September 24, 2010
By Dave Spaulding
The new PPS redefines the gun made famous by Ian Fleming's James Bond.
By Dave Spaulding
Germany has long been known as the manufacturer of finely tuned and fitted high-tech products, and firearms are no exception. In 1886, Carl Walther started a small company with the goal of making high-quality hunting and target rifles for the discriminating sportsman. His products were well-received, and he contented himself with the long-gun business until the beginning of the 20th century--at which time the company introduced its first semiautomatic pistol known, appropriately, as the Model 1.
This extremely compact .25 caliber pistol was intended for concealed carry, and what followed was a series of small semiautos, all chambered in what I call "mini-calibers" intended to be dropped in a pocket or slipped into a waistband.
The Model PP (Police Pistol) was introduced in 1929 and sported an innovative double-action trigger. It was followed very quickly by the more compact PPK, and both have remained popular for almost 75 years.
The double-action trigger system would later be used in the Model P38, which was chambered for the German military's 9mm cartridge and went on to replace the legendary Luger as the issued pistol of the Third Reich. Thousands of these guns were produced over the years in both 9mm and 7.65mm, and many are still available in local gun shops and at gun shows. Several Iraq war veterans have told me that the P38 has been found in the hands of insurgents, so the gun is still an active player in warfare around the world.
|Manufacturer ||Walther, www.waltheramerica.com, 800-372-6454 |
|Type ||striker-fired semiauto |
|Caliber ||9mm, .40 S&W |
|Capacity ||6, 7, 8, (9mm) |
|Barrel Length ||3.2 in. |
|Overall Length ||6.3 in. |
|Weight ||19.4 oz. |
|Sights ||three dot fixed |
|Trigger ||DA with safety Lever |
|Grips ||black polymer |
|Sight Radius ||5.4 in. |
|Width ||1.04 in. |
|Price ||$622 (9mm) |
The PPK remains a popular off-duty gun for American police officers, though most will tell you that, while they like the compact size of the gun, they wish it was chambered in a caliber with a bit more punch. But this lack of power did not stop a fictional armorer from issuing it to the most famous fictional secret agent in history.In the James Bond movie "Dr. No," Bond's .25 caliber Beretta is taken away. He is handed a Walther PPK in 7.65mm (.32 caliber) and is told the new gun has "a delivery like a brick through a plate glass window." Everyone reading this knows that this is not the case, but this is fiction after all
The fictional armorer in the movie, Maj. Boothroyd, was in fact based on a real person, Maj. Geoffrey Boothroyd, who suggested the Walther to author Ian Fleming under different circumstances. In his article for British gun magazine Handgunner (May/June 1985), Boothroyd says he first wrote to Fleming in May 1956 after reading the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, and suggested that 007 be armed with a revolver of .38 Special caliber and a .357 Magnum for more "serious work."
Fleming responded to Boothroyd a week later and advised that Bond would indeed be rearmed. Boothroyd followed up by sending Fleming a series of photos of guns and holsters for Fleming's information. Boothroyd was a strong revolver proponent and a very good revolver shooter in his own right--even to the point that he gave demonstrations of his shooting prowess.
What many may not realize is that the original cover of "From Russia with Love" displayed a Smith & Wesson revolver that had been modified to Boothroyd's specifications, and he received an autographed copy from Fleiming with the inscription "To Geoffrey Boothroyd, herewith appointed Armorer to James Bond."
At 6.2 inches long and just an inch wide, the PPS is a superb carry gun, especially in a holster designed for it like this DeSantis Speed Scabbard.
Maj. Boothroyd actually appears in the book Dr. No as "The Armorer" and rearms Bond against his will with a 7.65mm PPK and an S&W Centennial Airweight in .38 Special--a gun that was lost in the sands of Crab Key, never to be seen again.
Fleming's instincts led him to believe that the Walther would be a better fit for Bond, and it turned out that he was right as the Walther PPK became 007's trademark and gave the company an incredible public relations boost.
In the Bond films "Octopussy" and "Never Say Never Again," Bond was equipped with an updated Walther, the 9mm P5. Boothroyd commented in his Handgunner article that "Ian Fleming would have liked its looks."
As I tested the newest generation of defensive pistol from Walther--the PPS--I could not help but wonder what Boothroyd and Fleming would have thought of it. PPS stands for Police Pistol Slim, and it's a compact, polymer-frame semiauto available in both 9mm and .40 S&W--a serious step up in power from Walther's earlier hideout handguns.
The PPS is similar in size to the PPK and owes its low weight to a polymer-frame construction. Depending on which magazine is used, the 9mm version comes with a capacity of six, seven or eight rounds, with the .40 offering one less round for each.
Like its big brother, the Walther P99, the PPS uses a pre-cocked, striker-fired system that reduces the number of parts used in its construction, making the gun simpler and easier to disassemble and maintain.
An interesting feature of the PPS is that removing the backstrap renders the pistol inoperable for safe storage while also offering a different grip configuration for larger or smaller hands. When field stripping the PPS, Walther recommends removing the backstrap instead of pressing the trigger to release the action before removing the slide, which would certainly eliminate any unintentional discharges of the pistol.
What really sets the gun apart from others of similar size is its profile. With a width of just one inch at the slide stop lever (its widest point) the PPS is extremely slim while the 3.2-inch barrel keeps the gun quite small; its overall length is just 6.3 inches. According to my postal scale, the PPS weighs 19.4 ounces, so the gun will be very easy to carry concealed for long periods of time without undue burden.
The Walther PPS has a safety lever in the face of the trigger. Instead of a mag release button, the Walther PPS uses a contoured magazine release lever underneath the trigger guard.
The three magazines offer not only varied capacity but also add to the length of the PPS's grip frame. The six-round magazine is flush with the bottom of the grip and is obviously intended for the greatest level of concealment while the seven-round magazine offers a small pinky rest that is reminiscent of that found on the PPK. The eight-round model has an even bigger floorplate and will likely be favored by those who have large hands.
I admit to having mixed feelings about short grip frames as I have long felt that a short grip offers nothing but a false sense of compactness. Yes, the pistol is actually held in place with the middle finger, but the ring and pinky fingers help cam the muzzle down during recoil, and having the pinky finger hanging out in space also complicates magazine changes. Switch to an extended magazine and you lose the compactness that might have attracted you to the pistol in the first place, and extended mags can make swift, sure reloads a bit harder to achieve.
These issues can be overcome, but you should understand the downsides of extreme compactness before buying such a gun and be prepared to spend a little more time familiarizing yourself with how it handles--both shooting and reloading--if you do get one.
As I said, the PPS is a striker-fired gun, and it's similar to the Glock in several ways. The trigger offers a safety lever in the middle of its face that is deactivated once the trigger finger is placed on it. The action is reasonably smooth with a bit of stack and breaks my trigger scale at 61â'„2 pounds. The reset is relatively short; length of travel is just under half an inch.
The concept of "riding" the trigger reset is hotly debated these days; many of the big-name competition shooters advocate releasing the trigger and then "catching the link" on the way back before pressing the trigger through. I have tried this and found that it does not work for me, so I like the idea of a short trigger reset.
The PPS trigger is easy to use, but it was a bit spongy and sluggish initially. I am glad to report that after several hundred rounds the gun smoothed out and ended up with a surprisingly good trigger--not match grade but very useable for a defensive firearm.
Removing the interchangeable backstrap, accomplished by pushing a button located in a recess in the bottom, allows some customization of grip size and also disables the gun for fieldstripping.
The truth is, I did not like the PPS initially, but after shooting more than 400 rounds through the gun, it loosened up and ended up being a satisfying little pistol. This is not the first time I have seen this phenomenon in a semiauto. I have had a number of quality pistols over the years that have required a break-in period. The PPS just happened to be one of them.
Accuracy of the Walther was good from the beginning. I started my initial testing by shooting three-inch dots at 10 yards from an unsupported, two-hand stance. Both Hornady 124-grain XTP and Extreme Shock 115-grain Enhanced Penetration Rounds grouped nicely into these dots.
I was feeling pretty good about the PPS, so I moved back to 25 yards and attempted the same feat--but this time into the head and chest regions of a silhouette target. I was encouraged with the accuracy of the Extreme Shock rounds; I placed seven rounds into the head region, with five of the seven touching. The Hornady rounds also grouped well in a vertical line that was about three inches in length.
I was happy with these groups as the three-dot sights that are standard on the PPS are very low profile. What I believe helped was that the sights, which consist of
a trim front sight combined with a wide rear window, allowed me to get more target information around the front sight. The rear sight is dovetailed in place while the front is held in place via a slotted screw that can be accessed once the slide and barrel are removed.
The PPS is equipped with an ambidextrous slide release lever instead of a single side button. The lever is nicely blended into the contours of the trigger guard, making it snag resistant, but I found it difficult to release the magazine regardless of whether I used my thumb or index finger. In the end, I had to use my middle finger as it offered me the leverage needed to release the magazine. Admittedly, I have very small hands, and those with normal to large hands will not have this problem.
Like the P99, the PPS has a rail on the dust cover for the mounting of short rail lights and lasers. The slide stop lever is located at the rear of the frame and has a ridge around it to keep from being inadvertently engaged.
The PPS fieldstrips similar to a Glock in that the gun must be unloaded and then the trigger disengaged in order to remove the slide assembly from the frame. As I mentioned earlier, the trigger is rendered inoperable by removing the backstrap.
The author does not like having his pinky finger hanging out in space when loading a short-grip pistol, so he wraps it around his ring finger.
Once the steel slide is removed, the metal chassis that houses the internal components can be seen. These parts are robust in appearance and simple in function. The recoil spring and guide rod assembly are of a dual spring design that helps reduce both felt recoil and the continuous battering of the slide on the frame.
The system works quite well as the muzzle flip on the short barreled PPS is negligible, making it easy to shoot both fast and accurate. This system will be greatly appreciated in the .40 caliber model. These features also combine to make a very reliable gun; the PPS worked flawlessly throughout 500 rounds of varied 9mm ammunition--including some old lead reloads I had on hand.
The author did not like the PPS at first, but as he shot the gun and it loosened up, he became a fan. Some guns just need to breaking in period.
All of this brings us back to Ian Fleming and Geoffrey Boothroyd: Would they have liked the new Walther PPS? According to Boothroyd's own words, Fleming preferred pistols and I think that he would have been quite impressed with the space age look and design of the PPS.
Since Boothroyd was an avowed revolver fan, he would have appreciated the consistent trigger of the PPS as well as its point-and-shoot design. As for Agent 007, he would have liked the PPS's 9mm or .40 S&W power and reliability combined with the compact size and flat profile--all the easier to hide under the fitted jacket of a tuxedo.