Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sunday Smith #58: Model 59, 1978.


After the failure of their first semiautomatic pistol design, Smith & Wesson wouldn't return to the autoloader business for almost three decades. Instead, they stuck to building revolvers, where they were a dominant market force.

After the Second World War, however, influenced by the double-action Walther P38 with its hammer-dropping safety, and with the possibility of military contracts dancing in their heads, Smith decided to dip their toe back into that market again.

Carl Hellstrom had recently become president of the company, the first time that post had been held by anyone without the last name "Wesson". Pledging to revive the fortunes of Smith & Wesson, which had nearly gone toes-up during the collapse of the Light Rifle program for England, Hellstrom tapped chief designer Joe Norman to come up with a modern 9mm pistol.

While the US military did test some prototypes, interest in contracts didn't materialize. Smith went ahead and launched the 8-shot single stack 9mm in 1956, dubbing it the "Model 39" the next year, when model numbers were assigned to all Smith handguns.

During the Vietnam War, suppressed Model 39's (referred to as "Hushpuppies") were used by Navy SEALs, and Smith dabbled with a couple samples that were altered to accept double-column Browning High Power style magazines.


In 1971, these widebody pistols entered commercial production as the Model 59, incorporating the latest updates from the newest Model 39-2 variant, including a narrower, shorter extractor that was tensioned by a separate coil spring, to replace the long, flat, self-sprung extractor earlier 39's had used.

Even in a side view from a distance, the Model 59 can be distinguished from its lower-capacity forebear by the step in the aluminum alloy frame just aft of the slide stop, where it's widened to accommodate the fatter double-stack magazine, and by the flat backstrap, replacing the arched curve of the one on the 39. This helped keep the grip diameter to manageable proportions.

By combining the double-stack magazine of the Browning High Power and the DA/SA action with hammer-dropping safety of the Walther P-38, the Smith & Wesson 59 presaged the next generation of autoloading pistols, called "WonderNines" in the gun rags of the day.

They were increasingly successful with law enforcement agencies in the US and remained in the catalog through 1982, after which it was replaced by its improved "Second Generation" successors: the Model 459 (carbon steel slide, alloy frame), Model 559 (carbon steel slide & frame), and Model 659 (stainless steel slide & frame).

The above example, a nickeled version, was purchased from my local gun shop late last year for around $400. It shows few signs of use, and all the controls and small parts still show the high-polished blue finish they came with from the factory.
.

No comments: