Tag Archives: pistols

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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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.


Filed under Firearms and their use