The Walther PPK: Still a Good Carry Gun

By Bob Campbell published on in Handguns, Reviews

Among the most respected small self-loading pistols is the Walther PPK. The Walther P series was not the first double-action, first-shot pistol; the Little Tom predated the Walther, although the Walther PP was widely recognized as a high-quality, well-made and reliable handgun with good features. Demand for a more compact version resulted in the PPK or detective version.

Black-handled, silver barreled Walkter PPK, barrel pointed to the right on a white background.

The PPK is a classic pistol with pleasing lines.

The compact PPK is shorter in the slide and barrel, and the grip frame is also shorter.

The later PPK/S is a result of import points and other nonsense instigated after the 1968 Gun Control Act. The PPK/S features the short slide of the Walther PPK and full-length grip of the PP.

The PPK/S is not a bad gun at all. The combination of what was seen as an onerous law and a great respect for the PPK affected sales of the PPK/S even though, eventually, the pistol was widely accepted; after all, there was no way to get a PPK. Some years later, Walther began manufacturing the pistol in America, and the rest is history since import points are not applied to our own handguns.

The PPK is a fine gun. However, if you have fired the full-size, original PP pistol, you will realize that the PPK is a great shooter, easy to manage and accurate.

Features of the PPK

The PPK became known as the carry gun of one Bond, James Bond. I do not wear a tuxedo, and I drive a Ford Truck, not an Aston Martin. However, I still appreciate the Walther PPK. It is a simple pistol in most ways. The trigger action is double-action, first-shot, and the operating action is a simple blow-back without the complication of a locked breech. The barrel is about 3.25 inches long, and it is heavier than the new breed of polymer-frame guns.

Black-handled, silver barreled Walther PPK, barrel pointed to the left, with focus on the slide mounted safety on a white background

The slide-mounted safety of the Walther PPK is not difficult to manipulate.

It is heavier for a reason. The recoil is light, and the pistol is also very accurate, even surprisingly so. The double-action, first-shot pull is long and smooth and most useful at conversational range. The single-action press is smooth and crisp at just under 4 pounds, which makes the trigger action an aid to accurate fire. A slide-mounted safety and decocker are part of the design. Pressing the decocker down safely lowers the cocked hammer and, if left down, the lever operates as a safety. The PPK safety is easily manipulated by average-size hands. Unlike the safety lever of larger pistols such as the Beretta 92, this slide-mounted lever is easily reached due to the small dimensions of the PPK.

The fit and finish of the Walther PPK is excellent. The hand fit is good, and while a large hand may be a little cramped, the pistol fits most of us well. The 7-round magazines are high quality, and the magazine release is positive. My pistol came with two magazines. One features a finger-rest extension that makes it a better fit for larger hands. The checkered grips give your hand good adhesion when firing. That is important because the hand must be stable when firing the pistol and operating the double-action trigger.

The PPK’s slide has a reputation for biting the web of the firing hand in recoil. I experienced that trauma during these firing tests. Perhaps there is a means of gripping the pistol to avoid the problem. By keeping a solid grip and the web a little lower, you can avoid that problem. When disassembling the pistol, I noticed the rear edges of the slide are sharp.

In the past, the pistol also had a less-than-stellar reputation for reliability. However, after owning at least a half dozen of the type in the original PP, PPK and PPK/S versions (including one .22 LR and several .32 ACP versions), I cannot recall a malfunction. I did own a well-worn police trade that occasionally dropped the magazine due to a worn magazine catch, but the pistols have been generally trustworthy. I believe they need more frequent cleaning and lubrication than some types, although that is part and parcel of older designs. And older designs are not a bad thing. They simply require more maintenance.

You must grasp the pistol firmly to ensure function. The PPK is a blow-back action—the simplest of designs—with a recoil spring that wraps around the barrel.

Walther PPK field stripped for maintenance on a gray background

The Walther PPK breaks down easily for maintenance.

To field strip the PPK, follow these steps:

  1. Remove the magazine.
  2. Rack the slide several times to be certain the handgun is not loaded.
  3. Place a finger tip in the chamber to be certain, beyond any question, the chamber is empty (this is an NRA-certified method of clearing the pistol).
  4. Press the trigger guard down.
    The tip of the trigger-guard housing will butt into the slide, anchoring the slide to the frame.
    With the trigger guard depressed, pull the slide to the rear.
  5. Tilt the rear of the slide up and over the front of the barrel, separating the slide from the barrel.
    The recoil spring remains wrapped around the barrel. The fixed barrel cannot be easily removed.

This is all the disassembly needed for routine maintenance.

Shooting the PPK

The magazines are a good design that captures the loaded cartridges securely under the feed lips. Loading the magazines requires some effort. I broke out my personal example from the safe, lubricated it and made it ready for this test and review. I loaded the pistol with Fiocchi 95-grain FMJ for the range work, ammunition that is reliable, accurate and clean burning. I fired 50 rounds of the Fiocchi cartridges in rapid-fire range drills and discovered the pistol is more accurate than you would think for the size. The sights are a limiting factor; however, they are larger than those on many pocket pistols of the era.

3 bulletes expended to show expansion on a white background

While not the ideal defense caliber, modern JHP loads give the .380 ACP a measure of authority.

The Walther is fast on the draw. The double-action trigger is smoother in some examples than others. After about 5 yards, rather than attempting to stage the trigger and hope for a hit, you may as well cock the hammer for deliberate fire. In the single-action mode, the Walther is quite accurate, and it is not difficult to put a magazine into the X-ring at 10 yards in rapid fire. Recoil is controllable. I am no fan of the .380 ACP for personal defense—it is what it is. I have some question as to the advisability of using an expanding bullet in this caliber. The balance of penetration and expansion is too short on the side of expansion with most JHP loads in this caliber, limiting the effect of the cartridge.

The .380 ACP simply is not powerful enough to both penetrate and expand with most loads. This is a personal decision. I have proofed the PPK with a number of hollow-point loads and found them reliable and accurate enough for defense. The single, most important component of wound potential is marksmanship. Fiocchi offers a number of good hollow-point loads, one of which is the Extreme Terminal Performance (XTP) bullet. This is a loading I trust to provide adequate penetration with expansion as well, which provides an accurate, reliable loading suitable for personal defense.

The Walther PPK as a handgun is popular, often based more on appearance, fit, finish and even mystique than performance. There are more powerful handguns, although few that give you such pride of ownership. The balance of the handgun is ideal, and it carries well. It is often considered a pocket pistol and may fit most pockets well. The PPK is an easy handgun to fire accurately at close range, at least in single-action fire, and it comes on target quickly in trained hands. Overall, there is little to fault. The PPK is an iconic pistol that should be in every handgunner’s collection.

Side Note

Although James Bond is well-known for carrying a Walther PPK, a real-life individual who saw real action was the late Skeeter Skelton. Skelton was a gun writer active for several decades. His work could be taken to the bank. Skelton’s talent was such that, occasionally, he passed the information and enlightenment stage to produce real literature. As a working cop on the Mexican border, Skelton was serious about finding a credible weapon for under-the-shirt carry that was not conspicuous. The 2.5-inch barrel Smith and Wesson Model 19 .357 Magnum did not quite make it; he preferred the Colt Commander .45. He also carried the PPK by necessity.

He tested the pistol’s penetration against pine boards. Compared to the most common .38 Special loading of the day, the 158-grain RNL, the PPK .380 ACP had the same penetration against pine boards. The 158-grain .38 breaks about 700 fps from a 2-inch barrel, and the 95-grain FMJ .380 ACP breaks over 900 fps. Clearly, either was comparable for concealed carry. Today, personal defense loads have greatly improved the .38 Special and give it a clear advantage. Just the same, the .380 ACP has the penetration to get to the vitals. The rest is up to you.

Black-handled Walter PPK in a black Alien Gear Holster, barrel pointed downward on a white background

The PPK carries well in this Alien Gear holster. It is brilliantly fast from such a well-designed holster.

During the test program, I used an Alien Gear IWB/Tuckable of the hybrid type, an affordable, quality holster with a clean bill of health.

Accuracy Results

15 yards, bench-rested, 5-shot groups

Load Group
Fiocchi 95-grain FMJ 2.8 inches
Fiocchi 90-grain JHP 2.4 inches
PMC 95-grain FMJ 3.4 inches

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Have you used or tested any of the Walter PPK pistols? Share your opinions, experiences and results in the comments section.

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

 

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Comments (45)

  • jose z

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    I have not seen any 32 cal for sale in quite a while. As far as price, I would estimate $500-700.00. I bought mine about 20 years ago at a local Gun Shop. I had been looking for one for years and when I came across this one, I bought it right then and there. It has a lanyard ring and was manufactured after the war and issued to German Police. I read somewhere that after the war, Germany was restricted in manufacturing 9mm or 9kurtz (380), therefore 32 acp was the caliber issued. Dont know how much new ones are, but they are nice pieces to own.

    Reply

    • Rich LeSesne

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      Go to Gun Broker or Guns America and you’ll see them. Sit down before you look, however. The WW2 Nazi ones go for up to 4K. The 22LR or new .380 ACP go from 350 to 800. New from 600-700.

      Reply

    • George Chapman

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      Hi Jose
      I recently bought a Wlather PPK .32 and paid $720 for it.The very first time I tool it to an indoor range I shot the first two rounds at 7 yards and the first two bullets cut the same hole and the third shot was a missfire and when I pulled the trigger the fourth time I was only 1″ away. I was so excited I could not believe I did that. Yes the gun is a bit spindy and the ammo is higher than a 9MM but I like it and I am keeping it. I also have a HK-P30S and it is a really great gun as well, it is my primary carry.

      Reply

  • jose z

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    Hello Dik Glad
    Check the left side of the slide. It should say 7.65. That is the designation for .32acp. Have fun!

    Reply

  • alex the dog

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    I bought my PPK back in the early ’70′s and used it sparingly for 2nd line of defense long before anyone called small handguns “concealed carry”. It was perfect for carrying inside a pants pocket or even inside one of my socks. Being all steel, it had a nice heft that I liked, and I think it contributed to the great accuracy (2″ groups @ 25 yds standing).

    Sadly, I sold it because i wanted a large caliber “knock-down” weapon so a perp would not get back up. Unfortunately, even the polymer .45′s are somewhat too big to stuff in my sock. I really wish I had kept my PPK.

    Reply

  • martin pierce

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    I have a matched pair with consec. Ser. Nos.. Made in Germany Post WW 2 @ the Elm Do Factory on the Rhine River. A Prized possession to be sure. New.

    Reply

  • T-Rex

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    I bought my PPK–German, mid 70s I believe–from a friend in the mid-80s. Glad I kept it because it is probably better than 95% of the newer .380 pocket pistols, not to mention a bargain by comparison. Only problem is that my wife prefers it over her S&W M&P 9, or her Sig 2022–both are too large for concealment in her opinion. So I seldom see it. At the range I can keep most shots in the 10-ring at 15 yards, SA,, but ideally it’s a close range gun. It’s no match for my Smith 3913, but it is very nicely concealable. I’d certainly recommend it over, say, a Ruger 380 LCP or similar poly-frame guns.

    Reply

  • Bob H

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    No doubt about it, the German made pre-ban PPK’s are a prize. Only downside were the tacky plastic grips that came with it that covered the mainspring. Newer iterations of the PPK/PPKS have the mainspring in the backstrap and you can outfit them easily with a nice Pachmayr grip which I find gives a much better grip on the PPKS than what is afforded by the stock grips. On the PPK, my late gunsmith ran across a pair of custom carve rosewood grips and sold them to me for a song. Added a little beef to the grip for me and look beautiful on the gun.

    Definitely a better EDC gun than the Ruger LCP but… Now retired, I tend to shun sport and suit coats so I’m limited to a pocket gun or ankle holster for EDC. The PPK is marginal for the former and I have never gotten used to an ankle holster so for me, it’s the Ruger LCP which I don’t leave home without.

    At the end of the day, the best gun for CC is the gun you will ALWAYS Carry. At 12.6 oz, the LCP is that gun.

    Reply

  • Luis

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    I put Pachmayr grips on mine when I bought it back in the 70′s. They fit nicely around the gun, but were a little bit of a pain to put on. They show a little wear, but still do the job. I don’t know if Pachmayr still makes that kind of grip for the PPK.

    Reply

    • Gringo Cracker

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      Our hosts here at CTD offer two styles of Pachmayr rubber grips for both PPK and PPK/S – at the best prices around, of course!

      Reply

  • AR-PRO

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    Just to clarify, the character “James Bond” carried a Walther PP 32 auto. That was his weapon of choice. He may have carried the PPK later in movies, but read the books. I dont meant to be a correction nazi, but it had to be said!

    Reply

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