The Italian Candidate

An ‘icon’ is a picture or representation of an object or person which typifies a concept.  The term originates in the religious paintings of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  The word has broadened in meaning to include a general representation of a class by a single example.

Such is the 1935 Beretta.

“That” Pistol

See?  Most people recognize this, saying something on the order of “Oh, yeah; ‘that’ one…” even if they can’t remember the exact details.

The pistol is more easily recognized – if not exactly identified – thusly:

1935 Beretta pistol

Many folks will think of it as ‘James Bond’s gun’.  It wasn’t, but why destroy a perfectly fine fantasy?  Since I’m already off on a tangent, this pistol was featured in the original ‘The Saint’ television series (1962-1969) with Roger Moore as Simon Templar.

Title card from “The Saint” television program starring Roger Moore

  But I digress…

In fact, this pistol is the model 1935 Beretta, in caliber .32 ACP – or for the Europhiles, 7.65 mm (Browning).  I find the derivation of this particular model interesting, as it is an exact duplicate of the model 1934 Beretta, except the ’34 model was in caliber .380 ACP (9mm Corto [short in Italian]) and represents a downgrade of power.  Oddly, the pistol was originally designed as a pocket pistol, and was then used as a uniform belt gun.

The configuration was developed at the behest of the Italian Air Force in the period between the First and Second World Wars.  All jokes about the Italian Armed Forces and air forces in general aside, .32 ACP was considered a ‘proper’ handgun cartridge for personal defense in those days.  The cartridge was quite common in Europe for both military and police use until the middle 1960s and wasn’t quite gone until the late 1970s or so.  (It may still be in use – as an official sidearm – in some areas.)

The pistol itself is marvelous in design and execution.  It is simple, elegant in function and appearance and soothingly ergonomic to the hand.  The single flaw in the design is the rather horribly designed ‘safety catch’.  It is located on the left side of the frame and must be rotated 180 degree from ‘Safe’ to ‘Fire’.  This cannot be done with the firing hand with the pistol gripped in firing position.  With that exception in mind, this pistol is at the apex of small pistol design.

Safety lever and slide markings. Safety lever is in ‘fire’ position.

Following the days of World War II and ‘Il Duce’, the pistol remained in production as a commercial offering to those who felt the need for a personal defense weapon.  The example pictured in this report is such a pistol showing a proof date of 1952.  The finish is exemplary and the bluing is both excellent and present.

However, it isn’t ‘perfect’.  Somewhere along the line, the trigger/hammer interface has developed a glitch.  When the trigger is pulled, the hammer can be observed to ‘cock further’.  What causes this is a mis-shaping of the sear hook (the ‘shelf’ portion of the hammer which is engaged by the sear to ‘cock’ the pistol).  The sear hook on the hammer is not cut exactly perpendicular to the centerline of the hammer pivot.  In effect, the release edge of the hammer hook is ‘higher’ along the plane of movement of the tip of the sear.  The sear must then ‘climb’ out of the lower area and one can see the hammer move when this happens.

The net result is what I call a “Michael Moore” trigger pull:  too heavy and lots of creep.The trigger pull breaks – releases the sear and drop the hammer – about 9 ½ pounds as best as I can tell.  This can be ‘fixed’ by re-cutting the angle of the hammer hook.  That is currently beyond my ability, so I’ll live with it.

The sights are typical of the era, fixed, the front sight blade milled into the slide, the rear sight being mounted on a dovetail and adjustable for windage.  The only elevation adjustment is to carefully file down the rear blade to lower point of impact or remove a bit from the front to raise the impact (or purchase a ‘higher’ rear sight).  Since the sights are regulated pretty well to begin AND I have no intention of using this pistol for serious work, I’m not going to alter anything.  These sights are small and discrete.  This is a small pistol and not intended for formal target work, so the sights are ‘reasonable’.

Front and Rear Sights

The front sight blade is squarish, slightly narrower at the top, the rear notch a flat bottomed  “V” shape.  Both would be better if square on all corners and flat on all sides.  These sights are functional as is.

Sight Alignment – the view from the shooter’s perspective

With a box of my Prvi Partizan ammunition and a B27 target, off to the range…

I had planned on sticking with my standard programme of shots on a B27 target.  However, Murphy struck and I had to improvise just a bit.  For clarity, all groups except as noted are fired two handed and slow fire; the goal is to get the highest level of accuracy possible.

The first five shots – without any preamble or warm up – were fired at the upper numeral “8” in the scoring rings from a distance of seven yards.  (I gave up firing at three yards as it is just too close and invariably shows good results.)  The picture (enhanced only to show the bullet holes) shows the group is on for windage and centered about one and one half inches low.

Seven yard group of five shots

From fifteen yards, five shots at the small silhouette in the upper left corner of the target sheet.  (In the past I have directed this group at the lower numeral “8” in the scoring rings, but I felt this group tends to blend in with the final rapid fire group and confuses the matter.)  This group is three inches high by two inches wide; centered three inches low and two inches to the right of the aiming point.  This is acceptable accuracy for a defensive gun.  If desired, the sights could easily be modified to regulate shots exactly.

Fifteen yard five shot group

At twenty-five yards, five shots at the center of the head portion.  The center of the group is roughly five and one half inches low and three and one half inches right.  The group is just over five inches wide – a bit loose in my mind – and three inches high, which is acceptable.  One notes the five shots seem to form two sub groups; I’m not sure why this occurred.  (It could just be me, I suppose.)

Twenty-five yard group of five shots aimed at center of head portion

Returning to ten yards, I fired five rounds in point-shoulder rapid mode.  Shots were ‘pointed’ rather than aimed at the X ring.  The group is comfortably in the more-or-less center of the target but I find myself throwing shots to the low and left.  I need to work on that.

Ten yard group of five shots, rapid fire from point shoulder position

Firing five shots over the chronograph, the Beretta 1935 gets an average of 735 f/s from the Prvi Partizan ammunition.  (This is the same ammunition as used in all the testing of the .32 ACP pistols in this blog.  I bought it all at once just to remove variables as much as possible.)

Prvi Partizan Uzice Ammunition, as marked

The failings of the pistol – the sights and trigger pull – are typical of the era, rather typical of all contemporary pistols.  (The U. S. Government Model of 1911 had hideously small sights and trigger pulls between six and twelve pounds.)  The awkward safety is probably worse than most.  The Colt 1903 and the Savage 1907 pistols had a very usable and positive manual safety.  However, the safety is probably no worse than other common European manual safeties up to the time of the Walther PP.

Overall, the pistol handled very well.  There were no malfunctions or misfires during the twenty-five rounds fired.  I don’t recall getting ‘bit’ by the slide or hammer – this time.  The fired rounds went pretty close to where I thought I pointed them.  Recoil was enough to disturb the sight picture, but not abusive by any stretch.  Muzzle blast is sufficient to destroy one’s hearing – not all at once, but cumulatively.

I like it.  It strikes me as the perfect pistol to carry as a gentleman walking the streets of Roma in the evening.  Which reminds me, I need to put on the Dean Martin disc.

For the children, this is Dean Martin. This is an album cover featuring the song, “On An Evening in Roma”


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