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Crosman 451 Hammer saga: Part 2

I went to my friend’s place to use his metal band saw to roughly cut the shape.

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Back to my place, it was time to fine tune the contour with files. I worked mostly with my paper guide but just to be able to compare more directly with the original, I made an imprint in plasticine.

My homemade hammer doesn’t fit perfectly in the imprint but the critical areas are close enough.

4522In the picture below, you can see the layers and you will also notice the finish which is a bit crude. When I reached the end I didn’t have any patience to do a nice sanding job and I wanted to test it as soon as possible.

4523The new hammer fits perfectly in the hammer group assembly but the lowest portion around the pivot hole must be reduced from .250” to .235”.

4524The next critical stage will be to put everything together and in working order.

4525452645274528452945210For the reassembly procedure I used the same pictures as the disassembly. The next image is the Crosman 451 with my homemade hammer ready to be tested.

45211Unfortunately, after installing a CO2 cartridge, loading the pistol, pulling the hammer and taking a first shot that recocked it as it should, the trigger was not responding.

The feeling was the same as if it was in safe mode or in the half cock position.

Something was wrong but what?

When I compared the original with my hammer, they seemed very close. Since I took the measurement by hand with a caliper it is not top notch accuracy.

Because I was returning to work, I decided on another approach to improve the quality of my model.

After scanning the original hammer, in Adobe Illustrator, I traced over the picture to obtain vector lines that can be transferred to my CAD software.

45212Since, this time, the plan was to take advantage of a machine available at work, my model is a bit different than the first one.

It will continue to be a contour approach the same as the first iteration but it should be more precise than my hack job on the band saw.

The machine that will shape the contour sent from the CAD software is a waterjet cutter. It used high pressure water mixed with some fine grit to cut through the steel as if it was butter.

Fabricating the hammer on a CNC mill would be more accurate than what can be obtained with the waterjet cutter but it would also require a lot more preparation work.

What I mean is to be able to shape the metal, the mill has to push the cutting bit against the stock. That push requires the part to be solidly fixed to avoid any movement. Since the hammer is fairly small, holding it in place would be a challenge. Because it would be a single solid piece, both sides would need to be machined. Furthermore the teeth being very small, a very small cutter must be used and normally small cutters are also very short. This means that the teeth of the hammer would be shaped from both sides. Maintaining proper alignment for two setups is difficult. Making a jig is practically an obligation and this represents additional work and expenses. In a production situation it is justified by the number of repetition. What I am doing is one of a kind and the reason why I want to stay away from that option if I can.

This is the new model from which the contour will be exported to the waterjet cutter software. Preparing the cutting guide is fairly quick and, once the machine it set and ready to go, the actual cutting is very quick too.

Most of the time, we are using that machine to prepare big chunks of material to a rough shape that will be completed on a mill for the finished cut. This provides the best mix of time saving and accuracy.

In my case I am trying to get my final product directly from the waterjet with minimal hand finish (or at least a lot less than my first try). It is an experiment for me because with this small part I am flirting with the limits of what is achievable.

The diameter of the jet is .040” so having sharp internal corners is not possible. The jet cannot cut perpendicular all the way through so the walls have a very slight taper. Since, at ¼”, my part is not very thick I guess that it would not be an issue. I also included some serration on the tip of the hammer head region and to minimize fitting, I also added 2 relief arcs at the root of the teeth.

45213This is the result obtained from the CAD file. To prevent the small parts from falling into the tank a holding tab is left in an area where it is easy to file it off. Here we can see the 2 small pieces for thickening the head already cut off from the 1/8” stock and the hammer core still in place on the ¼” stock. They can be removed from the main plate either with a hacksaw or a dremel tool with a cutting disk. We can see that the serration disappeared in the process. My geometry was probably too small for the .040” diameter jet.

45214Since the guide lines were extracted from the same model, I was expecting the result to be a fairly close match. I am not sure what happened because after I cleaned up the holes in the parts and assembled them together I discovered that I would have a lot more filing and sanding than initially expected.

After talking to my friend who cut the part for me, it seems that possibly the pieces have slightly moved under the waterjet pressure. Anyway this is not in a very critical area and consequently I could easily live with it.

4521545216For comparison, I decided to weigh the different hammers. First is the original and the lightest. Sintered steel is metal powder compacted in a mold and heated. I guess the material is porous making it less dense than the one made from steel plates

45217The second is the handmade hammer and it is the heaviest.

45218The one cut on the waterjet is lighter than the handmade one probably due to the quantity of material removed to bring the surfaces at the same level.

45219This is a comparison of the original hammer and the waterjet hammer both at full cock position and they look about the same. I hope that this hammer will work correctly, I will know for sure only after it is reassembled.

4522045221Before putting the pistol back together I took the opportunity to disassemble it one step further in order to get the dimensions of the primary and secondary sears. For doing this kind of job it would have been very nice to have two pistols, one collectible to store away and one beater to experiment on.

45222Unfortunately, after reassembly and shooting test, I obtained exactly the same result as with my first hammer. What a downer!

Back to the computer and the CAD program to try to make sense of the trigger mechanism.

In the next installment: Third time lucky? Time to make another replacement hammer for the 451…

R-Gun Pete

Related Pages

Crosman 451 Hammer Saga: Part 1

Crosman 451 review

Crosman 451 Hammer saga – Part 1

Canadian Pistol Place reader R-Gun Pete recently added a vintage Crosman 451 to his already vast collection of replica pistols. Like many 451 owners, he was concerned about the fragile sintered steel hammer which has been known to break. R-Gun Pete has a background in engineering and access to milling and cutting equipment so he decided to make a replacement hammer in steel so that he could enjoy shooting the 451 without worrying about the possibility of the hammer breaking. However, this turned out to be more challenging than might have been anticipated…

R-Gun Pete tells the story:

I had read about the Crosman 451, but living in Canada, I estimated the chance of ever seeing one available for sale was not very high. So when I came unexpectedly across one in June 2016 I bought it.

4511

Knowing that there was a design weakness with the sintered metal hammer and considering my background I decided to use part of my summer annual leave to make a new hammer for it. Having a sturdier replacement would allow me to enjoy the airgun without worrying that its collectible value could be ruined by a broken part.

This was the beginning of the hammer saga which required several iterations before I was able to reach a positive outcome.

4512After buying the Crosman 451, the next important step was to find the Factory Service Manual and this proved fairly difficult. Most of the other models have their manuals available for free somewhere on the internet but not the 451 (the 622 was another difficult one to get and I ended up buying it).

During my research, I found several eBay sellers from the U.S. who had copies but they wouldn’t ship to Canada except for one who was on vacation until late Fall (which was a bit late for my plan). In despair, I contacted a lot of different people (practically around the world) including Steve who unfortunately didn’t have it but asked me to keep in touch if, eventually, I was able to tackle my project.

In the meantime I bought a vintage air rifle from Mr. Marvin (Airgun Oldies) and as a last attempt I checked with him if, by any chance, he would have a copy of it. Miraculously he had the Factory Service Manual for the Crosman 451 so he kindly scanned it and sent it by email.

The project was now back on track and I was planning to try to make a new hammer during my vacation in August 2016. Before going any further, I should stop to give you some information on my background and motivations.

I was born in a francophone area of Montreal (Quebec) in the mid-fifties. In the sixties, I grew up with cowboy movies, police shows and war movies (the same as a lot of other peoples of my age). At the time, my preferred toys were cap guns but I also liked to read and watch movies. During those days my dream was to have a private screening room and a private shooting range when I was an adult.

In some ways, I have now quasi fulfilled both dreams as I have a large collection of DVDs and Blu-ray movies as well as a large collection of airguns. They are not the actual things but that is close enough for me.

When I was a teenager, English was not my forte. In class, if I could have hidden under my desk to avoid answering questions, I would have done so. Later in life it would change.

In the 70’s, about the time I was in college, it was not clearly evident where to go to buy airguns. Canadian Tire (sort of automotive/hardware store in Canada) was an easy place to find some and I bought a cowboy air pistol. It was not working very well and was very weak so I returned it. Now that I am a collector I regret it (at the time I had no idea that I would become one several years down the road). At some point later, I found an RO72, once again it was not a very good pistol but at least it was working so I kept it (and still have it). Technically, this was my first pellet gun.

After graduating from College, I started my career as a Graphic Artist and Illustrator. I worked in advertising for several publicity agencies and studios over a period of more than 15 years (there were even a few Anglophone agencies in the lot, my English was bad but I was able to get along).

Later I moved to Kingston (Ontario) with my wife after she was hired as a University professor. This move lead to a change of career for me, I got recycled from a Graphic Artist to a Technical Draughtsman.

4513Being in an Anglophone environment my English had a chance to improve. Over two decades and a half, my job also evolved from Draughtsman to CAD instructor and finally CAM instructor (CNC milling). This combination makes for an interesting mix that is (practically) never boring. The interaction with students is really fun and the research projects are really challenging so this makes for a very satisfying job. Nevertheless retirement is approaching in a few years and it is time to start training some young pup to take over.

The computer is a great tool to prepare exam question. In the CAD software the model part is linked to the drawing and it is easy to have question and answer that match together. The students are still required to sketch by hand according to different types of projection such as orthographic, isometric or oblique.

Oblique views were a type of projection that was popular when drafting was entirely done by hand. All the details from the front view were actual shapes and sizes. This meant that circles were still circles instead of being transformed into ellipses and it is a lot easier to draw a circle with a compass than an ellipse. The receding lines were made half the original length at standard angles of 30, 45 or 60 degrees. CAD software cannot produce automatically this type of projection so I was experimenting if I could find a way to make it happen. The following picture is one of these experiments done with one of my favorite subjects (in this case it is an airsoft pistol).

4514Going from my teenage years into adulthood, the same thing happened to me as to a lot of other peoples, the interest in guns of all sorts got on the back burner once girls, jobs and cars took the front scene. Wife, kids and limited available money meant that it stayed on the back burner a bit longer but eventually the flame got rekindled.

In 1997, when I decided to buy an airgun, I still didn’t know that I would eventually become a collector. I just wanted a pistol to plink in my garage. Again Canadian Tire had been my source. I bought a Crosman AutoAir II which replicates an AMT Automag II. This was a dreadful pistol; just thinking of it is enough to make my trigger finger hurt.

My next one was a Crosman 1008 (S&W third generation) which was a better shooter, followed by a Crosman 357 (4” and 8” barrels) looking like a Colt Python. Later I discovered the Army Surplus Store. The place had been a great source of Tokyo Marui airsoft springers until the Canadian government spoiled the fun with Replica Legislation in December 1998. Because I could order more exotic products (CO2 pellet replicas were still legal) through them, it gave me more options than the Canadian Tire store. After several years, it begun to feel that the Army Surplus Store was too slow to get my special orders in so I started exploring the Internet. This really expanded my horizons and gave me access to products I couldn’t get before. This meant access to new airgun products just released in Canada, more powerful airsoft pistols and also replica paintball guns (RAM or Real Action Markers).

I have never been a tinkerer in my youth. Some people like to take thing apart but for me if it is not broken I leave it alone. Since I started my new career I slowly developed the skills to better understand working mechanisms.

The Real Action Markers are really finicky beasts. They have all sorts of problems and the seller was in Alberta so shipping back and forth would turn up to be expensive. This is what got me interested in airgunsmithing. It was possible to have training but it would be offered only on location at the seller’s place. Considering the cost of the course, travel, accommodations plus time off work it was adding up to be too much. Instead I decided to experiment on my sick marker. Either way, I would fix or I would break it but for sure I would learn something and all that for just the price of the marker (which would end up being a fraction of the training cost anyway). I developed a relationship with the seller and he answered my questions so when the marker was fixed, in return for his help, I prepared a repair guide that he could give to other customers. The following picture was a sample of the type of questions I sent him.

4515I am a strange breed of collector. Some people will focus on one pistol and collect all the variants but I went the opposite way: I decided from that point that I would like to assemble a collection that will recreate the history of firearms from black powder to modern pistols without using actual firearms.

However, some of my airguns are not replicas so they are in another type of collection. This time I was trying to cover a whole range of mechanical systems: Break Barrel, Spring Piston, Single Stroke Pneumatic, Multi-Pump and PCP. These include:

  • RO72 (1973-1994) Gun Toy from Milan Italy,
  • Model HB-22 (1991-) and EB-22 (1992-) Benjamin / Crosman Corp – USA,
  • Model 150 (1956-1967) Crosman Corp – USA,
  • Model 2289G Backpacker (1998-) Crosman – USA,
  • Model 1377 American Classic (1998-) Crosman – USA,
  • Model 2240 (1999-) Crosman Corp – USA,
  • WEBLEY JUNIOR (1929-1938) Webley & Scott – England,
  • HURRICANE (1977-2005) Webley & Scott – England,
  • TEMPEST (variant II 1981-2005) Webley & Scott – England,
  • MODEL 2004 DELUXE (2005-2006) Marksman – USA,
  • Gamo Compact Target – Spain
  • Air Arms Alfa-Sport Competition PCP (to be determined but in the 90’s) – Czech Republic.
  • Cometa Indian – Spain
  • Daisy Model 717 – USA
  • Brococks Atomic Super 6 and Grand Prix Super 6 – England
  • 1701P Crosman Silhouette – USA
  • Baikal IZH-46M – Russia

4512845129Through a mixture of pellet guns, BB guns, airsoft guns, paintball markers, RAM’s (Real Action Marker), Flare Blank guns and non-firing replicas, I was able to cover from the 18th century to the beginning of the 21st century. In 2013, I thought that my collection was complete because I was running out of space in the storage cabinets that I owned and it was out of question to buy more gun safes.

The several pictures that will be shown a bit further down will give you an idea of what was my intent but at the same time I must tell you that it is not complete as mentioned previously. I made a liar of myself. Between 2013 and 2016 I bought several new airguns.

Without acquiring any new storage cabinet, it seems that I was able to be creative with 3D space. By making a more efficient use of space I opened up room for my new toys. Unfortunately they won’t appear in the following compilation as this is the 2013 collection. I hope to be able to update it once I am retired and this time it is true that I am running out of space.

My 2013 collection of replica pistols is shown below in 16 picture slide format. It could be noticed that some airsoft pistols are in clear plastic. Because of legislation, at one time that was all that was available on the market.

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45194511045111451124511345114

Now that the introduction is out of the way it is time to return to the topic of interest.

Before I disassembled the 451 for the first time, I carefully studied the instructions and tried to relate each of the steps and parts in the written instruction with the part number shown on the list. As it was a bit confusing, I used color codes to keep track of groups.

45115After doing the disassembly/reassembly routine a fair amount of times in the course of solving the reverse engineering of the hammer, I realized that the procedure is in fact simpler than trying to read the written instructions.

One picture is worth 1000 words… How true it is. You will see in the next pictures.

45116451174513045119451204513145122The sintered steel hammer once removed from the pistol was measured with a caliper. It is not the best way to reverse engineer a part but this is the equipment I have at home.

Whenever I have to repair an airgun, I am trying to do it with what is readily available instead of relying on specialized kit.

These kits can be easy to obtain now but could become unavailable in the future so if I can already find a viable alternative this is my preferred route.

My goal is to replicate the hammer with really basic means: band saw, drill press, dremel tool and files.

The holes are two sizes 1/8” (.125) and 3/16” (.1875).

45123The thickness of the core is about ¼ inch and the head is ½ inch and there is a 3/8 inch long spring pin. The way to simplify the artisanal fabrication is to think in term of 2D shapes.

45124From the dimensions taken on the part a CAD model was made, the intent is to use it to print a template.

As could be seen on the screen there will be a contour for the hammer core and to widen the head two small plates will be stuck on each side. I am planning to use 3/32” spring pins to hold the pieces together.

45125After looking in my box of scrap pieces that I scavenged from the shop at work, I found that I had several good candidates for my need. Those were broken samples from a stretching test. As they are exactly .125”, I can sandwich 2 plates together to make the core and 4 plates are thick enough for the head.

45126After printing the template and gluing it on the plates sandwiched with double face tape, the first step was to drill the holes and to place some pins to hold them together. I also had enough room to also place the shape of the head and once cut it will give me the two small pieces that are needed.

45127This completes the preparation of the job. In the next installment we will see the result of the first try.

R-Gun Pete

Related Pages

Crosman 451 Hammer saga: Part 2

Crosman 451 review

Links

Marvin The Air Gun Guy (Airgun Oldies) http://airgunoldies.com/

Marushin Auto Mag

am1Ah, the 70s. The decade that taste forgot. Big hair, big cars, big movies and really, really big handguns. In many ways the Auto Mag pistol typifies the excess of the 1970s. It was bigger and more powerful than just about any other semi-automatic handgun before or since. It was also almost completely pointless. It certainly produced the power of a .44 Magnum revolver with a little less recoil, but generally, the only time you’ll see a gun this big is when it’s fitted with wheels and being towed behind a team of horses.

am2Somehow, this seemed cool in the 1970s. And no, that isn’t me. My hair was way longer than that in the 70s.

The production history of the real steel Auto Mag was relatively brief and these exist now only as historical oddities and collector’s items. So, it’s perhaps surprising that in 2003 Japanese company Marushin introduced a gas powered, blowback replica of the Auto Mag. But I’m glad they did. Just like the original, production of this replica was brief and you can now find these only on the used market. But it’s worth seeking one out if you can – if you have any interest in handguns and replicas, I defy you to pick one of these up and not have a smile on your face.

Real Steel Background

The idea which became the Auto Mag pistol came from Harry Sanford, a US businessman, in the late 1960s. Sanford wanted to produce a semi-automatic pistol which was capable of shooting the powerful .44” Magnum round, but with less recoil and a larger ammunition capacity than the Smith & Wesson revolvers for which the round was originally designed. Because of the power of the round for which this pistol was designed, a conventional moving slide was rejected in favour of a cylindrical bolt with eight radial locking lugs (similar to the bolt used on the M16/AR15 rifle) and a cocking knob with grip serrations that projects from the back of the main body of the pistol. The final design was complex and required extensive manual input during manufacturing to ensure that the stainless steel elements operated correctly together.

The Auto Mag was offered in two versions. One was chambered for the mighty .44 AMP round which propelled a 15.5 gram projectile at up to 1,650fps (that’s around 2,000 Joules of muzzle energy folks!). The other was the .347 AMP version which used a necked-down version of the same casing to fire a .357” round at over 1,700fps. The only difference between the two versions was the barrel (which was interchangeable). Barrels were available in 6½” and 8½” and with or without vent ribs. Magazine capacity was 7 rounds and all versions featured adjustable sights.

am3Early Auto Mag Model 180 in .44 AMP and with a 6½” barrel.

But just who were the customers that the Auto Mag was intended to appeal to? It’s sheer size and weight ruled it out as a military or police sidearm and (outside Hollywood) for the same reason it was never going to be a viable concealed carry weapon. You can shoot targets and tin cans just as effectively with much cheaper .22” rounds (a .22LR round is less than one tenth the cost of a .44AMP round) and those don’t generate wrist-snapping recoil and blinding muzzle flash. There are certainly people who hunt using large calibre pistols, but their numbers are relatively low and anyway, the Auto Mag doesn’t provide a massive advantage over a revolver as a hunting weapon. I suppose there will always be people who feel a pressing need to win any “my gun is bigger than your gun” argument, but again, the numbers involved are fairly small. In most ways, the Auto Mag was an answer to a question no-one was asking.

am4Don’t you love Hollywood? Only there would a police officer choose a 14” long pistol weighing four pounds as a concealed carry weapon. In Sudden Impact (1983), the fourth of five films featuring Clint Eastwood as “Dirty” Harry Callahan, the main character briefly swapped his iconic S&W revolver for a .44AMP Auto Mag.

In mid 1971, production of the Auto Mag pistol started but the business model adopted was, well, let’s be charitable here and call it “quirky.” It has been estimated that each Auto Mag pistol cost around $1,200 to manufacture in 1971 (and remember that the purchase price of something like the reliable and well-regarded Colt Python revolver was around $200 at that time). To overcome this problem, the company decided to sell each Auto Mag at a price of just $247.50. This meant that they would lose almost $1,000 on every Auto Mag sold, but the idea was that this would generate such massive demand for this pistol that subsequent volume production would reduce manufacturing costs and investors would queue up to pour money into the company. This was a brave (and possibly misguided) approach and in the event, very few people bought Auto Mags. It was therefore no great surprise when on May 3rd 1972, after producing less than 3,000 pistols, the Auto Mag Corporation of Pasdena declared bankruptcy.

However, that wasn’t quite the end of the Auto Mag story. After AMC went bust, several other companies were granted licences to manufacture the Auto Mag. Some of the best known include TDE Corporation, OMC Corporation and High Standard Corporation. Altogether, around 9,500 Auto Mag pistols were produced between 1971 and 1982. These were sold at prices of up to $3,250, much more realistic in terms of manufacturing costs but hardly likely to encourage large numbers of sales.

am5This is one of the later Auto Mag pistols produced by AMT. It doesn’t look anything like the original version but, is it just me or does it look a whole lot like the pistol from the original Robocop movie?

The Auto Mag name was also revived by the Arcadia Machine and Tool Company of Covina, California who produced both copies of the original pistol and a series called the AMT AutoMag II, III, IV and V in the 1980s and 1990s. However these latter pistols were actually of a completely different design and had nothing to do with the original Auto Mag. There are still people who buy and collect Auto Mags in the US, but with ammunition becoming difficult to find (and costing anything up to $8 per round if you can find it!) these aren’t particularly popular shooters.

The Marushin Auto Mag       

This replica is manufactured by Japanese company Marushin and is a replica of the first version of the .44 AMP Auto Mag Model 280 manufactured by the Arcadia Machine and Tool Company of Covina, California. Most parts of this replica are made of high density plastic, though the hammer, trigger, bolt, magazine and some internal parts are metal. It’s a blowback replica where gas is stored in the full size drop-out magazine but it’s designed for 8mm BBs rather than the more common 6mm variety. The Marushin Auto Mag was available only with an 8½” barrel and in black finish with black grips or silver polished finish with brown wood effect or black grips. The one that I owned had a very glossy and rather attractive black finish though I have also seen examples with a more matt finish. As far as I am aware, this replica was introduced in 2003 but is no longer available new though used examples occasionally turn up for sale.

am6This was often (though not always) sold as the “44 Auto Mag CLINT1”. The “CLINT1” refers to the use of the Auto Mag by Clint Eastwood in the movie Sudden Impact. This movie was made in 1983 after production of the Auto Mag had ended. However, two pistols were built specially for use a props in the movie and these were given the serial numbers “CLINT1” and “CLINT2”. Despite this, the Marushin Auto Mag doesn’t feature a serial number.

I believe that Marushin also produced a very similar non-blowback version of this replica. However, I know nothing at all about the non-blowback Auto Mag other than that it is also now out of production.

am16

Packaging and presentation (2.5/5)

The Marushin Auto Mag usually comes in a monster card box with a polystyrene insert though I have seen silver finish versions which were supplied in a light alloy case. This replica comes with a small bag of 8mm BBs, a couple of hex keys for adjusting the hop-up and a manual.

am7This is the box for the silver finish version which also came with a light alloy case.

Visual accuracy 9/10

As far as I can tell (I have never actually seen a real steel Auto Mag) this Marushin replica is completely accurate in terms of size, placement and shape of controls and markings. The only visual difference is that on the right side of the upper receiver (in the position where the serial number is stamped on the original) this has the text “MFG.MARUSHIN.”

am8Markings are engraved deeply into the high-density ABS upper receiver and look much, much better than the more usual painted or laser etched markings.

Functional accuracy 14/15

Just like visual accuracy, the functional accuracy of this replica is 100%. All controls are present and operational as per the original, the bolt must be pulled back and released to cock the pistol for the first shot and the bolt locks back when the last shot is fired. Like the original, this is single action only. The takedown lever on the left side of the frame is operational and takedown allows the upper receiver and barrel to be removed leaving the bolt and bolt carrier mechanism in-situ.

am9Shooting 32/40

Preparing the Marushin Auto Mag for shooting is no different to any other blowback 6mm airsoft replica. Put up to 10, 8mm BBs in the magazine, fill the magazine with green gas, insert the magazine then pull back the bolt and release and you’re ready to shoot.

The Marushin Auto Mag is fairly loud, certainly louder than most 6mm replicas, and the felt recoil from the moving bolt is strong. The 8mm BBs hit the target with notably more authority than 6mm BBs. The very long stretch from the front to the rear sight gives the Auto Mag a decent sight radius and the fact that the rear sight is fully adjustable means that you can get the point of aim and the point of impact to coincide precisely.

am13Oddly, given its size, I didn’t find the Marushin Auto Mag at all clumsy to shoot. The grip is reasonably sized and the balance is good and I found this less of a stretch than, for example, several Beretta 92 replicas I have owned. I found accuracy to be reasonable, with groupings of 1” – 1½” at 6m. I ran six shots from my Marushin Auto Mag over a chronograph on a fairly chilly day in Scotland and I got a low of 240fps and a high of 260fps. Let’s call it an average of 250fps, though I have seen claims of up to 400 fps for this replica. I generally got about two full magazines plus a few extra shots for each fill of green gas.

am104.5mm steel BB (left), 6mm alloy BB (middle), 8mm plastic BB (right)

This is the only 8mm replica I have owned, and I have to say I enjoyed shooting these larger BBs a lot. They may be only 2mm larger than the more usual 6mm BBs, but they feel notably bigger, they’re less fiddly to pick up and load and they smack into the target a lot harder than smaller BBs. I have a feeling that they’d also probably be better at longer range than 6mm BBs as well, though I never did get the opportunity to try this out. The Marushin Auto Mag does have adjustable hop-up though I never tried adjusting it – mine shot just fine as it was and the adjustable rear sight has a good range of adjustment.

Generally, I enjoy shooting smaller replicas. I have no idea why – I don’t have especially small hands, but for some reason I find the grip on things like Desert Eagle and Beretta 92 to be just too big to get a comfortable hold. However, I didn’t have any problem with this replica. And this is so ridiculously big that it’s just fun to shoot. Look at the picture below of my Auto Mag next to one of my Umarex Walther CP88s. The CP88 isn’t particularly small, but next to the Auto Mag it looks like a pocket pistol! But look at the grips – if anything, the Auto Mag has a smaller grip and a shorter reach to the trigger which is why it’s comfortable to hold and shoot.

am11Quality and reliability 12/15

I’m afraid that the mainly plastic Marushin Auto Mag does feel rather light when you pick it up. Its sheer size makes you expect something very heavy indeed, but although it weighs over 2 pounds, it doesn’t weigh as much as it looks as if it should. In some ways that’s good – I imagine shooting the four pound real steel version would get tiring very quickly, but that isn’t a problem here. But I can’t help that wish that more metal had been used in the construction of this replica. The most striking thing about the Auto Mag is its size, and if this replica had the weight to match, it would really stand out in any collection.

am14I did have a few minor issues while shooting my Marushin Auto Mag. The bolt would occasionally fail to lock back on empty and sometimes a BB would not feed into the magazine, leaving me shooting just green gas. However, in general this was fairly reliable and the fact that most of the external parts are made of plastic means that you won’t have to worry about the finish chipping off (on the black version at least, I don’t know how the silver version is finished).

Overall impression 11/15

There are big handguns, there are ridiculously big handguns and then there’s the Auto Mag. The Auto Mag pistol is bigger than a very big thing and that bigness is first and main thing that strikes you about this Marushin replica. The second thing that strikes you when you pick it up is that it feels rather light and a little toy-like (especially with the metal magazine removed). That’s a pity because Marushin also make an all-metal, shell ejecting PFC version of the Auto Mag and there seems no reason (other than cost) that they couldn’t have used more metal here.

am12However, if you ignore the lack of weight, this is a sturdy, well-made replica which shoots reasonably well. I also found that, despite its size, it was easy to find a comfortable grip, something I haven’t found with all large replicas.

Conclusion

This is a good replica of a relatively little known pistol. I particularly enjoyed shooting with 8mm BBs instead of the more usual 6mm versions and I’d like to see more replicas in this calibre. These larger BBs probably make this replica too powerful for skirmishing, but they are ideal for the kind of target shooting that I do.

am15Do you really need a replica this big? Of course not! On the original, the size is justified because the Auto Mag shoots a massively powerful round capable stopping a charging T-rex. However, this replica isn’t any more powerful than most and is less powerful than some. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. If you do want one, your biggest problem will be finding a used example as these aren’t made any more. The polished silver version with wood effect grips and which came with an alloy case looks particularly good, if you can find one. So, go ahead, make your day – get yourself one of these.

Total score 80.5/100

Cons

Mainly plastic and fairly light

Not especially powerful

Hard to find nowadays

Pros

Handles and shoots well

Great visual and functional replica of an unusual handgun

Fun

Related pages

Umarex Desert Eagle

Umarex Ruger Superhawk

The Austin Magic Pistol

I sometimes wonder if our current obsession with safety has gone too far. Do replica manufacturers believe that there are people so stupid that they don’t realize that shooting yourself (or anyone else) with a pellet or steel BB traveling at over 400fps is a really, really bad idea? And if there are such people, will putting big blocks of “safety” text on replicas actually stop them? I don’t think so. Same with kid’s toys – anything smaller than a grapefruit is a “choking hazard” and anything sharper than an elbow is simply unacceptable. But how will our children learn about safety and responsibility if we never allow them to do anything that has the potential to hurt?

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However, when I look back at some of the replica (and toy) guns from the 1950s, I think that maybe we are actually better off today. One such gun which I came across recently was the staggeringly, incandescently stupid Austin Magic Pistol. Now, this isn’t really a replica gun (well, it’s a sort of replica of an imaginary ray-gun I suppose) but it’s just so completely insane that I thought I’d share it with you here.

Back in the 1950s, science and science fiction were big news. People were seriously talking about things like nuclear powered vacuum cleaners and television shows like Captain Video and his Video Rangers, Rocky Jones – Space Ranger and Space Patrol were thrilling small boys around the world. If you didn’t fancy a western styled toy gun then the chances were that what you really wanted was a working ray-gun.

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The King of the Rocket Men had a cool ray-gun in 1949. Even if it did look a bit like a Luger with an ice cream cone stuck on the front.

Of course, toy manufacturers were keen to cash in on this promising interest in science and science fiction. For example, in 1950 US toy manufacturer A.C. Gilbert introduced the Atomic Energy Lab, an “educational toy” which contained, amongst other things, a Geiger counter and several samples of radioactive materials including Uranium bearing ore samples. There is little doubt that little Jimmy (or Jemima) would quickly have learned all about the wonders of atomic energy when they started growing extra limbs after playing with this, but parents become worried when they noticed that their children were beginning to began to glow in the dark. What mum and dad really wanted was a “scientific” toy that was a little safer for their children to play with.

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Exciting! Safe! The 1950 Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab, complete with Uranium and Geiger counter. You couldn’t make this stuff up…

Happily, at about the same time the Austin Manufacturing Company of Port Austin, Michigan released the Austin Magic Pistol 38mm Special. This looked a bit like a Buck Rogers ray-gun and provided reassurance for parents as it was described as “harmless” and was claimed to have been “thoroughly tested for safety by the Detroit Testing Laboratory”. Period advertising went on to explain that the Austin Magic Pistol used something called “magic crystals” to shoot ping-pong balls. Well, that sounds pretty safe, doesn’t it? I mean, what could possibly be dangerous about a replica ray gun that uses crystals to shoot ping-pong balls?

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1950 advertising for the “Harmless” Austin Magic Pistol.

There are actually a couple of clues in this advert which should probably have raised a red flag to any concerned parent. First, the advert happily notes that the Magic Pistol goes off with a bang “as loud as a .45” cal. pistol or 12 Gauge shotgun” which suggests a reaction of some violence. And it claims to fire a ping-pong ball up to 100 feet. Even allowing for manufacturer’s hyperbole, just think for a moment about the kind of muzzle energy needed to shoot something as large and light as a ping-pong ball 100 feet!

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So, just how did the Austin Magic Pistol work? Well, the “magic crystals” were actually Calcium Carbide (CaC2) which, when mixed with water, undergoes a violent chemical reaction to produce extremely flammable acetylene gas. The Calcium Carbide crystals were placed inside a compartment which formed the main body of the pistol and then water was added and an end-cap screwed in place. The CaC2 reacted with the water and the compartment rapidly filled with acetylene. Pulling the trigger produced a spark which explosively ignited this gas, propelling the ping-pong ball out of the muzzle with a deafening report.

amp6However, there were a couple of tiny safety issues which the advertising doesn’t mention. First, the reaction when water is mixed with CaC2 is violent and can lead to fragments of reacting CaC2 being thrown off. Get some of this in your eye and there is a good chance that you’ll lose it. Second, there was nothing to stop an enterprising child from adding more than the recommended amount of CaC2 and water, producing a bigger and more powerful explosion when the trigger was pulled and providing a very real risk of blowing off the tinplate end-cap and liberally dousing the shooter’s face and head with burning acetylene. Finally, even when using small quantities of magic crystals, each shot involved the ping-pong ball leaving the muzzle at high velocity followed by a tongue of flame of up to eight feet long. Just imagine shooting at your little sister with one of these (Because you just would, wouldn’t you? After all, it’s “harmless”). If the ping-pong ball didn’t get her, the flame-thrower certainly would.

Nowadays, none of these features would be considered ideal in a child’s toy but back in the 1950s I guess that parents just shrugged and decided that this was probably safer than letting their kids play with Uranium. It also rather makes you wonder just who the Detroit Testing Laboratory were – they were the people who Austin claimed had “thoroughly tested for safety” the Magic Pistol.

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The Austin Magic Pistol gives hours of harmless fun for children and provides them with the opportunity to meet lots of interesting people like fire-fighters, paramedics and plastic surgeons.

Below you can see a YouTube video of someone actually firing an Austin Magic Pistol. You may notice a couple of basic issues. First, the shooter spits into the rear compartment of the pistol to start the reaction that produces acetylene. Without any form of eye protection (don’t try this at home, kids!). And second, he is holding in his hand a not particularly robust tinplate toy that is now sixty-five years old and almost certainly corroded and inside which a fair sized explosion takes place. You know, maybe we do need that safety text on our replicas after all!

I’m guessing that a fairly small amount of CaC2 was used when filming this video because the flame produced by the Magic Pistol is fairly small, perhaps only eighteen inches long. Contemporary reports suggest that this toy was capable of producing a much, much larger flame on firing. Which makes it even more odd that the instructions for the Magic Pistol suggested that it could be fired without a ping-pong ball in place “into the palm of the hand.” Look at the picture below and imagine a hand held directly in front of the muzzle. Can you see a potential safety issue here? I wonder if the Detroit Testing Laboratory tried that…

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Austin Magic Pistols still occasionally turn up for sale on e-bay and other places, but if you are thinking about adding one of these to your collection there are a couple of things you should be aware of. First, this is now classed as a firearm in many parts of the world and owning one may be illegal. Following a number of accidents involving Magic Pistols the state of Virginia in the US for example passed a law in 1950 making illegal any toy gun which “by action of an explosion of a combustible material discharges blank or ball charges.” The second thing to think about is whether you want to actually shoot something like this. The explosion which propels the ping-pong ball out of the muzzle is extremely violent and there is a chance that the now brittle tinplate which forms the rear part of the magic crystal compartment may blow off, spraying your face with red-hot shrapnel and burning acetylene. If you do decide to shoot one of these, you’ll need to use eye and ear protection and you should hold the Magic Pistol as far away from your face and body as possible before you pull the trigger. I’d suggest at least 100 feet away.

amp9So, there you go. A (sort of) replica pistol from the days before safety was invented and when real men laughed at the prospect of being enveloped in a cloud of burning gas. Kind of makes you appreciate modern replicas, doesn’t it? I mean, if you are careless with a modern replica pistol, you can certainly injure yourself. But if you had messed around with the Austin Magic Pistol you might not only have incinerated and/or blown yourself and any spectators up, you might also have burned down your house. With a kid’s toy!

Nostalgia gives you a nice, warm feeling inside. The Austin Magic Pistol potentially combines this with an even warmer feeling all over.

Happy shooting. But not with one of these…

The handgun designs of John Moses Browning – Part 3

1910 – 1926

FN Model 1910

When Browning offered Colt the design for what would become the FN 1910, they turned it down, presumably because it was felt to be too similar to the existing Colt 1903/1908 Hammerless Pocket Pistol. Browning then offered the same design to FN who readily accepted it. Unlike the Colt Model 1903 which it resembled, the 1910 incorporated an internal striker, similar to that used in the FN 1906/Colt 1908 Vest Pocket Pistol. Like those earlier pistols, it also had a manual safety on the left side of the frame (which could also be used to prop the slide back), a grip safety and a magazine release in the heel of the grip. The slide did not lock back when the last round was fired and no slide release was provided.

jmbg33When it was first offered for sale, this model was simply described as the New Model Browning Automatic Pistol (to distinguish it from the existing FN 1900 which became known as the Old Model), and the designation Model 1910 wasn’t introduced until the 1920s. The 1910 was initially offered in .32ACP (7.65mm) calibre though a .380ACP (9mm Short) version was added soon after. Both versions were externally identical. Several versions of the 1910 were produced. Most lacked conventional sights, being provided only with a wide groove milled in to the top of the slide, though some models produced after 1922 had small, fixed sights similar to the sights on the Colt 1903.

jmbg35Spanish Danton Pistol, very similar to the FN1910

Its small size and the lack of a hammer or sharp edges made the FN 1910 a popular concealed carry weapon and it was used by a number of European police forces in the period up to the beginning of World War Two. This pistol was also scaled up to produce the otherwise identical FN Model 1922. During the war, the FN factory was occupied by Germany and large numbers of FN 1910/Model 1922s were produced and used to equip German armed forces. Production of these models continued after the war up to 1975 and around 750,000 were produced in total. The popularity of the 1910 led to the production of a number of copies, including the Bufalo and Danton pistols in Spain, the German DWM, the Bayard and Melior in Belgium and the Praga in Czechoslovakia.

jmbg37FN Model 1922, basically a scaled-up FN Model 1910

This pistol became famous (or perhaps infamous is a better word) when a young Bosnian Serb called Gavrilo Princip, used a .380ACP FN 1910 to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro Hungarian Empire and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo. One month later, this event led directly to the outbreak of World War One. The FN 1910 was also used in the fatal shooting of French President Paul Doumer in 1932 and was said to have been involved in the killing of US Presidential hopeful and Governor of Louisiana Huey Long in 1935.

Replicas

There is, as far as I am aware, only one shooting replica of the FN1910 and that’s the spring powered, 6mm Smart K17. Not a great replica, but not terrible either despite having a conventional sights and a pivoted rather than a sliding trigger.

jmbg32Smart K17 review

Colt Model 1911

Classic. Seminal. Iconic. Choose your superlative – you won’t be wrong. Browning’s Colt Model 1911 was so clearly right in every way that it had a huge influence on subsequent semi-automatic handgun design and virtually every semi-auto that followed was no more than a variation on this original theme. But, here’s the thing: If you have been following this series of articles, you’ll realise that this design wasn’t the result a single flash of inspirational genius, it was a logical progression from Browning’s earlier designs and a direct response to the rejection by the US Military of the Colt Models 1900 and 1902.

jmbg38World War Two poster features a GI with a Colt 1911

The purpose of the new design was to win trials at which the US Army would be choosing a new sidearm, so it was targeted very specifically at meeting army requirements. The army had felt that the Models 1900 and 1902 were underpowered, so the new pistol would be chambered for the more powerful .45” ACP round. The army had felt that the 1900 and 1902 were clumsy, heavy and unbalanced, so the new pistol would be smaller and better balanced. The army had felt that both earlier models were too prone to accidental discharge, so the new pistol would be provided with a manual safety. The army had insisted on the Model 1902 Military having a mechanism that locked slide back on empty and a slide release, so the new pistol would have both of these features. The army approved of pistols that could be stripped without tools, so the new pistol would have the removable barrel bushing from the Model 1902 Sporting Model.

jmbg39An early M1911

The US Army also had a significant number of cavalry units (as did virtually every other contemporary army) and this raised further requirements. A cavalry trooper must be able to use a pistol with one hand, so all the controls on the new pistol had to be operable while holding the pistol in the right hand. A manual safety high on the left side of the frame had been used on several previous Browning pistols and this can readily be operated by the thumb of the right hand, so that would be used on the new pistol. Cavalry pistols also needed to be drop-safe, even with the safety disengaged, so the new pistol would incorporate the grip safety first seen on the Model 1903 Hammerless.

jmbg310A later M1911A1

The requirement for one-handed use also led to the only really new feature of the Colt 1911, the button style magazine release on the left side of the frame. All previous Browning designs had used a magazine release in the heel of the grip which required the use of two hands but the new style of release could be operated with just the thumb of the right hand. This wasn’t something completely new – the Parabellum P08 (Luger) pistol already had a similar arrangement, but it was a first on a Browning pistol. So, you can see that the Colt Model 1911 wasn’t so much something entirely new as a synthesis of the best features of previous Browning designs. However, it was the first time all these things had come together in a single pistol and the result revolutionised semi-automatic handgun design.

jmbg34US soldiers in World War One proudly display their Colt 1911s

A great deal has been written about the success of the 1911, so I’m not going to go into too much detail here. It was adopted by the US Army and remained the principal sidearm of that organisation for seventy-five years. It became very popular in civilian hands too (at least in the US) it it’s still possible to buy something very like the original 1911 now. The reasons for its success are easy to understand: the 1911 was easy to use, simple, rugged, powerful, its slim grip suited a range of hand sizes and it was relatively inexpensive to manufacture. Was it perfect? Of course not. The magazine could hold just seven of the fat .45” ACP rounds, some people found the stretch to the trigger to be too long, the sights were rather small and hammer bite was an occasional issue for unwary shooters. However, all of these things (with the exception of limited magazine capacity) were addressed in the refinements seen in the M1911A1 introduced in 1927.

jmbg36Something a little different – one of the few photographs of the planned FN Grand Browning, a scaled-down version of the Colt 1911

The Model 1911 didn’t make John Moses Browning famous. He was already famous when this pistol was released. But it did assure him of a place in the pantheon of truly great designers. And it made Colt a very great deal of money. Oddly, the 1911 didn’t sell particularly well outside America, probably because the .45” ACP round just wasn’t so popular elsewhere. FN had plans to introduce a pistol called the FN Grand Browning, basically a 7/8th size copy of the 1911 chambered for a new 9.65mm round. However, production was limited to a few prototypes and plans to introduce this pistol were abandoned completely during World War One.

Replicas

jmbg311Unlike all the other pistols discussed in this series of articles, there are simply so many versions of the Colt 1911 available as replicas that it’s impossible to list them all. You can have a CO2 powered pellet shooting version (The Umarex Colt Government 1911A1), many gas and CO2 versions in 6 and 4.5mm, with and without blowback and even spring powered versions. Virtually every model of the 1911 from the original M1911 to modern railed versions are available as replicas. You’ll find links below to 1911 replica reviews on this site.

Umarex Colt Government 1911A1 review

Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness review

ASG STI Duty One review

Tokyo Marui Colt 1911A1 review

Marushin Kimber Gold Match review

Vintage air pistol review: The Marksman Repeater

Vintage air pistol review: The Crosman 451

Colt Woodsman

The Colt 1911 was the final semi-auto pistol designed wholly by John Moses Browning. However, before he died he was responsible for the initial design work on two more pistols which would achieve lasting fame.

jmbg312Colt advertising from early 1915 drawing attention to the release of a new model.

Even as the Colt 1911 was being accepted by the US Army, Browning was working on a quite different design, this time for a .22” semi-auto target pistol using rimfire LR cartridges. Up to this time, no-one had been able to make a semi-auto which reliably fed the tiny .22 rounds. The problem was that these rounds had a pronounced rim and, when they were stacked in a magazine, the rims tended to interleave, catching on one another as the top round was fed to the breech. Like all the really great ideas, Browning’s solution to this problem was so simple and obviously right that it seems incredible that no-one else had thought of it before. All Browning did was to design a magazine that was slanted at an angle of around 25°. This meant that the rim of each round was slightly in front of the rim of the round stacked below, allowing reliable feeding.

jmbg313Early Sport Model

Browning sold the design for this pistol to Colt in 1911. His initial design was then refined by two Colt Engineers, F.C. Chadwick and G.H. Tansley, and the new pistol went into production in 1915 as the Colt Automatic Pistol Caliber .22 Target Model (the name Woodsman wasn’t applied to this model until 1927). The pistol was single action only, had a grip slanted to match the ten round magazine, a short slide which ended above the trigger, a manual safety on the left side of the frame and a magazine catch in the heel of the grip. Both front and rear sights were adjustable. This wasn’t a hammerless design – like the Colt Model 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol, a hammer was hidden inside the rear of the slide. The new pistol was sold in three variants: the Sport Model had a 4½” barrel, the Target Model had a 6” or 6½” barrel and the top-of-the-line Match Target Model had a much heavier, flat-sided 6” or 6½” barrel.

jmbg31Series 2 Target Model

The new pistol was an immediate commercial success for Colt who went on to produce three distinct series, each incorporating minor improvements (the second series, for example, made from 1947 – 1955, had a slide release and a button style magazine release on the left of the frame) until production finally ended in 1977. Around 700,000 examples of the Colt Woodsman were produced in total. The majority were civilian sales though during World War Two examples were used by the OSS (the forerunner of the CIA) who were to experimenting with the use of sound suppressors.

Replicas

jmbg314Healthways Plainsman

As far as I know, there are no current gas or CO2 powered replicas of the Colt Woodsman of any kind. A great pity because this is another of those Browning designs which I’d love to see as a fully-functional blowback replica. If you like vintage air pistols, there was the Plainsman, a BB shooting, CO2 powered pistol manufactured from 1969 – 1980 by US Company Healthways which was (sort of) a replica of the Woodsman. In the 1980s a Japanese company called Falcon Toy made a 6mm, metal, spring powered, shell ejecting 6mm replica of the Woodsman Series 3 Match Target Model, but very few of these are still around today.

Vintage air pistol review: the Healthways Plainsman

I have also seen photographs of what I think is a current Chinese, spring powered Woodsman Series 2 or 3 Sport Model replica, but I have never actually handled one of these and I know nothing about this replica at all.

jmbg315A Chinese, spring powered Colt Woodsman replica. Probably.

However, there is a neglected and, in my opinion, undervalued replica which comes close. This is the Umarex Buck Mark URX, a pellet shooting, single shot, break barrel springer. It’s a replica of the Browning Buck Mark target pistol which is itself a .22” LR development of Browning’s original design for the Woodsman. The Umarex URX isn’t especially powerful (295fps is claimed) but it is very accurate and satisfying to shoot. Until something better comes along, this is as close as replicas shooters can currently get to the Woodsman experience.

jmbg316The Umarex Buck Mark URX

Browning Hi Power

By 1926, seventy-one year old Browning was tired. That was unsurprising. He was travelling regularly from Utah to Liege in Belgium. Nowadays, that might take a day or so, but back in the 1920s the return journey by land and sea could take anything up to twenty days. Browning made this gruelling trip 61 times between 1900 and 1925, spending the equivalent of almost three years of his life travelling between Europe and the US. On November 26th, 1926 Browning was working at his desk in the design office in the Herstal factory. He had been complaining of chest pains for several hours and when he started to feel faint, he went and lay on a couch in a nearby office being used by his son Val. “Son, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am dying”, he said. Tragically he was right and within minutes John Moses Browning was dead.

jmbg317An early Browning Hi Power

Before he died, Browning had presented FN with two prototypes of a new pistol design he was working on. This was an attempt to produce a military sidearm chambered for the 9mm round which would overcome one of the main drawbacks of the 1911 – its limited magazine capacity. After his death, these designs were worked on by Dieudonné Saive (Browning’s assistant who later went on to become Chief Designer for FN) and developed into the Browning Hi Power in 1935. I won’t go into too much detail here about that pistol because I have already written a separate article on the development of the Hi Power – you’ll find a link below. It’s probably enough to say that the Hi Power was developed over the years to remove some early problems and went on to become a very widely used military sidearm which is still in production today.

Classic Handguns: The Browning Hi Power

Replicas

jmbg318Tanaka 6mm Hi Power Mark III

There are a few Hi Power replicas available. Tanaka and WE produce gas powered, blowback 6mm versions and Umarex and Turkish EKOL produce CO2 powered 4.5mm, non-blowback versions. However, none of these are without issues and given the vast range of 1911 replicas, it’s surprising that there aren’t more replicas of the Hi Power.

WE Browning Hi Power review

Conclusion

A reciprocating slide incorporating an ejector and an ejection port which locks back when the last shot is fired. Field stripping without the need for tools. Double column magazines. These are just some of the things that we now take for granted in the design of semi-automatic pistols but they can all be traced back to the work of John Moses Browning and most were produced during a burst of creative energy that spanned a twelve year period at the end of the Nineteenth Century and the beginning of the Twentieth.

jmbg319John Moses Browning (and Mr Burton of Winchester) examine a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) in 1921

Three of Browning’s pistol designs (The Colt 1911, Browning Hi Power and Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless) are still in production and still being used today. Genius is a grossly overused term nowadays, but I don’t anyone could object if you called Browning both a genius and the person single-handedly responsible for the way that modern semi-auto pistols look and function.

One of the things that writing this series of articles prompted me to think about is the range of currently available replicas. There are certainly far more shooting replicas now than there were, say, ten years ago. But these, and especially blowback replicas, seem to focus on variants of a relatively few models (mainly the Colt 1911, Beretta 92, Sig P226 and Glock) and there are still notable gaps. I think many replica collectors and shooters would welcome new replicas and especially replicas of historic pistols – just look at the popularity of existing replicas of historic pistols such as the Colt SAA, Makarov and Luger for example. Let’s hope that in the future, replica manufacturers start to look beyond the 1911 and the Hi Power to give us replicas of some of John Moses Browning’s other classic semi-auto pistol designs. A blowback Colt Model 1903 Hammerless? Or a Colt Model 1900? Or an FN Model 1910? Or a blowback Colt Woodsman? Hell yes!

Happy shooting

The handgun designs of John Moses Browning – Part 2

1902 – 1908

Colt Model 1902

The Colt Automatic Pistol achieved some sales but nothing to equal the success of the FN M1900 in Europe and Colt continued to refine and improve the basic design. This resulted in the Colt Model 1902. Now, this wasn’t really a new pistol, it was just a development of the original Colt Automatic Pistol but it did introduce new features which make it worth looking at in detail. The Model 1900 was produced in two versions; The Sporting and the Military Models which I’ll discuss separately.

Colt M1902 Sporting Model

The Colt M1902 Sporting Model was overall very similar to the original Colt Automatic Pistol (many of the same jigs and dies were used in manufacturing). It was chambered for the same .38” ACP round but the M1902 did introduce a number of small improvements and refinements. The sight safety was removed though it wasn’t replaced – neither version of the Model 1902 had any form of manual safety. The only way to safely carry a 1902 when a round had been chambered was to manually lower the hammer to a half-cock position, something that led to all too many accidental discharges. Slide serrations were now deeper and at the front of the slide and many 1902s had a smaller, rounded hammer following criticism that the hammer on the Colt Automatic Pistol was so large that it obscured the sights. All Sporting Models were finished using Colt’s charcoal blueing process which involved placing the parts to be blued in a large coal-fired oven and both wood and black hard rubber grips were used.

jmbg22Colt Model 1902 Sporting

However, the single most significant change was the introduction of a spring-loaded plug in the end of the recoil-spring housing to allow for field stripping without tools. We now take it for granted that the slide on any semi-auto pistol can be removed without using tools, but this was the first John Moses Browning design (and one of the first semi-auto pistol designs) where this was possible. Almost 7,000 M1902 Sporting Models were produced up to July 1907.

Colt M1902 Military Model

The Colt M1902 Military Model was very similar to the Sporting Model but it did incorporate additional changes suggested following US Army trials of the Colt Automatic Pistol. These included a longer grip incorporating a lanyard ring (the longer grip also allowed a larger eight round .38” ACP magazine). However, the most important change was in response to a military request that the slide should remain back when the magazine was empty to make reloading simpler. Browning designed a simple mechanism that would hold the slide back after the last shot was fired and added a small slide release catch to the left side of the frame. This is another of the features that we now take for granted in a semi-automatic pistol. It seem so self-evidently a good idea that it’s difficult to imagine that this wasn’t a feature of all these early pistols, but the M1902 Military Model was the first time that this was seen.

jmbg21Colt Model 1902 Military

Colt were very confident that the US Army would be impressed by the new pistol and two hundred examples of the M 1902 Military were supplied for testing in 1902. These were distributed to a number of cavalry and other units for evaluation. It took almost a year for the army to say what it thought of this pistol and the results were a crushing disappointment to Colt. The army considered the 1902 to be insufficiently powerful, liable to accidental discharge, hard to use one-handed, unbalanced, heavy, clumsy, unsafe and possibly even dangerous. The conclusion was that the M1902 was fundamentally unsuited for military issue. Colt were stunned and for the next few years their semi-automatic handgun production would focus on “pocket pistols” for the civilian market.

jmbg23Mexican revolutionaries around 1912. The lady on the left is packing a Colt M1902 Military Model.

Remarkably, given the US military lack of enthusiasm, Colt sold around 18,000 Model 1902 Military versions until production ended in 1928. Although this pistol was never officially adopted by any military unit, it became widely used in both the Mexican and Chilean revolutionary and armed forces in the early years of the Twentieth Century. Further development of this pistol led to the Colt Model 1905 (the first Colt semi-auto to be designed for the new, more powerful .45” ACP round) but this was simply a further refinement of the M1902 and had little involvement from Browning so it won’t be covered in this article.

Replicas

Nope, nothing at all. Sigh!

Colt 1903/1908 Pocket Hammerless Pistol

Following the rejection of the Model 1902 by the US Army, Colt decided that it might be best to focus on the civilian market for semi-auto pistols. The Models 1900 and 1902 both sold reasonably well to the civilian market, but what was wanted was a small, light semi-automatic pocket pistol which could be carried in a pocket, handbag or concealed holster and drawn quickly without fear of snagging. Sometime in 1901, Browning offered Colt the design for a new design based around the .32 ACP round which FN had used in the M1899/M1900. Colt readily accepted and in August 1902 released the new gun as the Model 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol.

jmbg24Despite the name, the Model 1903 wasn’t hammerless at all – the hammer was concealed inside the rear of the slide. Mechanically, it was a relatively simple and reliable straight blowback design with a single action trigger and a fixed barrel. A manual safety was included on the left side of the frame (the safety could also be used to prop the slide open) and it incorporated a grip safety in the rear of the grip – the first time that this feature was seen on a Browning designed pistol. Unlike the Model 1902 Military, the slide on the 1903 did not lock back after the last shot was fired. The release for the magazine was a serrated catch on the heel of the grip, a great improvement over the fiddly catch on previous Browning pistols. Weighing just 1.5 pounds and seven inches long overall, the 1903 Hammerless was a compact, easily concealed weapon which stood out from the bulky handguns generally available when it was released.

jmbg215General Officers Pocket Pistol, a version of the Colt Model 1903 Hammerless issued to senior officers in the US Army up to the 1970s

In contrast to the Models 1900 and 1902, the Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless was an immediate and spectacular commercial success for Colt. More than half a million were made between 1903 and the end of production in 1946. In 1908, Colt added the Model 1908 Hammerless Pocket Pistol to their range, which is essentially the same pistol chambered for the .380 ACP round (a slightly less powerful cartridge than the .38” ACP used in the Model 1902). In addition to being popular with private owners, the Colt Models 1903 and 1908 were adopted by a number of Police departments in the USA (Including New York City Police) and were issued as a sidearm to General Officers in the US Army until the 1970s (Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, Marshall and Patton all carried this model during World War Two). It was also issued as an officer’s sidearm to Republican Chinese forces in the 1920s and 1930s and was adopted by Shanghai Municipal Police at the same time. Interest in the 1903 remains so high that, in early 2015, Colt announced that they would resume limited production of this pistol.

Replicas

Finally, we have a replica to discuss! Given how popular the cartridge firing version was, it’s actually surprising that there only seems to be one replica of the Colt 1903 Hammerless, and that’s a Chinese made, 6mm, spring powered all-metal version. I have seen this sold as both the Smart K-28 and the XueLang Smite 32. Overall, it’s not a bad replica given its limitations, but wouldn’t you love a blowback version of the Colt 1903 Hammerless? I know I would!

033Smart K-28. Stupid grips, but otherwise not actually a bad replica of the Colt 1903 Hammerless.

Smart K-28 review

FN Model 1903

FN also purchased Browning’s design for the same pistol, but FN enlarged it in size by around 15% to produce the very first semi-automatic pistol chambered for a 9mm round (the 9x20mm SR Browning long cartridge) – the Parabellum P08 (Luger) and the Mauser C96 pistols were still chambered for the 7.65mm round at this time. The FN Model 1903 was mechanically very similar to the Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless, but it was notably bigger (the overall length increased from seven to eight inches and the barrel on the FN version was 5” long compared to 4” on the Colt). FN sold this pistol in Europe and elsewhere as the Browning Modèle de Guerre (Browning War Model) and Browning Grand Modèle (Browning Large Model) though it is now generally known as the FN Model 1903. Customers could specify whether they wanted the standard seven round magazine or an extended ten round version which also allowed the fitting of a shoulder stock.

jmbg25The FN M1903 became a popular military sidearm and was adopted by several armies including those of Belgium, Holland, Germany, Turkey and Estonia as well as being used by the Imperial Russian police. A version of this model was also manufactured under license by Husqvarna Vapenfabriks from 1917 until 1942 as the M/1907 which was used by the Swedish Armed Forces. FN sold around 60,000 examples of the Model 1903 and Husqvarna manufactured over 94,000 examples of the M/1907.

jmbg213FN Model 1903 with extended ten round magazine and shoulder stock

Replicas

As far as I am aware, there are no shooting replicas of this, the very first 9mm semi auto pistol. And, just like the lack of replicas of the Colt 1903 Hammerless, that’s a great pity.

Colt 1903 Pocket Hammer

In keeping with their decision to focus on civilian pistols, in late 1903 Colt released a compact version of the Model 1902 Sporting, the Model 1903 Pocket Hammer. This was designed by Browning and in almost all respects was simply a cut-down version of the earlier pistol. Like the Model 1902, it was chambered for the .38” ACP round and the magazine held seven rounds. The barrel was reduced to 4½” inches in length and the overall length to just over 7½”. Again like the Model 1902, no manual safety was fitted, though the hammer could be dropped to a half-cock position. The slide did not lock back on empty, there was no manual means of locking it back and the magazine release was a small catch in the heel of the grip.

jmbg26In addition to the shorter barrel and slide, the main differences between this and the larger pistol are that the slide serrations were moved to the rear of the slide and that two links were used to retain the barrel (rather than the single link on the Model 1902). The drawback to this design was the need to use a cross-wedge in the slide near the muzzle to retain the slide. If the slide cracked or the wedge became loose, the slide could be shot to the rear when the pistol was fired, potentially injuring the shooter. This design also limited the power of the cartridge which could safely be used in this pistol and all subsequent Browning pistols reverted to using a single barrel link.

Although it was initially popular, sales of the Model 1903 Pocket Hammer fell dramatically when newer models such as the Colt 1911 were introduced. Around 30,000 of this model were produced by Colt between 1903 and 1920 when production ended. Just like the Model 1902, many 1903 Pocket Hammers ended up in Mexico during the period of the revolution there and a small number were purchased for use by the Philippine Constabulary.

Replicas

As far as I’m aware, there are no shooting replicas of the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammer.

FN 1906/Colt 1908

In 1902, Browning had completely ended his association with Winchester and had begun to work increasingly with FN. This came about after Winchester proved difficult when Browning offered to sell them the design for one of his most ambitious designs to date, the Auto-5 shotgun, in 1900. To his growing irritation, Winchester refused to say yes or no to the new design, and by 1902, Browning had had enough. In a stormy meeting with Winchester chief T.G. Bennett he gave an ultimatum – either buy the new design or release it so that another manufacturer could. Bennett refused to give a clear answer and Browning simply picked up the design for the Auto-5 and got on a ship for Europe. Although his visit was completely unannounced, he (and his new shotgun design) were welcomed with open arms in Herstal.

jmbg214Browning with an Auto-5 Shotgun

By 1905 Browning had become known as “Le Maître” (the Master) in Herstal and was making frequent trips to Belgium. He had both a permanent design office at the Herstal plant and a very able young assistant called Dieudonné Saive. Working at Herstal, Browning began refining the design for a true pocket pistol. The story goes that Browning, who certainly looks very dapper in most photographs, wanted a pistol for personal protection which was small enough to be carried in a pocket without spoiling the cut of a jacket. The design began with a new cartridge: Browning had asked William Morgan Thomas of the Union Metallic Cartridge Company (U.M.C.) to develop a small caliber cartridge suitable for a blowback operated pocket pistol. In June 1904, the first batch of the new ammunition was delivered to Browning for use in his new prototype. He demonstrated the new pistol to Colt who decided that they weren’t interested. He then took it to Belgium and showed it to FN who immediately decided to go ahead with manufacture of the new round (the “6.35mm Browning”) and the new pistol, the FN Browning Model 1906, also known as the Modèle de Poche (Pocket Model) or Baby Browning.

jmbg27The new FN pistol was an immediate commercial success. It was a hammerless, striker fired design which had no conventional manual safety (though this was added on later models). Instead, it had a grip safety similar to that used on the Colt Model 1903/FN Model 1903. The tiny magazine held just six, 6.35mm rounds and rudimentary sights were cast into a groove on top of the slide. At under 4.5” in length and weighing just 13 ounces, the Modèle de Poche was small, compact and easy to conceal while also being comfortable to hold and shoot. To further cement his relationship with FN, browning gave the company exclusive rights to use his name as a trademark. That meant that only FN produced guns could use the revered Browning name. In much of Europe (and beyond), the term “Browning Pistol” became a synonym for any semi-automatic pistol.

jmbg28Noting the success of the FN pistol, Colt quickly realized their mistake and took out an option to sell the same gun in 1906. In 1909 they launched the Colt Model 1908 Hammerless (also known as the Vest Pocket Pistol) which was similar, but not identical to the FN version. The most notable difference was that the Colt 1908 included a manual safety lever on the left side of the frame which could also be used to hold the slide open (there was no way to hold the slide open on the original FN version). The 6.35mm cartridge was re-branded as the Colt .25 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) round. A few years later a third safety was added to the Colt Model 1908 in the form of a magazine disconnect which led Colt to proudly claim that “Accidental Discharge is Absolutely Impossible with the Colt Automatic Pistol.” The Model 1908 certainly proved to be popular: it remained in production for over forty years and Colt sold more than 400,000 of these tiny but effective and reliable pistols.

In a fascinating commentary on the changing common meaning of words, in early marketing the Colt Model 1908 was often described as an ideal “muff pistol”, in other words a pistol which could be easily concealed within a lady’s muff. Just in case you’re not certain, a muff was a common item of ladies apparel in the early 1900s in which both hands could be placed to keep them warm. As the word “muff’ began to be commonly used to mean something quite different in the early 1900s, the advertising provoked a degree of sniggering and was hastily amended to note instead that the tiny Model 1908 was ideally suited to concealment within a lady’s handbag.

jmbg291909 advertising for the Vest Pocket Pistol notes that it “Just fits in a man’s vest, or can be carried in a lady’s muff…” Hmm…

Replicas

jmbg211C.1 Airgun

There are two different Chinese, spring-powered, metal 6mm replicas of the Colt Model 1908 available. One is the C.1 airgun (also branded as the Galaxy G.1 in some markets). It’s a reasonable replica, but it’s about 20% larger than the original and it has notch and post sights, which is wrong. The other is the Smart K-18. This is a much better replica – it’s accurately sized and has sights within a groove on the top of the frame. Unfortunately, the Smart K-18 does not seem to be widely available in many parts of the world.

jmbg210Smart K-18

Smart K-18 review

Galaxy G.1 review

Cybergun also offer a spring powered, 6mm replica of the Model 1908. In some ways this is better than either of the Chinese versions in that it has a working manual safety and magazine release and accurate markings on the slide and grips. However, while early versions were metal, the current iteration is manufactured in the Philippines out of chocolate brown and black plastic and it doesn’t handle at all well. There used to be a Taiwanese gas powered (non-blowback) version of the Model 1908 too, but is no longer available. A blow-back gas powered version of the tiny Model 1908 would certainly be a very wonderful thing, but I guess that the pistol and magazine are just so tiny that this would be technically very difficult. So, for the moment we’re stuck with these spring powered replicas.

jmbg212Cybergun Model 1908

Next time on the Pistol Place…

I hope you enjoyed this article. In the final part of this series we’ll be looking at John Moses Browning pistols from the period 1910 onwards including the Colt 1911, Browning Hi Power and Colt Woodsman. And there will be more replicas than you can shake a stick at!

Happy Shooting

The Handgun designs of John Moses Browning – Part 1

1899 – 1900

jmbg5It probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call John Moses Browning the most influential and prolific firearms designer of the 20th Century despite the fact that he died in 1926. He designed a whole list of immensely popular and long-lived rifles, shotguns, machine guns and even an automatic rifle. However, it is his pistol designs that I want to look at in this series of articles. If you look at virtually any current semi-automatic weapon you will see a method of operation and features that were all originally designed by Browning.

Browning also designed a single revolver, the Colt M1905 New Marine, but it’s his semi-automatic pistols that I’ll be looking at in these articles. Browning’s pistol designs developed incrementally until the Colt 1911 by which time he had introduced all the features which would be used in almost every later semi-automatic pistol. For this reason I will look at Browning’s pistol designs chronologically including highlighting developments and mentioning any currently available replicas. I’ll also provide some brief background on the life and times of this very private man. There’s a lot to cover here, so there will be three separate parts to this article:

Part 1: 1899 – 1900

Part 2: 1902 – 1908

Part 3: 1910 onwards

Early life

John Moses Browning was born in 1855 in Ogden, Utah as one of his Mormon father’s 22 children. At an early age Browning helped out in his father’s gunshop in Ogden and by the time that he was fourteen he was designing and building his own firearms. When his father died in 1873, Browning and three of his brothers started their own gunshop where they sold many guns designed by John. However, Browning quickly became frustrated that his long hours in the gunshop left little time for what he enjoyed most – designing new weapons.

jmbg1A young John Moses Browning

Then, in the early 1880s, a salesman for the Winchester Firearms company visited the shop in Ogden and bought a single-shot rifle designed by Browning. He was so impressed by the rifle that he sent it back to the Winchester home office in Connecticut and recommended that they take a close look at it. The engineers at Winchester agreed and in 1883 offered Browning $8,000 (equivalent to around $200,000 today) for the manufacturing rights for the rifle. Browning used the money to set up his own design shop and over the next twenty years he would design a number of very successful rifles and shotguns which were sold by Winchester.

jmbg2Browning in his twenties

However, the relationship between Browning and Winchester wasn’t all good news. On a couple of occasions, Winchester purchased designs from Browning but did not produce them. This made good commercial sense to Winchester – it stopped potential competitors from getting their hands on Browning’s designs, but it infuriated the designer. This was compounded when Browning began to design semi-automatic weapons (or self-loading guns as they were then known) around 1893. It is said that Browning became interested in the concept of designing a self loading mechanism in 1890 when out hunting with friends. He noticed that, when a rifle was fired, the grass in front of the muzzle bent and he began to wonder whether this wasted muzzle energy could be used to load the next round for firing? Browning went on to use these ideas to design a machine gun (the Colt M1895) and in 1896 he sold the designs for four self-loading pistols to Colt. However, by 1897 none of these designs showed any signs of going into production. Colt claimed that there simply wasn’t a ready market in America for this type of pistol, but Browning was concerned that they were trying to suppress his designs in order to protect sales of Colt revolvers.

By this time Browning was also unhappy with the commercial relationship he had with Winchester and other American manufacturers. Browning was generally paid a flat fee for the purchase of manufacturing rights for a particular design, regardless of how many guns were subsequently sold by the manufacturer. And in the case of very successful Browning designed models like the Winchester 1895 lever action rifle, that might amount to a million or more. What Browning wanted was a royalty deal where, in addition to a fee for selling manufacturing rights he would also receive a small payment for every gun sold.

The FN Story

In 1886, when John Moses Browning was still tinkering with self-loading pistols designs in the US, a group of firearm manufacturing companies in the Liege Region of Belgium formed an association called Les Fabricants d’Armes Reunis (United Arms Manufacturers). The area around the town of Herstal had long been a centre for the production of guns and increasing orders from around Europe made it sensible for local companies to stop working against each other and begin to work together. In 1887 the Belgian Government decided that it wanted to replace 150,000 of its military rifles with more modern equipment. The prospect of winning this huge order attracted other companies to join Les Fabricants d’Armes Reunis and to form a new group, Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre (FN).

jmbg3The FN manufacturing plant at Herstal was truly vast. This re-touched publicity photograph is from around 1910.

FN won the order for new Belgian army rifles and the association built a state-of-the-art production facility in Herstal. The Belgian order was completed by 1891, and for a short time things looked good for the new factory. But then, in 1894, FN were sued by Mauser who claimed that the rifles supplied by FN to the Belgian Army infringed the patent of the Spanish Mauser rifle. After protracted and expensive legal action, FN lost the suit and as part of the outcome, found themselves under German control. The Germans who ran the FN factory began to re-direct orders to German arms manufacturers and by 1897, very little arms manufacturing was being done at Herstal. In desperation, FN began to look for other products which they could manufacture in the virtually empty factory. One of the first options they considered was the bicycle, then enjoying huge popularity in Europe.

jmbg4Inside the FN factory complex, around 1908

To research the possibilities for bicycle manufacture, FN sent their Director of External Affairs, the American-born Hart O. Berg, to America to study bicycle manufacturing techniques. On arriving in the US Berg went first to his home town of Hartford in Connecticut. Now, it happens that Hartford is also the location of the Colt factory and, seemingly entirely by chance, Berg met John Moses Browning who was on one of his frequent visits to Colt. The meeting couldn’t have been more fortuitous for both. Browning was frustrated in his dealings with US manufacturers and FN was desperate for something they could manufacture in their idle Herstal plant. ‘Think of it!’, Browning later told his brother Matthew, ‘a new gun factory with nothing to make! I’ll give them something that will set their wheels in motion.

FN Pistolete Browning/Model 1899

jmbg6Drawing from the original 1897patent application for Le Pistolete Browning

What Browning gave to Berg in June 1897 was the prototype of a small, .32” ACP calibre self-loading pistol. FN tested the prototype and were delighted to find that it was not only relatively simple, it was also extremely reliable, in contrast to most other self-loading pistols of the period. In initial tests, 500 rounds were fired without any failure to feed or eject. Despite the fact that they had never manufactured a pistol before, FN were so keen to get their hands on the new design that they agreed to pay Browning not just $2,000 for the manufacturing rights but also a royalty equivalent to around 7% of the cost of every pistol sold. Browning was delighted – this was just what he had been refused by US manufacturers. However, the terms of the contract forbade FN from selling these guns in the US or Canada because of Browning’s previous sale of pistol designs to Colt.

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The first version of the new pistol went on sale in Europe in January 1899 as Le Pistolete Browning (The Browning Pistol). Looking back at it from the twenty-first Century, Le Pistolete Browning looks pretty basic. It’s a single action, striker-fired design where the barrel is fixed to the frame and the slide moves under blowback to eject the spent cartridge via an ejection port on the right side of the frame above the grip. Up to seven .32” ACP rounds were held in a drop-out magazine and the not particularly easy to use release catch was a small lever located in the heel of the grip. A manual safety on the left side of the frame blocked the sear and locked the trigger. There was no provision for locking the slide back either for cleaning or when the magazine was empty. Finish was blued steel with black rubber grips though a nickel plated option was also offered and reinforcing plates were added to either side of the frame, just above the trigger. This pistol was fairly small, with an overall length of just over six inches and a four inch barrel.

All this probably sounds pretty conventional but you have to put it in context and remember that this was not only the first John Moses Browning pistol to make it into production, it was also the first production handgun to feature a moving slide rather than a moving bolt or breech block. If you were so inclined, you could probably make a good argument that modern handgun design started with Le Pistolete Browning.

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This pistol was in production for less than three years as it was quickly superceded by the FN Model 1900. However, the heavy slide on Le Pistolete Browning meant that felt recoil was minimal and accuracy was very good and as a result it became immediately popular and more than 15,000 were sold before production ended at the end of 1901. After the release of the FN Model 1900, this pistol became commonly known as the FN Model 1899, though this name wasn’t officially used.

Replicas

As far as I am aware, there are no shooting replicas of the Le Pistolete Browning/FN 1899 of any type in any calibre. Which is probably understandable because this is an odd looking, dumpy and (compared to later Browning designs) ugly little pistol, but it’s a pity because the Pistolete Browning is historically very important.

FN Model 1900

In 1899 the Belgian Army were looking for a self-loading pistol to replace existing service revolvers. One of the options they considered was Le Pistolete Browning. They reviewed this pistol in 1899 and delivered their verdict to FN – with a number of fairly minor modifications, the Pistolete Browning would be suitable for adoption by the Belgian Army. The changes required were that the manual safety was modified so that pushing it up would lock the slide to the rear (though the slide still didn’t lock back automatically when the magazine was empty). A cocking indicator was added in the form of a bar which projected from the top of the slide and blocked the sight view when the pistol was not cocked. Grip plates were thicker, a lanyard ring was added at the base of the grip, ‘Sur’ and ‘Feu’ (Safe and Fire) markings were added for the manual safety and the frame sideplates were enlarged.

jmbg9The resulting pistol was adopted by the Belgian Army in 1900 and sold commercially by FN as the FN Model 1900. Originally, FN planned to retain Le Pistolete Browning in their range as a civilian model and sell the Model 1900 as the military model, but the differences between the two were so minimal that they decided that a single version would be sufficient. Le Pistolete Browning was phased out in 1901 and subsequent production concentrated on the Model 1900. The new model proved to be hugely popular and almost three-quarters of a million Model 1900s were sold between 1900 and 1914 when production ended.

jmbg10Strangely, the FN M1900 is often claimed to be Browning’s first self-loading pistol, which clearly it wasn’t. This is simply a development of Le Pistolete Browning, the first of his designs to go into production, and his earliest designs for pistols of this type were those which he sold to Colt in 1896. Incidentally, it was also claimed for many years that an FN Model 1900 was used in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914, an event which precipitated World War One. This is incorrect – the pistol used in the assassination was an FN Model 1910, another John Moses Browning design which we’ll look at later.

Replicas

Zip. Nada. Nothing. Just like Le Pistolete Browning, the FN Model 1900 has been comprehensively ignored by replica manufacturers. Which is a great pity. I would certainly be delighted to see a replica of either of these pistols and I believe anyone with an interest in the development of the modern handgun would probably feel the same way.

The Colt Automatic Pistol

Back in the US, Colt watched FN’s commercial success with the Model 1899 and began to wonder whether perhaps there was a potential American market for a self-loading pistol? They had been tinkering with the designs they purchased from Browning in 1896 (including producing a full auto version of one of his pistols which proved impossible to control). In November 1898 a prototype of one of these pistols was submitted to the United States Army Ordnance Department where it was examined and tested along with four other automatic pistols.  However, the testers weren’t impressed, reporting that; “The Board is of the opinion, based upon a careful examination of the Borchardt, the Mannlicher, the Mauser, the Colt, and the Bergmann repeating weapons, that the development of this type of pistol has not yet reached such a stage as to justify its adoption in the place of the revolver for service use…

jmbg12Undeterred and encouraged by FN’s European success, Colt continued to refine the new pistol and Browning worked on a new rimless cartridge, the .38” ACP, which it would use. In 1900 the Ordnance Department purchased 100 examples of the new version for additional testing (though Colt were unhappy to discover that at the same time, an order was placed for 1000, 7.65mm Luger pistols). Colt were also interested in pursuing the possibilities of commercial sales and in early 1900 one of the new pistols was also sent to the very popular Shooting and Fishing magazine. The resulting review was generally positive but the author did note that; “…the term automatic pistol does not seem to be the proper term to use in connection with the arm; semi-automatic seems to be correct.” Which, as far as I can tell, is the first use in print of the modern term “semi-automatic” to describe what had previously been known as self-loading pistols. From this point on, any pistol which used a reciprocating slide became generally known as a semi-automatic.

jmbg11The Colt Automatic Pistol shared many of the design features of the FN 1899/1900, but it did provide some entirely new ideas. This was a much larger pistol at over nine inches in length and it had a six inch barrel. Unlike the FN it had a conventional hammer rather than an internal striker though it was still single action only. In another change to the FN design the barrel on the Colt was not fixed to the frame – it was mounted in slots in the frame and moved a short distance to the rear as the slide retracted and the ejection port was in the top right of the slide, not the frame. The manual safety was also interesting – engaging the safety involved depressing the rear section of the slide, including the rear sight. This meant that it was immediately apparent that the safety was engaged (because the rear sight wasn’t visible) but it was found to be very difficult to disengage the safety while gripping the pistol with one hand. Initial versions had serrations on the rear of the slide, but it was just too easy to inadvertently disengage the sight safety while gripping the slide at the rear and the serrations were quickly moved to the front. The sight safety was discontinued about three-quarters of the way through production of this pistol. There was no way of locking back the slide on this pistol and despite its large size, the drop-out magazine held just seven .38” ACP rounds and the release catch was still a small, awkward to use lever in the base of the grip.

jmbg13The rear sight had to be pressed down to engage the manual safety

A little over four thousand of these pistols were produced between February1900 and May 1902 when production ended. Two hundred were sold to the US Army and 250 to the US Navy. The remainder were almost all civilian sales. This pistol has come to be known as the Colt Model 1900 but it was simply known as the Colt Automatic Pistol while it was in production.

Replicas

Guess what? That’s right, there aren’t any shooting replicas of the Model 1900 of any type in any caliber. And again, that’s a great pity. The Colt Automatic Pistol was the first semi-automatic pistol to be widely used in the US and that alone makes it interesting. Writing about this pistol in 1920, noted firearms commentator Captain H.B. Pollard said: “The adoption of the automatic pistol by a firm of the eminence of the Colt Company practically established the principle.  People no longer looked upon automatics as dangerous experimental toys, but recognized that the principle was a success…” IMHO, and in addition to its historic significance, this is a great looking pistol, the hefty slide would provide strong blowback, the quirky sight safety would be an interesting feature to see on a replica and the six inch barrel should provide plenty of power and accuracy. So please, someone give us a replica of this pistol. Pretty please?

Next time on the Pistol Place…

I hope you enjoyed this article. In the next part we’ll be looking at more John Moses Browning pistols, this time from the period 1902 – 1908. And don’t worry, in that article there will actually be some replicas to discuss!

Classic Handguns: The Browning Hi Power

hi4Introduction

The Browning Hi Power pistol has been in continuous production for more than eighty years. During that time it has been used by military and law enforcement agencies in more than eighty countries and by both sides in World War Two, various Arab- Israeli wars, the Falklands War and the First Gulf War. No-one is certain precisely how many have been produced (especially if you include clones and copies) but there must certainly be an awful lot of Hi Powers out there. By any measure, this is a classic handgun.

What’s in a name?

Before we start talking about the Hi Power, I do want to quickly clarify what it’s actually called. Some people seem certain that it’s “Hi Power” while others are equally vehement that it’s “High Power”. In fact, both are correct. When this pistol was first offered by FN in 1935, it was sold as the “High Power”. When it was first imported into the US in 1954, it carried “Browning Arms Company” markings and was sold as the “Hi Power” (to avoid confusion with the “High-Power” hunting rifle also sold in the US with BAC markings during this period). Since that time this pistol has been generally known as the “Hi Power” and that’s how I’ll refer to it here. Though it has also known by a bewildering array of other names: versions of the Hi Power have been identified as the P35, HP-35, FN Model 1935, GP35, Pistole 640(b), BAP (Browning Automatic Pistol) and L9A1 depending on which country they were being used by.

Development

hi5John Moses Browning with another of his creations: the M1917 machine gun

Prolific US gun designer John Moses Browning began work on the design of what would become the Hi Power in the early 1920s. This work was undertaken in response to a French military requirement for a new service pistol, the Grand Rendement (“High Yield”) or Grande Puissance (“High Power”) pistol. This referred not to the shooting ability of the pistol but to its magazine capacity – the French requirement specified a pistol with a magazine capacity of at least ten rounds of 9mm ammunition, a higher capacity than offered by any contemporary semi-automatic pistol. Browning’s intention was to design a full-size military sidearm that would replicate the rugged reliability of the Colt 1911 whilst addressing that pistol’s most serious shortcoming – a magazine capacity of only seven rounds. Browning died in 1926 before completing the design, but a US patent for the new pistol was applied for in 1923 and registered in 1927. The rights to the design were quickly acquired by the state-owned Belgian firearms manufacturer FN Herstal who used their Chief Designer Dieudonné Saive to refine and complete Browning’s initial work.

hi6Dieudonné Saive with one of his later creations: the FN-FAL Battle Rifle

The first prototype of the new pistol featured a locked-breech recoil system and a double column, sixteen round magazine. Saive continued to work on the design in the early 1930s, paying particular attention to making the grip as slim as possible. By 1931 the revised design incorporated a thirteen round magazine and a trigger mechanism which ran up into the slide area in order to avoid increasing the width of the grip. Ironically, the pistol was not adopted by the French Army whose requirement had first inspired the new design but in 1935, when it was finally complete, the pistol was adopted as the principal sidearm of the Belgian Army as the FN Model 1935 Pistol.

hi8An early Hi Power with tangent rear sight

The first production model of the Hi Power had a 4.65” barrel, weighed 35 ounces, was 7.75 inches in overall length and had a magazine capacity of 13, 9mm rounds. A small manual thumb safety was provided on the left side of the frame and a lightweight ring hammer was fitted. The pistol was single-action only and there was no grip safety as seen on the 1911, but there was a magazine disconnect safety – the pistol could not be fired if the magazine was removed. Grips were checkered wood and the rear of the frame was slotted to accept a detachable wooden shoulder stock. The front sight was a standard blade but the rear was an adjustable tangent type with graduations to allow shooting to a range of 500 meters (the very first models had graduations to 1000metres!). Many Hi Powers were produced with a distinctive glossy black corrosion-resistant finish which involved applying black enamel paint over a phosphate base finish.

hi7Early Hi Power tangent sight graduated to 500 metres. I don’t know about you, but I can barely see a target at 500 metres, let alone hit one with a handgun.

For a pistol which has proved so popular over the years, the original version of the Hi Power had a number of serious flaws. First, the trigger action: due partly to the magazine disconnect safety, the trigger was nasty. It was heavy, the release point was indistinct and there were pronounced stages to the pull. The magazine disconnect safety also meant that on many Hi Power pistols the magazine would not drop free cleanly when the release was pressed. Reliability wasn’t great either. Until 1962, the Hi Power was produced with a tiny internal cartridge extractor which was prone to breakage. In fact, when subjected to the pressures of military grade ammunition, both the slide and frame of early Hi Powers were prone to cracking. The thirteen round magazine was one of the selling main points for the Hi Power, but users quickly came to realise that fully loading the magazine could lead to jamming and that it was actually better to load just twelve rounds.

hi15Hi Power with shoulder stock

Add to this a hammer that was so light that it had difficulty in firing some military cartridge types, a short tang which could lead to hammer bite, a small, imprecise and difficult to operate manual safety and fixed sights which were small and difficult to read and you may be wondering why this design lasted as long as it did? There are probably two main answers to this. The first is obvious: magazine capacity. Compare the thirteen rounds available in a Hi Power magazine to other World War Two era service pistols. You got just six rounds in the British Webley Revolver, seven in the US Colt 1911A1 and eight in the Russian Tokarev TT-33, the German P-08 (Luger), its replacement the Walther P-38 and the Japanese Nambu. That gave the Hi Power a distinct firepower advantage over most comparable service pistols in the 1930s and 1940s and it wasn’t until the 1970s/80s that other semi-automatic pistols began to catch up in terms of magazine capacity.

The other reason that the original Hi Power proved so popular is a little more difficult to define: Feel. The word “ergonomics” hadn’t been invented when John Moses Browning was designing handguns, but he and Dieudonné Saive certainly understood what it meant. Pick up a Hi Power (or a decent replica) and I think you’ll see what I mean. It feels perfectly balanced and the grip will comfortably fit almost anyone who has hands in the average range. Because of this, the Hi Power is generally recognised as one of the easiest to control semi-automatic 9mm pistols. It’s also one of the only true single action 9mm semi automatic pistols available and field stripping and re-assembly are as simple as they are on the 1911.

hi11Hi Power Mark III

Despite its shortcomings, production of the original Hi Power continued up the early 1980s. However, there were numerous minor changes during that time – the ridiculous tangent rear sight and the slot in the frame to take a shoulder stock were dropped as standard fitment immediately after World War Two (though Hi Powers with tangent rear sights were still available up to the 1980s). From 1962 the fragile internal extractor was replaced with a more robust external unit and from around 1965 the ring hammer was replaced by a heavier, conventional spur hammer. In the early 80s the Mark II version appeared which had polymer grips, a larger, ambidextrous manual safety and easier to read three-dot sights. In 1988 the Mark III was released which had a distinctive glossy black, epoxy finish and a firing pin safety.

hi16Something a little different – a Hi Power Renaissance, hand engraved in the FN Factory

There have been a number of variations on the basic Hi Power design over the years including the HP-DA which shoots in double as well as single action, versions chambered for .30” Luger and .40” S&W rounds and a lightweight version with an aluminum alloy frame. However, only the standard steel framed Mark III in 9mm is still being manufactured and continues to sell more than eighty years after this pistol was first introduced.

Production

Initial production of the Hi Power was done at the FN factory in Herstal from 1935 and around 35,000 were produced by the time World War Two began in September 1939. In 1940, Belgium was over-run by German forces and more than 300,000 Hi Powers were manufactured while the Herstal plant was under German control.

hi10An Inglis Hi Power with fixed sights – note the hump-backed slide

In 1940 licensed production of the Hi Power began in Canada at the John Inglis and Company plant in Toronto. Inglis produced two versions of the Hi Power, one with the tangent rear sight and shoulder stock mounting (mainly for a contract to supply Nationalist Chinese forces) and one with more conventional rear sights and without the shoulder stock slot. The latter version of the Inglis Hi Power incorporated a distinctive (and ugly) hump-backed slide, the only version of the Hi Power to have this feature. More than 150,000 Hi Powers were produced by Inglis in 1944 and 1945.

hi9Assembly of Hi Powers at the Inglis plant

After the end of World War Two, production continued at the FN works in Herstal in addition to licensed production in Argentina and unlicensed copies were produced in a number of countries including Hungary, Israel and Indonesia. No- one is quite certain how many have been manufactured over the years – most estimates suggest the FN factory alone produced over 1.5 million Hi Powers with unknown numbers of copies and clones being produced elsewhere.

hi12An FEG Model PJK-9HP, a Hungarian copy of the original Hi Power

The Hi Power is still being manufactured and sold by Browning in the US. Three versions are currently available: the Mark III with black epoxy finish and plastic grips and the Standard with a polished blued finish and walnut grips. The Standard is available with either fixed sights or that 500m tangent sight.

Use

hi13Waffen-SS Panzergrenadiers in 1944. The soldier second from the right is holding a Pistole 640(b)

The first use of the Hi Power as a military sidearm was by the Belgian Army in 1935. German airborne and Waffen-SS forces used Hi Powers manufactured while the Herstal plant was under German control as the Pistole 640(b) during World War Two (though it was also known in German service as the P35). British airborne forces used Inglis Hi Powers in 1944/1945 as did special forces units such as the British SAS and the American OSS. In 1954 the Hi Power was adopted as the standard sidearm of the British Army (as the L9A1) and by the army of the Republic of Ireland (as the BAP). Many more countries began to adopt the Hi Power during the 50s until it became virtually the standard sidearm of European NATO forces. By the sixties it was easier to highlight armies which didn’t use the Hi Power – more than eighty (some sources say ninety) countries officially adopted this pistol during this time.

hi14A soldier of the Parachute Regiment holding an L9A1 around 1960

It wasn’t until the 80s and 90s that use of the Hi Power began to decline as newer semi-automatic pistol designs finally began to adopt high capacity, double column magazines as standard. Even then, the Hi Power remained in use in some parts of the world, as it still does.

Hi Power replicas

hi1WE 6mm Inglis Hi Power

Given how popular the cartridge firing version is, it’s surprising that there aren’t more replicas of the Hi Power. WE make a 6mm, gas powered, blowback replica of an Inglis Hi Power, complete with 500 yard tangent sight, imitation wood grips and a frame slotted to take a shoulder stock. This does seem to be a surprising subject for a replica – Inglis Hi Powers with tangent sights and shoulder stock slots were produced in limited numbers and mainly for China. If you’re going to the time and trouble to produce a Hi Power replica, why not go for one of the far more common later FN versions? The WE Hi Power is a functionally and visually faithful replica, but it has been around for some time now and it isn’t as accurate a shooter or as reliable as more modern WE replicas. I owned a WE Hi Power and it didn’t shoot particularly well and was prone to both leaking and jamming (you can find a link to a full review of the WE Hi Power by another Pistol Place contributor at the end of this article).

hi2Tanaka 6mm Hi Power Mark III. Looks superb and is a great functional replica but not such a good shooter.

I also owned a beautiful Tanaka 6mm, gas powered, blowback replica of a Mark III Hi Power which was visually and functionally spot-on, but shot with little power and indifferent accuracy (the same as most of the Tanaka replicas I have owned in fact). Given Tanaka’s somewhat haphazard approach to production, you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s also very difficult to find one of their Hi Power replicas. Tanaka also produce a blowback replica of an original Hi Power complete with tangent sights and imitation wood grips, but I have never actually seen one of these so I can’t say if it’s any better as a shooter.

hi3Umarex Hi Power Mark III. A powerful and accurate shooter but it’s mainly plastic, the slide is fixed and that CO2 loading tab is pretty ugly

If you fancy a 4.5mm Hi Power the most popular option is the CO2 powered Umarex Hi Power Mark III. This has pros and cons. It’s a licensed replica which includes Browning Arms Company markings, it’s a decent visual replica and the ambidextrous manual safety works as per the original. It’s also fairly powerful (over 400fps is claimed) and very accurate for a BB shooter. However, construction is mainly plastic so it’s rather light, the slide does not move and the slide release is moulded in place and has no function. The look of this replica is also spoiled somewhat by the large plastic CO2 loading tab in the base of the grip.

hi18Chrome version of the EKOL ES66

If you’re lucky (or unlucky) you may be able to find an EKOL ES66. This is (or was – I don’t know if these are still made) a Turkish manufactured, CO2 powered replica which shoots 4.5mm steel BBs and looks a little like the Hi Power, though it’s not a precise replica and like the Umarex version it has a visible CO2 loading tab in the base of the magazine. The ES66 is available in chrome and black finishes, is of mainly metal construction and has good weight and balance. The slide moves (though only with the magazine removed) but this isn’t a blowback replica and the slide release catch is non-functional. Another notable feature of the ES66 is that it doesn’t have a manual safety – what looks like an ambidextrous safety is actually just a de-cocker. And as a shooter, it isn’t very nice at all. Claimed power is around 350fps but accuracy is truly awful – groups of 10”and over at 6m are not unknown and at this range the point of impact can be anything up to one foot from the point of aim.

Conclusion

Once again, we have a popular and influential handgun which is very poorly represented in terms of replicas. All of the Hi Power replicas mentioned above have issues and we lack any good, blowback replicas of the later versions of this pistol. Given how many replicas there are of various iterations of the 1911 and Beretta 92, it seems very surprising that there aren’t more Hi Power replicas around.

hi17Another view of the Tanaka Mark III – a Hi Power replica as good as this that also shot well would do very nicely, thank you.

So, come on someone (KWC, I’m looking at you!), what about giving us a decent, blowback replica of this popular and long-lived handgun. I know I’d want one!

Related pages

WE Hi Power review    

Classic handguns – The Walther PPK

What’s it all for?

what3I seem to have been getting more than the usual number of emails from people who are a little confused about what this site is for, so I wanted to post this quick note on what the Pistol Place is about (and what it’s not about).

I am often asked: Do you sell replica guns? Will you repair my replica? And occasionally “Will u send a gun to Rio” (true). Just in case you’re not sure, the answers respectively are No, No and Absolutely Not. I don’t sell replica guns. None. Not even one. Ever. And the only repairs I undertake are those which I carry out on my own replicas. There are lots of competent, reliable people out there who will sell you a replica and fix yours if it stops working. But not me.

what5A nice, shiny replica

I don’t sell replicas for two reasons. First, the legal situation around the world regarding the sale and transit replica guns is hideously complicated and I simply don’t want to get involved in something that might involve me inadvertently breaking the law. Second, the whole point of this site is that it provides unbiased, objective reviews of replicas. If I think a replica is worth the money, I’ll tell you that. If I think it’s horrible and a waste of time, I’ll tell you that too. If I was trying to sell you that replica, I don’t see how I could retain the same level of objectivity.

what2Not at all shiny, but still a nice replica.

Telling it like it is

Most of the other on-line sites providing reviews of replicas are run by companies which also sell replicas. Even sites and magazines which don’t directly sell anything themselves are often supported by advertising from the people who do. If a particular replica is a shoddy, inaccurate pile of junk, they aren’t going to tell you that. Because then you won’t buy it and advertisers and sellers won’t make any money. That’s not deceitful or immoral, it’s simply how the commercial world works. If someone is trying sell you something, they’re inevitably going to emphasize its positive features and minimize the negative. Because I don’t sell anything at all and I’m not supported by advertising, I’m not constrained in the same way. I pay for the maintenance of this site myself because I enjoy replica guns and I like writing about them. Which means that what you get here is always my honest opinion.

what4An utterly crap replica.

However, I am often asked for advice on where to have repairs and upgrades done on replicas. And so I’m thinking of adding a “Services” section to this site. This would be a place where I can provide brief details of any individuals or companies who provide services related to replicas including sales, servicing and repairs. Unless I have used that service myself I won’t be able to personally vouch for these, but at least it might be a starting point if you’re looking for something.

You can help

And you, dear Pistol Place reader, can help. Have you received good (or bad) service from a seller or air gunsmith? Would you like to share that with other visitors to this site? Do you run a business repairing, upgrading or selling replica air guns? Then send me the details and I’d be happy to post them up here. For each entry I’ll include the ability to post comments so that you can share your experiences of any of the services listed. There have now been well over half a million visitors to this site since I started it so anything listed in the Services section will be read by lots of people.

what1A gunsmith relaxes between fixing replica pistols. Probably.

And of course I’m still happy to provide any advice that I can on replica guns or just to chat about them as long as you accept that I’m not a gunsmith or an expert on anything in particular. And if you have something you want to say about a particular replica, let me know. It doesn’t have to a full review – send me a few words and pictures and I’ll post them up.

E-mail: stevemac357@gmail.com

Happy Shooting

Springfield Ultra Compact Operator (C.9 Airsoft Gun)

sp1 Exceeding expectations

It’s irritating when a replica fails to live up to your expectations either because of how it’s made, how it looks or how it shoots. It has happened to me more than once (I’m looking at you and your inability to shoot straight, Tanfoglio Witness!). Conversely, it’s great when something delivers more than you expect. That happened to me recently when I bought a Chinese C.9 replica. I wasn’t even sure what it was a replica of and I didn’t expect too much in the way of shooting ability. What I got was way better than I anticipated.

As is often the case when I buy a Chinese replica, the first thing I had to do was to try and work out what this is supposed to be a replica of. In my experience, Chinese manufacturers seem to be pretty good and making accurate visual replicas of firearms. But they’re notably coy about explaining which firearm a particular replica is based on. This one is obviously some kind of compact 1911 and my first thought was that it was a replica of the Colt Defender. But there never was a railed version of the Defender so that didn’t quite seem right. After some head scratching, I decided that it’s almost certainly a replica of the Springfield Armory Ultra Compact Operator, a modern railed mini-1911. And it’s actually pretty good.

Real steel background

The Springfield Armory in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts was the centre for the production of US military weapons from 1777 until it closed in 1968 (the building is now a museum dedicated to US military weapons). In 1974 an Illinois-based firearms manufacturer adopted the name “Springfield Armory Inc.” claiming to be “The oldest name in American Firearms”, though there was no connection between the original armory and the new company. Springfield Armory Inc. is currently one of the largest US arms manufacturers.

sp8Springfield Armory Ultra Compact

In addition to producing a number of rifles, the company also offer several pistols based on venerable the 1911 design. In the early 2000s the company introduced the Micro Compact, a lightweight, single-action, short-butt version of the 1911 with a 3” barrel. The Micro Compact was chambered for the .45 ACP round and the magazine held up to six rounds. A similar Ultra Compact model was introduced later with a 3½” barrel. Versions of both the Micro and Ultra Compact with a short accessory rail under the barrel were marketed as the Operator. Production of the Ultra and Micro Compact ended in 2013 when this pistol was replaced by the similar Springfield EMP which is chambered for 9mm rounds.

sp7Springfield Armory Micro Compact Operator

The C.9

There is nothing on the packaging or the gun itself to say who makes this replica. On the box, it’s identified only as a “C.9 Airsoft Gun”. The words “Super Power” are also printed prominently on the box, but whether this is a manufacturer’s name or an attribute, I have no idea. This is almost certainly Chinese in origin, but apart from that, I really can’t tell you anything about who makes it.

sp3Construction is mainly metal other than for the drop-out magazine, trigger, hammer and grips which are all plastic. The ambidextrous manual safety, grip safety and slide release are moulded in place and have no function. The hammer cocks and falls when you pull the trigger but it plays no part in shooting the pistol.   The pistol is cocked by racking the slide, exposing the chromed metal outer barrel. There is no manual safety and once cocked, this replica cannot be de-cocked other than by firing. The frame incorporates a short under-barrel accessory rail.

sp19Packaging and presentation (2/5)

sp12The C.9 is supplied with a single magazine in a simple but sturdy card box with a plastic insert. It comes with a small bag of unbranded, unidentified yellow 6mm BBs. And that’s it. No manual, nothing else.

sp13Visual accuracy 6/10

sp17C.9, left, Springfield Micro Compact Operator, right.

There are a bewildering number of different variations of the Micro and Ultra Compact pistol, but this generally seems as if it’s fairly close to the appearance of the original. The slide frame and grips are all a good replication and small details like the shape and style of the rear sight and manual safety and the even small half-moon cut-out on the right side of the slide behind the ejection port are all well done. The only notable differences are that the C.9 has a pivoting trigger rather than the sliding trigger found on the original and the grip safety tang on the replica is shorter and less curved.

sp18C.9, left, Springfield Micro Compact, right.

Initially I was puzzled by the markings on the slide of the C.9. The large, white text reads “OPS-M.R.P CAL.45”. It took me a while to work out that these are actually identical to the markings on another pistol. But not a firearm: these are copied from a Tokyo Marui blowback 1911. That makes the markings meaningless and a bit silly. Is this supposed to be a replica of a replica? I’m guessing that some Chinese stencil maker saw a photograph of the TM 1911, assumed it was a firearm and decided to copy the markings. Or something like that.

sp10Functional accuracy 7/15

As you’d expect of a spring pistol, functional realism is not particularly good. The manual safety, the grip safety and the slide release are all moulded in place and have no function. The hammer works but it plays no part in firing this replica. The slide must be retracted to cock, but there is no way of locking it open. The magazine is full-size and drop-out with a large butt-plate and is released using the button on the left side of the frame.

sp14Shooting 34/40

Preparing the C.9 for shooting is simple. Load up to ten 6mm BBs in the magazine, insert the magazine which locks positively and then rack and release the slide to cock the pistol. Racking does require a fair amount of effort but the shape and size of the slide allows you to get a good grip.

sp9The C.9 sights, with the addition of a little silver paint to make them more readable

I found the non-adjustable notch and post sights very difficult to read against anything but a white background. Happily, some silver paint on both back and front sights improved things greatly. And it’s worth getting a good sight picture on the C.9 because it shoots way better than it should. At 6m from a semi-rested position, I get groups of around 1 – 1½”. Even at just over 9m (the maximum range at which I can shoot indoors) groups are around 1½” – 2” and at this range I can still put all my shots inside the 3” centre ring on the target. Shots hit at about 1 – 1½” high at 6m and around ½” right of the point of aim. I don’t have a choronograph so I can’t tell what the power is, but it’s certainly more powerful than the other spring pistols I have tested – I’d guess somewhere in the region of 250 – 300 fps.

sp15A full magazine of ten shots shot from 6m, semi-rested using ASG 0.25G BBs. Horizontal spread is 1½”, vertical spread is 1.25”. Main group is within 1”.

I have an unoffical test that I use with my BB replicas. If I can’t reliably hit a target the size of a coke can at 6m, then shooting isn’t going to be much fun. A surprising number of BB shooters fail this test (the Baikal MP-654, original Umarex Walther PPK/S and Umarex Ruger Superhawk for example). The C.9 can hit a coke can sized target 5 out of 6 times at 9m range. I have no idea why. Internal construction seems very similar to the other Chinese springers I have reviewed and it has a very short plastic inner barrel, but this one just shoots much better and with more power. One thing that’s notable about the C.9 is that it seems to work best with 0.25g BBs. Most springers are low powered and are best suited to 0.2g or even 0.12g BBs, but not this one – it gives much better accuracy with the heavier BBs while still providing good power.

sp16Six shots from just over 9m, semi-rested and using the same BBs. Horizontal spread is 1½”, vertical spread is under 1”.

Like most springers, the C.9 is fun to shoot. However, it’s also powerful and accurate enough that you need to start thinking about things like stance and breathing. That’s not particularly common for any BB shooter and certainly not for a low-cost springer. The lack of recoil and the need to re-cock for every shot is a little irritating compared to a blowback replica, but then not having to bother with CO2 or gas is great.

Quality and reliability 12/15

Construction of the C.9 is very simple. The slide is cast in two halves which are secured by two crosshead screws. Removing the slide halves reveals the main spring, slide return spring, barrel and the plastic loading nozzle. The short, plastic inner barrel is retained inside a plastic housing onto which the chrome metal outer barrel is screwed. The barrel assembly is fixed in place in the frame. The lower frame is also cast in two halves retained by crosshead screws and houses the trigger and hammer assembly and magazine release. All parts of the trigger assembly are plastic but the magazine catch is metal. The plastic grips clip in place – what appear to be hex-headed retaining screws are moulded plastic.

sp11The sharpness and quality of castings and mouldings is very good

One thing that’s notable about this replica is the quality of the castings. These are very sharp indeed and every detail is nicely done. The slide release and manual safety are part of the frame casting, but you can’t easily tell that by looking at it. This looks and handles like a quality replica despite its miniscule price tag. There’s a lot of plastic inside the C.9, but so far nothing has broken or is showing signs of wear. I haven’t suffered a single mis-feed or failure to fire with the C.9.

sp4The black finish is evenly applied and seems to be reasonably hard wearing. It certainly seems to be thicker and more wear resistant than the coatings used on many much more expensive replicas. The white markings haven’t shown any tendency to rub off yet, something that happens on a number of Chinese-made replicas.

Overall impression 13/15

The C.9 has good weight, which always helps to make a replica feel convincing. It’s a good size too – compact, but not so small that it’s difficult to find a good grip. There is no play or wobble in the slide and the magazine inserts and releases cleanly and without any movement. When you rack the slide to cock the pistol the action feels precise. The trigger releases cleanly, smoothly and with very little movement.

sp2Despite its small size, low price and very simple internal construction, this actually looks and handles fairly well. It shoots with a subdued crack rather than a bang, but it doesn’t feel as cheap and nasty as some other spring pistols I have tried. What really makes this replica stand out is that it’s such a great shooter – I have paid ten and even twenty times as much for replicas that didn’t shoot as well as this. Because of that it’s easy to ignore its other shortcomings.

Conclusion

sp6I used to be fairly dismissive about spring powered replicas. Frankly, I thought they were all cheap and nasty. Some are (see the review of the ZP-6 Revolver, for example), but this one isn’t and it shoots better than it has any right to. It’s a pity that there hasn’t been some attempt to replicate a 1911 style sliding trigger and the markings are just silly. But I have been having so much fun shooting with the C.9 that I haven’t even thought about these issues.

sp5I paid the equivalent of $6 (about £4) for my C.9 here in SE Asia but even in other parts of the world these don’t sell for much money. Add to that that the fact that you don’t need to buy CO2 or gas and replica shooting doesn’t come much cheaper or simpler than this. If you’re not sure about springers, see if you can find one of these. It won’t cost you much and you may just find that it changes your mind.

Happy shooting

Total score: 74/100

Related pages

ZP-6 Revolver review

Umarex Ruger Superhawk review

Independent, objective and unbiased replica pistol reviews