Plenty of American handgun enthusiasts are dyed-in-the wool fans of the venerable 1911 semi-automatic pistol designed by John Moses Browning. And I can't say I blame them. It's an excellent design with one of the best pistol triggers yet devised along with features that are well suited to a variety of handgun related pursuits.
Despite the 1911's positive qualities, and the protestations of its One True Gun devotees, it’s not necessarily the best for everyone's needs. The grip shape and positioning of the controls are not the best fit for some hand shapes. In regard to ammunition capacity, folks have a choice of single-stack magazines that hold seven to 10 rounds (depending on the caliber) or double-stack magazines that increase the on-board round counts but fatten up the grip significantly.
A Ruger SR1911 (left) compared to the Girsan MCP35 (right).
But Browning designed another handgun that has had a significant impact on modern defensive handgun design. He began work on it in the mid 1910s using the 1911 as a starting point. When he passed away in 1926, before the pistol was ready, his protégé Dieudonné Saive picked up the blueprints and completed what would become the "Grande Puissance" (High Power) for Fabrique Nationale (FN) of Herstal, Belgium. The Hi-Power launched in 1935 and became a highly favored military sidearm in Europe.
Holly Marcus delves into this pistol's historical background as part of her review of the Springfield Armory SA-35. Rather than rehashing her work here, I'm going to dive right into the Hi-Power features and new models of this enjoyable, accessible and classic pistol that suits modern pistol preferences.
In this age of "plastic-is-fantastic" pistol frames and striker-fired ignition systems, I didn't expect to see the Hi-Power make a comeback after it was discontinued by Browning Arms in 2018. But here we are today with no fewer than three different manufacturers launching new models within a few months of each other.
Springfield Armory’s SA-35 is outfitted with checkered hardwood grips.
Springfield Armory announced the arrival of the SA-35 in October of 2021. It's made here in the United States in Geneseo, Illinois. Although it's inspired by the blued-steel military version of the Hi-Power known as the P-35, Springfield made adjustments and installed a variety of upgrades to bring the pistol up to their standards. This includes a bump from 13 rounds to 15 rounds in the magazine. The suggested retail price is competitive at $699 and it took home the NRA Publications’ American Rifleman 2022 Golden Bullseye Handgun of the Year award.
The FN High Power accepts 17-round magazines.
The American division of FN has resurrected the Hi-Power with a set of features intended to attract military and law enforcement personnel as well as civilians. This includes pyramidal texturing on the grip with ambidextrous controls, including the slide stop and thumb safety. But the most notable change is the 17+1 ammunition capacity. It's available in stainless steel with black and tan finishes at suggested retail prices ranging from $1,269 to $1,369.
The Girsan MC P35 is imported by EAA from Turkey.
The new model that I’ve worked with most recently is the MC P35. It's manufactured by Girsan of Turkey, where the company has been producing military-grade pistols since 1993. A variety of models are being imported by the European American Armory Corp. (EAA) into the American market place. The pistol shown is based on the Browning Arms Hi-Power Mark III including a Series 80 ignition system, a 15-round Mec-Gar magazine and a two-tone Cerakote finish.
At first glance, the Hi-Power looks like a classic pistol. It has an all-steel construction and a slide that borrows its rounded top and flat sides from the 1911. The trigger is deeply curved in old-school fashion. With some models the magazines do not drop free from the grip but need to be manually extracted. (This feature is a leftover from European military pistols intended to keep pistol magazines from being dropped and lost in the mud.)
Although the 1911's influence on the cosmetics of the Hi-Power's exterior are undeniable, the interior of the gun is a different story. It's been said that the Hi-Power is among the most influential pistols in regards to modern pistol design. The barrel's linkless cam configuration, the four short slide rails and other features will look awfully familiar to anyone who has looked inside a Glock frame or similar striker-fired guns.
Disassembling the Hi-Power for cleaning and maintenance is a simple process, much like other modern pistols. Start by removing the magazine and verifying the pistol is completely unloaded. Pull the slide back and lock it in the open position using the thumb safety lever. Press the slide stop lever and pin out of the left side of the frame. Take hold of the slide, swing down the thumb safety and then ease the slide assembly forward off of the frame. Lift out the recoil assembly, followed by the barrel, then the pistol is ready to clean. In other words, it’s just as easy to take care of as a polymer-framed pistol.
Despite its all-steel construction, the Hi-Power will feel oddly familiar in the hands of folks who already shoot polymer pistols that accept double stack magazines. I find the grip shape feels right at home in my hands. The beveled slide reduces the pistol’s weight at the muzzle which gives it a handy, intuitive balance that swings naturally. It weighs more than polymer pistols but this works in its favor to help reduce levels of felt recoil.
Like the 1911, the Hi-Power has top notch accuracy potential. I say potential because, like other handgun models which have been duplicated by different manufacturers, not every gun out there exhibits target shooting competition levels of performance. Military surplus pistols and some off-the-rack clones are mediocre shooters at best. But pistols manufactured to higher standards can shoot quite well. Those models have been tuned and used for competition with positive results.
Well-made Hi-Power clones are capable of solid accuracy potential.
At the shooting range I was quite curious to see where the MC P35 would land on the accuracy potential scale. I tend to generate bench rested 5-shot groups at 25 yards that are between 3" to 3.5" in size with off-the-rack duty pistols that are operating properly. When the groups are much smaller than that, then I know the gun and ammunition are outshooting the guy pulling the trigger. The MC P35 knocked out groups ranging from 2.41" to 3.34" with an average extreme spread of 2.99". That's a solid level of accuracy that I believe would get even better with a trigger tune-up.
Now that the Hi-Power cat is out of the bag (as it were), my hope is that it will continue to be cloned and copied by more companies. I would like to see how companies like Kimber, Smith & Wesson and Ruger would treat this platform. It would be a good thing for this pistol to gain the same ubiquity and availability in the United States as the 1911. It’s a simple, rugged design with solid accuracy potential that's enjoyable to shoot. As Browning's other classic pistol design, it has earned its latest return to the shooting sports spotlight.