Monday, November 12, 2007
Sunday Smith #22: Model 547, 1982
Smith & Wesson's first foray into building a revolver chambered for a semiautomatic pistol cartridge was the Model 1917 revolver produced for the U.S. Army during the First World War. The challenge wasn't in chambering the round, as the chambers could be stepped, allowing the cartridge to headspace on the case mouth just like in an automatic, but in extraction. The hand ejector extraction system relied on a protruding cartridge rim for the extractor star to act against.
A solution was found by using a thin sheet metal clip that would clip into the pistol round's extractor groove, joining two or three of them together and giving the extractor something to grab. Still, this always felt like a temporary solution. It added an extra part to be looked after, required time to be spend inserting rounds into the little clips, and if the clips were bent, they could bind the action of the gun, rendering the cylinder hard to turn and the revolver effectively inoperable. Lose the clip, and you're spending precious time trying to pry spent cases out with your fingernails or poke them out with a stick.
LEFT: Extractor with fingers.
Over the years other chamberings were tried, usually as wartime experiments, but it wasn't until 1980 that the obstacle of rimless extraction would be overcome. In an attempt to court overseas sales, Smith & Wesson came up with a unique new extractor system that used six "fingers" on the ejector rod to lift out the rounds by their extractor grooves. They also overcame another problem with 9mm as a revolver round, which was case setback on firing due to the slight taper of the 9x19mm cartridge, by using a floating frame-mounted firing pin, and placing a second floating pin in the breechface immediately above it to provide case support and keep the brass from backing out of the chamber.
RIGHT: Breechface with two pins.
The new "Model 547 9mm Military & Police" was offered in both 4" square-butt (the standard service configuration) and 3" round-butt (preferred for plainclothes work) configurations, both with a heavy barrel. The revolver was, at a glance, nearly identical to the then-common Model 13 .357 Magnum M&P, but one dead giveaway externally was the 9mm's oddly shaped hammer.
The revolver never caught on with overseas customers, and tradition-minded U.S. revolver shooters gave it a lukewarm reception as well. It was no surprise then to see it fade from the catalog after 1985, only five years after its introduction. Naturally, its relative scarcity (only slightly more than 10,000 made) and unique mechanical nature has made it something for collectors to chase down and prices have climbed accordingly in the last half-decade or so. In 2000, it wasn't uncommon to find a nice 547 for maybe $250-$350; the example in the above photo, which is an honest 95%+ gun, was picked up at a gun show for right around $400 in mid-'04; these days nice ones are fetching north of $600 on auction sites, and a LNIB example could bring more than eight bills. Still, what collection of Smith "Military & Police" revolvers would be complete without at least one example of the oddest M&P?