Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sunday Smith #61: Model 5906, 199(8?)...

When Smith & Wesson introduced the first double-stack DA/SA pistol to the market in the early 1970s, in the form of the Model 59, it didn't exactly set the world on fire.

Some law enforcement agencies switched over, and the pistol saw reasonable sales success with the general public, but America was largely the land of the revolver for nearly another decade and a half. The introduction of the Second Generation of the double stack Smiths, epitomized by the Model 659 in 1982, didn't do a bunch to change that.

The 1980s, however, saw some important events. Both SIG Sauer and Beretta did well in the U.S. XM9 military pistol trials while the 2nd Gen Smith 459 did not, with the Beretta 92 becoming the new M9 service pistol in the middle of the decade. Meanwhile, Hollywood bad guys in Miami Vice and real bad guys in the FBI's infamous Miami shootout led to the perception that the police were getting "outgunned".

SIG and Beretta began picking up LE contracts and so Smith revamped their autopistol line again, with arguably the most important variant, the Model 5906, being released in 1988.

Largely a suite of improvements suggested by Wayne Novak, the Third Generation 5906 remains one of the best pistols of its type ever marketed.

Compared to its predecessor, the numerous changes included an improved extractor, a beveled magazine well, a longer beavertail. The grips went from a pair of glossy nylon slabs to a wraparound matte-textured grip molded of a hard wearing polymer Smith called Xenoy. Ambidextrous safeties were now standard items.

As the production run went on, the backstrap shape changed from arched to flat and Novak lo-mount sights became an option.

Unfortunately, the Smith was still an expensive pistol to make. Fit and finish were at high levels and regular old duty-grade 5906's actually compare well in this department to most non-hand-built 1911s.

The SIG P226 of the day, with its stamped slide, was actually a fairly simple pistol to manufacture relative to the machining-intensive Third Gen Smith. Also, both Beretta and SIG benefitted from the cachet of being European goods in a market that had come to associate "imported" with "upscale", as well as having Hollywood cachet (especially in the case of the Beretta, which was practically the Official Action Movie Hero Gun of the '80s and '90s.)

By the time I was working gun counters in the early Nineties, customers tended to look at a 5906 next to a 226, and see a Chevy next to a BMW, such were consumer perceptions at the time. Worse, both wore the same ~$600 price tag, and there was no convincing people how inaccurate that analogy actually was.

Smith introduced some cost-cutting features, but by the mid-'90s it was too late. The competition by then, whether for consumer or department sales, was no longer against other metal DA/SA guns, but against the polymer striker-fired Glock, and there was no way to compete on price there.

The 1994 Crime Bill with its so-called "Assault Weapons Ban" was probably the final nail in the coffin for the full-featured 5906. They were last listed in the catalog in 1998, although it made sort of a last hurrah, reappearing as the heavily de-contented Value Series Model 910S from '03-'07. That was a 5906 with an alloy frame instead of steel, plastic magazine release and plastic Novak-esque sights, a single-sided safety/decocker, and simple flat bevels replacing the radiused curve for the top of the slide.

The pictured pistol is a very late production law enforcement trade-in. At the earliest the serial number puts it around 1998, but they were still made for LE contracts after they'd been pulled from the commercial catalog, so an exact date is hard to place.

Later features include the Novak lo-mount sights, polymer disconnector (which is actually more wear-resistant than the original metal one), the MIM hammer shared with the Value Edition guns, and the flat backstrap on the Xenoy grips.

The pictured pistol, which was picked up for $350 at Indy Arms Co. a couple years ago, made it through 2,000 rounds of assorted ammunition with zero maintenance of any sort and no trouble at all, save a dud primer and that's not the gun's fault.


Paul said...

Had one of those in .40 but decided I did not see enough benefit from that caliber. The gun itself was good to shoot and it worked well for me. but it funded something else I desired.

It was a little heavy as I recall but that did not detract from its ability to hit the bullseye.

Old NFO said...

Good pistol and the weight helped mitigate recoil! I just never did get used to the DA/SA trigger, which was on me, NOT the pistol.

Chaz said...

Those guns were real tanks! They were issued in Louisville, where the cops were in the habit of spinning them like cowboy gunslingers use to do with SA Colts. That was fine with those loooong DA triggers, but lead to some “interesting” moments after Louisville switched to Glocks, and some cops hadn’t broken their old, bad gunslinger habits! ��

Jim said...

Some years back I knew a gentleman who was a captain in a major city PD(he's now chief actually). One day I ran into him in uniform and noted that he was packing a 4006. "I though you guys packed G22s," I said. He replied, "I like this better." Rank has its privileges I suppose. I do have an example of each generation of the 59 series, and while all shoot well, the 5906 would be my go to of the three if SHTF.

Pigpen51 said...

I currently am trying out my son's S & W 3913. It is a 9mm DA/SA, with an 8 round magazine. It is somewhat heavy, but I like it. I am considering trading something with my son for this gun. This gun was virtually brand new, with perhaps 8 rounds shot through it. He got it from his MIL, who got it when her wife died. I tried to get him to trade for his CZ Rami 2075, but he loves that gun. I knew he did, so do I.
I have a Ruger SR 9c, brand new, and will most likely carry that, from advice I got from a respected gun person I spoke with, who said that it would be much more likely to be trouble free, than a gun made so long age,that could have springs and such that could have failed.


Blackwing1 said...

I'm sure you're so familiar with the the S&W number system(s) that it's second nature to you, but I've found it mostly confusing over the years. For those who (like me) have a hard time figuring it out I thought this might be a nifty chart to link to:

I'm sure it's redundant information for you, our generous blog author, but I found it to be a useful guide and thought others might also.

Tam said...

Chris's chart is super handy for Smith novices!

He did a great job with that piece.