Friday, June 20, 2008

Shooting an Old Classic: Walther PP .380 ACP

Hello. Despite many compact "pocket automatics" of more potent caliber like 9mm and .40 S&W, we continue to see pistols chambered in .380 ACP gracing dealer's shelves. Apparently they're selling, too! Most are pretty small and lightweight, a notable exception being the Beretta 84 family as well as the CZ-83. I thought it might be interesting to do a range report on the classic pistol that probably contributed at least as much to the longevity of the .380 as any and possibly the most.

The Pistol: I bought this .380 Walther PP NIB in June of '89. It is stock save for the checkered Sile stocks I added years ago. The gun has not been shot much and has probably had less than 400 rnds through it since I bought it. The PP has never been made in the US as has the PPK and PPK/S, its more petite bretheren. It has never been offered in stainless steel, but it sired this successful line of conventional DA/SA pocket autos. Originally brought out in .32 ACP, it rode with many of Europe's police forces for decades and was considered adequate for the task. I personally do not but do find the .32 version much more pleasent to shoot. This Walther PP is essentially new and is stock except for the wooden grips. It has a 3.86" barrel and the pistol's 6.7" long. All steel, it weighs 23.5 ounces, empty. Magazine capacity is 7 rounds in .380 for an 8-shot pistol if fully loaded.

This Walther PP represents handguns of a different era in my opinion. Though they may have fallen out of favor with some, they did serve handgunners well in decades gone by and their popularity possibly contributed to later, less-expensive versions of the pocket automatic.

The Bersa 380 is a less-expensive 380 that outwardly remembles Walther's PP series of pocket pistols. Like the Walther, it has a fixed barrel and like the Walther, it is capable of better mechanical accuracy than might originally be thought.

Ammunition: Several types of ammo were fired through the pistol. Included are two ball rounds, standard velocity and +P JHP's, 1 JSP load, and the Glaser 70-gr. +P (Silver) Safety Slug. Eleven loads were chronongraphed with average velocities listed being based on 10-shot strings. Each shot was fired approximately 10' from the chronograph screens. I used the two magazines that came standard with the pistol for all shooting. The pistol showed no preference for either magazine. Shooting: Today I fired groups at only 10 yards and did so in slow-fire, but started with a double-action first shot. The Walther was not picky as to which loads it would group...and group well.

Average Velocities:

Glaser 70-gr. Silver Safety Slug +P: 1369 ft/sec

Magtech 85-gr. Guardian Gold JHP +P: 1062

Remington 88-gr. JHP: 1056

Federal 90-gr. Classic JHP: 1038

Federal 90-gr. Hydrashok: 1048

Corbon 90-gr. JHP: 1118 (These are sometimes marked +P, but Corbon advised they're not.)

Winchester USA 95-gr. FMJ: 961

Winchester Ranger 95-gr. JHP: 966

Magtech 95-gr. FMJ: 945

Empresa Nacional Santa Barbara 95-gr. JSP: 1161

Remington 102-gr. Golden Saber: 953

Observations: First, there were no failures to feed or eject and the slide never failed to lock back after the last shot. It did not lock open prematurely with rounds still in the magazine. The highest velocity went to the load using the lightest bullet, the Glaser, but the most impressive load was the Santa Barbara 95-gr. JSP. It is not marked +P anywhere that I can find, but it must be and frankly, I will not shoot it in any aluminum-framed .380 from now on. I cannot prove it, but I think it's loaded too hot. This Walther performed fine, but still has the same trait each and every PP, PPK, or PPK/S in .380 has for me; it hits high. I suspect strongly that the sights for the .32 and those for the .380 are the same. An old Walther .32 PP I have hits dead-bang "on" for me. By being careful, I was able to avoid another nasty tendency I find when shooting Walther PP-series pistols: slide bite. The slide rides so llow that folks with fleshy hands sometimes get sliced when the slide moves rearward in firing. Others report no problems at all, but I'm not one of them. Finish was an impeccable bright blue on the complete pistol except for the breech area of the barrel which was left in the white. The trigger is grooved and the DA trigger-pull, heavy. In fact, on this pistol it is VERY heavy. The SA pull was light with just the least touch of creep. My .32 PP has a very nice DA trigger pull, both lighter and smoother than my .380. I don't know, but have wondered if this is done in conjunction with a slightly heavier recoil spring to lessen the slide's rearward velocity with the .380 having more momentum than the .32. Again, that's just supposition and could very easily be wrong. With the popularity of some of the newer pistols that clearly mimic the PP-series, an obvious question is how do they compare? Based solely on this one gun tested today, the Bersa, SIG-Sauer P230 both have much better double-action trigger pulls. So why pay more for a "German Walther" over the others? Well, it's up to the individual's preferences. Some simply like the old classics and admire the fit, finish, and the fact that there are zero MIM parts or castings. The gun's frame is forged, a strong point for many. Were I asked today if I'd fork over the $700 I spent back then for the gun, the answer would be "No". Nothing against the gun at all, but it's just not comfortable for me to shoot. This is why no rapid-fire work was done. The recoil is negligible; the slide bite is not. Also, I just do not shoot all that much .380! Since I already have the little thing, I'm going to keep it and admire it for what it is: a product of a time gone by and a classic that fathered a succession of guns still used today. It will be taken out and shot now and again, but mainly I just like the old thing. I have a like new Colt Agent that fills much the same role. Neither are my "users" and neither are my favorites in any catagory. I just like having them. I see nothing wrong with that.

For me, the Walther PP can still serve about as well as any similar sized 380 Auto, but might best represent this classic genre of handgun.