Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sunday Smith #13: Model 49, 1963

Colt's Detective Special revolver was selling like gangbusters in postwar America, and Smith had nothing that really competed with it. The Military & Police was available with a 2" barrel, but was noticeably larger and the I-frame .38/32 Terrier, while smaller, was chambered for the .38 S&W cartridge, which was rather anemic by comparison with the .38 Special round. In 1950, though, Smith launched a potent return salvo in the shape of the .38 Chiefs Special, which was created essentially by lengthening the frame of the old Terrier to allow a longer cylinder which would accommodate the longer cartridges of the .38 Special.

The new frame size, which would eventually replace the I-frame entirely, was designated the "J-frame" and it soon spawned a host of variations. In 1952 an alloy-framed version, termed the "Airweight", was released. In 1955 Smith responded to Colt's offering of a screw-on hammer shroud by offering the "Bodyguard Airweight". The new revolver was basically a Chiefs Special Airweight with a built-in hammer shroud that prevented the hammer spur from snagging on the wielder's coat or a pocket when drawn, like Smith's "Centennial" models, but still allowed the revolver to be thumb-cocked to allow for single-action shooting, which a sizable minority of the revolver-buying public preferred over the double-action-only Centennial.

Soon after, Smith made the change from model names to model numbers, and in 1959 yet another variation on the Chiefs Special was introduced, this time termed just the "Bodyguard" and cataloged as the "Model 49". It catered to those who didn't trust the longevity of alloy-framed revolvers (or found their recoil objectionable,) by replacing the aluminum of the Bodyguard Airweight with standard ordnance steel.

The Model 49 pictured above was made in 1963, and was picked up back in 2003 for under $350, reasonable for a decent Bodyguard of its vintage. The flat thumbpiece for the cylinder latch (on the other side of the gun) was discontinued in '66 and the "diamond grips" went away in '68, but the gun itself remained in production until 1997. Plan to spend anywhere between $225 and $400 or more for one, depending on its age and condition.


Kevin said...

Would I be correct in assuming that the ejector rod is not long enough to kick empties completely clear of the cylinder on that model?

(Beautiful piece, BTW.)

Anonymous said...

Is that a gin-u-wine Lincoln penny?

Tam said...


Thank you, and you are correct about the ejector. A full-length ejector rod stroke on .38 cases only occurs on Smiths with 3" or longer tubes.


A gin-u-wine 1937 penny that I've just been including in all the Sunday Smith photos because... well, just because.

Matt G said...

Pennies are good for showing scale.

Steel J-Frames also sell well to people who shoot them and like the way they shoot, but either don't carry 'em, or don't consider what it's like to carry them. (Those people also by "Combat Commanders.)

That's a fine specimen. I almost said "beautiful specimen," but aesthetically, the Bodyguard ain't beautiful, to my eyes. Damned useful, though.

Unknown said...

Did the Model 49 eventually morph into the 38-3 Airweight?

I just picked up one used that appears to have been fired five shots before the wife told the husband to go get her something she could hit the target with.

It's a pre-lock and pretty as a picture. As soon as she proves herself, it'll replace the Kel-Tec as a pocket carry.

Tam said...

Actually, the Bodyguard Airweight (later the Model 38) preceded the Model 49 Bodyguard.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of the "humpbacks".

I've found my "grail gun" an unfired model 49, 1974 vintage, pinned, factory nickel.

I added a tyler T grip and buffalo horn medallion grips from Ajax.

Sweet pickles!

I just love that gun.

Anonymous said...

I carry my Model 49 (mfd. 1972) everyday I'm on duty. After six years I've yet to find it to find it too heavy.

I purchased it from a retired cop who bought brand new in 73 and carried it everyday he was on duty until he retired in 2000.

A couple years ago I took it into a smith for a tune-up. I figured after thirty-four years it might not hurt to have it looked over.

I was told that my particular speciman was almost like new. With proper care it should outlast me by many decades (I'm 40 now).

It's a great revolver. Oh it might not be very pretty, but it's an "oh-jesus" gun. Not something to be shown off at a BBQ.

Nice piece you have there Tamara.

Walter45Auto said...

I carry a Bodyguard, though mine is the newer 649 chambered for .357 Magnum, which I have a strong preference for. I personally think they do have a beauty to them. It's definitely my favorite gun to carry. The 649 is stainless steel, which is a good bit heavier than the 638 airweight, which is S&W's current .38 Special counterpart (I have compared them side by side,as a friend recently bought himself one.). The weight keeps the .357 Magnum recoil from being punishing and painful. It controls very well with the factory grips that came on it, but I changed to LG-405 Laser Grips. They conceal better, and are laser grips. You need more practice to control the gun with these.