Friday, August 30, 2019

A Brace of .32s

Nowadays, .32 caliber handguns are not super popular with American gun owners. When choosing a small bore, most will just get a .22. And when looking for a centerfire, .380s, 9mm, and larger are much more popular. This has become even more true with the advent of ultra compact .380s like the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard and Ruger LCP, and very small 9mms like the S&W Shield.

However, in the late 19th Century small .32 caliber revolvers were very popular. When Smith & Wesson wanted to come up with a larger gun than the Number 1 in .22 Short, they introduced the Number 2 Old Army in .32 rimfire.

In 1878 Smith & Wesson introduced the Number 1 1/2 Third Issue in .32 S&W, their first centerfire cartridge. With an 85 grain lead bullet at about 700 FPS it's hardly a barn burned by today's standards, but in the pre-antibiotic days, getting shot with anything was extremely dangerous, which made it a good deterrent due to the likelihood of infection. In fact, when Leon Czolgosz shot President William McKinley, he used an Iver Johnson .32 S&W revolver. McKinley died eight days later.

A few weeks ago I sold one of my AR-15s so I had some fun money burning a hole in my pocket. In perusing Simpson Ltd.'s website, I came across a very nice looking early production S&W 1 1/2 in .32 S&W. I called them up on Saturday and yesterday the Fedex truck dropped this off with me:

Here it is next to an iPhone 6S Plus for scale.

Mechanically, it's perfect. There is no end shake, the timing is spot on, and it locks up tightly. There is a little pitting in the bore. I was able to remove the grips screw but the panels seem to be stuck on the gun. I need to figure out what I can use to soak in to loosen them but at the same time won't damage them. Also, the hammer screw wouldn't turn so I have some penetrating oil sitting on it. I'd like to get the grips and side plate off to inspect and photograph the inside.

I don't expect the pitting to hurt accuracy because my 51 year old eyes can't see the vestigial sights anyway. I plan to get ahold of some .32 S&W ammo loaded with black powder and try it out at halitosis range.

The other .32 I picked up yesterday is more modern. Recently, a bunch of surplus Beretta Model 81 Cheetahs came into the country. A story I read online is that they came from the Italian prison system, which is plausible since European law enforcement agencies liked .32 ACP (AKA 7.65mm Browning in Europe) for much of the 20th Century.

I had been holding off on ordering on the 81s but yesterday my local shop posted on Facebook that they'd received in a few in very clean condition. So, after dinner I ran over there, traded in a Stoeger Coach Gun that had been gathering dust, and tossed in another $40.

It was indeed very clean. It's been shot but well maintained. It has an "AF" date code stamped on the right side, which indicates that it was built in 1980.

That is a full sized Benchmade Griptilian knife in the picture with the pistol. It's large for a .32 auto so I expect it to be very pleasant to shoot.

I had thought it might be a good gun for my wife but as a straight blowback retracting the slide requires quite a bit of effort, and there's not a lot to hold onto.

Along with the Beretta I picked up two boxes of Aguila 71 grain FMJ .32 ACP ammo. I hope to shoot it this weekend, and I plan to get some European-spec ammo, which tends to be loaded hotter than American ammo in this caliber.

Range reports to follow.


Hypnogator said...

Believe it or not, I know a law enforcement instructor in NC who carries an 1880 S&W 1 1/2 with a 3" barrel in .32RF as his every day carry piece. He gets 4 or 5 boxes of shells whenever a modern batch is produced.

willford said...

I have a Beretta TOMCAT stainless 32 Auto which I can shoot well. The sights suck, BUT I am used to the old style crappy sights.

Paul said...

Color me green. That's a lovely old S&W you picked up. The 32 S&W is a fun cartridge to load for, although it's a hassle for folks with lack of digital dexterity. A snort of FFFG under a Hornady swaged SWL should be an easy load to make up. Although for shooting in a black power pistol it might be a good idea to roll the slugs on a crisco loaded paper towel before seating them. A bit of a mess but the cannelured surface of the swaged slugs should pick up enough to keep the fouling soft. Come to think of it, Hornady MIGHT produce a round nose slug that would work. In the SWL version of the cartridge I loaded a bunch of the Hornady hollow base wadcutters back in the day, a very accurate load over a snort of Unique or Bullseye - but that was a much more modern sixgun and up to the pressures of the smokeless powder. I'm looking forward to your range report.