In 2018, we saw the end of an era for Fabrique Nationale. The FN P35, usually referred to as the Browning Hi-Power, was discontinued. The pistol had been in continuous production since 1935. While sales had been slow, and the MSRP had climbed to over $1,000, some bemoaned the passing of this iconic firearm. However, there is a bright horizon with the introduction of the Girsan MC P35.
After production came to a halt, used examples of the P35 began commanding high prices — as often occurs in this type of situation. To be clear, there have been other clone Hi-Power models including the FEG, Tisas, Arcus, and Kareen, but none were readily available. Frankly, when the FN Browning was available, there was little incentive for serious handgunners looking to obtain a great all-around Hi-Power to purchase a clone gun. The original was affordable enough.
One reason the original FN pistol was so successful at winning contracts — over the Beretta 951, French M50, and even the CZ 75 — was that the pistol was affordable in the huge batches needed by military forces. When John Moses Browning began designing the P35 pistol, he deleted the Colt 1911 barrel bushing and swinging link as well as the grip safety. The Hi-Power was a fresh design, not a 1911 variant, as a result.
Because of these differences, it stands to reason that a top-quality Hi-Power 9mm should be more affordable than an equal quality 1911, as machine time and costs are less.
The FN P35 Hi-Power
A pistol that should pique the attention of a Hi-Power fan is the Girsan MC P35. The MC P35 pays tribute to the John Browning design that was finished by noted engineer Dieudonné Saive. The original P35 was a single-action locked-breech handgun with a then-pioneering double-stack magazine.
The FN P35 earned an excellent reputation as a reliable and useful handgun. The FN P35 magazine held 13 rounds of 9mm Luger ammunition. The infamous Browning went on to become a handgun that was often used by both sides of a conflict starting in about 1939 and continued to do so for decades.
The FN P35 was heavily used by the Allies. Special teams in America were often issued the Browning Hi-Power. Due to the availability of magazines and ammunition, the Hi-Power 9mm became something of a substitute standard for American Special Forces for decades.
The Hi-Power is among the best examples of human engineering ever to leap from a drawing board. The 1911 is another engineering marvel — the CZ 75 is also worthy of mention here. While the 1911 is often said to be the fastest of all handguns to an accurate first shot, the Hi-Power may beat that standard — perhaps if the Hi-Power has a modern speed safety.
The pistol is reliable and long lived in service. Many of the Hi-Power variants feature a heavy trigger action — standard among military pistols of the day. Modern Browning designs are better in this regard.
The Hi-Power also featured a heavy hammer spring. The Hi-Power is among the most likely of all handguns to crack hard primers. Much of the 9mm Luger ammunition manufactured in the world from 1918 on was poor quality and out of specification. From Burma to North Africa, the Hi-Power would smack the primer hard and ignite the priming compound when other pistols would not.
The Hi-Power was sometimes criticized for feed reliability with hollow point ammunition. Load the Remington Golden Saber and a 1943 John Inglis Hi-Power will still run smooth! The majority of problems was with early short nose JHP bullets — loaded too short — that refused to feed in many popular 9mm pistols of the day.
Enter the Girsan MC P35
The Girsan is recognizable as a straight up copy of the Browning MKII. This was a wise decision compared to a clone of the military-grade Hi-Power. The MKII features high-profile sights and an ambidextrous safety. The finish was matte blue. I don’t have an example close at hand, but the Girsan pistol appears to bear the same finish.
Grips and Sights
The plastic grips of the MKII were sometimes criticized. They were superior to smooth wooden slabs, and while they don’t have the bling of a checkered wood grip, they worked well for most hand sizes. The sights on the Girsan are not wedge types or Novak sights. However, the sights are white three-dot types that work well enough.
The Girsan features a rounded hammer, which makes it is easy enough to cock. There have been Hi-Power variants that were guilty of hammer bite (the hammer nicking the hand during recoil). This hammer doesn’t seem to do that. At least, I have never had that problem with my average-sized hands.
Magazine Disconnect — Asset or Accuracy Killer
The majority of Hi-Power pistols and variants featured a magazine disconnect. That meant, with the magazine removed, the pistol could not be fired. This had some appeal in institutional use. However, the disconnect was often removed as it had an adverse effect on the trigger action.
The MC P35 is true to the original Hi-Power and retained the magazine disconnect in its design. The magazine safety isn’t difficult to remove, but some shooters will appreciate this feature. Here is how the magazine disconnect works. If the pistol is loaded, the magazine release is actuated, and the magazine is freed just a few hundreds of an inch or more, the pistol cannot fire.
The magazine that came standard with the Girsan MC P35 appears to be a standard Hi-Power design but accepts 15 cartridges, rather than the original 13.
The trigger action is standard Hi-Power fare. It was heavier than I like at 7.0 pounds. I have tested original Hi-Power pistols (manufactured from 1940s to 1960s) with trigger actions of around 8 pounds. The heaviest was 11 pounds! Late production pistols run 5–6 pounds.
The upside is that this action is tight and crisp. Take up the trigger, and you’ll meet compression before the trigger breaks cleanly. For a heavy trigger, it was smooth. Reset was rapid. This is a good trigger for close-range combat drills.
Accuracy and Handling
The pistol was supplied with a single magazine. As previously noted, the magazine holds 15 rounds — an improvement over the original design’s 13-round capacity. The magazine well was generous, and the double-column magazine was tapered. Speed loads were easy enough. A high point of the pistol is the ambidextrous safety was well designed and obvious with a crisp indent.
Firing the pistol was accomplished with a variety of loads. I did not wish to confuse the issue with handloads and burner-grade loads, but on the other hand, 9mm ammunition isn’t exactly cheap and plentiful at this time. I had a number of handloads using the Oregon Trail 125-grain RNL bullet and enough Titegroup powder for 1,050 fps. I also had a mix of steel case Tula 9mm, a box of WPA 9mm, and some Sierra 124-grain JHP.
I loaded the 15-round MecGar magazine, an original Browning, and two 13-round MecGar magazines. I began the rest-firing portion of the range test at man-sized targets at 7 and 10 yards. The pistol came on target quickly and handled like a dream. The fly in the ointment was the heavy trigger.
The pistol never failed to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. The original Hi-Power is famed for handling off-spec 9mm cartridges, and the Girsan seems to be no exception.
Next, I fired at small targets ranging from 20 to 50 yards. I connected more often than not at 20 yards. Man-sized targets were in danger to at least 50 yards. The pistol is accurate enough for service use. I also fired a handful of Remington Golden Saber 124-grain and Remington UMC 9mm. Each fed, chambered, fired, and ejected normally.
Accuracy was noticeably improved over the ‘burner loads.’ I fired the pistol from a solid benchrest firing position. Using the MTM K-Zone firing rest, I carefully managed the pistol and fired five-shot groups at 25 yards using three different loads.
The loads used were the Federal American Eagle 124-grain FMJ, Remington 115-grain UMC FMJ, and Federal 124-grain HST. Despite the heavy trigger action, I managed good groups that demonstrated the pistol was of good fit and tight tolerances. The best group was a 2.5-inch effort; the greatest spread 3.25 inches. This was decent accuracy for a pistol at this price point.
I have looked at two holsters for EAA’s Girsan Hi-Power. The Galco Stow-N-Go is a well-made holster at a fair price. The strong belt clip offers real security. The reinforced holster mouth makes for ease in re-holstering.
With the inside-the-waistband holster, you have excellent concealment with minimal exposure. The pistol was carried inside the pants and only the handle was exposed. A light covering garment was all that was needed.
A step up in most ways is the Galco Royal Guard, an inside the waistband holster molded of top-quality leather. This holster features two belt loops. Easy on and easy off is the province of the Stow-N-Go, while the dual loops of the Royal Guard are not difficult to use quickly — if this is even a consideration.
With the Royal Guard, the draw angle is more severe, which is my preferred cant. A taller person might like the Stow-N-Go and its neutral angle. Think it over, and you will find these holsters are ideal for concealed carry, whichever you choose.
The Girsan MC P35 seems well made of good material. Hi-Power grips and magazines fit the Girsan fine. Small parts and internals should fit as well. On hand, I had a Bar-Sto barrel for the Hi-Power — an excellent piece of engineering. The Bar-Sto barrel was a snug fit in the Girsan slide, and a potential upgrade that I will explore more in the future.
The MC P35 seems to be a viable Hi-Power clone. I like the handling and practical shooting characteristics of this pistol. The Girsan MC P35 is an attractive and affordable Hi-power clone that is worthy of a spot in any well stocked gun safe.