The Savage Firearms Company Model 1917 Pistol, Caliber .32 ACP

1917 First impressions first. All my shooting life I’ve been warned of and suffered from ‘hammer bite’ while shooting a Government Model Colt or any of the copies or clones thereof. I’ve been ‘bitten’ by a Beretta 418 pistol, when the slide rails nicked the web of my shooting hand. I even heard ‘Beretta bite’ mentioned on a television program – the same day, in fact. I’ve never heard of “Savage bite’ – but it occurs as well! Not serious, but enough to get one’s attention, the slide rails again dug into the web of my shooting hand enough to draw blood. Sigh. Photo of wound incurred included.

The Savage autopistol is one of those near genius designs. It is a retarded blowback action, claimed in early advertising to be ‘locked’ at the moment of firing. The short version is, the barrel must be rotated a few degrees in order for the slide to move in recoil. The bullet travelling down the barrel, being spun by the rifling in the barrel is rotating the same direction the barrel must turn, imparting a radial momentum preventing rotational movement of the barrel. So until the bullet leaves the bore, the barrel cannot turn to unlock the slide. Or so the advertising says.

The system worked well enough to allow a pistol chambered in .45 ACP to function properly and pass the first set of trials for the ‘new’ Army pistol – which resulted in the adoption of the M1911, designed by John Browning and built by Colt Firearms (and others). Savage had a chance to be the M1911 pistol, but didn’t want to commit the money and machinery to build more pistols for testing.

The series of pistols known as the Savage autoloading pistols began in 1907, utilizing a patent granted in 1905. It was designed by a gentleman named Elbert Searle, who was not at the time part of the Savage Firearms Company. It’s a somewhat complicated story and not in the scope of this report, so I refer the reader so interested to the book Savage Pistols, by Bailey Brower, Jr.

The first pistol was called the model 1907. There was a design revision which concealed the manually controllable striker called the model 1915 and finally the model 1917, which brought back an exposed ‘hammer’ attached to the striker.

The pistol being the subject of this report is a model 1917. The biggest single identifier of the model 1917 is the near triangular grip profile. I must say the grip is very comfortable. One feels a grip which affords ‘total control’ over the handling and recoil of the pistol. (Just for comparison, my hands are just big enough to fully grip a Colt Government Model pistol. I can shoot a Government Model one-handed and feel in control of the pistol. I feel my grip is rather ‘incomplete’ shooting most double stack magazine pistols. Including Glocks. Don’t ask.)

This particular pistol found its way into my life and collection in a gun show in Orlando, Florida. It was just sitting there on a table with a modest price tag. It is in fairly good shape, not perfect, not in box, but in fair finish, a shootable bore – some dark in the grooves – and complete. The grips are very sharp in the fine detail; one can read the ‘trade mark’ legend in the now politically incorrect American indigenous native logo. Of note, the grips are not broken or cracked. There is some bluing loss and a bit of ‘freckling’ on the top of the slide. Most of the frame is quite well preserved and there are no gross bumps, bruises or dings, save one bit of rub wear on the right side of the slide near the muzzle; not normal holster wear. It came with one magazine which if anything, is a bit more worn than the pistol proper. One never knows, but I conjecture the original was lost and replaced.

With a box of my standard Prvi Partizan ammunition, chronograph and a B27 target, off to the range.
In spite of the over eight pound trigger pull, it shoots fairly well. The trigger pull is about 8.25 pounds, according to my trigger gauge. I noted the trigger travels about 1/8th inch of slack, then about 1/16th inch to release the sear; over travel is minimal. Sadly, the sear is unreliable and will be explained later.
As with all pistols of this era, the sights are rather small and unobtrusive. As is the norm with this class of pistol, the sights are fixed and in the case of the Savage, are milled from the same stock as the slide. One can do some minor adjustments for windage by carefully filing out the rear notch but I’m not going to do that.
The three yard group was fired at the upper “8” in the scoring rings and is encouragingly tight and on target.
The seven yard group was fired at the lower “8” in the scoring rings. This grouping is also encouragingly tight, and just a bit removed to the left; not enough to cause concern.
The fifteen yard group was fired at the “X” and is all within the “10” ring. Sufficient for self-defense use, I should say. This group shows a bit of leftward incline, but is still sufficiently centered.
The five shot group fired from twenty-five yards is nicely contained on the head of the target. Frankly, I was just a bit surprised it grouped as well as it did. To be fair, this was fired (as all other groups) outside in broad daylight. I could find the sights and line them up properly. Of all criticisms of this pistol, accuracy is not a concern.
The ‘point shoulder’ group was fired at ten yards. There were only two shots fired, both off to the left and low – no doubt a result of my clutching the pistol as the shots were delivered. Still on the target.
This brings up a troubling development.
While shooting the previous groups, I noted the pistol would end on occasion with the hammer down on the empty chamber following firing the last round in the magazine. When I charged the chamber for the last string of ‘point shoulder’ shooting, the pistol discharged when I let the slide go forward. For some reason, the sear is not consistently engaging. Upon inspection, I found the hammer to follow when the slide was dropped on an empty chamber. So I’m looking into the matter and not shooting this pistol further. Happily, I had already fired the five shots over the chronograph – without incident, I add.

Chronograph results of five shots gave me an average velocity of 755 feet per second. According to Savage advertising of the era, the ‘locked breech’ action gives all the power available from the cartridge. It is not notably ‘faster’ – more efficient – than other .32 ACP pistols I have examined. So much for advertising claims.

Other than the mechanical deficiency noted regarding the sear, this pistol is a well built and useful pocket pistol. The safety mechanism (thumb operated analogous to the Colt type) is positive and can be easily applied and released. Accuracy is quite good, in spite of small fixed sights and a heavy trigger. Were the sear reliable – I’m sure they normally are – and I had more confidence in the power of the cartridge – which I do not – this would be an excellent carry pistol. It does pretty much what is needed and without extraneous frills and doodads.

33 Comments

Filed under Firearms and their use

33 responses to “The Savage Firearms Company Model 1917 Pistol, Caliber .32 ACP

  1. Thomas Chumley

    I recall about a million years ago, Sears (might have Monkey-Wards) was selling them for $12.95 apiece – wish I’d bought about a hundred!

    Chum

    Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2012 22:40:15 +0000 To: tp_chumley@hotmail.com

  2. Ah, for the delightful days prior to the GCA 68 requiring a ‘Federal Firearms License’ to sell firearms. When ‘hardware’ stores could sell hardware. Good memories of a more innocent age.

    The pistols in question were fairly affordable for an ordinary person. The Colt Single Action went for about $20.00 at the turn of the last Century, but that was a month’s pay for most working people.

    I don’t think either Sears or M – Wards even admits to ever selling firearms these days. Horrors!

  3. Hugh Honeycutt

    OH Yes! back of the comic books “M1 carbines $9.95 shipped to your home!” Before ATF … the Gerande was $19.95 …. could never talk my dad into buying us a hundered or so … course he only made $80.00 clear a week at that time … my first deer rifle was a British Infield .303 cost $17.00 at Western Auto good rifle …

    • Mr. Honeywell, welcome. I remember “J. C. Higgins” and “Ted Williams” sporting goods being sold at Sears, once upon a long ago. I must confess, I do not remember the Allstate 50cc motorcycle.

      I do not recall any comic books advertising firearms by mail. (I read DC comics, Superman and Batman, almost exclusively. They were in NYC as I recall and didn’t hold with guns as I recall.) I saw them in the gun magazines and ‘sporting’ magazines of the time – pre 1968. Garand (pronounced ‘GER-and’ or ‘GER-und’ by the designer) were going for $69.99 each, plus shipping. Within 15 years, they were costing ten times as much. I also remember Century Arms advertising Luger pistols for around $30.00; a few dollars more for ‘select’ grade. Lugers that are put together from odd bits are going for $1000.00 at a minimum.

      Yes, Western Auto used to sell ‘sporting goods’, including firearms and ammunition. I used to have a box of Western Auto brand .22 ammunition; sold it to a collector, as I recall.

  4. matt

    I think I grew up with some old hardware store guns, brand names like “Revelation”.. and i can recall a more modern hardware+furniture+appliance store that also sold some firearms including handguns. used to look at them as a kid. The store is still around, moved into a newer building.. but i have never gone in to see if they stuck with their guns into the new millennium.

    More to the point, I recently picked up one of these 1917 32 caliber pistols. According to a serial number lookup I found, this one in the 240xxx range was made in 1920. it does not have the “Savage model 1917″ markings on the frame which seems to mean “early production”: Also the gun store guy did not know what model to write down on the paperwork! Frankly they didn’t know what kind of money this gun COULD have sold for in the right market either :) The magazine holds the full 10 rounds and is in really good cosmetic shape. the gun is around 75% to 80% I guess. Just some wear, no abuse. grips not cracked. Color case hardened trigger. The only thing left ladies & gents is to see whether it still fires 10 shots quick.

    • Matt, nice to hear from you.

      Sadly, many of the old hardware stores went out of the gun business following the ‘Gun Control Act of 1968′ (GCA68). That was the second federal law to end the problem of gun violence; the first being the ‘National Firearms Act of 1934′ to end the problem of machineguns. GCA68 began the requirement for anyone in the business of selling guns to obtain a ‘Federal Firearms License’ (FFL) in order to sell guns commercially. When that happened, many of the smaller hardware stores were pushed out of the gun business due to overhead. Then some states like California, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York added more restrictions.

      Congratulations on your Savage. The 240XXX serial number range – according to Savage Pistols by Bailey Brower, Jr, the series in which yours was made ran from 1920 to 1921 and I would guess probably 1921. However, this was the first production run of the 1917 pistol. Your pistol should have the larger, triangular grip frame and grips, the ‘spur’ type cocking lever instead of the ‘rowel’ type, and the 28 fine cocking serrations on the slide. You are correct in they did not carry the “Savage 1917 Model” marking on the frame.

      I’ve shot all three of my Savages. All fired without problem except one had a worn sear; it would sometimes fire two in a row or fire the first round when inserting a full magazine and releasing the slide. You might want to try the first few shots with one round only in the magazine and make sure the hammer does not follow.

      They are fun guns. I very much like the way they feel in the hand and shoot. Keep in touch and tell me how it works.

      • matt

        We tried firing the pistol today after work. 9 for 9 bullets down range and empties cycled out, but most every fresh round from the magazine failed to feed and caused a jam. We took it inside to the drawing board to study the problem and hope to make it run smoothly soon.

        I noticed earlier that most of my top Google search results for the Savage pistols are already purple.. already visited.. so the Brower book is definitely on my short list.

  5. Most rounds from the magazine jammed? That has not been a problem with my examples. You did clean the beast completely? Wipe out all the old somewhat solidified oil or grease? The other possibility is the recoil spring is getting ‘soft’. You might try just pulling the recoil spring to stretch it a bit and see if that (temporarily) fixes the problem.

    If you want to know about Savage pistols, the book is worth having. If I recall correctly, I got mine from Amazon.com (no financial connections) and it was fairly reasonable for books of this type. In the same manner as interesting firearms, one cannot have too many good books.

    Replacement springs are available from a couple of sources, the main ones being “Gun Parts Co” (formerly Numrich Arms) and “Jack First Co”. Both have websites. There are several other old gun parts places as well; an internet search will turn them up for you.

    • matt

      Cleaning the beast was first priority, because it was put away dirty & sold the same way. No one at the shop could say when it might have been fired last or where it came from, but the fouling on the gun seemed recent. The old Savage 1917 owners manual from vintagepistols.com says to use a light oil and never grease this pistol, but since joining the M1 Garand Collector’s Association I’ve been using grease on semi-autos. It just seems logical to use lubricant that stays in place wherever 2 metal pieces slide across each other, So, sparingly, we lubricated the slide rails, barrel rotating lug, and other visibly worn points of metal-on metal-contact with the TW25 goo that the SIG-Sauer people include with their pistols nowadays.

      The magazine is in rougher shape than first realized. The catch holes in the front are damaged and the rough edges inside are causing friction with the spring. The spring itself is suspect, and the base plate is slightly pulled away. I have not found good reference photos of the original magazines (the book might come in handy here) but this one seems to be of low quality or damaged by a previous owner. 380 ACP rounds fit the magazine and the 32 caliber rounds fall out if the mag is dropped, so I wonder if it’s even correct for this gun. I do not know if the magazines for the 380 version of the pistol have different dimensions that would make this impossible or not.. its just a thought that crossed my mind. Regardless, a new magazine should be on the way soon.

      • Sounds like the magazine is problematic.

        The .32 magazine and the .380 magazine are the same basic body – they have to be as the frames for the two version are the same. The opening and lips are different, of course to properly hold the next cartridge in place and to release that cartridge to the slide at the proper time.

        Sounds like you have the problem in hand.

        Oil – light grease? Yeah, I agree. Garands need grease on certain junctures and I’ve always liked a light grease on the slide-frame joints; but find that Break Free CLP does a very good job and doesn’t migrate.

        Too much oil or grease can pick up dust or pocket lint. In really cold weather (right now it is in the low 30s or high 20s in Nebraska here) grease can stiffen up and prevent free movement. Always something, huh? Let me know how the new magazine works.

  6. Maggie

    I picked up a Savage .32 (serial # indicates a 1914 production date) for under thirty dollars in 1968, and after fam-firing it 3 years in a row, on the fourth outing it fired off an entire clip, full-auto. I presumed the sear broke and set it aside. With more time available these days, I broke it out with the intention of finding the broken part. Your report of sear failure gave me pause to consider pushing a few more rounds through it to ascertain if it is a chronic or episodic problem. Do you have any suggestions for finding parts should my little savage need something?

    • A handgun firing all the rounds in the magazine without pause gives new meaning to the Savage advertising claim of “Ten shots quick!”. (He said with a small chuckle as he wipes a tear from his eye.) Yes, as far as I can tell, the sear seems to get touchy with age, use or crud and does not reliably hold a full cock. If you are going to do a little testing, I suggest you only load the magazine with one or two rounds, rather than full.

      The ‘usual suspects’ for finding parts for obsolete guns are Gun Parts Corp (http://www.gunpartscorp.com/) and Jack First Company (http://www.jackfirstgun.com/index.php). There are a few others which can be found by doing an internet search for ‘obsolete gun parts’. Be warned the sear was changed during the production life of the pistol, not all are the same. A 1914 production date means your pistol should – he said hopefully – have a ‘type 3′ breechblock. Another problem is replacing the part. I’ve had one of these breechblocks apart and report that while I did get it back together, it requires three hands, a microscopic pin punch and a seven pound hammer. Nor am I aware of any gunsmiths who are familiar with this pistol type. Sigh…

      Does your pistol have a lanyard ring? If so, it will be a wire type loop at the heel of the grip frame; inserted into a hole running through the frame. If so, your pistol is one of the “Military Contract” pistols sold to either France (most likely) or Portugal (less likely). In any event, the chamber is milled out for a ‘loaded round indicator’, but most of them are broken. That doesn’t make the gun unsafe to shoot, but it is probably not there at all.

      I have to ask, what is an odologist? This not only stumps me, but Merriam-Webster as well. Unless it is one who deals with odometers?

      • We live in an age in which the old bonds of language are no more; “odologist” is a totally made up concept describing one who studies travel routes and modes of surface movement (think odometer). My calling is I find old paths, trails, and roads (www.tradingpath.org).

        No lanyard ring present though there is a rectangular gap in the bolt that reveals brass when a round is chambered.

        I’d forgotten what a tight, little piece it was after having it salted away for so long. The main attraction of firearms for me is precision machining, and this .32 is a real testimonial to good engineering and manufacturing values. Makes me want to own other Savage products. I’m in the market for a plinkiing .22, and I may limit my search to Savage in appreciation for the production values I’ve seen. Of course, like so many of our mfrs, Savage may have, in the interim, opted for cheap and disposable but I hope not.

        Thanks for the background on my firearm.

  7. BTW – I went to the Dixie Gun and Knife show today hoping to find a Savage smart gunsmith or a parts dealer. I arrived coincident with the ambulances called to cart off the wounded. I doubt an anti-gun fanatic could have planned a better example of an idiot owning a weapon.

    All I know is rumor but the credible rumor was that the guy cleared his rifle inside the venue and lost his grip on the actuator and thereby set in train a discharge soon to be heard all through the land.

  8. Thanks for clearing up the odologist question. It actually sounds both useful and fun. I once identified myself as “Galactic Effectuator”, but I don’t get around as much as I did, once upon a long ago.

    I heard about the gun show negligent discharge today. Those things do happen and life goes on; but the media gets more worked up over a single, isolated incident such as this with no one killed and the ‘victims’ only somewhat inconvenienced than for a 27 car pile up on some interstate with several dead and dozens wounded. So much for unbiased.

    Say, if you do find a gunsmith who is knowledgeable about these pistols, let me know.

    I really do like the Savage pistols and most of the ‘Art Deco’ .32 ACP or 7.65mm pistols of the era. As you say, they were well made, usually well planned and designed and just have a certain flavor of elegance absent from utilitarian, plastic framed tools. (Which may be excellent tools, but lack ‘soul’.)

    There are a couple more handguns I will discuss here. Of various calibers.

  9. matt

    Have been playing with my 1917 some more. I figured out how to disassemble the magazine. We were able to improve the functioning, but the worn out mag will not stay fully seated without a hand held underneath it. Shot about 20 through it today in this way with only the magazine problems.

    At one point I was clearing a jam and dropped the magazine while kneeling; all 8 or so remaining rounds fell out in a pile around it on the ground. Never seen that happen before. One round failed to fire even after a second strike. It’s PMC generic FMJ ammo.

    I found one other magazine for sale out there online besides the Triple-K, but the manufacturer or capacity is not listed. We inquired about the capacity and got a quick email response, something like :”I dunno, never loaded one up”. So, we will try the Triple-K one. Heard a good word about them at a recent gun show.

  10. matt

    We have taken some pics
    The Savage itself

    Savage started with a full size 45 caliber pistol in the 1911 pistol trial and scaled it down to 380 and 32. Colt tried much the same thing many years later with the Mustang Pocketlite mini 1911 .380 ACP. We used to speak of this pistol in the past tense, but it has returned this year after being discontinued previously, possibly because Sig Sauer brought out their own mini 1911 380 called the P238 and it has sold like gangbusters.

    Thats the one I have. Flat black metal & rosewood, can’t beat it. Notice the cool little holster it came with:

    fits the 1917 very well!

  11. That is a nice looking Savage. Triple K seems to be the only game in town for some magazines. They usually work pretty well. If your original magazine is not staying in the pistol, either the magazine catch or the lock hole in the magazine is worn or bent. Just a thought.

    The little SIG is nice as well; but it is too easy to shoehorn a 9×19 round into a pistol that size. (Even if the recoil is increased.)

    That holster seems to fit, but it leaves something out esthetically. I keep thinking about making a ‘period’ type holster for mine, but haven’t quite done it yet. I’ll have to move that project up to the ‘not putting it off so much list.”

    • I would share a picture of my piece and the holster provided when I bought it in ’68 but I can’t find a way to inject a photo. If you have a G+ account I can share it with you there.

  12. Steve Klein

    Like Matt, my pistol won’t spit out empties. I wonder if it’s the ammo.

  13. Bruce R Nelson

    EXCELLENT story. I have a 1917 “model) in such pristine shape I may offer it to a collector. Both grip are unblemished/mint condition. Thanks for your forum. Now I need to find me a buyer (I am not a dealer)

  14. Pingback: The Savage Automatic Pistol – Model 1917 | Discreet Inquiry The Savage Automatic Pistol – Model 1917 | Investigating the World of Classic Detective Fiction

  15. How delightful to be quoted in someone else’s blog!

  16. kevin vc

    Currently have 3 of the Savage .32’s. One is a 1917, currently in a ziploc at my gunsmith awaiting him to replace a part if he can find one. Another is a 1907 made in 1913(sn#89XXX), the 3rd? I will have to dig out of the safe as it’s been so long since messed with it. the 1907 has been reblued and has a nice custom wood grips. Looks sharp, shoots good enough for EDC. I also have a extra slide, not sure for which model, I will need to dig that up. Hopefully these are two pics of the 1907 https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/8Ujy03G4zqxVj389bfgIo85Cfv8FOWk_LlJ6-XgRPW4=w346-h207-p-no
    https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/w5OGXMD-KuYTFyCCaQfJOKUbnK1Zle6VEcLgNgrvb-U=w346-h207-p-no Sorry for the blurry pic

  17. Dave Roberts

    Are there other brands (i.e. ruger, berretta, etc.) that make a magazine that will fit and function as the original 10 round Savage 1917 .32 acp?
    There seem to be only high priced and 7-8 round ones available on the web and other sources. Prices for the original are ridiculous..
    Thanks
    Dave

    • Hello, Mr. Roberts. To my knowledge, no other ‘brand’ will fit. Most companies want to sell their own magazines and in many cases, the patent protection is still in force. Not with the Savages, as they quit making-selling these pistols some sixty or seventy years ago. As you have found, there are a couple aftermarket companies still selling magazines for these pistols. The good news is all the Savage .32 ACP pistols will interchange magazines (some very early 1907 models require a slight adaptation to the magazine). The bad news is not many people use this pistols any more so the demand – and production – is rather low. I would prefer to bear good news, but I fear I cannot. My very best wishes to you.

      • Dave Roberts

        Mr.Montgomery,
        Thanks for the rapid response.
        You confirmed what I suspected. I will pursue this by attending used gun shows and keeping apprised of future offerings from the many sources.
        Thanks again and what an informational site you have created.

  18. Glad to have helped, such as it is. Thank you for your kind words. And that reminds me, I have a couple other pistols I should report.

  19. Mike Tims

    I have 4 of the 1907 Savage’s in .32 ACP and 1 1917 in .380. The first 1907 by mail order in 1961. All I needed back then was a purchase permit from the local sheriff. The latest purchase was the 1917 .380 just this week. Parts are getting harder to find and had to settle for a spur cocking lever for a 1907 (from Numrich Arms) to replace the very worn spur cocking lever on the 1917. I know they are interchangeable as I put a 1917 spur cocking lever on my 1907 back in 1962.
    I shoot all my firearms and will not own a safe queen. I also consider most pistols to be works of art and the Savage Pocket pistols to be one of the finest examples.

  20. Mr. Tims, I agree with the idea of pistols – and firearms in general – to be mostly works of art. Especially the pistols of the early 20th Century; and – as noted – I appreciate the Savage pistols as well. I collect only those in .32 ACP caliber for simplicity. Thank you.

  21. Ed

    Before the SIG 238, before the Colt Pocketlite, there was the F.I. Model D with serial numbers starting with “CPA”:

    http://lmgfirearms.com/2011/11/02/working-on-the-fi-model-d-with-cpa-serial-numbers/

  22. Pingback: Fun Show Time! | Xcuz Me

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