Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday Smith #54: Model CS9 9mm Chief's Special, 1999

After the market failure of their first attempt at a centerfire autoloader in the mid-1930s, Smith & Wesson abandoned that market niche to archrival Colt before taking another run at it with the 1955 launch of the gun that was to become the Model 39.

The Model 39 was a slim 9mm pistol with a double-action first shot and a hammer-dropping safety that was a conceptual copy of that found on Walther autopistols. The pistol eventually became the conceptual head of a whole family of autoloaders of all calibers and sizes, but back in its infancy, one of the most popular modifications was cutting it down to make it more concealable.

Model 39 pistols with shortened slides and grips were sold by Armament Systems and Procedures (ASP), Devel, Trapper Gun, and others I'm likely forgetting at the moment. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before Smith started producing factory compact guns.

It's interesting that one of these factory compact guns marks the twilight of the family of pistols spawned by the Model 39. The "CS9", or "Chief's Special 9" attempted to revive the original name attached to the J-frame snubbie revolver and hang it on what the marketing department called "An Autoloader for the 21st Century".

The problem for Smith was that the gun was nothing of the sort. Every step was taken to trim production costs on the basic early '50s design: Simple plunge-milled slide serrations. Flat bevels instead of radiused curves on the top of the slide. A plastic disconnector.

There was still no way to sell the gun at a price competitive with the plastic, striker-fired guns that were overrunning the market without selling at unsustainable profit margins. Imported players like Beretta and Sig Sauer could hold off the plastic juggernaut for a while by trading on upmarket Euro cachet, but Smith's traditional metal autos found themselves price-shopped against both the invading Glock and the domestic Ruger P-series guns, with the latter being based on a thirty-year younger design optimized to use much cheaper castings for major components, unlike the machining-intensive Smith.

The Chief's Special series, which included a CS40 and a CS45 to go with the 9mm version, was pretty much the swan song of the traditional double action metal-framed Smith auto. Introduced in 1999, the .40 cal version was gone by '03 while the 9mm and .45 variants remained through 2006.

The seven-shot CS9 is a light, easily-concealed gun, not too much larger than the current six-shot Glock 43. Depending on condition, prices could run into the low five bills, but most examples seem to be cheaper. The pictured gun was found in excellent condition in a local gun store counter in 2014 for not a lot of money, three-and-change if memory serves.