One of the latest additions to my Art Deco .32 ACP collection is a French pistol. The MAB (Manufacture d’Armes de Bayonne) [Bayonne (France) Arms Manufacturing] model D, in the popular European caliber 7.65 Browning, or as it is known in the United States, .32 ACP.
MAB opened in 1920, survived the Second World War and was finally taken over by Fabrique National (FN) of Herstal, Belgium in the 1970s. The last plant was closed in the 1980s. The model D was made by MAB from 1933 to about 1963 (exact dates seem to be missing). The pistol was used by several French agencies (Customs and National Police) after 1945. In my internet research, I could not find any information on manufacture dates; so I don’t know when mine was made.
The pistol I have was imported to the United States by Federal Ordnance, Inc. It comes in a cardboard box printed up with a drawing of the pistol, a rendition of the Eiffel Tower and a drawing of a perceived French police officer holding such a pistol in a ‘firing position’. Also on the cover of the box is the legend, “1 each certified French Surete Pistol”; which reminds of the “Genuine Hopalong Cassidy” cap gun I had as a kid. The box also has a marking showing Federal Ordnance’s 20th anniversary in 1986. So the pistol was imported no earlier than 1986. Also shown is the stock number of the item and the pistol’s serial number, hand written in the pre-printed space provided.
The sales box also includes a safety warnings booklet dated 1984 (?), a limited warranty card warning against the use of reloads by anyone or anything, an exploded diagram with parts list, and a post card for information for the National Rifle Association. No historical information provided. Sigh.The pistol itself is a medium sized handgun. It is somewhat longer and taller than a Walther PPK/s, and is very nearly the same size as a Colt 1903 Pocket Pistol. The Model D has a lanyard ring on the heel of the butt, and was carried often in a belt type holster as part of a uniform. It is not a particularly small pistol, and does not have the rounded off look of the Colt Pocket Pistol. It is just less than two pounds in weight. It is just a hair over 6 3/4ths inches long, 5 inches high counting the rear sight and lanyard mount, and about an inch thick if the thumb rest is ignored; counting it broadens the horizon to about 1 5/8ths inches. Barrel (from breechface to muzzle) is 3 15/16ths inches. According to one article, the barrel is 101mm long in Metric. I’ve never understood why makers didn’t use ‘even’ numbers.
The .32 ACP chambering probably seems odd to the American shooter, but most European countries considered a .32 ACP pistol a normal pistol round. (In one publication I read .32 ACP was part of the NAZI German supply chain, whereas .380 ACP was not.)
The external and some of the internal design is similar to the Browning pistol of 1910/1922. At least one source cites the model D was loosely copied from the 1910 Browning. It is a simple blowback, semi-automatic pistol. It is internally striker fired and in that has the trigger and firing characteristics of a single action pistol. The internal firing mechanism of the MAB is unique to the company. It is a fairly simple design with few moving parts. There is a manual safety catch and slide lock, inconveniently located forward of the left grip panel, and the ubiquitously French magazine safety.
My particular specimen has an ‘adjustable’ (windage only) rear sight which fits loosely in the dovetail slot – about 3/32th inch of horizontal play – and MAB marked plastic grips with a thumb rest on the left grip. My understanding is the ‘adjustable’ sight was added onto the pistols imported to the U. S. in an attempt to portray them as something special. Heaven help the poor soul issued a pistol with such a sight. The sight notch is narrow and tends to blend with the front sight while taking aim; not the best of possibilities.
The thumb rest grip is also not the usual grip on this pistol. I’ve found some photos of others, but all in conjunction with the ‘adjustable’ sight. The thumb rest grip is not uncomfortable, but makes the pistol awkward, if not uncomfortable, to shoot left handed. Not a brilliant move for a police or military sidearm. To clarify, the standard issue Model D had fixed sights and normal flat grips on both sides.Sights are the small, unobtrusive, frustrating to see sort. (I’ve secured and replaced the ‘adjustable’ sight with a standard fixed rear sight. Happily, it doesn’t shift.) The front sight – which seems to be milled from the stock which formed the slide – is narrow; about 1/16th of an inch. The front sight reminds me of the original G. I. sights on a Government Model. The rear ‘adjustable’ sight has a notch of about the same width. The result is, when aligned, there is a bit of light on either side of the front sight, but not much. I’ve noted pistols with wider front sight blades and wider rear sight notches are much easier to sight quickly. I gather in Europe as in the U. S. during this period, people had much better eyes than currently. Or they didn’t bother with sights. (Except for men like Ed McGivern, et al who were considered absolutely amazing.)
The trigger breaks with comfortably excessive travel – by my measurement, the trigger travels at least 1/16th of an inch to release the sear and a total of nearly 1/4th inch after sear release before it stops – and takes about 6 pounds of force. Not as bad as some is the nicest thing I can say. Creep and a sluggish let off come to mind. For all that, it is controllable.
Overall the pistol is pretty good looking from a manufacturing standpoint. The flats are smooth and finished. The checkering on the magazine release is sharp. The serrations on the barrel bushing and the slide are even, straight and clean. The factory applied roll stamps and identification marks are clean and neat. The bluing is done well. All this, of course, allowing for the dings and scratches of outrageous fortune that have beset this particular pistol since manufacture. (It has been dropped or dragged on something at least once.) It was made with some care; no grinder marks or file marks. The only bits of ‘cheap’ I see are the later added importation marks hand stamped to comply with U. S. importation regulations and that idiot rear sight.
For testing purposes, I found a ‘deal’ on Prvi Partisan ammunition (manufactured in Serbia, according to the box). This is the ammunition that used to be imported and marketed under the ‘Hansen’ brand name. It is brass cased, boxer primed, and of seemingly consistent quality. There’s an outfit on line at http://www.sgammo.com who does good prices and availability for those who buy ammo to shoot. (Of course, the anti-gun faction wants to put them out of business.)
And so it was I went to the range. I took the pistol, both magazines, a fifty round box of Prvi Partisan .32 ACP ammunition, an NRA B27 target and the assorted paraphernalia pertaining to shooting a pistol at the range.
In order to be thrifty and only use one target for testing, I came up with the clever idea of using various aiming points to test a particular pistol or ammunition.
All groups are five rounds, fired deliberately to obtain best accuracy from the pistol.
First at the upper numeral “8” of the scoring rings at three yards.
Second at the lower numeral “8”, seven yards.
Third at the “X”, fifteen yards.
Fourth at the center of the head, twenty-five yards.
A final group of five shots fired point shoulder from ten yards. But after marking the other groups.
Hopefully, none of these groups overlap too much and one can discern sight regulation (where the sights actually point) and the pistol’s inherent tendency to either group or scatter shots as the case may be.
Remember I mentioned the ‘adjustable’ rear sight was loose in the slot? I attempted to correct for this by pressing the sight to the right prior to each shot. It didn’t work. The three yard group wasn’t bad, but the seven yard group was far looser than I thought it should be and the fifteen yard group was ‘vague’ at best. I packed up my stuff and went home.
The fixed rear sight arrived from ‘Gun Parts Corp’ – known to some of us as ‘Numrich Arms’. I installed it, centered it as best I could and was off the range again.
The three yard group – in the yellow circle about the numeral “8” – was pretty acceptable, except one sees the sights are regulated to the left. I will accept responsibility for not perfectly centering the rear sight (as noted, I replaced the adjustable sight with a fixed version) but the adjustable sight shot left as well.
The five shot group on the X ring was fired at 15 yards, and does pretty well. In all likelihood, this is the maximum effective range for this pistol in terms of accuracy. The power level being rather low, closer is better. Note the tendency to shoot left is increasing.
The five shot group at the head from twenty-five yards is curious. When I get sloppy, I normally shoot a group stringing from high right to low left; this group is opposite, so I think I can avoid responsibility. The shots were aimed at the lower right hand corner of the head portion, where I marked in an ‘X’ (after I shot). One notes one shot hole is very close to the X aiming point. I must have thrown that shot – considering all the other careful shots were high and left of the aiming point. (Tsk.) There are then three shots on the left side and just left of the head portion. All things considered, they are fair at best. If I center up the rear sight and file a touch off the top of the rear sight, I think registration would be better. But if I do all that, I’ll be tempted to open up the rear sight some and square it out… and I want to maintain the basic configuration as much as possible.
The remaining five shots at about seven o’clock in the seven ring are the result of ‘point shoulder shooting’ from about ten yards out. Just for the record, ‘point shoulder shooting’ in this instance indicates the pistol is extended in front of the body and the eye roughly lines up the slide and target. That they are low and left are indicative of my natural tendency to ‘milk’ my shooting hand and give such shots. Still, if centered on the target, all shots would have been suitably on target.
At the risk of offended the spirit of Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau, the MAB model D is not a seriously precise pistol. It is not as bad as some I’ve shot (I remember shooting a much-fired WWII era High Power that would group nicely on a full sized refrigerator at about fifty yards… it was worn severely) but it is no big prize in the accuracy department. Perhaps I’m sounding too critical. The accuracy is ‘adequate’ in terms of defense. It will stay on a human silhouette out to twenty-five yards. However, the limited horsepower it presents demands very precise shots in order to be effective. I could not imagine shooting small game at any distance exceeding five to seven yards. Part of the problem is the small, narrow and just plain difficult to see sights. Remember, all the groups I fired were slow fire, with deliberation and attempting to give the best results possible.
Just to be ‘fair’, perhaps I should adjust the sights and re-try the accuracy testing. I’ll keep in touch.
On the plus side, the pistol worked well. All shots went off on schedule, function was excellent and both magazines performed as they ought. Just for the notes, all ejected cases were neatly on line with the position of the pistol – perhaps a bit to the front – and hit the ground roughly five feet away. It is a reliable pistol, and that speaks volumes when carrying a defensive pistol.The one insufficient feature is the combination manual safety and slide lock, located on the left side of the pistol. Instead of being located aft, where it could be operated by the right hand thumb – as in the case of the Government Model, Browning High Power, most Walther and S&W products, it is located at the rear of the trigger area. My thumb won’t even reach it, let alone operate it. It has to be manipulated by the left hand; end of discussion. I find that unsuitable. If carried with a round in the chamber, both hands are required to get the pistol into firing mode. As a mechanical note, the manual safety engages the trigger transfer bar and prevents it from being ‘pulled’. This does not – as far as I can tell – block movement of the sear.
The magazine release is a button at the rear of the trigger area, much the same as the Government Model or PP/PPk pistols. I was expecting the heel of the butt sort of slider, common to European pistols.
There is a grip safety incorporated. Rather than just block the trigger, it forms part of the firing assembly and the trigger does not make contact with the sear without the grip safety being depressed.
The magazine safety – so loved by French pistols designers – also interrupts the trigger transfer chain when the magazine is removed. It works smoothly and without bother, but I personally cannot see the need for such a device.
I found most of the fired cases. (The firing area has been recently graveled, and while it is nice and flat and doesn’t muck up, small fired cases tend to blend in pretty well.) All but one of the cases shows a lusty and deep firing pin indentation. Most of the cases have the ‘burnt powder smear’ signifying some blow back of powder. No cases are dented, mashed, clawed or deformed to any serious extent.
In conclusion, this is an interesting pistol of historical value. It is not suitable – in my not so humble opinion – for a dedicated self-defense arm for citizen or law officer. It is superior to a Nagant revolver or a top break Iver-Johnson, but that is somewhat akin to the compliment of ‘For a fat girl, you don’t sweat much’. It is reliable and – other than the manual safety and thumb rest – rather user friendly. It is modestly accurate, enough for short range defense. The main drawback of course is the limited power of the cartridge it fires. Even with multiple shots, it is not a proper fight stopper.