The Art Deco .32 Automatic pistol collection: The MAB modele D

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.

The model D with thumb rest grip.

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.

Comparative size of MAB ‘D’, Colt 1903 Pocket Pistol and Walther PPK/s

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.

MAB front sight blade

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.

MAB fixed rear sight

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.)

Sight alignment, or, the view from the control end

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.

Five shot group on the lower numeral “8” fired at seven yards. Not bad, off to the left.

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.

MAB Model D, manual safety & slide lock and magazine release – slide markings

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.

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16 Comments

Filed under Firearms and their use

16 responses to “The Art Deco .32 Automatic pistol collection: The MAB modele D

  1. Bill

    Hi —
    The MAB D was made from 1933 until the early 1980s, when MAB closed. It was made in three variants, the Type I, II and III. The Type I was in production from 1933 until June 1945, when it was replaced by the Type II, which remained in production until the mid-1960s, when it was replaced by the Type III. Throughout production, it was made in 7.65mm/.32ACP and 9mm short/.380ACP, except from Sept 1939 until the late 1940s (ie, for the French military at the beginning of WWII, by the German Army during the occupation of France, and for the French military after liberation until commercial production resumed in the late 1940s, when it was made only in 7.65mm, a standard European military caliber of the period).

    The model D was used by the French military from early WWII, when the need for sidearms exceeded the production capacity of the new (and more powerful) official sidearm (the model 1935-A, to which was added the 1935-S) until the late 1940s, seeing post-WWII service in Indochina and North Africa.

    Some 50,000 were also produced and used by the occupying German army during the occupation of France (1940-1944), with examples showing pretty much everywhere the German military could be found. Before WWII, it was used by various French state agencies, and again after liberation. After liberation, these pistols typically received special letter-prefix s/n, with the prefix indicating the specific agency. It was also used by the German police following WWII, as well as the police in some other countries. I have seen over 18 different letter-prefixes used — most but not all for French agencies — and there may be more.

    Your pistol is a Type II from after commercial production resumed (which also means after the s/n series was restarted). The photos are too small to tell much more, but knowing that and the s/n may allow roughly dating the production year. Most MAB factory records are gone, but we do have some production information from French police interviews with MAB presonnel from the late 1950s, when (firearm identification) problems resulting from MAB restarting all of its s/n series after WWII became a matter of concern to the police.

    Because your pistol was imported into the US after the 1968 Gun Control Act took effect, it has been modified by the importer to meet BATF requirements. An unmodified model D cannot be imported into the US under the 1968 GCA.

    These modifications require a combination of, the below changes (no one modification is sufficient to meet BATF requirements, and some importers made all of them to (slightly) exceed BATF requirements):

    – replacing the original “driftable” rear sight with a steel or plastic screw adjustable “target” sight (your pistol appears to have an original-type rear sight, but if it is loose it is probably not original to your pistol, and may even be from a different but similar pistol, such as the FN 1920; from the factory the rear sights are typically tight, with a “punch” on both the top of the slide and the rear of the sight from when the front and rear sights were aligned at the factory);
    – replacing the original grips with thumbrest “target” grips (as with yours);
    – drilling the rear of the ejection port to expose the end of the extractor, which then typically had a divot drilled in it and was filled with red (occasionally white) paint, thereby creating a “loaded chamber indicator”;
    – grooving the smooth face of the trigger, making it a “target” trigger (During part of its later production, MAB made model C and D triggers with a ridged face, but these are easy to tell apart)

    These modifications converted a stock model D from a “bad” police/military sidearm into a “good” target/sporting pistol, and are only found on pistol imported into the US after 1968.

    The first two modifications are easily and commonly reversed by owners. The latter two modifications are permanent and can only be corrected by replacing the slide and trigger. Since both these parts have assembly numbers, this means no longer having a “matching number” pistol.

    If you want, feel free to email me the s/n and some larger (higher resolution) photos showing both sides of the pistol and I will tell you what else I can about your pistol. If your pistol was, indeed, from the Surete, that will be obvious.

    Bill

    • I have Mab Model D 7.65mm pistol that is a very reliable gun. it’s an old post war french customs pistol. Serial # D. 6909 any way to tell what year it may have been made?

      • If Bill looks in again, he’ll answer. In the mean time, I can tell you any serial number that starts with a letter, followed by a four digit number was made AFTER the Second World War, and probably for the French National Gendarmerie – which took in quite a number agencies. Mine is a D prefix and from my semi-reliable memory, is associated with the French National Banking authority. All the wartime pistols had a five digit serial number and no prefix.

        My understanding is the French Government ‘upgraded’ (my word, not theirs’ to 9×19 pistols (High Powers, I think) in the late 1960s. So your pistol was made – most likely – between 1946 and 1965, give or take.

        More than likely – since it came from the same range of serial numbers – yours was imported by Century Arms or Winfield Arms Corporation (WAC) probably in the late 1960s to early 1970s. (Do a web search, it’s interesting and boring at the same time about WAC.) Look at your pistol, if the word “France” is stamped on the receiver (main frame) it was imported commercially. (Mine is on the left side, just above the trigger.) At the back of the frame, left side, is the stamp “FED ORD INC, SO. EL MONTE” in font so small I suspect an elf stamped it. This indicates the importer. (Federal Ordnance Co. Federal Ordnance Co. is ‘no longer active’.

        All the jokes about French weapons aside, the Model D is one of the best shooting 7.65MM pistols (of the era) I’ve shot. The only ones who are of similar quality are the Colt 1903 and Beretta 1935 pistols. The MAB clearly gives velocities faster than anything else (using the same type and lot of ammunition.) I have a few 7.65mm pistols of the era, by the way.

      • Butler

        Sir, Thanks for all the great info. on my Mab D pistol. i have had this gun since 1987 was always told the D serial number prefix were french customs. grips are mab marked the frame & slide both are stamped Made In France. it has no import marks that i can see. it’s a nice reliable and fun gun to shoot. pic. of mine attached. Thanks For Your Time, Rich Butler

      • Rich, the stamp “Made in France” is a marking required by the United States to Import anything. So, even without an importer’s identity mark, the pistol was commercially imported. I’m trying to remember where I found the serial number prefix codes. I would prefer the ‘D’ reflect Customs as that was my agency (U. S., of course) before I retired. You are more than welcome for any information I could supply. Good shooting.

  2. Bill

    HI again —

    The MAB model D is one of a family ot three related pistols: the models C, C/D (formally the “extrended grip model C”) and the model D. The models C & D began production in 1933 (the model D a little before the model C), and the model C ended production in the early 1960s. The model C was not produced from the diversion of MAB production to the French army .32 model D in 1939 until after WWII.

    The model C is the same design as the model D and used many of the same internal parts. It has a shorter grip and magazine, and a shorter slide and barrel. The calibers were the same as the model D, and like the model D, it reflected the production changes of the Types I, II and III. It lacks a lanyard loop (which was omitted on some commercial versions of the model D). While the model D was always intended as a police/military pistol, the model C was intended as a commercial pistol. However, after WWII it was also used by plain-clothed police or other armed agencies needing an easily concealed weapon. It was famously featured as the pistol of choice by a popular fictional French intelligence agent (similar to James Bond’s Walther).

    The model C/D was made for a few year starting in the late 1940s until the early 1950s, and again in the late 1950s unitl the early 1960s. This pistol essentially coupled a Type II model D frame (and larger magazine) with a Type II model C slide and barrel. It was primarily (entirely, as far as I know) used by several European police forces, although a number were sold in the US by WAC (Western Arms, later Winfield Arms, of Los Angeles, the primary importer of MAB pistols into North America until it closed) and carry both police serial numbers and WAC markings (WAC typically had MAB add “for WAC” after “Made in France” and replaced standard MAB grips with the same grips with “WAC” instead of “MAB”). It is not known if these pistols were police trade-ins, from a cancelled contract, or a from an over-run of the production for the police then sold by MAB through WAC.

    Bill

  3. Bill, thanks for the additional information. Always good to have a bit more than a bit less and I’m too lazy to type it all myself.

    The one I have was imported by Federal Ordinance Company (remember them?) in the early 1970s if my memory is correct. The box is proudly marked with the Fed Ord legend AND a notice ‘certifying’ the pistol within was one used by the French Surete. (Reminds me a bit of the ‘Genuine Hopalong Cassidy’ cap gun I had as a kid.) The serial number begins with ‘D’ and has four digits. This indicates it was built post WWII and made for the French federal law enforcement agencies.

    As I noted in the article, the pistol did have an ‘adjustable’ rear sight when imported. That was loose. I still have that sight, but it’s not on the pistol. Numrich Arms (Gun Parts Company) sold me a fixed sight – and I think it may be from a 1920 FN pistol; but it is the right size and shape and directs the fired rounds as shown.

    The grips are marked MAB, but the port side grip has a thumb rest which I find awkward.

    Still a reliable pistol. Thanks for the comments. Feel free to come back and discuss something else.

  4. ronnie

    i have a mab model d that multi fires . i have installed new sear/tumbler and fire pin .anyone with any help? thanks ronnie

    • Ouch! The only reason a firearm designed to be semi-automatic fires more than once (per trigger pull) is because the sear isn’t holding the firing pin (in this case) from falling.

      If you have replaced the pin and sear, I suggest you check as best you can to see if the two parts engage properly. I presume you have cleaned the arm during the replacement process? Crud can build up and prevent the engagement of parts as well.

      Is a spring required somewhere to make sure the sear engages the firing pin notch (or whatever)? Is the spring positioned correctly?

      With all this, I’m not a gunsmith, just a finagler. You may have to check with a real gunsmith (probably expensive) or consult one of the gun collector web-sites.

      Sorry I can’t answer any better? Any other readers with suggestions?

      • ronnie

        thanks for your reply. i found the problem. as you said the sear was not holding the firing pin.the sear was not going high up enough to catch the firing pin.so with some filing to the lower fwd.part of sear where it makes contact with the mag.well it works as it should . ronnie

      • Glad to hear it. By the way, the model D MAB gives the highest velocity (with the same lot of ammo) of all the .32 pistols I have. For all the jokes about the French and French weapons, I think it a pretty decent firearm.

  5. Scott

    I have a 7.65 With no German acceptance markings. Serial number 328** . From what I have researched my gun was made in 1941 ? Two things I need help with (1) My pistol has a naval type Boat anchor stamped on the ejection side slide that I’ve seen no other pictures of on here. (2) I have changed the clip to an original MAB item , the Stricker spring and recoil spring are also new but my gun still jams. When it fires it ejects the shell perfect but the new round going in will catch under the firing pin ? I’ve only tried Remington ammo. Is it possible the firing pin is too long ? I’m lost as to what else I could try.

    • Greetings, Scott. I’m not at home right now, I am traveling and visiting friends in the Sovereign Republic of Texas. I don’t have my reference books and such with me. So if there are no NAZI markings it means either it was made prior to the NAZI Army taking over the MAB factory, OR it is a post war pistol – which would mean it was not made in 1941.

      My example was definitely made after WWI, and has an alpha prefix (a “D” in my case). So I’m curious if yours is just a number, or has a alpha prefix? I suggest you check online or where ever you found what information you have.

      I do have a ‘marks’ book at home, which I will check on Wednesday next or so. And I’ll get back to this article.

      The malfunction sounds to me like the the firing pin is the firing pin is sticking in the forward position more than anything else. Try cleaning out the firing pin tunnel. I believe the firning pin is supposed to retract – by the firing pin spring back into the breach.

      I’ll post again a couple days.
      ,

      • Scott

        Thanks OMM . I feel confident on the year (give or take a year or so) as the piece is a first edition and/or first model. It has a lever to remove the recoil spring and the Wikipedia article listed that as a first generation . Any help on the other would be appreciated . I am waiting on a box of “sellers and Beloit” ammunition I will try before I manipulate the firing pin. I’ve had the gun apart numerous times so I know it to be clean.

      • I’m back home. According to “Gunmarks” by David Byron, an anchor with a circle at the top, cross piece just below that and what appears to barbs on the two arms of the anchor body is identified as the French Naval Acceptance Mark. However, dates of use are not listed.

        I’m out of thoughts about your firing pin problem. Sounds like – whatever that’s worth – the firing pin is somehow ‘stuck’ out. Does the firing pin retract at all? Can you push it back? Does it fall back in place if you raise the pistol? If that channel or tunnel is clean, any possibility of a burr causing a sticking or the spring itself being twisted?

        Sorry I can’t help you more.

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