late-'60s Model 12 like this should be plenty safe to fire, I have others to shoot so why take the chance? If I needed a lightweight, service-sized carry piece, however, I'd probably tote it in an instant, collectability be damned.