Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Smith #52: Model 61-2 Escort, 1970

Smith & Wesson was traditionally a manufacturer of revolvers. The company's name and fortune had been built on the Rollins-White patent for the bored-through cylinder, and all through the 19th Century they produced nothing but revolvers, save for the occasional single shot target pistol on a top-break revolver frame or shoulder-stocked revolver carbine.

S&W's first foray into self-loading pistols in the early 1900s was enough of a flop that it wasn't 'til the 1950s that they got back into the market, and then with service-sized autos chambered in 9mm rather than the small vest-pocket type like their earlier venture.

Smith had been working on a new pocket pistol already when legislation that was passed in 1968 caused a market vacuum. The Gun Control Act precluded the importation of handguns that could not obtain a certain amount of "points" on a scale that determined their suitability for sporting purposes. Overnight, an entire class of small, inexpensive imported pocket pistols was wiped from the marketplace and a domestic manufacturer would be foolish to not exploit this opportunity for a windfall.

Like a half-century earlier, Smith & Wesson's offering was based on a Belgian design. This time the template was the Pieper Bayard 1908, best known for being one of the smallest .380 semiautomatic pistols ever sold.

By switching from .380 to .22LR, Smith could utilize a much less expensive cast aluminum frame rather than a machined steel one. The resulting pistol, which hit the market in late 1968, was small, light, reasonably-priced and marketed as the Model 61 "Escort", a name suggestive of its intended role as portable protection for pocket or purse.

Not long into the production run, S&W added a magazine safety, with the resulting model marked "61-1", in the company's tradition of denoting engineering changes with a "dash" number. For 1970, a bushing was utilized to allow more precise barrel fitting, and the result was the 61-2 like the example shown here. The last variant, before production ended, was the 61-3 which used a frame machined from an aluminum forging rather than the cast frame of the earlier variants.

This 61-2 in LNIB condition was acquired for just over $200 in February of 2013. The box bears the price tag from a no-longer-extant downtown Indianapolis gun shop. The tag reads "$46.50".

Blue 2-piece box w/reinforced corners. $46.50 price tag from Emro's Sporting Goods.

Padded leatherette carrying case and cleaning tools.

The gun itself, with its "woodgrain" plastic grips. Included in the box is an advertisement for Smith & Wesson-brand ammunition.

Smith & Wesson Model 61-2 Escort with a brace of its Bayard 1908 antecedents, one in .32 and one in .380.

More good info on the Model 61 Escort can be found here and here.