Sunday, November 14, 2021

Sunday Smith #70: Model 3913, 199(4)?

When Smith & Wesson started making their single-stack, double-action 9mm semiauto pistol in the mid-1950s, the Model 39 was pretty typical of the breed.

It had a full-length grip that accommodated an 8-shot magazine, a 4" barrel, and a hammer-dropping safety. In the early Eighties production shifted to the Second Generation versions of the same pistol. These came in three flavors: the Model 439 with an aluminum frame and carbon steel slide, the Model 539 with a carbon steel frame and slide, and the Model 639 with a stainless steel frame and slide. These were still full-size pistols with 4" barrels and 8-shot single-stack magazines.

The earliest single-stack Third Generation autos introduced in 1988 were very similar: The 3904 with a carbon steel slide and alloy frame, and the 3906 with a stainless steel frame and slide.

Soon, however, came a Third Generation single-stack nine that was different than earlier models...

The Seventies and Eighties had seen several custom "chopped" subcompact versions of the Smith single-stack nines, the ASP and Devel.

These went for hundreds of dollars for the custom work, with that price being added on top of the base gun. Reliability could sometimes...well, let's just say it could require a little "tweaking" before things settled out.

Then Smith & Wesson launched their own in-house Model 3913 in 1989. With a barrel chopped to three and a half inches, a shortened grip that still retained an eight-shot magazine, and a no-snag bobbed hammer from the factory, the 3913 was a factory subcompact 9mm that was years ahead of the Kahr or Glock 26. It was utterly reliable, weighed 25 ounces empty, and its MSRP of six-hundred and twenty-two bucks was barely more than what a custom house would have charged to chop a customer-provided 3904 into a compact carry blaster.

It wasn't long after the 3913 was released that the full-sized 3904 and 3906 were discontinued. Apparently someone at Smith & Wesson thought that the future for full-size pistols was in double-stack duty guns, and single-stacks should be compacts.

The pictured pistol shipped from the factory with Novak lo-mount night sights and no magazine disconnect, likely indicating that it was ordered by a police department as a duty or backup gun. It was acquired from a local gun store in 2021 for four and a half bills.


Thursday, November 11, 2021

Sunday, Savage Sunday #5...

When the Savage Model 1907 hit the market in 1908, it had very little competition in the compact pocket autoloader segment here in America. It was pretty much just Savage and Colt.

Bear in mind, however, that this wasn't a situation that would last forever. In 1908, self-loading pistols were still something of a novelty, like robot vacuums in 2008 or electric cars in 2018. It didn't take long for the market to get more crowded, though.

By the mid Nineteen-teens, not only were Savage sales slumping relative to those of the Colt autos, but the two companies had been joined in the semiautomatic pistol field by Harrington & Richardson and Smith & Wesson. Suddenly Roombas and Teslas were all over the place.

The American commercial firearms market was put on a brief pause while the domestic gun companies went all in to Beat the Kaiser and it was almost as though Savage used this as a chance to regroup and redesign.

Measuring a range of hand sizes, Savage designers cut the backstrap of a 1907 frame loose at the bottom and bent it backward until they settled on what seemed to be the ideal angle for a naturally pointing grip. The new, flared grip shape may look less graceful than the original, but it's one of the most naturally-pointing shapes you'll find on a pocket auto.

The new grip shape necessitated a large relief to be scooped out of the bottom of the grip frame to allow clearance for the shooter's thumb when plucking out empty magazines.

The grips on the new pistol featured an improvement as well. 

Original Savage 1907 grips were made of a hard rubber and required a slight amount of flexibility to slide into the slots on the frame. This was because Colt had a Browning patent for affixing the grips of a self loading pistol to the frame with screws.

The problem was that the rubber could get brittle with time, and the fine channels into which the grip panels slid could get clogged with dirt or residue, and grips would break or not fit properly.

By the time the new pistol hit the market in 1920, this wasn't an issue anymore and the revised grip panels were held on with a screw like a normal pistol. (Remington's Model 51, which was released in 1918, still had to dodge the Colt patent with rivet-backed grips that slid on and were retained by the mainspring pin.)

Despite the new Savage going on sale in 1920, the marketing department called it the Model 1917, after the year it was designed. The Model 1917 hit the shelves just in time for a period of sharp deflation now known as the Depression of 1920-1921.

Savage churned out over eleven thousand pistols in that first year of production, but sales were tepid. Between the economic slump and the dawn of Prohibition, crime was spiking. Pressure was on to enact pistol restrictions at the local, state, and national level. With unsold pistols piling up in stockrooms and warehouses, Savage suspended production for much of 1921 hoping to move some unsold inventory before restarting production at a slower pace.

Production continued until 1926, by which time 29,072 of the .32 caliber Model 1917's had been made, as well as a further 14,325 in .380ACP. Other than a handful of pistols assembled from leftover parts by special order, that was the end of the most serious domestic competitor for Colt's semiautomatic pistols until Smith & Wesson released its 9mm thirty years later.

The Model 1917 came in two varieties, known to collectors as the Model 1917-20 and the 1917-22, with the major difference being that the later pistols were marked "SAVAGE 1917 MODEL" in a small italic sans serif font on the left side of the frame where the old SAVAGE billboard marking had been in 1907 models; the 1917-20 was blank there, like the one in the photos.

Advertisement from June, 1914 issue of National Geographic