Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday Smith #23: Model 38, 1982

In 1955, Smith & Wesson produced a variation of their aluminum-framed Chief's Special Airweight revolver that had a built-in hammer shroud. Called the Bodyguard Airweight, the new revolver allowed the shooter a smooth, snag-free draw from inside a pocket or under clothing, while still allowing the hammer to be thumb-cocked for single action fire, an option not available on the earlier Safety Hammerless and Centennial revolvers with their entirely enclosed hammers.

The model was an instant sales success, with shooters enjoying the availability of both modes of operation in the slick little fourteen-ounce pocket gun. When Smith made the changeover to model numbers in 1957, the Bodyguard Airweight became the "Model 38" and continued selling well. The distinctive silhouette of the Bodyguard had its moment of infamy in the hand of South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, frozen in Eddie Adams Pulitzer Prize-winning photo.

The Model 38 Bodyguard Airweight was joined by a stainless variant, the Model 638, in 1989. A decade later the stainless gun's sales had so outstripped its carbon steel forebear that the original was dropped from the catalog after a 47-year run. Model 38s remain fairly popular with collectors, but are generally less expensive than Model 37 Chiefs Special Airweight or the Model 42/042 Centennials.

The above revolver, a nickel Model 38 in about 98% condition with box, docs, and tools, was acquired for about $300 back in 2003 which was probably at the outer limit of its value envelope at the time. Currently it might bring as much as $350 with the original stocks fitted and a quick rub with Flitz. But like they say, "You can never pay too much for a gun; you can only buy it too soon."


Jack Gordon said...

More than once I'd squinted at the Adams pic wondering if it was a centennial or a bodyguard. Thanks for clarifying.

Anonymous said...

I have the same grips on mine. Much better than stock!
Sometimes I even forget that I am carrying it because it weighs so little.

Garm said...

My father has one of those, nickel and everything. Great little gun. He bought it as a backup gun when he was a LEO and carried it daily every summer for years. It was (and sometimes, still is) his "carry all the time" gun. Still shoots great, still looks great, and with ammunition performance increasing all the time, is a quite viable defense piece.

He also has a blued Model 38 Bodyguard Airweight and a Model 638 Bodyguard Airweight to complete the trifecta. A couple of years ago a built him a display box for all three.

Garm said...

"a built" = "I built"

I cease proofreading after dinner.

Kirk said...

This was also the pistol that Charlton Heston carried/used in Soylent Green.

Anonymous said...

Just a question, with the aluminum frame is it safe for +p ammo?

Anonymous said...

This weapon is NOT safe with +P ammo. Metalurgy was not up to todays standards.

Anonymous said...

Dion, Thanks for the info, I guess I'd better work up some safe reloads for mine.

Anonymous said...

Which factory ammo would be ok to use in the airweight centennial model 42?