A short history of handguns from 145,991 B.C. to 2260 A.D.

“All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun”

Luc Besson

fp

Leslie Neilson and friends in Forbidden Planet (1956)

Movies and guns, they just seem to go together. Sometimes brilliantly, sometimes hilariously badly. And it’s even better when movie props designers provide us with a vision of handguns of the future (or even the distant past, sort of). Because these often look a lot like the handguns of the present, with random bits of hardware bits stuck on. While most visual elements of movies set in the future seem to get the sort of attention normally associated with brain surgery, handguns are often rather neglected. We get plausibly futuristic costumes, vehicles and cityscapes but law enforcement and military personnel from the future often seem to be stuck with anachronistic handguns.

So, here’s a look at some movie and television visions of the handguns we’ll be using in a few years. They’re presented chronologically, in the order of the dates in which the various movies are set. Not a comprehensive list of sci-fi movies featuring handguns by any means – just a run through some of the more notable ones from the last forty years or so. Not including Forbidden Planet (pictured above) – I just liked the picture. And the futuristic wooden ladder from the 23rd Century. Incidentally some of the details below contain spoilers, especially for Battlestar Galactica.

Where air or airsoft replicas of these pistols exist, I have provided brief details, but I haven’t included details of the many non-shooting replicas which are available.

145,991 B.C.

Battlestar Galactica (TV series, 2004 – 2009)

Oldpistolv2

The Gun: Colonial Warrior Handgun. OK, so now I have ruined the re-booted Battlestar Galactica TV series for anyone who hasn’t seen it and therefore doesn’t know that it is actually set in the distant past. Sorry. But really, you need to keep up…

Anyway, in Series 1 in 2004, the standard sidearm of colonial forces was the Warrior, an electronically fired, magnetic-assisted .36 magnum calibre handgun which fired a 170 grain, steel-cored bullet at close to 1400fps. Due to concerns about the stopping power of the .36 round, the Warrior also featured a single-shot, under-barrel 10mm rocket launcher as back-up.

600px-BSGR_13

The Prop: The basis for this gun is a Smith & Wesson 686 revolver, with a small rocket launcher and other bits and pieces added to make it look a bit different. Not a bad looking pistol, though some folk claimed that it was a bit similar to the LAPD pistol used in Blade Runner. During filming it had to be completely dismantled each time it was re-loaded with blanks, so it was discarded in favour of a new pistol based on the FN Five-Seven in Series 2.

Replicas: Off World Manufacturing Co. (really!) made a 6mm, Super Charge Blaster, which is described as a replica of a weapon “used in a popular science fiction TV Series“. OK, we get it. This appears to be a gas powered, mainly plastic revolver with removable shells, but I don’t think it’s still in production and I have never actually seen one. I don’t know how you load the shells either.

airsoft-colonialBLSTRa

Picture from: http://www.airsoftgi.com/product_info.php?products_id=5576

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

SWHanBThe Gun: BlasTech Industries DL-44 heavy Blaster pistol. Sidearm of Han Solo, the DL-44 is an particle weapon which fires a pulsed bolt of energy. The DL-44 includes some nice features such as a vibration in the grip when there is only enough power left to fire five more shots and a capacitor which allows this relatively small pistol to fire with extreme power.

article-0-19D7328700000578-610_634x360

The Prop: Based on a Mauser C-96, with additions including several parts from the Revell “Visible V-8 Engine” model kit (for example, the semi-circular bits stuck on the left of the magazine housing are piston halves from that kit) and an M19 azimuth telescope. But still, this is just so cool… Or at least it seemed that way back in 1977.

Replicas: I don’t know of any replicas of the DL-44, but there are a number of 4.5mm and 6mm Mauser C-96 (or M712) replicas around from Marushin, KJW and Umarex. All you need is to find a suitable old Revell model kit, and you can make your own. The picture below shows a fan-made conversion of a Marushin C-96.

blasterfan

2019

Blade Runner (1982)

bladerunner-blaster-thumb-550x377-16159

The Gun: M2019 PKD Detective Special.  Unlike most movie guns, very little is known about the LAPD pistol used by Rik Deckard and his fellow Blade-Runners. Even the name was invented by fans after the movie appeared, standing for Pflager-Katsumata series D Blaster, or PK-D (PKD also being, not entirely un-coincidentally the initials of the author of the story on which Blade Runner is based, Philip K. Dick). However, it appears that in just five years, the LAPD will have switched to some form of energy weapon which is capable of firing at least four shots without reloading. The function of the LEDs and double trigger isn’t known. Beyond looking cool of course. When asked for more information about the pistol in an interview, Harrison Ford famously sighed and answered “Fuck, it’s just a movie…“.

list_2_66_20101210_080604_747

The Prop: The PK-D was constructed by combining the grip and parts of the frame of a Charter Arms .44 Special Police Bulldog revolver with the receiver and trigger from a Steyr Mannlicher .222 Model SL rifle and adding some LED lights. A great looking pistol even if it’s not readily apparent how it would actually work.

Replicas: A company called HWS produced a gas powered, 6mm “snub-nose” version of the M2019 for a while which even included working LEDs. I have never seen one, and these appear to be rarer than a very rare thing. Looks very nice, but it’s crying out for some wood grips.

3120194120807

2028

Robocop (1987)

auto9

The Gun: Auto 9 pistol. By 2028, it seems that Law enforcement personnel will have reverted to more conventional handguns. The Auto 9 pistol features an extended compensator, semi, full auto and three-round burst modes and has a handy 50 round magazine. It’s also capable of firing a range of different ammunition types including armour-piercing, flechette, high-explosive and even non-lethal rounds which incapacitate rather than kill (though how different types of round are selected from a single magazine isn’t explained).

RoboCop-Beretta93

The Prop: It’s just a Beretta 93R with an extended fore end and compensator, a large magazine and an oversize rear sight. Not a huge amount of imagination here, though it looks interesting. It must have been difficult to twirl something this big round before re-holstering!

Replicas: KSC used to make a gas blowback 6mm version of the Auto 9. With full and semi-auto modes, a 38 round magazine and a length of almost fifteen inches, this was a large and hefty replica. It’s also a good visual replica of the movie prop, but it has been out of production for many years now. If you find one, grab it.

y6cTk0Pl

2154

Avatar (2009)

WLOCK_WASPavatar_h

The Gun: SN-9 WASP Revolver. The SN-9 revolver fires up to six 9mm hypervelocity rounds and includes a gyroscopically stabilised aiming system. It includes mounts for a light and an optical sight with infra-red and movement sensing capabilities. It has no hammer tang, so can only be fired in double action. Unusually for a revolver, it is a select fire weapon with two-round burst mode in addition to semi-auto.

avatar

The Prop: This is based on a Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum revolver with additional alloy housings used as a barrel shroud and mounted above and below the barrel to represent the sight and flashlight. Yet another revolver from the future. Sigh.

Replicas: None known.

2179

Aliens (1986)

Wing_Shooter

The gun: H&K VP70 pistol. The polymer framed Heckler and Koch VP70 pistol was a pretty futuristic design when it was released in 1970, but who would have guessed that it would still be in use over 200 years later as the principal sidearm of the Colonial Marines? Mind you, the selection process used by the Colonial Marines for the adoption of new weapons must be almost as complex as that operated by the US Army, given that background information for the movie suggests that they have only recently adopted this pistol in 2179.

Aliens_VP70

The prop: This is just a standard Heckler & Koch VP70. No modifications, no nothing. Which is either a testament to how futuristic it looked in 1986 or a guide to how little effort the props guys put into this one. Or perhaps they had just spent too much time and effort designing the very wonderful M41A Pulse Rifle?

Replicas: LS Works and UHC produced 6mm, gas blowback replicas of the VP70. Both are pretty decent visual replicas (and the UHC version includes a detachable stock) but neither are particularly great shooters and I’m not certain if either is still in production.

vp70ls

LS Works VP70

2260

Star Trek: The Original Series (1966 – 1969)

71jon5o6mil

The Gun: Hand Phaser. By 2260, personnel of the United Federation of planets will be using a directed energy weapon. The Phaser uses plasma, passed through a phaser emitter to produce a directed beam of Nadion particles. The beam can be widened or narrowed by the user and can be set to stun, kill or disintegrate living creatures though it can also be set to perform other useful tasks including cutting through inert material such as metal and rock.

star_trek_tos_kirk_phaser

Not many people realise that in addition to “Stun” and “Disintegrate“, the Federation Phaser pistol also has a “Personal Grooming” setting which allows it to be used for the removal of excess nose-hair. Here, an understandably nervous Captain James T. Kirk is about to demonstrate the correct procedure…

The Prop: Now, that’s more like it! The Phaser doesn’t look anything like a conventional firearm, but it’s recognisably a hand-held weapon. And it still looks really cool! How come a television prop from the 1960s manages to do what so many bigger budget productions have failed to manage since?

Replicas: None known. Shame!

2517

Firefly (2002 – 2003)

3779409-firefly1

The Gun: Moses Brothers Self-Defense Engine Frontier Model B. Five hundred years on and handguns will have reverted to a more conventional look. The weapon carried by Captain Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly was also his sidearm during the Unification war. It’s one of a series of handguns produced by Moses Brothers and functions both as a Gauss/Collgun energy weapon and a conventional semi-automatic firearm. It fires Gaus Quadload ammunition powered by a hefty battery inside the grip, but can be switched instantly to fire using a conventional hammer based cartridge system.

imagesCAPR63ZZ

The Prop: This is a Taurus Model 85 revolver almost completely covered in a brass casing which makes it look rather different. Despite looking a lot like a revolver, it is claimed to be a semi-auto pistol as well as an energy weapon. The appearance of this pistol deliberately references the Volcanic Repeating pistol used in the US Civil War, supporting the many echoes of the Wild West/Post Civil War America in the series.

Replicas: None known.

Conclusion

So, there you are, almost 150,000 years of handgun development and they’ll still end up looking a lot like elderly revolvers. Probably. Movies provide striking and memorable visions of the future, but when you look at the Hollywood and television vision of handguns of the future (or technically the past, but it’s still basically the future, OK?), the most striking thing is the lack of imagination displayed. Most prop handguns are recognisably existing guns with bits and pieces stuck on to make them look “futuristic“. Han Solo’s iconic blaster pistol may look cool, but it’s still just a Mauser C96 with some bits of an old Revel kit stuck on it. The LAPD pistol in Blade Runner is parts of a rifle and a pistol joined together with no thought as to how it might actually work. The pistol in Aliens is simply an H&K VP70 with no effort to make it look different at all. And how many other movies set in the future have you seen where Glocks, 1911s and versions of the Beretta 92/93 are the main handguns used?

Does this really matter other than to gun nerds? I’d suggest that it does. If you are trying to depict the future, the artefacts and hardware are an intrinsic part of the way in which characters behave and interact. Of all the movie handguns here, only the Phaser from Star Trek and perhaps the WASP revolver from Avatar try to represent something genuinely different. The Phaser doesn’t resemble any existing firearm and with its ability to be used in a non-lethal mode, reflects nicely the ethos of the Federation. The very lethal caseless sabot ammunition proposed in Avatar suggests that someone actually thought about how weapons might have changed in one hundred and forty years time (though I’m still not convinced about burst mode in a revolver). When you look at how handguns have changed even in the last forty years, it does seem likely that in one or two hundred years, pistols may look and function very differently indeed and that may affect how law enforcement and military personnel behave. So, come on guys, if you’re going to show us a handgun from the future, what about a bit of thought and originality?

imagesCANYY22K

Please take a moment to complete the Pistol Place survey to let me know what you like (and don’t like) on the site.  Thanks.

Related pages:

The five best gun movies

Replicas in movies and television

The Five Best Gun Movies

My wife is surprisingly ungrateful when I provide helpful comments on firearm inaccuracies and anachronisms during movies. In fact, she has made it clear that unless I cease and desist, we’re likely to be watching movies separately from now on. So I thought instead I’d share with you a list of the five movies which I think should have received Oscar nominations for “Best use of firearms in a movie“. If there was such a thing. In no particular order these are movies which feature an interesting selection of guns and gunplay. They’re also movies which I have enjoyed because, let’s face it, no-one wants to sit though a dull and dreary movie just because it has a few guns in it.

The Mummy (1999)

Remember those wonderful old Hammer horror movies from the 1960s? Well, this is a sort of modern update. And it’s great. The plot…, OK, look, the plot is a bit silly. It’s some nonsense about a mummified Egyptian priest returning to bring his dead love back to life. And destroy the world. Or something. But it doesn’t really matter because the hero is played with gusto by the underrated Brendan Fraser, ably supported by Rachel Weisz, John Hannah and Kevin J. O’Connor, the special effects are reasonable, it never takes itself too seriously and the whole thing rollicks along for just over two hours without pausing to draw breath. Your wife will enjoy it. Hell, your mum would probably love it. Even your kids will enjoy it too (provided they aren’t too young – some of the scary bits are, well, quite scary). And the guns…

800px-tm_chamelot-delvigneAfter a short prelude in ancient Egypt, the bulk of the movie takes place in 1923 and 1926. Whoever was responsible for choosing the guns really knew what they were doing, and there is some great period stuff on display. Rick (Bredan Fraser) dual-wields a pair of seriously chunky French Chamelot-Delvigne Model 1873 revolvers throughout (he plays an ex-French Foreign legionnaire, so a lot of the hardware on display is French) with a Colt M1911 as back-up and a Winchester Model 1897 shotgun for when those pesky mummies are particularly thick on the ground. In an early part of the film he also uses a French Lebel M1886 rifle. The tube magazine on the eight-shot M1886 was a notoriously finicky feeder, and it was obviously impossible to get it to load properly with blanks because all the characters using this particular rifle in the movie reload after each shot (but, trust me on this, your spouse and kids won’t appreciate your pointing this out during the film).

mummy1

In addition, you’ll see the Mauser C96, Lee-Enfield MkIII rifle, Mauser 98K rifle, a Lewis Gun and even a Colt Single Action Army. Every weapon in the movie is historically appropriate. Even the 1911s are M1911s, not the later and more common M1911A1, which would have been impossible in the 1923 part of the movie. I was disappointed to note in the sequel, The Mummy Returns (2001), a Browning Hi-Power. The second movie was set in 1933, and the Hi-Power wasn’t introduced until 1935. Oh dear. But this one gets the guns spot-on and there’s some unusual and interesting stuff on display. The movie’s fun too, so this one is highly recommended.

The Raid (2011)

I don’t generally like action movies. Mainly because most of them are dull, dreary and feature very little in the way of actual action. But I make an exception for The Raid from 2011 (also known as The Raid: Redemption in some parts of the world). It’s a movie made on a shoestring budget in Indonesia, featuring a largely unknown Indonesian cast and made by a Welsh director (I have no idea why). It has a basic plot and relatively little dialogue but it does feature more gun and fighting action than you’ll find in any five standard Hollywood blockbusters.

The-Raid-Elite-Police

The plot, such as it is, involves a team of Indonesian SWAT type police who are sent to arrest a crime boss in a crumbling apartment block. They get in, quickly find that they have been set up for an ambush by lots of heavily armed gangsters and the rest of the movie is about their attempts to fight their way back out again. That’s it. You’re not going to lose the thread during this movie.

The police and criminals are heavily armed with a variety of weapons and most of the first half of the movie is a running gun battle. All the guns used are airsoft replicas with slow-mo bullets, muzzle flashes and ejecting shells added later using CGI. It’s kind of fun playing spot the replica – look out for a Tanaka Smith & Wesson M37 later in the film. Despite things like airsoft brass inner barrels occasionally being very obvious, the gun stuff is well done and as exciting as anything produced in Hollywood. But things really hot up when the police squad start to run low on ammo and are forced to fall back on their fighting skills.

the-raid-pic10

You see, the Police (and many of the gangsters) are experts at Silat, a little-known Indonesian martial art which uses fists, feet and knives. The fight scenes are fast and breathtakingly violent. The people taking part in the movie may not be fantastic actors, but they really know how to throw a punch. Or a knife. Or a chair. They frequently appear to make full-force contact with each other, and I suspect that some scenes simply degenerated into real fights, with the camera continuing to follow the action. There are some superbly choreographed scenes, but most of the second half of the movie is raw and bloody.

If you like action, you’ll love The Raid. I never thought I’d see a movie which made Jackie Chan look like a wuss – but this one does. It is very violent though, so it may be best not to watch it with your Mum. And then you can admire all those lovely replicas…

The Wild Bunch (1969)

The-Wild-Bunch

Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is loosely set during the period of the Mexican revolution from 1908 – 1916, though the actual date isn’t explicitly noted. The movie is often cited as Peckinpah’s masterpiece and features a wonderful cast including William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan and Warren Oates. It’s a movie that features guns and shooting heavily. To give some idea of the scale of gunfire here, more (blank) rounds were fired during the making of the film (over 90,000) than in the actual Mexican revolution. With a total body count of almost 150 and a final, apocalyptic shoot-out which incorporates over one hundred deaths and three hundred edits in just over five minutes of action, there’s a lot of shooting going on. And yet, strangely, this is also a thoughtful, reflective movie with long periods when the elderly protagonists do little more than ruminate on the absurdity of their situation.

You see, the Wild Bunch isn’t really about guns or shooting at all and to call it a Western is to miss the point – it’s really about the death of the old West and the philosophy and attitudes of that period. There are lots of guns in it but the Wild Bunch themselves know that they are anachronisms and probably doomed, but they simply don’t know how to adapt to live in the modern world. It’s also a violent film – Peckinpah wanted to show what it really looked like when someone got shot as opposed to the bloodless deaths seen in most earlier cowboy films, though the film was heavily criticised for excessive violence on release.

And the guns? The Wild Bunch and their protagonists use the Colt 1911 and the Single Action Army and a variety of shotguns and rifles. For the most part the guns used are appropriate, though it’s occasionally obvious that Spanish Star Model B pistols are used in place of 1911s. The 1911 doesn’t work reliably with blanks, and the 9mm Star is often used as a movie stand-in. The Model B is visually similar to the 1911, though it doesn’t have a grip safety and has a large, external extractor on the right of the slide. The only real firearm anachronism in the movie is the Browning M1917 machine gun which features during the latter part of the film. This obviously wouldn’t have been around in the period covered by the movie though it’s close enough not to jar too much. The sheer volume of gunfire and the graphic depiction of its effects make this essential viewing for anyone interested in the old West and/or the firearms of this period.

oates5

The Wild Bunch is a film about doomed men who accept their fate but are determined not to go quietly. It’s not an action movie in any sense – it’s a thoughtful, slow, melancholy rumination on getting old and finding that you no longer have a place in the world in which you find yourself. Though it is punctuated by short bursts of extreme violence. So, it’s short on laughs, but at least the opening credits should make you smile. Peckinpah allegedly became exasperated with Robert Ryan’s incessant demands for top billing (which he didn’t get – top billing went to William Holden). In the opening credits, the scene freezes on the faces of William Holden and then Ernest Borgnine as their names appear on screen. As Ryan’s name appears, the screen freezes on a shot of several horse’s rear-ends.

Winchester 73 (1950)

As you may have guessed from the title, this black and white western follows the rifle of the title as it is first won in a shooting contest by cowboy Lin McAdam (played by the ever reliable James Stewart) and then, after being stolen from him, passes through the hands of several interesting characters. The story also follows McAdam as he pursues a parallel story featuring that most cliched of western quests – a search for the man who killed his father.

Winchester73Still8

Action shooting contest, circa 1870.

Other than the Winchester of the title, the movie features Martini-Henry repeating rifles, Springfield carbines and of course, lots of Colt Single Action Army pistols. The use of firearms in the movie suggests that whoever was involved in the selection process knew a great deal about their history and use.   At one point there is a discussion of the deficiencies of the US army’s Springfield Carbine and how these may have contributed to the massacre of Custer and his men. The shooting action is pretty good too and the final shootout is still regarded as a classic. They obviously didn’t worry too much about damage to stars then either – you’ll see Jimmy Stewart take several facefulls of dust and stone chips from “near misses”.

win73

Sneering bad guy. Note hat.

The movie tells a complex, episodic story in just 92 minutes – I imagine if it were to be re-made today we’d be treated to hours of angsty introspection, but in the typical style of the 1950s this gallops along with barely a pause in the action. It’s a good cast too. Surprisingly, this was Stewart’s first leading role in a straight Western (though he had starred in the spoof Destry rides again in 1939) and he went on to make many, many more. The rest are pretty good too, with Stephen McNally as snarling bad guy Dutch Henry Brown, Millard Mitchell as McAdam’s sidekick and Will Geer as Wyatt Earp. Best of all though is Dan Duryea as the giggling and psychotic Waco Johnny Dean. It’s also worth watching to spot a couple of young and relatively unknown actors who would go on to bigger things – Rock Hudson (in an unlikely piece of casting) plays an Indian Chief who leads his warband against a small group of US cavalry whose ranks include a very young Tony Curtis.

This has everything you could want from a Western – a nasty bad guy (who wears a black hat), morally upstanding good guys, Indian attacks, the US Cavalry, shooting and lots of historically accurate firearms. There just isn’t a better way to spend a wet afternoon.

Equilibrium (2002)

The previous four movies are notable for their use of realistic and historically accurate firearms. This one is pure sci-fi fantasy, but it does feature lots of guns. The plot is fairly standard sci-fi stuff: It’s 2072, and following a catastrophic third world war, the Tetragrammaton, the ruling body in the country of Libria, has decided to avoid the possibility of any future conflict by forcing the population to take daily doses of Prozium, a mood altering drug which leaves them docile and free of troublesome emotions. Some people object and try to avoid taking the drugs. These sense criminals are ruthlessly hunted down by Grammaton Clerics, a quasi-religious group of highly trained enforcers who use Gun Kata, a combination of martial arts and handguns to deadly effect. OK, so it’s actually a completely rubbish plot which sounds as if it was scribbled on the back of an envelope by a fourteen year old with ADHD. Yet somehow, this manages to be an entertaining little movie.

equilibrium_21

Christian Bale, Sean Bean, Emily Watson, Taye Diggs and David Hemmings all do their best to look as though they’re taking it seriously and Gun Kata is simply an excuse for lots of cool gunplay mixed in with dramatic martial-arts style poses. Though there is some sort of lame attempt to justify it all:

“Through analysis of thousands of recorded gunfights, the Cleric has determined that the geometric distribution of antagonists in any gun battle is a statistically-predictable element. The Gun Kata treats the gun as a total weapon, each fluid position representing a maximum kill zone, inflicting maximum damage on the maximum number of opponents, while keeping the defender clear of the statistically-traditional trajectories of return fire.

DuPont, Vice Councillor of the Tetragrammaton

In this movie, guns have changed surprisingly little in 2072. The Cleric use a modified Beretta 92FS (with some cool additional features) and their henchmen use H&K G36 assault rifles and MP5 machine pistols. Though for no readily apparent reason, the Cleric also use Samurai swords on occasion. And it’s notable that, like the war films of the 60s and 70s, the goodies here appear to use live rounds while the baddies seem to have been issued mainly with blanks. With its mix of balletic martial arts moves and guns, it’s difficult not to draw comparisons with the Matrix, but there is one small but important difference: Christian Bale and Sean Bean manage to convincingly portray men with no emotions. Kenau Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss and the rest of the Matrix cast appear to be unable to convincingly portray any emotions at all.

film2

The handgun of the future. Apparently.

It would have been nice to see a little more imagination in the design of guns from the future. By 2072, the Beretta 92 design will be more than 100 years old – surely we could expect the Cleric to have something a little more cutting-edge? And don’t expect anything deep in terms of a story – it’s all gloriously silly, but also kind of fun and glossy and cool and the cast do their best to give it all some gravitas. Just don’t try those Gun Kata moves with your replicas – you’ll almost certainly end up shooting a BB up your nose!

Happy viewing!

Related pages:

Replica guns in movies and television

 

KWC P08 Luger

lug3

I like replicas of historic firearms, and they don’t get much more historic than the P08, better known as the Luger. I have owned Luger replicas before: A Tanaka version (beautifully made, looked very good, but was made of plastic, was very light and only an indifferent shooter) and a WE version (basically a metal copy of the Tanaka version, minus some of the markings and with the addition of some quality control issues that made it randomly shoot in full-auto mode) and I never really fancied the non-blowback Umarex version. So when I heard that KWC, the people behind the Tanfoglio Witness, were producing a blowback Luger, I was very keen to give one a try.

Incidentally, KWC make two versions of the Luger: one in 4.5mm and one in 6mm. Both are functionally and visually identical. The version reviewed here is the 6mm, but all comments should also apply to the 4.5mm version.

Real steel background

I have already written elsewhere about the history of the Luger, and how it isn’t really called a Luger and how Hollywood would have us believe that it’s the archetypal German officer’s pistol from World War Two when it’s nothing of the kind, so I won’t repeat any of that here (you’ll find a link at the end of this article to other Luger articles). Instead, I’m going to switch to full pedant mode and talk about Luger markings.

lug2

Luftwaffe Unteroffizier (sergeant) training with a Luger during World War Two.

You see, Luger markings are sort of unique and if you handle a real Luger, one of the first things you’ll notice that it’s covered in mysterious letters, gothic numbers and little pictograms. These are an important link to how this pistol was manufactured.

The Luger is a complicated design which relies on very tight tolerances to make sure that it operates without jamming or misfiring. Back in the early 20th Century when production started, there were no CNC systems to ensure that all components were identical to a fraction of a millimetre. Producing the individual parts of a Luger relied on the eyesight and attention span of Claus von Steadyhand and his colleagues as they used manually controlled machine tools. So, individual parts could and did vary fractionally in size and finish.

The factories where Lugers were produced got round this by employing skilled and very experienced inspectors, whose job it was to take batches of freshly machined Luger parts and try various combinations until they had assembled a pistol in which all the components worked flawlessly together. Each part of a particular pistol was then stamped with various marks, disassembled and sent for heat treatment. After heat treatment, the markings were used to ensure the re-assembly of batches of parts into pistols which had already been function tested.

lug1

The precise nature and locations of these marking varies and whole books have been devoted to this subject. In general, these took the form of an identification letter for the inspector, the last two digits of the pistol’s serial number and identification of the factory in which the Luger was produced. Each of the main components (barrel, toggle, receiver, frame and cover plate) was marked in this way though the extent of markings varied from factory to factory – on Lugers produced in the Erfurt Arsenal for example, even the grip screws were inspected and stamped!

So, Lugers manufactured from 1908 – 1944 feature a large number of letters, numbers, pictograms and other acceptance marks in addition to the makers name, the date of production and even unit markings on some examples. Post-war Lugers (Lugers were still being manufactured in Germany until 1986, in small batches and mainly to satisfy demand in the US market) and Lugers produced in the USA have notably fewer markings.

The KWC P.08

Kein Well Toy Industrial Co. Ltd. (KWC) is a Taiwanese manufacturer of 4.5mm and 6mm replica guns. The company was formed in 1978, but didn’t produce their first replica until 1984. In 2007 the company released their first blowback replica (the Taurus PT99). Since then, although they continue to offer a large range of spring powered pistols, KWC are generally best known for their production of all metal, heavyweight, blowback guns which replicate the look, feel and function of firearms. KWC act as original equipment manufacturer for several distributors and are the manufacturers of such well-known replicas as the Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness, Mini Uzi and Sig P226 X5 as well as several recent replicas from Umarex. Despite being heavy, visually and functionally accurate, metal replicas, KWC pistols are generally also fairly low cost.

Previously KWC have focussed on replicas of current weapons (with the exception of their 1911 range) but in 2013 they began to offer a larger range of all metal, blowback replicas based on historic firearms including the Tokarev TT-33, Makarov pistol, Mauser M712 and the P08 (and if anyone from KWC is reading this, I’d love to review that Makarov…). Almost all KWC blowback replicas are offered in both 4.5mm and 6mm format, though in terms of function and construction these tend to be identical. The P08 is available as KMB-41DHN (4.5mm) and KCB-41DHN (6mm) models. The 6mm version is listed as providing 1.2 Joules of muzzle energy, so it’s actually too powerful to be classed as an airsoft weapon in the UK.

lug5

The KWC P08s are all metal, blowback replicas powered by CO2 which is retained in a full-size, drop-out magazine. The toggle mechanism, manual safety, magazine and release and the takedown procedure from the original are all faithfully replicated.

Spec;

Calibre: 6mm or 4.5mm

Magazine capacity:         6mm: 15 BBs, 4. 5mm: 21 BBs

Propellant: CO2

Barrel length: 3.94″ (100mm)

Weight: 1.85lbs (834g)

Overall length: 8.7″ (220mm)

Sights: Front: Post, fixed. Rear: V-notch, fixed.

Action: SA only.

Claimed power:     6mm: 360 fps (110 m/s), 1.2 Joule, 4.5mm: 295 fps (90 m/s), 1.4 Joule

Packaging and presentation 3/5

lug11The KWC P08 is supplied in a card box with polystyrene insert to fit the pistol, a single magazine, an allen key for tightening the CO2 and a small box of BBs. A short user manual is provided which is even less useful than the usual manual provided with Taiwanese replicas. My KWC P08 came almost without any lubrication at all, and one of the first things I did was to lubricate everything.

lug12

My KWC was supplied through a German supplier, Versandhaus Schneider, and I was initially confused because the KWC P08 was described on their site as a GSG product – German Sport Guns are a German manufacturer of .22lr replicas and a distributor for some replica pistols. I assume that GSG must be the distributor for the KWC P08 in Germany? My P08 also came with a sheet of additional instructions from GSG in the box, and laser engraved text on the left of the frame reading “GSG Cal. 6mm“.

Visual accuracy 7/10

lug15In terms of the overall outline of the Luger, this very well done. The shape of the grip, receiver, toggle, ejector pin, barrel and sights are all very close to the original. However, I’m not so sure about the finish – most Lugers were blued, which gives a shiny finish, and even the Umarex Luger replica looks closer to the original finish than the semi-matt black used here. Black grips look wrong too (though some Lugers did come with black bakelite grips), and brown, wood-effect grips would have been much more appropriate. The button on the base of the magazine was often silver rather than black on the original and on early versions, the magazine base was made of wood.

lug14

And then there are the markings. On the right side of the frame is the KWC logo and serial number and on the left is the GSG logo and “Cal. 6mm BB“. Fortunately, although this text is in white, it’s fairly small and not too noticeable. Under the manual safety the text “Gesichert” (Secured) is engraved. The only other markings are the number 15 which is engraved on the cover plate, takedown lever and manual safety blade. That’s it. Which doesn’t even come close to the markings on a real Luger. I don’t understand why – if you’re going to the time and trouble to replicate the Luger in such functional detail, surely a few genuine looking markings couldn’t hurt? The first blowback airsoft Luger I’m aware of was the Tanaka version, which included a fair sprinkling of proof and inspection marks, though it did include the number 15 on the cover plate, takedown lever and manual safety blade. Then came the WE Luger, which appeared to be a straight copy of the Tanaka version, but dropped all markings except the 15 on the cover plate, takedown lever and manual safety blade. Internally, the KWC Luger does not seem to be a copy of the Tanaka or WE versions, but it does appear that the markings have been directly copied from the WE Luger. Pity.

So, a fair attempt at a visual replica of a Luger, but not perfect.

Functional accuracy 14/15

Functionally, the KWC P08 is very good indeed. It has good weight (everything but the grips and CO2 transfer box is metal) and the toggle mechanism works as it should and locks back when the mag is empty (there is no equivalent of a slide release on the Luger – the only way to unlock the slide is to re-rack it with a round in the magazine or with the magazine removed). The manual safety can only be engaged when the pistol is cocked (there is no cocking indicator on the Luger) and there is no decocker. The magazine is full size and the release and takedown work as they would on the original. Even the complex and convoluted trigger mechanism is accurately modelled here.

lug4

The only very minor thing that doesn’t work on the KWC P08 (and to be fair, this hasn’t yet been modelled on any replica) is the loaded chamber indicator – on the cartridge version the ejector pin on top of the toggle stands proud of the toggle and the word “Geladen” (Loaded) is visible when there is a round in the chamber. But that’s being very picky – this basically functions in precisely the same way as an original Luger.

Shooting 35/40

Loading CO2 is simple and will be familiar to anyone who has used a KWC replica – the metal plug in the base of the magazine is loosened using the supplied allen key, CO2 is inserted from the side, and the plug is tightened to pierce. The only issue I found is that the P08 magazine is relatively small, and it’s difficult to get a firm hold of it as you tighten the allen key, so there can be a small loss of gas. Up to 15, 6mm BBs (or up to 21, 4.5mm BBs, depending on which version you’re using) are loaded through the opening in the magazine. Though previous experience with KWC replicas suggests that they work best if you don’t completely fill the magazine to capacity. There is no way to lock the magazine follower, but the spring is fairly light so at least you shouldn’t be losing any fingernails here. It is necessary to locate the magazine firmly – on a couple of occasions early on, I inserted the magazine and pulled the trigger, only to have the mag fall out. You don’t want to slam it in there – just make sure it has locked properly before you try to shoot.

The angle of the grip looks odd, and is different to most other semi-auto pistols, but the Luger feels natural in the hand and points well. The grip is fairly small and narrow and should suit most hand sizes. The toggle must be racked to cock the pistol for the first shot and the manual safety can only be engaged when the pistol is cocked. When you’re ready to shoot, you’ll find yourself looking down a particularly nasty set of sights. There is a broad, V shaped cut-out in the upper rear part of the toggle and a tall, thin, tapering post at the front. There are no white dots or any other sort of aiming aids and it’s difficult to be precise, but hey, these are authentic Luger sights.

lug8Then you pull the trigger. The trigger on the real Luger has been variously described as “mushy“, “imprecise” and even “horrible“. This is mainly due to the complicated mechanism – remember the old game Mouse Trap? Where you pressed a button at one end which started a series of interesting movements which eventually resulted in plastic cage descending on a plastic mouse? Well, the Luger trigger works in much the same way. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s perfectly replicated on the KWC Luger. It isn’t terrible and it does have a short travel, but it isn’t as precise as you may be used to on replicas of more modern pistols.

lug7When you do pull the trigger, the first surprise is that the toggle flips up and down, briefly obscuring your view of the target. It’s disconcerting at first, but you soon get used to it. The KWC Luger isn’t particularly loud, but it does have a reasonably satisfying crack. The felt recoil effect from the toggle is notably less than you’ll find on other blowback replicas, and especially if compared to other KWC pistols such as their 1911 range. The toggle locks back after the last shot is fired, completely obscuring your view of the target, so you’re in no doubt when it’s time to reload.

lug13

Ten shots, six yards, semi-rested, 0.2g BBs. Black area is approximately 1½” in diameter. And yes, I know the target is on its side, but that’s the way it was when I shot at it.

KWC claim 360fps for the 6mm version, and that feels about right. 295 fps is claimed for the 4.5mm version. And I have to say that mine shoots very well indeed. Even allowing for the difficult sights, I’m able to group most shots using 0.20g BBs to within 1″ or so – highly impressive for a BB shooting pistol and extremely consistent. I suspect that part of the reason for this accuracy and consistency is due to the inner barrel not moving during firing, unlike most blowback replicas which have floating barrels. One minor issue with mine is that it shoots about 2″ high at six yards. I’m guessing that 0.30g BBs might work better.

I do have to mention CO2 consumption and cool-down. Cool-down is very noticeable if you shoot rapidly – it’s so marked that the grip actually becomes chilled and you can hear the tone of the report changing with each shot. CO2 consumption is also higher than I expected – around 50 full-power shots at 70°C and after one bout of rapid-fire shooting, under 40 shots. I have no idea why – without a heavy slide to move, I had expected CO2 usage to be lower on the P08, but that certainly isn’t the case on mine.

Overall, this is a very satisfactory shooter. It’s powerful enough, accurate and consistent. The sights aren’t great and the trigger isn’t the best, but these are just part of the Luger experience. The high CO2 consumption is a surprise, but it’s certainly not something that stops me using this replica.

OK, so it shoots a little high. But doesn’t it have hop-up adjustment?

lug10

I don’t think so. Some people say it has, some say it hasn’t. The KWC manual doesn’t mention hop-up, but then all it really says is that if you pull the trigger, the gun will go bang and that shooting your cat or policemen is a bad idea. All good advice certainly, but I would have liked something a little more in-depth. The additional sheet provided by GSG specifically mentions hop-up, and talks about “turning the screw anti-clockwise to amplify hop-up effect”. At least I think it does – it’s in German and my technical German is less than perfect, but it certainly talks about “das hop-up system“. However, the only screw I can find is in the rear of the sliding part of the toggle mechanism. There is a small, brass screw there, but it doesn’t look as if it’s designed to be set in different positions. Turning it anti-clockwise simply unscrews it, which can’t be right. Looking down the inner barrel reveals an O ring near the mouth of the barrel, but no way to tension or adjust this. So, I’m going to go with no – despite what GSG suggest, the KWC Luger doesn’t appear to have any hop-up adjustment.

Quality and reliability 12/15

The KWC P.08 feels like a well made and finished replica. However, I’m concerned that my version is already showing some signs of internal wear and I have also owned several Tanfoglio Witnesses (which are also made by KWC) and they turned out to be of variable quality. Now. it’s possible that this wear is entirely normal – most wear happens when a replica is first used, so this may not be something to be worried about, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

lug9

Areas of wear on the toggle (arrowed)

Other than this and so far (after about 400 shots), everything is working as it should. The KWC Luger shoots very well, doesn’t leak CO2 and the toggle reliably locks back on empty. There is no sign of wear to the black finish and nothing has fallen off or worked loose.

Is the KWC Luger well-made and reliable? It seems to be at the moment, but ask me again in six months!

Overall Impression 12/15

Remember the first time you picked up a Tanfoglio Witness? And how it felt heavy and well made and substantial and rather like a cartridge firing pistol.   The KWC Luger is like that. When you pick it up it has good heft and when you rack the toggle it moves precisely and cleanly. Everything about it just feels good. It isn’t up there with the best of the Umarex pellet shooters in terms of quality feel, but it’s way better than lots of other Taiwanese replicas. If it only had wood effect grips and a more convincing finish, it would be close to ideal.

Conclusion

lug16

Many of the less than perfect things about the KWC P08 are features it inherits from the original: The sights are poor, the trigger pull feels a little mushy and imprecise and there is no defined release point and the toggle action, though snappy, provides relatively little felt recoil effect. The lack authentic of markings is also an issue and I would have liked to see brown, wood effect grips and a finish that looked more like blued steel.

However, this is a functionally perfect replica of the legendary Luger, a cracking good shooter and it appears to be reasonably well made and put together though I have some reservations about its longevity. It’s also agreeably cheap, though the CO2 consumption may be an issue. Is it the perfect Luger replica? Not quite, but if you want a Luger, I don’t believe that there is a better replica currently available.

Total score: 83/100

Video review

Related pages:

Umarex P08 review

Luger replicas

Tanfoglio Witness review

Buy:

In the US only, Umarex sell a blowback P-08 as part of the “Legends” range. This appears to be a re-branded KWC P-08. You can buy the Legends P-08 blowback at Pyramid Air here.

Links:

P08 on the KWC website

6mm GSG/KWC P08 on the Versandhaus Schneider site

4.5mm GSG/KWC P08 on the Versandhaus Schneider site