Sunday, December 23, 2007
Sunday Smith #28: Model 629-1, 1987.
When Smith & Wesson debuted the .44 Special cartridge in their new .44 Hand Ejector revolver back in 1907, it was only a matter of time before handloaders began to realize its hidden potential. By the post-WWII era, you couldn't swing a cat without hitting someone who was tinkering with hot-rodded .44 Special loadings, cheered on by the writings of Elmer Keith. With that level of interest, factory legitimization was a certainty.
Working with Remington, S&W debuted the new .44 Magnum cartridge in 1955. Throwing a 240gr bullet at over 1300fps, the round was far and away the most potent purpose-designed handgun cartridge ever developed at the time and would hold its title for almost three decades (it was the late '80s before the cartridge that supplanted it, the .454 Casull, could really be called a "factory round".) Going the same route that they had taken with the .38 Special/.357 Magnum in the 1930s, Smith lengthened the case on the new round to prevent it from being stuffed into older .44 Special guns that might not be up to the forces generated by the potent cartridge.
In 1957, the revolver formerly known as the ".44 Magnum" became the Model 29, and suffered the same gradual production shortcuts that its .357 sibling, the Model 27, endured over the years. Less hand polishing and fitting went into the guns in order to maintain profitability in the face of gradually increasing costs. One new twist came in 1979, when the Model 629 was released as the first stainless steel N-frame. Initially offered only in the 6" barrel length, 4" and 8 3/8" barrels were soon added. In 1982, the counterbored chambers and the pinned barrel went the way of the Dodo, and the 629 became the 629-1. Four years later a run of 8,000 guns were done with round-butt frames and three inch barrels for the Lew Horton company, and were immediately very popular.
The above pistol is a 629-1 from the tail end of that run in 1987. It was purchased from a private seller at a gun show in 2001 for $450 and wears its original factory "combat" stocks. A previous owner had the gun Mag-Na-Ported to help tame the vigorous muzzle flip that can occur when launching scorching magnum loads from the gun's stubby tube. As a side note, the 629-1 predates the "Endurance Package" that showed up on -2E and -3 and all later 629's, which is most easily recognized externally by the longer cylinder stop notches. This package of improvements helps prevent the cylinder from spinning backwards under recoil of heavy loads as well as generally increasing the durability of the gun. Still, if one wishes to lob super heavy bullets or experiment with hot loads, a Ruger is probably a better choice; the Smith is best with the factory loadings for which it was designed, and there's nothing wrong with those. After all, they did once make it "The most powerful handgun in the world."
Do you feel lucky, punk?