Classic handguns – the Walther PPK

Classic is an overused and seldom defined term. What exactly is a “classic” handgun? Ask ten people and you’ll probably get ten different answers, and ten different lists of “classic” guns. However, there are a small number of handguns which I’m fairly confident would appear on most people’s list, including the one I want to talk about here: The Walther PPK. Although it was introduced almost eighty-five years ago, the PPK is still available, virtually unchanged from its original form. That in itself is testament to good basic design, but the PPK is also perfectly sized, a decent shooter and of course is has an association with a certain British secret agent…


The pocket pistol (what we’d now call a compact or sub-compact design) wasn’t a new idea in the 1920s. A number of manufacturers including Colt, Mauser and Steyr all offered small, easily concealed semi-auto pistols. However, most were of a hammerless design and were intended to be carried with a round in the chamber. Manual safeties were provided, often of the cross-bolt type, but accidental discharges due to light, single action triggers were frighteningly common. Revolvers, which required a long, double action trigger pull were generally safer, but less popular for concealed carry due to their greater bulk. What the market wanted was a compact semi-auto pistol which incorporated a revolver style double-action trigger.

Fritz Walther, the eldest son of founder Carl had persuaded his father to enter the pistol market in 1908. Recognising the need for a safer pocket pistol, in 1924 Fritz registered a German patent for a “self-loading pistol with magazine and revolver self-cocking lock and double action trigger“. Development continued until 1929 when the Walther PP (Polizei-Pistole) was released. The PP was a mid-sized, blowback operated design with an external hammer and double and single action trigger. Additional safety elements included a manual safety which also locked the trigger and hammer, a de-cocker and a loaded chamber indicator. Another notable feature was the takedown system – rather than using a separate lever or catch, the trigger guard of the PP was hinged at the rear. Rotating the trigger guard down and letting it rest against the frame allowed the slide to be removed. Reliability, safety and a reasonable price ensured that the PP immediately became popular both as a police handgun in Germany and as a civilian weapon in that country and elsewhere.


The Walther PP

However, though it was smaller than a full-size military pistol, the PP was still relatively large and was mainly used as a sidearm by uniformed police. Walther almost immediately began work on a more compact version suitable for use by undercover and plain-clothes officers. In 1931, the Walther PPK was released. Visually and mechanically similar to the PP, the PPK featured a shorter barrel and grip and a smaller capacity magazine, making it the perfect concealed carry weapon. Incidentally, the “K” in PPK stands for Kriminalmodell (Detective model) and not Kurtz (Short) as is sometimes claimed.


Early Walther PPK produced in Zella-Mehlis


The PPK was an instant success, being quickly adopted by police and civilian users in Germany and elsewhere. Both the PP and PPK also became very popular as German officer’s sidearms. In this period, German army and navy officers were given an allowance to select and purchase their own pistols, and very large numbers chose the small and light Walther pistols and not, as Hollywood would have us believe, the larger and heavier Luger.

Why was the PPK so popular? The de-cocker and double action trigger certainly made it less prone to accidental discharge than some other pocket pistols and it was a reliable and effective shooter. It was also relatively cheap, being one of the first commercially produced handguns to use pressed steel parts. But most of all it was the perfect size. Very small handguns are difficult to grip and fire accurately. The PPK was just big enough to provide a good and comfortable grip while being small and light enough for concealed carry. Even more than the PP, the PPK was an instant commercial success.


Post-war Walther PPK from Ulm, with “pinky rest” magazine extension

Initially, the PPK was manufactured at the Walther plant at Zella-Mehlis in Thuringia, Germany. Following World War Two the plant was relocated to Ulm in Baden-Württemberg, though for a number of years firearm manufacture was forbidden by the Allied powers. As a result, in 1952 Walther licensed production of PPK series pistols to Manufacure de Machines du Haut-Rhine, a French engineering company better known as Manurhin. Manurhin produced the PPK from 1952 until 1986, though their licensed versions continued to feature Walther markings. Production of the PPK at the new Walther plant in Ulm finally resumed in 1955, though early models utilised many parts manufactured by Manurhin. It wasn’t until 1986 that full manufacturing and production of the PPK was undertaken in Ulm and this continued until 1999. The only significant new version produced during the post-war period was the PPK/L, featuring a lightweight dural frame.


Manurhin Walther PPK

In 1978, Walther also granted a manufacturing license to US company Ranger Manufacturing to produce both the PPK and the new PPK/S. These versions were distributed in the US by Interarms. The PPK/S was produced in response to the US Gun Control Act of 1968 which set minimum sizes and weights for imported handguns. The PPK was simply too small to comply with these new requirements, and the slightly larger PPK/S was produced by combining the slide and barrel of the PPK with the frame and grip of the original PP. From 2002 Smith & Wesson began production of a licensed version of the PPK/S in the US. S&W are now the only producers of the PPK and the pistol remains part of their current range.


Interarms stainless steel Walther PPK/S

The PPK was produced in several calibres. The majority were 7.65mm, though a 6.35mm version was produced in relatively small numbers. The PPK was also available chambered for the .22LR round, principally to provide a police practice and training weapon which used much less expensive .22 rimfire ammunition. The PPK was also chambered for the 9mm short (9x17mm, also known as the .380 ACP) cartridge, but this was considered the limit for the strength of the slide, and no versions were produced using the more powerful 9mm Parabellum (9x19mm) cartridge.

Visual style

I don’t normally consider the appearance of a pistol separately. After all, a handgun is a functional piece of equipment which is principally designed to operate efficiently rather than to look good. However, there is something about the appearance of the PPK that I can’t entirely explain but which makes this pistol look as fresh now as it did in 1931. As is the way of things, I started to wonder why that might be…

The design of any item is inevitably influenced by events in the wider world. The Walther PP and PPK were designed at a time of political change and social turmoil in Germany. However, this period was also notable for the influence of the German Bauhaus art movement. Started in 1919 by German architect Walter Gropius, Bauhaus took the concepts and philosophy of high art and translated them into the industrial production of everyday objects. Rejecting the ornate and ostentatious Art Nouveau which had gone before, Bauhaus stressed simplicity, functionality, unity and ease of use and manufacture. A Bauhaus artist had to be not just creative in an abstract sense, but also capable of translating this into functional and useful manufactured objects. Though it’s notable that many of the things created by Bauhaus artists also have a timeless and elegant aesthetic that makes them as visually appealing as they are functional.

“It is harder to design a first rate chair than to paint a second rate painting – and much more useful.”

Walter Gropius, the Bahaus Manifesto

cppk14Take a look at this “cesca” chair above, designed by Hungarian architect Marcel Breuer, a leading member of the Bauhaus movement. Look familiar? The chances are that if you visit any modern office or public space, you’ll see something very similar to this 1928 creation. Why has this design lasted so long? I suspect the answer is because it’s comfortable, practicable and simple to manufacture and yet it somehow manages to appear contemporary more than eighty years after it first appeared.


Tokarev TT-33 (top), Walther PPK (centre), Enfield Number 2 (bottom)

I haven’t found any evidence that the engineers at Walther who created the PPK were directly influenced by Gropius or the philosophy of Bauhaus. But by the late 1920 the ideas inherent in the movement, that industrial production could and should generate objects which had artistic value, were prevalent in Germany and elsewhere. Take a look again at the PPK and consider the Bauhaus ideals of simplicity, unity and ease of use and manufacture within a visually pleasing whole. Is the PPK a Bauhaus pistol? I certainly think so. Also, try comparing the PPK to a couple of roughly contemporary handguns – the British Enfield Number 2 revolver and the Russian Tokarev TT-33 for example. Both were perfectly adequate handguns, but unlike the PPK both now look very dated and neither could be mistaken for a modern design. Somehow the PPK looks as good now as it did in 1931, which suggests a design which, in some indefinable way is “right“. Whether or not its designers were consciously influenced by Bauhaus, I believe that the PPK embodies the ethos of the movement perfectly.

James Bond and the PPK

However, one of the reasons the PPK is so well known has nothing to do with its abilities, design or appearance. The James Bond novels of Ian Fleming were hugely popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Strangely however, for the first five novels Fleming provided his hero with a Beretta 418 in .25 calibre. Which is an ineffectual and rather rubbish gun for such a tough hero.


Beretta 418. James Bond gun? Really?

In 1957 while he was writing the sixth novel, Fleming received a letter from Bond fan and firearms expert Geoffrey Boothroyd who pointed out that the Beretta was “a lady’s gun – and not a very nice lady at that!” Boothroyd suggested that it would be much more appropriate to provide Bond with a Walther PPK in 7.65mm calibre. Fleming agreed and Boothroyd went on to provide advice about firearms for the following Bond novels. In recognition, a new character was introduced in Dr No; – Major Boothroyd, the MI6 armourer known as “Q” who is described as “the greatest small-arms expert in the world”.

cppk9When Albert “Cubby” Broccoli came to make the first movie based on a Bond novel in 1962, the screenplay was based on Dr No, and so the movie Bond (then played by Sean Connery) exchanged his Beretta for a PPK from the very start. The PPK continued to be 007’s screen sidearm for sixteen more films and 35 years, until in Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997 it was swapped for a Walther P99. However, with the advent of Skyfall in 2012, the third film starring Daniel Craig as Bond, the character has once again reverted to using a PPK, albeit modified with a palmprint recognition system. The Bond connection gives the PPK additional cachet, and ensures that it is recognised by people who otherwise know very little about firearms.


Walther PPK Replicas

Given the enduring appeal of the original plus the James Bond connection, there have been surprisingly few decent replica air pistols based on the PPK. Ignoring spring powered replicas, which are pretty dire, I’m aware of just two: The Umarex PPK/S in 4.5mm and the Umarex/Maruzen PPK in 6mm.


The Umarex Walther PPK/S

The Umarex CO2 powered 4.5mm version was introduced back in 1999 and was the first Umarex blowback pistol. In some ways it’s a great replica – all metal, heavy with great fit and finish and strong and snappy blowback. Unfortunately in other ways it’s not so good. I don’t care for the moulded-in-place slide-mounted safety, or the actual safety which is a moving lever at the front of the right grip (though it’s similar to the safety fitted to some prototype PPKs). It’s also not terribly accurate compared to more modern BB shooters. However, the main issues for me are when I first bought one were the large and visible CO2 tightening tab at the base of the grip and the shape of the grip itself, which has been stretched to accommodate the CO2 cartridge. The tab has been replaced with a less obtrusive recessed allen screw, but there’s nothing you can do about the lengthened grip which, to me at least, completely loses the pleasingly squat profile of the original. However, this is overall a decent PPK/S replica and it does have the virtue of being readily available and relatively cheap.


The Maruzen Walther PPK

The 6mm Walther PPK from Japanese manufacturer Maruzen is a much better visual and functional replica (it’s also licensed by Umarex, but for the sake of clarity I’ll refer to it as the Maruzen PPK here). It’s a gas powered blowback replica and the slide mounted safety, magazine release and takedown all work as they do on the original. It incorporates Walther markings and this version accurately replicates the short, squat grip of the original. Even the magazine incorporates a pinky rest, just like the original. The metal finish version looks particularly good and in 2011 a 125th Anniversary edition (celebrating 125 years of Walther) was released. However, this is an all plastic replica which is very light (around 375g) and it shoots only in the 220-240fps range, so it isn’t particularly powerful. It can also be very difficult to find new, and production seems to be sporadic.

Shooters Design (a company specialising in aftermarket parts for airsoft guns) produce a full metal kit for the Maruzen PPK, which replaces the plastic slide and frame with metal versions, though a heavyweight slide return spring is also required. I’m not sure if this kit is still in production and it is certainly hard to find. The Maruzen PPK has good functionality and looks good, but is too light to be an entirely convincing replica and it isn’t a particularly great shooter out of the box. Upgrading by using the Shooters Design kit is said to improve look, feel and function, but this is also a pretty expensive option. You can expect to pay around £125 ($200) for the basic pistol and over £200 ($325) for the upgrade kit, if you can find one. I have been looking for a Maruzen PPK and an upgrade kit for some time, and if anyone has either one they’d be willing to donate or sell for review, I’d be very happy to hear about it!


Whether you regard it as a piece of Bauhaus art, an industrial artefact from a significant historical era, a James Bond movie prop or simply a compact and pointable handgun, the Walther PPK doesn’t disappoint. It’s small, light, looks great, fits most hands and shoots better than its small size and relatively antiquated design would suggest. It’s no accident that in 2003, when Walther engineers set out to create a new compact pistol (the PPS), they used the weight and dimensions of the PPK as a guide to what looked and felt right. If ever a handgun deserved the “classic” label, it’s the Walther PPK.

It’s disappointing that the PPK is under-represented in the replica world. The Umarex and Maruzen versions both have good points, but neither is entirely satisfactory. We’re still waiting for a weighty PPK replica which is also a decent shooter and mirrors the functionality and distinctive look of the original.


The Walther PPK (on the Walther Arms website)

The Umarex Walther PPK/S

Shooters Design kit for the Maruzen PPK (on the redwolf airsoft site, but don’t get too excited because it’s currently out of stock)

The Bauhaus movement

Related pages:  

Umarex Walther PPK/S review

Modifying the CO2 tab on an Umarex Walther PPK/S

Classic Handguns – The Glock 17

Classic handguns – the Glock 17

This is the first in an occasional series of articles on firearms which are the basis for replica pistols. These won’t be exhaustive or definitive, but they will provide some basic and I hope interesting information for anyone who wants to know a little more about the cartridge version of their replica. Let’s start with a pistol which has spawned a plethora of replicas – the Glock 17.


In many ways, fifty-one year old Gaston Glock was an unlikely person to develop a game-changing handgun. Glock ran a modest manufacturing business based outside Vienna in Austria. The main business was the manufacture of radiators for the automotive industry, but the company also produced small quantities of brass door and window fittings and curtain rods using a second-hand metal press. By 1980 the product range had expanded to include field knives and bayonets which were used by the Austrian armed forces. In connection with this work, in February 1980 Glock was visiting the Armed Forces Ministry in Vienna when he happened to overhear two high-ranking officers discussing the problems they were having in finding a suitable replacement for the antiquated P-38 pistols then in use by the Austrian military. Sensing a chance to expand his product line, Glock asked whether he might be allowed to submit a design for a new pistol. One can only assume that the military were somewhat bemused by his offer. Although Glock was a respected supplier of various blades, he had no knowledge or experience of handgun design or manufacture. He didn’t even have much interest in shooting or guns and designing a handgun from scratch is a complex process. However, Glock was insistent and it was agreed that his company would be allowed to submit a tender which would be considered alongside offerings from five established firearms companies.


Gaston Glock in 2010

You might imagine that trying to design a handgun from scratch when you don’t really know much about firearms would be a daunting task, but Glock set about it with the same energy and focus that he applied to all his business ventures. He immediately bought as many examples of existing handguns as he could, and systematically disassembled them, analysing their strengths and weaknesses. He took a number of shooting and gunsmithing courses and shot at ranges as often as possible. Then, in May 1980 he assembled a number of firearms experts and military staff at his holiday home in Velden, a lake resort town in Southern Austria and asked them: “What would you want from a pistol of the future?“.

Designing something entirely from scratch is daunting, but it can also be incredibly liberating. Any existing firearms manufacturer setting out to design a new pistol is constrained, partly by a need to maintain a recognisable visual identity which links any new design to existing company products and partly by the knowledge that expensive tooling is sitting around the factory floor, emphasising the need to re-use existing parts. Most often, this leads to an incremental development of an existing design rather then something entirely new.  Sometimes, approaching an engineering problem with no preconceptions and no history is the best way to find a fresh solution. Gaston Glock started out with only a short list of requirements gained from discussions with firearms experts (the ability to use the existing 9x19mm NATO standard round, a large capacity magazine, simplicity, reliability, light weight, a light and consistent trigger pull, a smooth design to avoid snagging when holstering or unholstering and ease of use with a minimum of training) and combined these with a knowledge of CNC (Computer Numerical Control) manufacturing equipment to develop a design which would meet the requirements of military and police users and yet would be cheap and simple to produce.

Glock had a number of crude prototypes made which he test fired in a basement firing range he had built in his home. Although he was right-handed, he used his left hand for these early tests, reasoning that if one of the test pistols failed explosively, he would still be left with a functioning right hand. In April 1981, just ten months after the first meeting with his firearms advisors, he filed an Austrian patent for the Glock 17 pistol. Why 17? Simply because it was the seventeenth thing he had invented (we don’t know what the previous sixteen were). Though by coincidence, the new pistol featured a magazine with a capacity of 17, 9mm rounds, leading many people to suppose that this was the origin of the name.


Early Glock 17

The Glock 17 is a remarkable design in many ways. Functionally it is pretty conventional, using a short recoil, locked breech, tilting barrel arrangement. However, it used injection moulded plastic for the frame and grips. Glock already owned injection moulding equipment, used to produce handles and sheaths for the military knives and bayonets he sold, so using plastic to produce a strong but corrosion resistant part of a pistol seemed entirely logical. Some earlier rifles and assault rifles from other manufacturers had used plastic for stocks and frames, but no-one had used it on a commercially successfully pistol design. Plastic was cheap and light and the injection moulding process was ideally suited to computer control. It was also notable that the Glock had no conventional manual safety. In his research into handgun use, Glock had become aware that even highly trained police officers and military personnel sometimes tried to fire their pistols without first releasing the manual safety. To avoid this, the Glock featured a trigger safety, where pulling the trigger also moved a central blade that released internal safety mechanisms. In this way, the Glock was made drop-safe, but would fire every time the trigger was pulled.

The Glock had other advantages, too. It was light – just 660g compared to, for example, the Heckler and Koch P9S pistol (one of the other entries assessed for selection as the Austrian service pistol) which weighed 930g. It was simple, with only thirty-four components compared to the seventy-five parts in the H&K pistol and yet it managed to pack seventeen rounds into its reasonably sized grip (the H&K pistol held just nine). And best of all, it was cheap. Being designed exclusively for CNC production, the Glock could be produced with a minimum of costly human intervention. The Glock made no concessions at all to aesthetics – it’s an undeniably ugly pistol. But ease and speed of manufacturing meant that the other, perhaps more visually appealing pistols just couldn’t compete commercially with the utilitarian simplicity of the Glock.

The Austrian military thoroughly tested all the pistols submitted to them. The test pistols were subjected to extremes of heat and cold, immersed in water, mud and sand and dropped from a height of two metres. Interspersed with these torture tests, each pistol was fired ten thousand times. While the other entries stumbled, the Glock misfired just once. In November 1982, the Austrian military announced that the Glock 17 had come out top in the trials and would be adopted as their principal service pistol.

The Glock 17 in America

Creating a handgun from scratch and selling it to a national military force in less than two and a half years is pretty impressive. But the total number of pistols involved was relatively small (20,000 were initially ordered). Though other European military and law enforcement agencies showed some interest in the Glock, the biggest single potential market for the new pistol was the USA.

In the mid-1980s, police and law enforcement agencies in the US were predominantly equipped with revolvers. However, they increasingly found themselves confronted by criminals using higher capacity semi-automatic weapons. In 1986 in Miami, eight, revolver equipped FBI agents tried to arrest two murder suspects armed with semi automatic weapons. Both suspects were killed, but the ensuing fire-fight also left two FBI agents dead, three with life-changing injuries and two with gunshot wounds. The FBI agents had simply found themselves outgunned, and this situation was repeated on a number of occasions across America. It was clear that law enforcement agencies needed a pistol with more than the traditional six-shot capacity of a revolver.

In late 1985, Glock Inc. was formed as the US marketing agency for Glock handguns. The reasonably priced, light and simple Glock appealed to US law enforcement agencies for precisely the same reasons that it did to the Austrian military. In 1986 the twelve officers from the Police department in the small town of Colby in Kansas became the first to re-equip with the Glock 17. By 2010 Glock pistols were the most common handgun used by Law enforcement agencies in the US. Currently, 65% of all US law enforcement agencies use Glock pistols.


Generation 4 Glock 17

But the biggest part of the handgun market in the US comes from civilian owners and, despite some initial resistance to the idea of a plastic pistol, it was here that the Glock 17 found huge numbers of willing buyers. Part of this success can be attributed to the image the Glock quickly attained. A media frenzy was sparked in 1985 when a Defence Department official dismantled a Glock 17, put it in a duffel bag and took it through a security scanner at Washington National airport without being noticed. “Hi-jacker Gun!“, the headlines shouted, “Terrorist pistol“, “frighteningly easy to smuggle past airport security“. In response, several US states moved to ban the Glock 17 on the grounds that it was just too dangerous. While failing to note that in the same consignment of luggage as the Glock 17 was a fully assembled and all-metal H&K pistol, which also went undetected. The issue clearly lay with the bored, inattentive, minimum wage staff manning the security point rather than any attributes of the Glock 17.

It was quickly shown that the Glock 17 was no more likely to be undetected at airport security than any other handgun, but by then it had established an identity as a “bad” gun in many sections of the US media. The situation was exacerbated in 1988 when it was found that the Police Commissioner in New York (where the Glock 17 was still the subject of a licensing ban) was carrying a Glock 17 as his personal weapon. A number of newspapers ran the story, including the New York Post who described the pistol (among other things) as a “state-of-the art supergun“. You just can’t buy that sort of publicity. Imagine: you’re choosing a gun for yourself. Would you rather have an ordinary pistol, or for rather less money, an evil, hi-tech supergun? Not a difficult choice.

Hollywood too added to the mystique of the Glock. Reprising his role as John McLane in Die Hard 2 in 1990, Bruce Willis said:

“That punk pulled a Glock 7 on me. You know what that is? It’s a porcelain gun made in Germany. Doesn’t show up on your airport X-ray machines, here, and it cost more than you make in a month.”

Wrong on every count of course – there never was a Glock 7, Glocks are made in Austria, not Germany from metal and plastic, not porcelain, they are detected by airport scanners and they aren’t particularly expensive. But people watching the movie got the message – a Glock was something special. In the 1998 movie U.S. Marshalls, Tommy Lee Jones looks contemptuously at Robert Downey Junior’s stainless steel Taurus PT945 and quips:

“Get yourself a Glock and lose that nickel-plated sissy pistol.”

Unsurprisingly, Glock 17 sales to civilian customers went off the scale in the US. Other gunmakers struggled to compete and Glock still accounts for a sizeable proportion of handgun sales to the US civilian market.


Glock 19

The Glock 17 went on to spawn a number of other variants. The Glock 18 added a full auto feature, the 19 was a slightly smaller version and there are currently a whole range of Glocks of different sizes and calibres including .40 and .45 in addition to the original 9mm. They still recognisably use the same design as the original, and an updated Glock 17 is still available. The new Generation 4 version only differs in very minor details from the original and is visually almost identical (other than minor differences in grip finish and the addition of an accessory rail).

Glock replicas

Glock have an active legal department which aggressively pursues any perceived infringement of intellectual property rights, which includes replicas which are visual replicas even if they don’t actually use the word “Glock” in advertising or packaging. This is partly down to the registration of the shape of the pistol itself as a trademark. In part, the description of the trademark reads:

The mark consists of the three dimensional overall configuration of a semi-automatic pistol having a blocky an squared-off shape as viewed from the side, the front, and the rear. The shape of the trigger guard and the shape, location, and a position of the trigger safety tab are claimed as a part of the mark…”

In other words, if you make something that looks like a Glock, you’re infringing the trademark. This has deterred many companies from producing unlicensed replicas of Glock pistols. It also probably explains why some replicas which looked rather like Glock pistols have quietly disappeared from the market after a short period. Glock have also pursued some airsoft vendors who sell Glockalike replicas. The most recent case (in March 2014) involved a lawsuit against AirSplat, the largest US airsoft vendor, for patent and trademark infringement and false advertising relating to selling replica pistols which look like Glocks.


6mm Stark Arms S17. Obviously not intended to resemble any real-world pistol.

People may be surprised to learn that up to 2017, Glock didn’t actually license any replica pistols. Despite that, if you look at the websites for most airsoft vendors you will see what look awful like pre-2017 replicas of the Glock 17 and other variants of Glock handguns. These are not licensed replicas and don’t generally include accurate Glock markings.


Tokyo Marui G17. Quoting from the AirSplat website: “This airsoft gun is not to be misrepresented as a real firearm or gun that is manufactured by Glock and is merely an airsoft gun that fires 6mm pellets.” It’s also noticeable that the markings shown above on the front left of the slide are rather more difficult to read on the site. And the logo on the grip seems to have disappeared…

Then, in 2017, all that changed. Glock announced an exclusive licensing deal with German manufacturer Umarex and now, you can purchase a bewildering array of licesced Glock replicas offered by Umarex. These include the Glock 34 target pistol, the Glock 17, the compact Glock 19 and the sub-compact Glock 42 in 6mm, 4.5mm and pellet shooting variants, powered by green gas and CO2 and in blowback and non-blowback form. These aren’t cheap, but they are very good replicas with full markings and many are pretty decent shooters too.


The Umarex 6mm Glock 17 Deluxe features a CNC machined slide, it’s the same weight as the original and it operates and dissassembles in the same way. It’s a lovely replica, it’s just a pity that you may need to sell a kidney in order to afford one…


Is it fair to call the Glock 17 a classic? Well, it’s as ugly as a box of frogs and it might not make it on to most people’s list of classic guns but it’s undeniably a seminal design which changed the landscape of handgun construction forever. It hard to name a single new semi-automatic pistol design which doesn’t feature a polymer grip and frame and many also include some form of trigger safety and a high capacity magazine. These things can be traced directly back to Gaston Glock, sitting in his basement in Austria with a blank sheet of paper and pondering what the pistol of the future might look like. If that isn’t a reasonable definition of a classic, I’m not sure what is.

Related Posts

WE-Tech G-17 review

Tokyo Marui Glock 26 review

Baikal MP-654K Review


Time for a review of something a little different.  The Baikal MP-654K is an air pistol which is made in the same manufacturing plant as the original Makarov pistol.  There is some argument for saying that this isn’t a replica at all – it’s simply a CO2 powered version of the original firearm.  It’s certainly a weighty, rugged and reliable air pistol which is amenable to tuning and improvement.  The 654 has undergone a number of minor changes since it was introduced in 1998, so this review is a little different to usual.  Rather than looking at a single example, this examines the history and development of this pistol, refutes some of the myths surrounding it  and provides reference information for anyone who may be considering owning one.

The Makarov pistol

In late 1941, as Nazi armies were pressing towards Moscow, the Soviet Union began moving essential manufacturing capacity east, to the Urals, where it would be beyond the range of German air attacks.  In 1942 the State Defence Committee announced that N° 622 State All-Union Small-Arms Plant would be established in the city of  Izhevsk in the Western Urals. An armoury had existed in this location since the early nineteenth century and production at the new manufacturing plant was to include Degtyarev and Simonov anti-tank rifles, Nagant revolvers and the TT-33 pistol.


Nikolay Fyodorovich Makarov in the late 1960s

The plant, Izhevsky Mechanichesky Zavod ( Ижевский механический завод – Izhevsk Mechanical Works, usually known as IMZ or Izmash) was hugely successful, producing vast quantities of arms and ammunition during World War Two. Soon after the end of the war, a Soviet design competition was announced to find a replacement for the ageing Nagant M1895 revolver and TT-33 Tokarev pistol.  A young engineer, Nikolay Fyodorovich Makarov, was given the job of leading the design team for the IMZ entry to the competition.  In 1950 the pistol submitted by IMZ was selected to become the new standard sidearm for soviet forces.  Officially designated the PM (Пистолет Макарова – Pistolet Makarova or Makarov’s Pistol) the pistol became universally known as the Makarov and entered Soviet service in 1951.  The Makarov wasn’t officially replaced until 2003 by the Yarygin pistol, also from IMZ.  IMZ produced over five million examples of the Makarov for military use and pistol is still in production for commercial sales.


1967 Makarov pistol

The Makarov was chosen because of its simplicity, ease of manufacture and reliability.  It is a SA/DA pistol which uses a straight blowback design with the barrel fixed to the frame.  It is chambered for a 9x18mm cartridge.  This cartridge is shorter and slightly wider (the actual diameter of the bullet is 9.22mm) than the NATO standard 9x19mm cartridge.  Although they look similar (and both use the same method for releasing the slide) the Makarov is not a copy of the earlier Walther PPK as is sometimes suggested.  The Makarov is much simpler (27 parts in the Makarov – 42 in the PPK), is easier and cheaper to manufacture and has a reputation for being more rugged and reliable than the Walther.

The Baikal MP-654K

In 1949 IMZ began producing commercial sporting firearms in addition to military hardware.  Using the trade name Baikal, the company quickly gained a reputation for producing high quality, rugged shotguns and hunting rifles.  In 1989 the company was granted permission to begin exporting commercial firearms outside the Soviet bloc.  In 1990, following the break-up of the Soviet Union, orders for military hardware reduced sharply and the company began to look for alternative sources of income.

One of the avenues explored was the production of air guns.  The company began production of a range of sporting and target air rifles in addition to several target air pistols.  In 1996 a CO2 powered, .177 version of the Makarov pistol was proposed: the MP-654K.  In part, this was in response to a need in military and law enforcement agencies for a safe training version of the Makarov pistol, though it has also been claimed that it was an attempt to utilise stocks of surplus parts for the cartridge version.  Design and initial manufacturing was completed in 1997 and the pistol was first offered for sale as part of the 1998 model range (though apparently very early examples were available from late 1997).

The Baikal MP-654K is powered by CO2 retained in a full-size drop-out magazine and fires 4.5mm steel BBs or lead balls through a 3.8 inch rifled barrel.  BBs are retained in the magazine and the pistol can be fired in single or double action.  The magazine also incorporates the firing valve.  The slide is moveable and can be racked and locked, but this is not a blowback pistol.  The sights are fixed, though the rear sight is drift-adjustable.  The pistol is manufactured almost entirely from steel as opposed to the zinc alloy which is used on most replicas.


Generation 3 pistol field stripped, but with magazine in place, showing firing valve.

Takedown is identical to the cartridge version and similar to the Walther PPK – the trigger guard is hinged at the lower rear.  Pulling the front of the trigger guard down and propping it against the frame allows the slide to be pulled backwards, raised and then slid off to the front.  Other than removing the slide return spring, no further field stripping is possible.

mak13The MP-654K comes in a sturdy cardboard box, wrapped in greased paper.  Generation 1 – 4 models also come with a cleaning rod, spare O-rings and a valve disassembly tool.  Baikal claim that extensive testing has not shown any deterioration of the rifled barrel through the use of steel BBs, though many owners choose to use softer lead balls.  It should be noted that on Generation 1 and 2 models the magazine feed may cause jams if 4.5mm lead balls are used (these are slightly larger diameter than steel BBs).  Later models can fire both types of ammunition without any problems.


Cleaning rod, replacement O-rings and valve disassembly tool

It has been claimed that 654s use parts intended for cartridge Makarov pistols – I have seen 60, 70 and even 80% parts commonality claimed.  It has also been suggested that 654s are in some way converted from cartridge Makarov pistols.  Both things are probably untrue despite the cartridge and CO2 versions being produced in the same manufacturing plant (although it is possible that early versions may have used stocks of surplus parts originally manufactured for the cartridge version).  IMZ don’t respond helpfully to requests for clarification.  So, although many parts of the 654 are dimensionally identical to original parts, and may even have been produced using the same tools and jigs, the materials used and heat treatment employed are likely to be different.  A magazine from a cartridge Makarov will fit in some models of the MP-654K, though of course you can’t load or fire cartridge ammo in the CO2 version.

Legal issues in the US

In 2001 the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) blocked importation of the 654 to the United States, citing concerns that this air pistol could be converted to fire live rounds.  This seems an odd decision in a country where firearms are so easy to obtain (and where importation of the cartridge Makarov pistol continued without restriction), and it’s difficult to see what prompted this concern.  The MP-654K may be based on the cartridge Makarov, but extensive machining and modification would be required to allow the 654 to accept live rounds.  Even if this were to be done, the lack of heat treatment on vital parts would almost certainly mean that the converted pistol would pose as much of a risk to the user as to anyone else.  I’m not aware of any case in the US or elsewhere involving conversion of an MP-654K to fire cartridges and one would imagine that it would be simpler just to buy a firearm in the first place?  At the time of writing, it is believed that the US importation ban is still in place.

Model history

To date there have been five clearly different models of the MP-654K, usually referred to as Generations 1 – 5, though there are also minor differences in shape and finish within generations.  Major differences between generations are outlined below.  All MP-654Ks have a unique serial number, the first two digits of which identify the year of manufacture.  However, please note that dates aren’t absolute and there is some overlap between the generations – for example, an early 2000 model may have a Generation 1 slide and so on.  There also doesn’t seem to be a clear chronological progression in models – I would guess that pistols were sometimes assembled using parts stockpiled during earlier manufacturing runs.  This isn’t intended as a complete and comprehensive guide to every difference between generations – it’s an overall explanation of major differences.

Generation 1 (1998 – 1999)


Generation 1 (1999) MP-654K with alternative slide nose profiles, inset

Official production of the MP-654K began with the 1998 model (though it has been claimed that these were actually first available in late 1997).  Visually, this is a very close match for the cartridge Makarov pistol, especially those models which have a flat-fronted slide.  Finish is either blued or nickel for the slide and fit and operation of the slide is very good indeed (though the slide return spring is extremely powerful, making racking difficult).  Grips are made of a fairly soft grey plastic and fit very well, making this model particularly pleasant to handle.  The frame is finished in a matt grey “Parkerised” effect except for the area on the left of the frame, under the safety catch which is blued.

The inner barrel support is very substantial on Generation 1 pistols and the barrel itself is pressed and pinned (or on some examples welded) in place (the barrels on all subsequent models were screw-in).  Machining of the slide is extensive, accurate and of high quality both inside and out and the slide is a weighty piece of metal made from a thick-walled casting.  Some very early examples have a covered ejection slot, but most Generation 1 pistols (and all subsequent models) have an open ejection slot.  Some generation 1 pistols also had the ejector pin slot milled out.


Comparative pictures – Generation 1 (left), Generation 3 (right).  Note better slide fit and seating on Gen 1.

It is sometimes said that early 654s have machined slides where later models have cast slides.  This is misleading.  All slides start as rough castings or forgings and are then finished by machining.  The degree, extent and quality of final machining varies across the different generations (as does the weight and gauge of the original casting/forging) but the manufacturing process is the same in all cases.  The machining on Generation 1 pistols is especially good, extending to the flat area of the slide under the safety catch and including some inner surfaces of the slide.  There seem to be several slide profiles on Generation 1 pistols – the earliest versions had a flat-fronted slide that is a very close match for the cartridge Makarov, where some later models have more angled slide fronts.

Generation 1 MP-654Ks are considered to be of the highest quality, and this is the model most sought-after by collectors.

Generation 2 (2000 – 2003)


Generation 2 (2000) MP-654K with nickel finish, flat-fronted slide.  Inset: more typical Generation 2 (2000) rounded slide nose.

Most of the differences between Generation 1 and Generation 2 pistols are in the slide.  The slide is re-shaped with a more rounded front.  It has been suggested that this was done to provide a visual clue that this is not a cartridge version, but I have no idea if this is true.  However, just as on Generation 1 Pistols, Generation 2 MP-654Ks come with a variety of slide shapes and finishes.  The slide is generally less weighty and thinner walled and there is no machining on the inside surfaces.  The firing pin is thicker and has a blunt end, compared to the pointed version on Generation 1 pistols.  The rear sight and anti-reflective strip on top of the slide are narrower and the front sight is smaller.  The fit quality of the slide on the frame is not quite as good as on the first generation.

This version retains the grey plastic grips and the heavy slide return spring from the previous version.  The magazine supplied with the Generation 2 version appears to be identical that supplied with the Generation 1 pistol.

Generation 3 (2004 – 2009)


Generation 3 (2006) MP-654K

Generation 3 introduced a revised magazine, with a larger feed-lip to accommodate 4.5mm lead balls and a catch to hold the follower down, making  loading easier.  The magazine is dimensionally identical to those on earlier models and Generation 1, 2 and 3 magazines appear to be interchangeable.  The slide has the same overall shape as the Generation 2 model, but the extent and quality of final machining is less impressive.  The slide return spring on many (but not all) Generation 3 pistols is shorter and lighter, making it easier to rack the slide.


Generation 1(left) and Generation 3 (right).  Note wider anti-glare strip and rear sight on Gen 1.

This model is provided with black or grey plastic grips.

Generation 4 (2010 – 2012)


Generation 4 (2011) nickel finish with black plastic grips

Generation 4 pistols have a lighter, thinner walled slide and machining seems to be of lower quality and less extensive.  The magazine on Generation 4 pistols is wider than those on earlier models, though otherwise it appears to be of identical design and construction.  The slide return spring on many Generation 4 pistols is shorter and lighter, making it easier to rack the slide.  This model is generally provided with re-shaped black or red, shiny and rather hard grips.


Generation 4 (2011) with red plastic grips

Generation 4 models are considered by some to be the poorest of the MP-654s, which seems a little harsh.  The material, build and finishing quality may not be up to the standards of the earliest models, but this model is still way ahead of most replica pistols.

Generation 5 (2012 – present)


Generation 5 (2012)

Generation 5 pistols represent a major update to the MP-654K with a redesigned frame, slide and magazine.

The slide is flat-fronted, very similar in shape to the original weapon and the extractor pin slot is milled out.  The quality of casting and machining is very good indeed.  Slides are provided with an all over glossy finish, or with the top part in a matt finish and the sides glossy.  A wider anti-glare strip (similar to Generation 1 models) is provided.  There appear to be minor variations in the shape of the slide nose within Generation 5 pistols.  The barrel is drilled to a diameter of around 9mm to a depth of 10mm to replicate the look of the barrel on the cartridge Makarov.


Generation 4 (left) and 5 (right) magazines

The magazine is much slimmer than previous models, though still of the same basic design and incorporating the firing valve.  The bottom part of the frame is cut away.  Grips are original Makarov Bakelite items featuring a red star.  A lanyard loop is provided on the lower left of the grip (something that was also seen on some earlier models).  A very powerful slide return spring is fitted, making it difficult to rack the slide.

Many people have welcomed the Generation 5 model as a return to the levels of quality and finish seen on the earlier models.

Shooting the MP-654

I have owned just one MP-654K (a 2008 Generation 3 model), so my shooting experience is limited to that pistol.  However, performance doesn’t greatly vary across the generations, so I believe this is probably representative of shooting across the range.


My MP-654K

The magazine is removed by pushing back on the looped end of the main spring which projects below the butt.  However, this is small and rounded, and it can be difficult to operate.  Some people add a small piece of cord to the loop to make releasing the mag easier.  CO2 is loaded into the magazine and pierced by turning the lanyard loop.  BBs or lead balls are loaded into the magazine which is then inserted into the grip.  The magazine locks in place with a nice, positive click.  The trigger pull in DA is long and heavy but with a consistent and clean break point.

On pulling the trigger, the first thing you’ll notice is that these are LOUD.  My 654 was one of the loudest air pistols I have owned.  I don’t use hearing protection when shooting air pistols, but with the 654 I would seriously consider it if shooting for extended periods.  The second thing you’ll notice is that your steel BBs aren’t grouping particularly tightly.  I found that 2″ – 2½” at 6 yards was about average.  Accuracy is better with 4.5mm lead balls (but only Generation 3 and later will accept these without jamming).  With lead balls I found that groupings reduced to 1½” – 2″ at 6 yards.


Eight shots, six yards, steel BBs

For single action shooting, it’s possible to rack the slide to cock the hammer, but only if you have a model with the shorter slide return spring and even then it’s hard work.  I generally pulled the hammer back for each shot.  With the slide locked back, operating the slide release feels rather like tripping a rat-trap – the slide returns with a very positive action indeed.  The safety lever also de-cocks the pistol in addition to blocking the trigger and locking the slide.


Early MP-654Ks are built like a T-34 tank – heavy, solid and dependable if not terribly user-friendly.  Subsequent models lost some of that feel, but all MP-654s are weighty pistols which feel more like a firearm than a replica.  However, shooting performance isn’t fantastic in terms of fps or accuracy.  Some models have slide return springs which are so powerful that racking the slide to cock the hammer for SA shooting is virtually impossible.  On Generation 3 and 4 models, fit and finish aren’t fantastic.  When you add all these things up, and consider that the MP-654K is fairly expensive, it doesn’t sound especially attractive.


And there’s the problem…  Objectively I can see its flaws, but I loved my MP-654K and enjoyed shooting it as much as any other air pistol I have owned.  It just feels so much better made and put together than most replicas.  In fact, it may be more accurate not to consider this a replica at all – it’s really a practice version of the cartridge Makarov.  So you may look at the negatives and conclude that the MP-654K isn’t for you, and I can understand that.  Or you may become obsessed with a desire to own examples from every generation and sub-type ever made, and I can understand that too.  It’s easy to become focussed on numbers when looking at replica pistols – how fast does it shoot?  How accurate?  How realistic?  I do it myself when reviewing.  But you may have noticed that this review doesn’t include scores.  That’s partly because I’m covering many variants of the MP-654K and I’d have to assign separate scores to each type.  But it also because this pistol has an emotive appeal that goes beyond numbers.  If you can, try handling and shooting one.  I think you’ll see what I mean.  Just don’t blame me if you end up selling your house and children to fund your own collection!

Many thanks to the folk at the Makarov Pistol Association who helped with pictures and arcane knowledge regarding the MP-654K.  The MPA is a great resource for anyone interested in finding out more about these pistols, though you will have to register to see posts.

Related pages:

Gletcher PM 1951 review

Lubricating air pistols

Umarex Walther PPK/S review

Umarex Walther CP99 Compact review

You may also be interested in The Man Place.  It’s a companion site to The Pistol Place and features articles on growing up in the UK in the 1960s.  Topics include the toys, television, movies and games of the period.