October 10, 2019
The original Walther PP (Polizeipistole or police pistol) has been around since 1931 and has seen use by a lot of police and military officers in its long history. The PP had a 3.9-inch barrel and offered a seven-round capacity in .380 ACP (it was also chambered in .32 ACP). The PPK variant came about shortly thereafter, and it combined a shorter 3.3-inch barrel with a 0.4-inch shorter grip frame, which reduced capacity by one.
The PPK/S version made its debut in 1968 and was a direct result of our Gun Control Act of 1968. The GCA banned the import of pistols that didn’t meet certain “sporting” criteria based on size, weight and features, and the PPK was too small. In order to meet the GCA criteria, the PPK/S (the “S” stands for sporting) combined the short PPK slide with the larger PP frame.
For decades, the PPK and PPK/S were the carry guns of professionals (and a certain famous spy), and after a lull of a few years, Walther is once again offering the PPK/S and PPK. New versions of both models are currently being built in the United States by Walther Arms, which is why the PPK can be sold here now. I secured a sample of the new PPK/S for review.
The PPK/S is a traditional double-action/single-action pistol chambered in .380 ACP (the only chambering offered) with a decocking safety lever on the left side of the slide. The barrel is 3.3 inches long. It’s an all-steel pistol, and unloaded with an empty magazine, the Walther tipped my electronic scale at 23.7 ounces. The pistol measures 6.1 by 4.3 inches and comes with two seven-round magazines—one flush and one with an extended polymer finger hook.
You have your choice of black or silver. The black pistol has a carbon steel slide and a stainless steel frame, and both have a Melonite finish. The silver pistol is all stainless with a natural brushed finish and is the model I secured for this test. While this pistol isn’t as light as most of the modern polymer-framed pistols, it is wonderfully corrosion resistant.
This pistol is so size-efficient I’m surprised John Browning didn’t design it. It is super flat—the slide is just about 0.8 inch thick, and the grips are the fattest part of the gun at just 1.1 inches. The barrel is low, which contributes to less muzzle rise and felt recoil. It’s a fixed barrel, with the recoil spring fitting around the barrel.
I found a gun magazine from 1998 that contained a review of a customized Walther PPK/S. Customize a PPK/S? While lots of people carried one—it was, after all, the only reliable .380 Auto on the market in the 1980s and ’90s—they didn’t like the horrible trigger pull and the sharp edges on the frame and slide that hurt the web of your hand when you fired the gun. To quote from that gun review: “The trigger [of the PPK/S] was, and still is, among the worst of any pistol, and it has an annoying tendency to bite the hand that holds it.”
With the new American-made PPK/S, Walther has certainly addressed the trigger pull. Advertised trigger pull for these guns is 13.4 pounds double action and 6.1 pounds single action. My sample did better than that: 12.25 pounds double action and 4.75 single action. The double-action pull was smooth with no stacking, and the single-action pull was crisp.
The double-action pull on the PPK/S is somewhat short compared to other DA/SA and double-action-only semiautos, making it feel lighter than it is. Walther advertises trigger travel as 0.4 inch in double action and 0.2 inch in single action. After taking up just a tiny bit of slack, double-action trigger pull length on my pistol was 0.625 inch and single action just 0.125 inch.
It should be no surprise that as a gun whose design originated in the 1930s this pistol is a bit old school when it comes to controls and features. There is no slide release, for instance. After reloading you have to work the slide by hand to release it.
Unlike many European pistols with magazine release levers in the heel of the gun, the magazine release on the PPK/S is a small checkered button on the left side of the frame just below the slide, a little higher than you might be used to.
The sights are simple, and they’re machined all of one piece with the slide. There is a red dot on the front sight post and a corresponding dot at the base of the notch in the rear sight. They’re a bit small, but they work.
Between the front and rear sight, the top of the slide has wave-pattern serrations. They’re ostensibly to reduce glare, but I think it’s just a way to add a little bit of style on an otherwise businesslike pistol.
The grips are checkered black plastic and are held in place by one screw. At the rear of the slide, just underneath the rear sight, you’ll spot what looks like a dot. That is simply a steel rod that acts as a loaded-chamber indicator. When the pistol is loaded, the rod protrudes from the rear of the slide about 1/16 inch.
Because the Walther has a fixed barrel, the takedown process is probably different than you’re used to, but it is simple. After locking back the slide, removing the magazine and ensuring the pistol is unloaded, pull down on the front of the trigger guard. Then pull the slide backward and lift the rear of it. The rear of the slide will clear the frame rails, and the whole slide will come off the front of the barrel. You’ll find the recoil spring around the barrel. Reassembly is in reverse order.
Unlike some modern .380s that are designed to be easy to operate by those with compromised grip strength, the Walther has a strong recoil spring to soak up the recoil forces. This makes cycling the slide a bit of work, but it helps handle the recoil because as an all-steel gun there’s no frame flex to absorb recoil.
For my first trip to the range, I wanted to see if the engineers at Walther had tweaked the feed ramp of the PPK/S for hollowpoints. My FFL—Double Action in Madison Heights, Michigan—has a huge selection of ammo, and I told them I wanted some .380 with the biggest hollowpoint cavity to go along with the hollowpoints I already had on hand.
I ended up buying two boxes of ammo, both Winchester: 85-grain Silvertips and 95-grain Defend jacketed hollowpoints. These loads feature similar bullets, with large hollowpoint cavities. In addition, I fired 99-grain Federal HST jacketed hollowpoints, the Black Hills 90-grain jacketed hollowpoint, Hornady’s American Gunner 90-grain XTP and Hornady’s Critical Defense 90-grain FTX.
I am happy to report the pistol ate everything without a hiccup. However, I wasn’t so happy at the end of the range session, as the PPK/S still has a lot of sharp corners and edges at the rear of the gun. I ended up getting slide bite on the side of my thumb, and I had a sore spot on the web of my hand from the corners of the frame. That said, I probably shot more rounds through the PPK/S in the first range session than most people will in a year.
Let’s just say the pistol points naturally, has a great trigger and an impressive resumé, but it isn’t perfect. The bottom edges of the slide, forward of the magazine release, are beveled. I wish the bevel extended all the way to the rear of the slide, as it would eliminate slide bite.
I mentioned Walther provides two magazines, one of which has a finger-hook extension. With the PPK/S, most people won’t need that extension to get all their fingers on the gun—at least I didn’t. Along with the larger capacity, this will be a selling point for many people to choose the PPK/S over the shorter-framed PPK—although the latter is slightly easier to conceal.
The first time I fired a Walther PPK/S was at a media event where they had a remote-controlled dummy for us to shoot. At some point the operator would have the dummy charge us, and our job was to place accurate rounds on a moving target at realistic defensive distances.
What I remember was not having to worry about my shooting. Even though I wasn’t used to the double-action first shot, the Walther points so naturally and has so little muzzle rise all I had to do was get my sights on the target and the hits took care of themselves. Four shots, four hits.
My PPK/S sample showed itself to be reliable and accurate, with a great trigger but with a few rough edges (literally) that are completely expected given its old-school origins. As it is, it is a functional piece of history, and by buying one you can get a gun better than what James Bond carried.
However, I’d like to see a tweaked version of the PPK/S (and PPK, for that matter) from the Walther factory that caters to the discerning concealed-carry crowd. It wouldn’t take much—a variant with aggressively rounded frame edges, modern sights, a fully beveled slide, a frame that’s checkered front and back, and a beveled magazine well. These changes would address what I found lacking when compared to modern concealed-carry guns and bring the PPK/S into the 21st century.
- TYPE: DA/SA semiauto
- CALIBER: .380 ACP
- CAPACITY: 7+1
- BARREL LENGTH: 3.3 in.
- OAL/HEIGHT/WIDTH: 6.1/4.3/1.1 in.
- WEIGHT: 23.7 oz.
- CONSTRUCTION: brushed stainless steel slide and frame (as tested)
- TRIGGER: 12.25 lb. pull double action, 4.75 lb. pull single action
- SIGHTS: post front, notch rear
- SAFETY: manual, internal firing pin block
- PRICE: $749
- MANUFACTURER: Walther, WaltherArms.com
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