The Luger is probably one of the best known handguns ever made. Instantly recognisable even to people who know nothing about firearms, no wonder it has been the subject of a number of replicas over the years. Sadly, most of the available replicas up to now have had some drawbacks. But with the release of the KWC CO2 powered blowback Luger, it looks as if we may finally have a replica worthy of this incredibly iconic handgun. To celebrate the release of the KWC Luger, I thought I’d take a brief look back at some of the Luger replicas produced since World War Two and consider how they stack up as shooters and visual and functional replicas.
Real Steel background
First thing to mention is that what we’re looking at here isn’t officially called a Luger at all. It’s actually called the Pistole Parabellum 1908, or P.08. It’s known as the Luger because it was designed and patented by German engineer Georg Luger in 1898. I’ll refer to it as the Luger in this article for the sake of simplicity. Manufacture began in 1900 with German firearms company DWM (Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken). The Luger was later manufactured under license in a number of other locations in Germany, and even at one time by Vickers in the UK.
German Navy P.08
The Luger was an early attempt to produce a self-loading pistol, a handgun which could be fired and reloaded more quickly than a revolver. Most later designs used some form of moving slide to extract the spent shell casing and load a new cartridge, but the Luger employed a unique toggle mechanism. Venting gases cause the barrel and toggle to move backward until hitting a cam, which hinges the toggle knee-joint, unlocking the breech and extracting the spent cartridge. A spring then forces the toggle closed, pushing the next round into place. It’s a neat technical solution which causes relatively little recoil, though it does have disadvantages. The toggle operates to very tight tolerances which made manufacturing costly and expensive and the mechanism is also prone to jamming if dirt, dust or debris are present. The Luger wasn’t a completely new design, being partly based on the existing Borchardt C/93 self-loading pistol, though it was a neater and much more compact design than the earlier pistol. The Luger was available in 4″, 6″ and 8″ (Artillery) form. The artillery version featured adjustable sights, a wooden holster which doubled as a stock and an optional 50 round, drum magazine.
Well used Artillery version
The Luger used a seven round, drop-out magazine in the grip, which was more steeply angled than most pistols (145° between the barrel and grip, compared to 120° on the Colt 1911, for example). The base of the magazine on most early Lugers is made of wood, something no replica has yet attempted to recreate. Early versions were chambered for a new cartridge, the 7.65mm Parabellum (also called the .30 Luger in the US) and the Luger was adapted by Swiss armed forces in 1900. Concerns that the Luger lacked stopping power led to the design of another new cartridge, the 9 x 19mm, which became known as the 9mm Luger and has been used in a range of handguns since. The Luger was updated in 1904 to take the 9mm cartridge, and at this time a safety on the right side of the frame was added. The Luger was adopted initially by the German Navy and then by the German Army in 1908 (at which time it gained the P.08 designation). Thereafter, sales to German military forces accounted for the vast majority of Lugers produced.
Below is a list of the Luger replicas I’m aware of, in approximate chronological order according to when they were released. I haven’t included any of the spring powered Luger replicas because they are, without exception, crap.
The Schimel GP-22 is a pretty good CO2 powered replica of the Luger, produced In California by brothers Orville and Clifford Schimel. Both were machinists and Orville was also a die maker. The brothers were fascinated by the Luger, and soon after the end of World War Two they set out to make an air pistol replica. Early work was done in Orville’s garage before a plant was set up in North Hollywood and manufacturing begin in 1946. The Schimel uses an 8g CO2 cartridge (commonly available in the 1940s as soda siphon bulbs) to shoot a single .22 pellet. Up to 580 fps was claimed when the pistol was first sold.
When it first appeared, the L.A. Police department tried unsuccessfully to have the Schimel banned, claiming it looked too much like the real firearm. However, despite its visual appeal, power and claims of extreme accuracy, the Schimel didn’t sell particularly well. There were a number of good reasons for this. The materials used in the Schimel weren’t always sensibly utilised – die cast, pot metal parts were used in stressed areas and were prone to cracking, a steel barrel was press-fitted into a die-cast outer shell, and electrolysis quickly welded the barrel in place. The O rings were made of gas-permeable material, and were prone to expand up to 50% in use, causing the pistol to leak catastrophically. The grips were made of an early form of plastic which shrank on exposure to UV light – some owners claim shrinkage of up to ½”, which makes the grips impossible to remove. The cocking and charging procedure is complicated and parts break if the pistol is roughly handled. Finally, the paint tended to quickly flake off the die-cast body. No surprise then that within ten years, manufacture of the Schimel ceased and the company went bust. Despite this, a good Schimel is still a powerful, accurate and loud replica. The problem is finding a good one. Schimels regularly turn up on gun auction sites, though they tend to be rather expensive and are now even more fragile than they were sixty years ago.
The manufacturing plant from the bankrupt Schimel company was bought up by Californian engineering works A.C. Swanson in 1956. Swanson developed the Schimel design and produced the American Luger from 1956 – 1958. This is generally similar to the Schimel, but it’s an eight shot repeater which shoots .22 lead balls. Sadly, the American Luger was just as fragile as the Schimel, and sales were never particularly strong. Production ended when Stoeger, the US firearms company which became the owner of the “Luger” trademark, threatened legal action. Relatively small numbers of American Lugers were produced, and these command even higher prices than Schimels when they do appear for sale.
In the late 1950s yet another Californian company, this time toymaker Wham-O, produced the Kruger 98, a replica of the Luger which used a similar sounding name, presumably to avoid the possibility of a lawsuit from Stoeger. The Kruger 98 wasn’t really an air pistol at all – it used the explosive power of a standard “cap” to propel a .12 birdshot. As can be imagined, there isn’t actually much power in a cap intended for toy guns, and despite advertising claims for extreme accuracy, the .12 lead shot barely achieved enough power to leave the end of the barrel. A later version which fired standard .177 BBs was even less powerful, though Wham-O advertising gleefully claimed that the Kruger could also shoot “peas, beans and even tapioca!“. The Kruger was produced in large numbers and these regularly turn up for sale, but unless you have a particular desire to use tapioca as ammo, there really doesn’t seem much reason to own one.
Japanese manufacturer Tanaka Works were the first to produce a fully functional Luger replica. Their green gas powered, 6mm, blowback Luger features an operational toggle, full size drop-out magazine, working safety catch and is available in 4″, 6″ and 8″ versions. Tanaka also produced a wooden stock/holster, wood grips and a drum magazine for this replica. This is a very nice, well made replica which field strips accurately and is marred only by the fact that it’s entirely made of plastic (even the “heavyweight” version is rather light). Like many Tanaka pistols, it’s also not especially powerful (250 – 300 fps) or accurate and the firing pin is a little fragile – pushing the magazine in with the firing pin extended or even repeated dry firing can cause the pin to snap. This apart, the Tanaka Luger is a nice replica and well engineered, but like all Tanaka products it’s very expensive. However, for me, the main problem is that it’s plastic – I don’t feel that a plastic replica can ever provide convincing weight and heft.
WE Luger, 6″
Taiwanese manufacturer WE were next to produce a 6mm , green-gas powered blowback Luger, and functionally this is almost identical to the Tanaka version. However, the WE Luger is all metal, and does feel much more convincing. The WE version is available in black or polished metal finish and in 4″, 6″ and 8″ form, and WE also offer a 50 round drum magazine. Overall, the WE Luger is a very nice replica, though it doesn’t have a great reputation for longevity. On many older WE Lugers, the trigger sear wears until pulling the trigger causes the pistol to fire on full auto until all the gas in the magazine is exhausted. Which is sort of exciting if you’re not expecting it. Accuracy and power are similar to the Tanaka Luger. Overall, the WE Luger is a pretty reasonable replica and like most WE pistols, it’s fairly low cost. Just don’t expect it to last forever.
Umarex “Legends” Luger
In 2013 Umarex announced the addition of a P.08 Luger to the growing “Legends” collection. This is a .177 BB shooting, CO2 powered, non-blowback replica and appears to be identical to the KWC non-blowback Luger (KMB-41DHN) and the ASG P.08. It’s all metal and has good weight, but is only available in 4″ form and the lack of blowback is an issue – the trigger operates only in double action and the pull is long and heavy. The drop-out magazine is reduced size and although the pistol has good power (at around 400fps), the heavy trigger pull affects accuracy. A nice looking, well made, low cost metal replica with good weight and a fair shooter, but without the toggle mechanism that is the defining characteristic of the Luger. You can find a link to a review of the Umarex P.08 at the end of this article.
Gletcher is the trademark of the New York based Sport Manufacturing Group, Inc. The Gletcher P.08 is a CO2 powered, 4″, .177 BB shooting, blowback Luger replica. CO2 is stored inside the grip and the drop-out magazine is reduced size. The appearance of this replica is somewhat spoiled by prominent white “Gletcher” markings and trademarks, though otherwise it’s a good visual replica of the Luger. Despite having blowback, early reports suggest that it has a very heavy trigger action and an appetite for CO2 (some owners report no more than 35-40 shots per CO2). Accuracy and power are also reported as no more than average. This is getting closer, but the lack of a full sized magazine and the reportedly heavy trigger mean that this still isn’t the perfect Luger replica. It’s also expensive in comparison to other Luger replicas.
At last! A CO2 powered, blowback Luger with a full sized drop-out magazine. Taiwanese manufacturer KWC have recently released a full metal, blowback Luger and even better, they have somehow managed to shoehorn a CO2 cartridge into the slim magazine. KWC make some pretty good replicas (they are the OEM manufacturer for, amongst others, the Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness and some Umarex replicas) so I’m very hopeful about this one. It’s available only as a 4″ version but in both 4.5mm (KMB-41DHN) and 6mm (KCB-41DHN) form and KWC claim “incredible accuracy“. Don’t know about that, but if it’s as good as some of the KWC 1911s, this could finally be a decent Luger replica.