Sunday, October 24, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #4...

When Savage resumed manufacturing handguns for the civilian market after the Great War, a few changes were made to the basic Model 1907.

Referred to in the literature as the Model 1907-19, these pistols were immediately recognizable by their less expensive matte blue finish that was also more durable than the bright bluing used on earlier guns. They also had twenty-eight smaller, sharper cocking serrations on each side instead of the ten large rounded ones of the original pistols.

The ejection port was smaller, no longer relieved to accept the loaded chamber indicator, which had added extra parts & manufacturing steps and acquired a reputation for breakage.

The large "SAVAGE" billboard rollmark on the left side of the gun was also gone now, eliminating another manufacturing step.

With the Model 1907-19 Modification #2 variant, the cocking lever with a pronounced thumb spur that had been an optional addition since 1914 became standard on the model.

Some 18,000 of the 1907-19 Modif. #1 and 26,400 of the 1907-19 Modif. #2 were build between the start of 1919 and the end of 1920. These pistols, however, were just a stopgap. Savage was feeling pressure not only from Colt, but now also from Remington, who had entered the pocket pistol fray with their John Pedersen-designed Model 51 at the tail end of 1918.

In response, Savage had revamped their basic pistol design in '17 and the new pistol would be ready for sale at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #3...

Sales of Savage's little Model 1907 pocket pistols had gotten off to a good start. They looked modern, had good advertising, and the ten-shot magazine gave them a leg up in the marketplace versus their competition. Nevertheless, despite a couple years where they actually outsold the Colt Pocket Hammerless, the salad days didn't last.

Sales fell off in 1912 and so management in Utica began groping for something to spice up the lineup relative to the competition from Hartford.

Pistols in this size class were usually carried in a coat pocket or vest pocket, and Colt made a lot of hay over the smooth "hammerless" profile of their 1903 and 1908 pocket models. Now, the Colt pistols actually had hammers, albeit internal ones, and the Savage pistols did not have hammers, but the external cocking lever for the internal striker made it look like they did...

Enter the Savage Model 1915, which was introduced first in .380 caliber in February of 1915, with a .32ACP version (like the one pictured) shipping in April of that same year.

The "hammerless" profile of the Colt was easiest to duplicate. All Savage had to do was remove the spur from the cocking lever on the striker and blank off the now-nonfunctional slot with a strip of sheet metal.

The 1915 sought to emulate some other Colt features, however. Among them was a grip safety, which took a couple tries to adapt to the basic mechanism of the original Savage 1907. The final design was by William Swartz and used pressure on the existing trigger-locking bar to prevent the trigger from moving unless the grip safety was fully depressed by a proper firing grip.

The 1915 retained the spring-steel loaded chamber indicator that had been introduced in 1913. Along with this, it introduced a last shot hold-open feature. A tab was added to the magazine follower that actuated an internal lever when the last round had been fired. An external tab was provided that could be pressed upward by the trigger finger to send the slide back into battery.

Despite all these changes, which added to the cost of the pistol, Savage kept the retail price of the 1915 the same as its 1907 predecessor. The sent profitability through the floor. Further, both the loaded chamber indicator and the last round hold-open feature quickly gained reputations for fragility.

Savage charged $15 for the .32 caliber versions and $16 for the .380s, but after selling a few thousand of each in the first year of production, sales plummeted. Compounding the problem was Savage being subsumed into the Driggs-Seabury Ordnance Company in 1915, and foreign contracts for Lewis guns were a lot more exciting for bean counters than trying to push a new civilian pistol design.

By the beginning of 1917 production of the Savage Model 1915 pistol, a weapon optimized for concealed carry by American citizens, had been entirely displaced at Savage by contracts for pistols and machine guns for European armies.

With roughly 6,500 manufactured in .32ACP and only 3,900 in .380 Auto, the Model 1915 is among the rarer commercial Savage auto pistols.

Savage for Victory!

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #2...

Last week's Savage 1907 was the variant known as the "1907-10 Modif. #2" and was made sometime in early 1911. Only two and a half years later, Savage was three more iterations down the road. By the latter part of 1913, they'd segued through the pistol now called the "1907-12 Transitional Issue" and the "1907-13 Modif. #1" and started making the pistol in the photos: The 1907-13 Modification Number 2.

The 1907-13 Modif. #2 was made from the latter part of 1913 through 1915, by which time it was largely supplanted by a version made under foreign contracts for the French and Portuguese militaries.

The pistol shown, which is in rather decent shape for an older Savage, was made toward the end of the period. 

The easiest tell for distinguishing a 1907-13 Modif. #2 from the earlier Modif. #1 is the large billboard "SAVAGE" in fine-outlined all caps on the left side of the frame.

 The trigger is still case-colored and it still has the early version of the burr on the cocking piece as well as the very wide slide serrations. The grips on this example are in very good shape, with the "TRADEMARK" lettering still legible on the chief's headdress.

The 1907-13 had introduced a loaded chamber indicator. This was a piece of spring steel, viewable through the ejection port, that clipped around a recess in the barrel with a tab that extended rearward that would be forced up by the semi-rim of a chambered round. This would provide both visible and tactile indication of a round in the chamber.

The 1907-12 Transitional issue had introduced a new magazine release. Rather than being in the center of the frontstrap and depressed with the ring finger, the second version of the magazine catch, used from the 1907-12 through the rest of the production run, had a knurled bit at the bottom of the catch and was operated by pressing this inward with the pinkie finger of the firing hand.

This obviously required a new magazine with the hole for the mag catch in a higher location.

So by 1913 we have a striker-fired, double-stack, self-loading pocket pistol with an ambidextrous magazine release and a loaded chamber indicator. Savage sold some 30- to 40,000 of them in the days before the Great War.

Actual Savage advertisement, circa 1913

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #1

Few patents in the firearms industry gave a manufacturer such an effective stranglehold on a market as did Smith & Wesson's licensing of the Rollins White patent for bored-through cylinders in revolvers. Other companies were forced to try and engineer workarounds for more than a decade while Smith basically had a lock on the metallic cartridge revolver until the patent expired in the early 1870s.

The only patent that came close was Colt's Browning patent for a one-piece breechblock and slide that extended forward to enclose the barrel. 

That gave Colt a deadlock on the self-loading pistol market in this country, at least for the most part. The challengers were mostly failures in the marketplace; the only one that came close to being a success was the Elbert Searle-designed Model 1907 from Savage. In some years it even outsold the Colt, but was far more complex and expensive to produce and eventually ceased production in the late 1920s.

There are approximately sixteen different iterations of the little .32 Savage (the constant changes and tweaks over a twenty-ish year production run did nothing to aid profitability) and the pictured pistol is the most common variety.

Manufactured in 1911, it's the variant referred to in James Carr's Savage Automatic Pistols book as a "1907-10 Modification No.2". Some 45,500 of this version alone were made.

Without consulting serial numbers, the main way to tell a "1907-10 Modif. #2" from a "1907-10 Modif. #1" is by the "SAFE" and "FIRE" rollmarks in the frame. While these are sometimes found on earlier guns, they were done after the pistol had been blued, indicating they were probably added after the pistol had been completed, possibly when it was returned to the factory for service.

Incidentally, that thing that looks like a hammer spur? It's not. It's just an external cocking lever attached to the internal striker.

The 1907-10 Modif. #2 still has the first version of the Savage's magazine release. Intended to be operated by the shooter's ring finger, the portion in the recessed divot in the frontstrap is pressed, causing the release lever to pivot on its pin and withdraw the catch from the cutout in the front of the magazine body, allowing the magazine to (at least attempt to) drop free.

By 1912, Savage had made around 65,000 of these striker-fired, double-stack, ten-shot pocket autos with ambidextrous magazine releases. They were, in many respects, way ahead of their time.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Classic Reevaluated

 There was a time, back when I first got this Model 12-2, that I was skeptical of its utility as a carry piece due to my reluctance to fire +P ammo through early alloy-framed Smiths.

While it will probably hold up to an absolutely normal level of shooting, I'm scarred by having seen a couple early Airweight J-frames crack their frames, probably due to having the barrels torqued in too tightly. 

Most vividly was the little flat-latch Model 37, a very early gun in absolutely pristine condition, that an elderly gentleman brought in for a trigger job. He'd finally gotten a carry permit for the revolver that had sat unused on a shelf for decades, and decided it could use a better trigger pull. 

Gunsmith Bob did a great job on the trigger pull and took it out on the range to verify that it would reliably light off primers still by putting a couple of cylinders of ammunition through it. The test ammo was standard pressure .38 Special, probably American Eagle FMJ, and the frame cracked there at the barrel shank. 

Smith & Wesson replaced the gentleman's Model 37 with a brand new Airweight J-frame, a stainless 637, and the customer was overjoyed. I guess from a practical point of view it was an upgrade, and we all tried not to actually cry in front of him.

At any rate, these days I am less inclined to seek any sort of expansion out of loads from a .38 Special snub. The only way to get it reliably seems to be to use light bullets with the velocity boosted via +P chamber pressures. So you get more blast and recoil and then a bullet that, if it does expand, tends to underpenetrate. If it doesn't expand, it pokes a hole just like a wadcutter. 

The fact that most of the switched-on dudes I know who still utilize .38 snubs all carry standard pressure wadcutters in them is what I would call a clue. Plus, Federal's Gold Medal Match has quality control that's second to none and has sealed primers just like premium defensive ammo.

Knowing what I know now, I'd have no hesitation to throw a Tyler T-grip or a set of boot grips on this thing and carry it with a cylinder full of 148gr wadcutters.

We live and we learn.


Monday, March 01, 2021

The Great Recession

So the above photo has two Smith & Wesson rimfire revolvers, built probably about thirty years or so apart. The top one is a .22/.32 Heavy Frame Target, an I-frame revolver built probably sometime in the late 1920s. The lower one is a Model 34 Kit Gun, dating to the late '50s and built on the Improved I-frame.

If you look at the cylinders...specifically the rear of the will notice a difference. If you pop open the .22/.32 Heavy Frame, the rear of the cylinder looks strange to anyone accustomed to Smith & Wesson rimfire revolvers, because the charge holes are not recessed to accommodate the rims of the cartridges.

This was actually the norm at the time. Dating back to its earliest revolvers, the teeny little No.1 from before the Civil War, rimfire .22 Smiths had simple charge holes bored straight through the cylinder.

In 1930, however, Remington released new high velocity loadings of the .22 Long Rifle round and, when used in these revolvers, blown case heads were a very real possibility. So when Smith & Wesson released a .22LR version of their K-frame Target, known as the "K-22" or "Outdoorsman", they resorted to a solution that had been used on cartridge conversions of percussion revolvers: a rebated recess around the charge hole to support the rim.

By the mid-1930s, this had migrated from the K-22 to other rimfire Smiths. Here's the cylinder of the Model 34 Kit Gun:

Along about the time that Smith was adapting their rimfire revolvers to handle this new high-pressure, high-velocity .22 load from Remington, they were also working to develop another high performance round, albeit much larger than the little rimfire.

Julian Hatcher's Textbook of Pistols and Revolvers unveiled the new super round:

Without reading Major Wesson's mind, it's impossible to know why, exactly, the chambers were recessed on the new .357 Magnum. It's not like there was ever any balloon-head .357 Mag brass to worry about handloaders blowing up; the Magnum (there was only the one, at the time) was a thoroughly modern cartridge with a solid case head.

With the hype surrounding the cartridge, though, it would probably have appeared as a sensible precaution, at least to the buying public. In Hatcher's words,
...which seems almost quaint, looking back from the current era of AirLite Scandium Magnums and four-inch .500S&W X-frame revolvers.

The recessed chambers remained a hallmark of centerfire S&W revolvers in magnum chamberings up until the launch of the L-frame Model 586 & 686 in the Eighties, after which it went away, in a tacit admission that it was an entirely vestigial holdover.


Tuesday, February 09, 2021

I-Frame Details, Part One

The first I-frame revolvers were technically the Model of 1896, with its combination ejector rod/cylinder release and topstrap-mounted cylinder stop. The first modern one we'd recognize as the ancestor of all the later I-frames and J-frames is the .32 Hand Ejector Model of 1903, aka the ".32 Hand Ejector, 2nd Model", which was a six-shot .32S&W Long revolver with a round-butt frame, available with a 3.25", 4.25", or 6" barrel.

The 2nd Model went through five successive engineering changes from 1903 until production was suspended for the Great War. When it came back in 1919, the new guns were referred to as .32 Hand Ejector, 3rd Models. The lower revolver in the picture above is a 3rd Model with a serial number placing its date of manufacture probably somewhere in the 1920s.

The longer-barreled revolver is also an I-frame .32, although this one is a .32 Regulation Police. The Regulation Police joined the regular .32 Hand Ejector in 1917, was offered in the same three barrel lengths, and was serial numbered concurrently with it. While it would appear to be a square-butt gun, popping the grips off reveals it is not...

Interestingly, the Regulation Police can be told apart from a regular .32 Hand Ejector even with the stocks removed!

The first and easiest way is the shoulder on the backstrap, where the wood round-to-square conversion stocks meet the metal. The second way is that, because the serial number in its normal location (on the bottom of the grip frame) would be covered up by the stocks, the s/n on a Regulation Police is rollmarked on the frontstrap of the grip.


Monday, January 25, 2021

.38 Smith & Wesson

The full-size Model No.3 was Smith & Wesson's first top-break revolver, as distinguished from the tip-up rimfire guns on which the company had built its initial reputation. Although originally chambered for the .44 Henry rimfire cartridge, Smith was persuaded to develop a centerfire alternative, the cartridge that eventually became the .44 Russian.

The No.3 saw limited service with the U.S. Army, as well as foreign contracts with the Russians, Japanese, and others. While military contracts are always good, Smith recognized that the bulk of domestic sales would be of smaller, cheaper, more pocketable guns for the private citizen to carry.

Sales of the antiquated rimfire No.1 1/2 in .32 Rimfire Short were flagging as Smith launched a five-shooter that was initially a smaller copy of the No.3. These first .38 top-breaks are known as "Baby Russians", for their longer and more complex ejector assembly scaled down from the bigger gun. Simplified for easier production, the .38 Single Action was manufactured for more than thirty years through three major models.

.38 Single Action, 2nd Model

D.B. Wesson designed a new centerfire cartridge to go with the new gun. Utilizing a .36 caliber (well, .359) bullet that fit snugly enough in the case to minimize the need for crimping by the reloader, the new cartridge was referred to as the .38 S&W, referencing the outside diameter of the case.

Although introduced in 1876 as a black powder round, the .38 S&W is still loaded and sold as a smokeless round in the modern era, although S&W hasn't made a revolver chambered for it since the last Model 32 Terriers and Model 33 Regulation Police revolvers came off the line in 1974.

Domestically the .38 S&W probably hung on as long as it did because it could fit in the cylinders of small-frame revolvers originally designed around the .32 S&W Long cartridge, unlike the longer .38 Special. Additionally, the maximum chamber pressure of 14,000psi made it friendlier to inexpensive revolvers than the newer cartridge, which topped out over 3,000psi more.

L to R: .32 S&W Long, .38 S&W, .38 S&W Special, illustrating why the older cartridge fit the small .32 Hand Ejector frame while .38 Spl did not.

Overseas, the .38 S&W cartridge, in its British guise as the .380 Mk II, was the service cartridge in the waning days of the British Empire, chambered in top-break Enfield revolvers, and thus it can still be found in former colonies like India. Arguably it was possibly the most common centerfire handgun cartridge, globally speaking, for most of the period running from the 1880s into the 1950s. Smith & Wesson alone produced more than a million guns in the chambering, better than three quarters of a million more Enfields and Webleys, and who knows how many say nothing of Harrington & Richardsons, Iver Johnsons, Hopkins & Allens, Forehand & Wadsworths, et cetera, ad nauseum.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Sunday Smith #69: .38/.32 Terrier, 1948

Smith & Wesson's small "I-frame" revolvers had their genesis in the first swing-out cylinder revolver the manufacturer offered, the .32 Hand Ejector Model of 1896. These were supplanted in the catalog by the .32 Hand Ejector Model of 1903, which incorporated advancements from Smith's original 1899-vintage .38 Hand Ejectors, such as moving the cylinder stop to the bottom of the window, adding a second lockup point for the cylinder assembly on the front of the ejector rod, and relocating the cylinder release to a thumb-operated latch on the side of the frame. All these changes are still in use on S&W revolvers nearly one and a quarter centuries later.

While the .32 S&W Long was seen as an adequate round for self-protection, the little .32 Hand Ejectors soon faced competition in the compact handgun market from Colt's Detective Special, which was launched in 1927. While slightly bulkier than the little I-frame Smith & Wesson, the Detective Special came with a factory 2" barrel and was chambered for the more powerful .38 Special cartridge.

Smith & Wesson didn't have anything in the catalog that could compare, and so in 1936 they began selling a factory short-barreled version of their .38 Regulation Police, called the .38/.32 Terrier.

The upper sideplate screw, strain screw on the frontstrap, and straight ejector rod all transmit a secret code in Smith nerdspeak.

The .38 Regulation Police and the .38/.32 Terrier were basically the standard .32 Hand Ejector with a cylinder holding five rounds of .38 S&W instead of six of .32 S&W Long.

Although the .38 S&W cartridge was already something like a half-century old by the 1930s, the cylinder window in the I-frame was too short to accommodate a cylinder that would hold .38 Special cartridges. Besides, at the time the .38 S&W was still one of the most popular cartridges in the world, being chambered throughout the British Empire and even domestically by Smith's arch rival Colt's Manufacturing Company (who called it ".38 Colt New Police" in order to avoid having to rollmark their guns with the hated 'S&W' initials).

During WWII, Smith shelved production of the Terrier as well as pretty much everything else in order to concentrate on .38 Military & Police "Victory Models" for the war effort. After the war, the production of Terriers resumed in 1948 and the pictured revolver is a very early postwar gun, with a serial number only about four thousand guns higher than the first one off the line in '48.

In addition to the serial number, the other giveaways to its postwar status are the sliding hammer block, which all Smith & Wesson revolvers incorporated as a wartime safety improvement, and the ejector rod with a simple bit of knurling on the end rather than a separate threaded-on ejector rod knob. This latter was a manufacturing shortcut adopted when Springfield was churning out Victory Models and remained after the war.

In 1953, production of the .38/.32 Terrier was moved to the Improved I-frame, with its coil mainspring, and in 1957 the nomenclature was changed to "Model 32", with the replacement of romantic model names by sterile model numbers.

The pictured revolver, a decent shooter with only moderate wear, was purchased at my neighborhood firearms store in January of 2021 for two hundred dollars.


Sunday, November 01, 2020

Sunday Smith #68: PC Model 4513 Shorty .45, 1996

When Smith & Wesson got back into the centerfire autoloader game about a decade after WWII, they only offered the pistol in one chambering. They could call it the "9mm" because in 1955 it was the first commercial domestically-produced autoloader purposely designed around the 9x19mm cartridge (Colt's contemporaneous 9mm Commander was just a Government Model with an alloy frame and three quarters of an inch whacked off the barrel.)

When Smith shifted from romantic model names to prosaic model numbers in 1957, the 9mm pistol became the "Model 39". Through the first generation of Smith's modern hammer-fired autos and well into the second, the self-loading pistols were only offered in 9x19mm*.

In fact, it wasn't until 1985, nearly at the end of the era of the three-digit Second Generation autos that Smith released one in something other than 9mm: The Model 645, a double-action challenger to the Colt Government Model. It was a honkin' big pistol with a DA trigger, hammer-dropping safety, five-inch barrel, and a size and bulk that actually slightly overshadowed the classic 1911.

After only a couple years' production, the Third Generation autos supplanted the Second in 1988. The Model 4506 was the full-size replacement for the Model 645, and it was joined in the catalog in 1990 by the Model 4516. The 4516 had a 3.75" barrel and was obviously intended as a compact challenger to Colt's diminutive Officer's ACP, which had hit the streets in 1985.

The problem was that, being constructed entirely of stainless steel, the 4516 was brick heavy at nearly thirty-eight ounces.

Enter the Performance Center, in those days still helmed by Paul Liebenberg and functioning as a limited production hand-built custom shop. In 1996, a small run of "Shorty .45" pistols were sold through distributor Lew Horton, capitalizing on the success of earlier runs of Performance Center Shorty .40 guns.

SKU #170075, labeled as a "4513" on the box, was a 3.5" single stack subcompact .45ACP. It had a hand-fitted titanium barrel bushing, hand-fit frame and slide, hand-tuned action, single-sided hammer-dropping safety, and 7-round magazine. Unlike the similarly-sized 4516, it had an alloy frame with 20lpi checkering on the frontstrap, and this difference between the two pistols knocked a full ten ounces off the gun's weight. The pictured example weighed just over 27oz. on my postal scale.

Lew Horton ordered 662 of the Shorty 45's in 1996 and they had an MSRP of $1145.95. The pictured example was bought in 2020 in used condition in the original Doskocil case with two magazines at my local gun store for $550.

*Well, and .38 Special... Hopefully I'll someday be able to do that Sunday Smith!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Sunday Smith #67: PC Model 4006 Shorty .40 Mk3S, 1996

 Just titling this post was difficult. You'll see this gun referred to by a bunch of different names, with "Shorty Forty" or "Shorty .40" being the most common. Hardly ever is it acknowledged as a Model 4006 variant, which is what Smith calls it on the label on the side of the case.

Unlike the compact double stack 9mm pistols, which got normalized as the Second Generation Model 469 and the Third Generation 6904 and 6906, Smith & Wesson never did catalog a "mainstream" compact .40 S&W double-stack in the Third Gen. The TSW ("Tactical Smith & Wesson") variant of the Model 4013 had a nine-round double-stack magazine, but your regular 4013 was just a slightly bigger-bored sibling to the 9mm Model 3913 single-stack.

The lore behind the Shorty .40 goes something like this...

South African IPSC shooter and pistolsmith Paul Liebenberg had come to this side of the pond to work at Pachmayr, back when they were still a premier custom pistol house, before hanging out his own shingle at Pistol Dynamics in the late '80s. Liebenberg was something of an evangelist for the "Centimeter" wildcat cartridge and wound up getting tapped to do a proof-of-concept conversion on a couple of Model 5906's.

That led Smith to hire him to help stand up their new Performance Center department. At the time, Smith engineers were balking at the idea of a subcompact .40, due to high chamber pressures and unforgiving slide velocities. As the lore goes, Liebenberg showed up at a meeting with the prototype of what became the Shorty Forty, plopping it on the table and announcing "There's the impossible."

The initial pistol sold so well in its limited run at Lew Horton that similar batches were made in two subsequent years; five hundred guns each in 1992, 1993, and 1995.

1995 saw the introduction of the two-tone Melonited Mark 3 variant (there must have been a Mark II, but info is sketchy), with an accompanying all-stainless Mark 3S coming along in 1996. 

The slide contours of the Mk3 differ from the earlier guns and are somewhat reminiscent of those found on some PC945 variants as well as the later M&P series pistols. They feature ambi safeties, Novak sights, checkered frontstraps, and have hand-fitted barrel bushings and tuned actions. The double-action trigger on the pictured example is nicer than any semi-auto DA trigger I've owned other than my Langdon Beretta.

Production total for the Mk3S was 612 pistols and the catalog price was $1,024.95. The pictured example came with the factory box and, while showing too much wear to excite a real collector, is still in very nice cosmetic condition. It was acquired for $450 in 2020.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Sunday Smith #66: Model 1066, 1991

The history of the 10mm Auto cartridge is well-documented elsewhere (and has been lightly touched on here) but basically it was the culmination of an effort to make an ideal cartridge for a fighting pistol, shooting flatter and further than the .45 and hitting harder than the 9x19mm. 

Unfortunately, the pistol with which it had been developed hand-in-glove was a flop, victim of undercapitalization, manufacturing glitches, and poor sales. With the Bren Ten a failure, the cartridge might have sunk below the waves alongside it, had not Colt launched the Delta Elite, a 1911 chambered in 10mm Auto, in 1987.

Two years later, Smith & Wesson launched the Third Generation variant of their large-frame .45ACP single stack auto in the shape of the Model 4506, and with that groundwork laid, 1990 saw Smith's first 10mm Auto offerings, based on the same frame.

The full-size version, dubbed the 1006, was joined in the catalog with a 4.25" barreled variant, the Model 1066.

With its 4.25" barrel length, 39 ounce weight, and $730 MSRP, the Model 1066 was nearly an overlay for a Colt's Combat Commander in stainless, albeit with a double-action trigger, an ambidextrous safety/decocker, and chambered for the new hotness 10mm Auto.

Production of the 1066 ended after only three years, with 5,076 built from 1990-1992.

The above example, in clean shooter-grade condition with long-dead factory night sights and an aftermarket Hogue grip, was purchased (with one magazine and no box) in 2020 for $500.


Monday, August 10, 2020

Sunday Smith #65: M&P9, 2010

By the early 1990s, Smith & Wesson's dominance of the law enforcement market was starting to erode. While the Third Generation autos were rugged, reliable, and accurate, so was the polymer upstart from Austria, and there was no way to compete with Glock on price, no matter how many cost-saving measures were applied to the 59xx and 40xx pistols.

In a classic example of "if you can't beat them, join them", Smith & Wesson launched the polymer-framed, striker-fired Sigma line of autos in 1994. Despite applying for a number of patents on the design and slathering it with marketing gobbledygook, there was no hiding the embarrassing fact that the Sigma was, for all intents and purposes, a reverse-engineered Glock 17.

Not only did Glock sue, but the launch timing couldn't have been worse, as the new 17-shot 9mm autoloaders started shipping only months before Congress's new so-called "Assault Weapons Ban" went into effect, neutering the magazine capacity of the gun for private citizens and making "pre-ban" standard capacity Sigma magazines among the scarcest and most valuable from '94 to '04.

Smith settled with Glock out of court and the Sigma morphed into the SW (and later SD) line of pistols, going from an attempt to unseat Glock in duty holsters to a budget-oriented offering for cash strapped pistol customers.

Smith withdrew for a while to lick its wounds before making another serious run at the polymer duty gun market in late 2005 with the M&P series, which borrowed its moniker from the classic fixed-sight service, much to the chagrin of some purists at the time.

The scoffers, including yours truly, were wrong. While it never supplanted the Glock as the dominant pistol choice in the holsters of law enforcement and private citizens in the U.S., it was definitely the leading "not a Glock" from its introduction until fairly recently, when that role was taken over by Sig Sauer's P320. From 2006 until about 2017, you could be sure that any holster or accessory that came out on the market, if it were made for anything other than a Glock, would also be made for an M&P.

The pictured M&P9 features two of those accessories: A LaserGrip and a LightGuard from Crimson Trace. Thanks to its replaceable backstraps, the integration of the LaserGrip on the M&P is among the most seamless of any polymer auto.

The pictured pistol, which was my carry gun from the middle of 2011 until nearly the last day of 2015, is kind of unusual. Product Code 150580 is a factory two-tone: the usual black polymer frame with the stainless slide left in its natural color, rather than Melonited black. It's uncommon enough not to be listed in the SCSW4E. I bought it used at an Indy 1500 gun show back in the summer of '11, still in the factory box with three magazines, for $399 and I'd say that I more than got my money's worth out of it.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Sunday Smith #64: .38 Safety Hammerless Third Model, 1893

As was mentioned the last time we looked at a .38 Safety Hammerless on this blog ('way back in Sunday Smith #2), the commonly repeated origin story of these handguns is probably largely hooey.

Gun shop mythology has D.B. Wesson hearing a tale of tragedy, this time of a young girl getting ahold of daddy's revolver and managing to shoot herself after cocking the hammer. Thus motivated, he sat up that night until the design of the Safety Hammerless sprang fully formed, Athena-like, from his furrowed brow.

In reality, regardless of the actual impetus behind the design, the revolver itself was one of the younger Joe Wesson's first projects at S&W, and passed through two iterations of drawings in 1882 and 1884 before appearing for sale in its final form in 1886.

The pictured revolver is the third iteration of the model. It had gone from a complex "Z-bar" latch holding the frame closed to a simpler push-button one. The hammer was locked in place while the latch was being operated, which added redundancy to the grip safety.

Production of the Third Model started at s/n 42,484 in 1890 and ran through s/n 116,002 in 1898, putting the pictured revolver, with a serial number in the mid 60,000's, somewhere in the early half of that range. In the absence of a factory letter, I'll spitball it at 1893.

It was replaced by the Fourth Model, as seen in Sunday Smith #2, which had a sturdier and more easily operated, yet equally simple to manufacture, "T-bar" toggle frame latch.

With seventy-some thousand built, the Third Model is the second most numerically common variant after the Fourth Model.

The thumb latch had to be pushed down to unlatch. It takes a while to get to where you can do this gracefully without trying to hold the gun shut with your thumb while your other hand is trying to open it. Note that the latch, as well as the spring in the topstrap, is blued on this nickel gun.

That little lip at the top of the square recess is the entirety of the locking surface holding the gun closed. Worn guns may pop right open when fired, which can be exciting.

The front sight on the Third Model, as on the First, Second, and Fourth Models, is pinned to the rib atop the barrel. The front sight on the Fifth Model was an integral part of the barrel.

While the trigger retains only vestiges of case coloring, the bluing on the trigger guard is still fairly nice. Looking to see if these areas are still in their original colors is a good first indicator of a re-nickel job. (See again the .38 Safety Hammerless Fourth Model in Sunday Smith #2). The mother-of-pearl grips are nice, but I do not believe them to be the factory stocks.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Sunday Smith #63: Model 4046, mid-1990s

The Smith & Wesson 4046 represents two trends that reached their peak in the mid 1990s. The first is the .40S&W cartridge itself. When "stopping power" became a big buzzword in the wake of the Miami Shootout, the FBI went (briefly) to the 10mm Auto, quickly adopting a downloaded version that achieved ideal results in terminal ballistic testing without tearing up guns and inducing glacial split times.

Meanwhile, South African pistolsmith Paul Liebenberg had gone to work at Smith & Wesson, and convinced them to standardize the wildcat "Centimeter" as the SAAMI-recognized .40S&W. Law enforcement sales were mediocre until congress passed the 1994 ban on new production so-called "high capacity" magazines for civilian sales.

Realizing that the police departments of America were sitting on a gold mine of "pre-ban high capacity magazines", the sales reps of gun companies and LE distributors fanned out across the land, offering a deal to police departments that seemed too good to be true: Swap us those antiquated, underpowered, beat-up used 9mm duty guns, and we'll replace them with these shiny new service pistols chambered in the modern, man-stopping .40S&W! (Please give us all the old magazines, too.)

In the 1990s, Smith & Wesson still enjoyed a commanding position in the duty holsters of America, but it was eroding fast. The initial challenges came from Beretta and Sig, who got some halo glow from military service and a couple big LE contracts. Beretta had scored a win with LAPD in the mid '80s, and the FBI went with SIG Sauer after the S&W 10mm flop. Subsequently, Lethal Weapon and the X-Files sold a lot of 92's and P228's.

Glock, however, had started making inroads around this time. Their price was a powerful selling point, but another they used was the trigger. Unlike the DA/SA triggers common in the duty autos of the time, the Glock had a single trigger pull; the same with every shot.

Back in the revolver days, a large number of departments had converted their wheelguns to DAO*. This was pointed out by the Glock reps pimping G22's in the mid-1990s; "Our Glock 22 is basically a fifteen-shot .40-caliber revolver! Training officers will be easy!"

Beretta and Sig responded with DAOs that were basically their regular DA/SA gun, sans the single-action notch on the hammer. Smith, on the other hand, redesigned the whole thing. The pictured 4046 is not a true DAO, in that it requires the cycling of the slide to partially cock the hammer. The trigger pull then cocks it the rest of the way and fires the piece; there is no restrike capability.

The pull is heavier and longer than a single action pull, but evenly weighted over its travel, smooth, and slightly shorter than a conventional DAO pull. In my personal opinion, it's the best of the factory DAO options except maybe some variants of the HK LEM or a tuned Beretta D-model.

But pulling a DAO trigger consistently while keeping the sights on target is harder than doing the same thing with a shorter, lighter trigger, like the one on a striker-fired gun. Of course, the striker-fired gun is easier to shoot by accident, too. "Well that's just a training issue!" say the striker-fired fans. Yeah? Really? So is being able to hit your target with a DAO trigger.

Due to the current unpopularity of both DAO pistols and .40 caliber ammunition, the above pristine 4046, looking like it hadn't even been issued, was purchased on Gunbroker, along with three 11-round magazines, for under three hundred bucks. It's my current bedside gun.

*Incidentally, revolver conversions to DAO had been for reasons of liability, rather than ease of training, but salespeople don't let fiddly details interfere with the "Features & Benefits" portion of the spiel.