Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Smith #56: Model 2206, 1996

Since the discontinuation of the ill-fated Model 61 Escort in '73 and well into the '80s, Smith & Wesson didn't have any rimfire self-loading pistols other than the high-end Model 41 target gun. Meanwhile Ruger's target autos were selling like gangbusters and revolver sales as a percentage of the market were starting to slump. Smith needed a cheaper gun to compete in the plinking end of the market.

They got there by taking the basic design of the Model 61, which itself was derived from a long gone Belgian pocket auto, and stretching the barrel and butt into a 10-shot target pistol available with either a 4.5" or 6" barrel, called the Model 422.

Debuting in 1987, the 422 was soon joined by a version with a stainless slide and clear-coat anodized aluminum frame, which in keeping with current S&W numbering practices was the 622. (The number "6" being, generally, a S&W designator for stainless steel. Like most languages, S&W model numbers are best learned by immersion and osmosis rather than from a dictionary.)

Just as these guns were hitting the market, the centerfire S&W pistol world was transitioning from the "Second Generation" guns with their three-digit designators to the "Third Generation" autos, which bore four-digit model numbers. Perhaps with an eye to that, when the all-stainless version of the rimfire plinker debuted in 1990, it was designated the Model 2206.

The six-inch version of the 2206, pictured above, hit the market with an MSRP a whisker under $400 in 1990. It's a hefty gun, weighing in at an honest 39 ounces, which is, like, M1911 heavy. Recoil is pretty much non-existent. Even high-velocity loads are practically like shooting an airsoft gun.

This whole line of pistols was never really a sales threat to the dominant Ruger autos and were superseded in the late 1990s by the much simpler to build Model 22.

The pictured gun, featuring an aftermarket threaded barrel, was purchased from an internet friend for a little over three bills in 2016. Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson, 4th Edition says $275 for EXC and $225 for VG and add $40 for adjustable sights. An ANIB example configured like the one above (less aftermarket barrel) would book at $390 w/box & docs in the SCSW4E.
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Monday, March 13, 2017

Sunday Smith #55: Model 745, 1988

With their Second Generation auto lineup in the mid-Eighties, Smith & Wesson offered a .45ACP pistol that was more or less aimed right at a chunk of Colt's 1911 market share. A honking-big handgun weighing in at almost 38 ounces empty, the eight-shot Model 645 was priced to undercut the classic offering from Colt and had more modern DA/SA lockwork.

One place it had difficulty making inroads was in the growing sport of action pistol shooting, where customized 1911-pattern guns from Springfield and Colt ruled the day. So based on some custom work done on personal guns by their in-house gunsmiths, Smith & Wesson released a competition-oriented variant of the Model 645, dubbed the Model 745.

The initial run came with the serial number prefix "DVC", for the IPSC motto of "Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas", or "Accuracy, Power, Speed". They also had special IPSC 10th Anniversary engraving on the slide.

The guns featured special Nokak sights and a single-sided safety with enlarged paddle-like shape. Note that, unlike conventional S&W autos, depressing the safety does not drop the hammer. This is because the 745 borrows from the lockwork of the similarly competition-oriented Model 52 .38 Wadcutter gun and is single-action only.

The slide release is enlarged in a fashion similar to the safety, and the magazine release features an oversize button as well. There's an overtravel stop set in the frame behind the trigger, and checkering on the front- and backstraps.

Its parent gun, the 645, was discontinued in 1988, replaced by its Third Generation successor, the Model 4506, but the 745 continued in production for another couple yeas before being discontinued as well. Its own successors, the Model 845 and 945 came from the then-new Performance Center.

The gun in the photos was acquired at a gun show in Louisville, Kentucky in early '17 for $700.
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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday Smith #54: Model CS9 9mm Chief's Special, 1999

After the market failure of their first attempt at a centerfire autoloader in the mid-1930s, Smith & Wesson abandoned that market niche to archrival Colt before taking another run at it with the 1955 launch of the gun that was to become the Model 39.

The Model 39 was a slim 9mm pistol with a double-action first shot and a hammer-dropping safety that was a conceptual copy of that found on Walther autopistols. The pistol eventually became the conceptual head of a whole family of autoloaders of all calibers and sizes, but back in its infancy, one of the most popular modifications was cutting it down to make it more concealable.

Model 39 pistols with shortened slides and grips were sold by Armament Systems and Procedures (ASP), Devel, Trapper Gun, and others I'm likely forgetting at the moment. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before Smith started producing factory compact guns.

It's interesting that one of these factory compact guns marks the twilight of the family of pistols spawned by the Model 39. The "CS9", or "Chief's Special 9" attempted to revive the original name attached to the J-frame snubbie revolver and hang it on what the marketing department called "An Autoloader for the 21st Century".

The problem for Smith was that the gun was nothing of the sort. Every step was taken to trim production costs on the basic early '50s design: Simple plunge-milled slide serrations. Flat bevels instead of radiused curves on the top of the slide. A plastic disconnector.

There was still no way to sell the gun at a price competitive with the plastic, striker-fired guns that were overrunning the market without selling at unsustainable profit margins. Imported players like Beretta and Sig Sauer could hold off the plastic juggernaut for a while by trading on upmarket Euro cachet, but Smith's traditional metal autos found themselves price-shopped against both the invading Glock and the domestic Ruger P-series guns, with the latter being based on a thirty-year younger design optimized to use much cheaper castings for major components, unlike the machining-intensive Smith.

The Chief's Special series, which included a CS40 and a CS45 to go with the 9mm version, was pretty much the swan song of the traditional double action metal-framed Smith auto. Introduced in 1999, the .40 cal version was gone by '03 while the 9mm and .45 variants remained through 2006.

The seven-shot CS9 is a light, easily-concealed gun, not too much larger than the current six-shot Glock 43. Depending on condition, prices could run into the low five bills, but most examples seem to be cheaper. The pictured gun was found in excellent condition in a local gun store counter in 2014 for not a lot of money, three-and-change if memory serves.