Sunday, October 14, 2007
Sunday Smith #18: Model 37, 1976
With Colt's having introduced an aluminum alloy-framed version of the Detective Special, known as the "Cobra", in 1950, it was perhaps inevitable that Smith would follow the introduction of their new Chiefs Special with an alloy-framed variant as well. Sure enough, in 1952 Smith & Wesson began offering the Chiefs Special Airweight.
By giving up one round in the cylinder, the new Smith was noticeably smaller than its competitor from Colt's. Further, thanks to the alloy cylinder, it was measurably lighter, too. Unfortunately, the aluminum alloys of the day weren't quite up to the stresses occurring in the chamber of a firearm, and persistent reports of catastrophic cylinder failures caused Smith to shift to a steel cylinder after less than 3,800 were made. The USAF showed some interest in the model, ordering a number for testing, but all save a handful were destroyed, making the "Baby Aircrewman" one of the most sought-after postwar Smiths by collectors.
In 1957, the Chiefs Special Airweight became the Model 37 and continued to be made with mostly minor engineering changes until it was finally dropped from the catalog in 2006. The most significant change was probably the one made when they started producing the gun on the slightly longer new "J-Magnum" frame in 1997, since this allowed the gun to be certified for use with more powerful, "+P rated" ammunition, which offers improved performance at the cost of sharper recoil in the twelve-and-a-half ounce J-frame. While newer snubnose revolvers have become all the rage at S&W, with their titanium cylinders and scandium/aluminum alloy frames, many feel that the old steel-cylindered Airweights offer a "best of both worlds" balance, being light enough to carry in a pocket while not being so light as to produce the bone-cracking recoil characteristic of the newer flyweights.
The revolver pictured above is a nickeled 2" Model 37 produced in 1976. From the condition of the breechface, forcing cone, and rifling, it is highly unlikely that this revolver has been fired since it left the factory. Being made before 1982, it has the characteristic barrel locating pin through the frame forward of the cylinder opening. "Pinned barrel" Smiths are starting to command more elevated prices on the market, but even so, they are still a fairly affordable field for collecting. This Model 37 was scooped up for $300 in '03, which was a low price on the market even then. Given condition and the fact that it's in nickel and has a pinned barrel, it could bring $450 or more to the right buyer these days. A serviceable shooter, however, can be bought for $225-$300.