Retro Review: HK VP70Z

HK VP70Z with four boxes of ammunition and a target

The HK VP70 began as a space age version of the disposable single-shot Liberator pistol that the OSS dropped to resistance members fighting the Nazis during the Second World War. The original intent was to produce a reliable, rugged, selective-fire 9mm machine pistol that could be economically produced in quantity. The gun was intended to arm partisans operating behind enemy lines during a global conflict with the Warsaw Pact that thankfully never quite brewed up. Radically advanced by any objective standard, the VP70 was almost, but not quite, awesome.

Glock pistol left HK VP70 right
The HK VP70 and the Glock clearly show a common parentage. Plastic frames and the absence of a hammer are commonplace nowadays, but they were heady stuff indeed when these guns were introduced.

The particulars are breathtaking. The HK VP70 was the world’s first production polymer-framed handgun. It was also the world’s first production striker-fired pistol, at least as we define striker-fired today. The double-stack, double-feed magazine is still arguably the best handgun magazine ever produced. The weird negative space sight system does kind of work. The gun is lightweight and inexpensive to produce. The trigger, however, is utter crap. In fact, the trigger is so bad that comparing it to crap is offensive to crap.

The VP70 trigger actuates a striker not philosophically dissimilar to that of the modern Glock pistol. However, unlike the Glock, I would conservatively estimate the trigger pull on the VP70 at around 10,000 pounds. I can’t get through a full 18-round magazine without stopping to rest, and my trigger finger is nicely conditioned. Were it not for this abysmal trigger, the VP70 would have literally changed the world.

Pertinent Particulars

The VP70 is an unlocked blowback gun. That means the mass of the slide combined with the robust recoil spring are what stand in defiance of the not inconsiderable recoil impulse of the 9mm Parabellum cartridge. It was this simplistic action that made the gun cheap to produce.

HK VP70 pistol in front of a HK MP5 submachine gun
The HK VP70 pistol and MP5 submachine gun were essentially contemporaries. The MP5 went on to enjoy a long and illustrious career, while the VP70 died a natural death.

The original military version was called the VP70M and sported scant finger grooves on the grip. This is the easiest way to differentiate between the GI VP70M and the civilian VP70Z. The VP70Z grip is smooth. The GI version had attachment points for a polymer buttstock that also served as a holster. The stock had a clever fire selector that allowed either semiauto or 3-round burst. When dismounted from the stock, the gun fired semiauto only.

The magnificent VP70 magazine resembles that of the HK MP5. Sporting a double-stack, double-feed architecture, the magazine packed 18 rounds on board, which was an unheard of number for its day. The VP70 is easy to load with nothing more than a standard set of fingers. After a literal lifetime of study, I cannot say that I understand why nobody else builds their pistols around magazines of this sort. For all its manifest trigger-related failings, the VP70 is utterly reliable.

The magazine release is on the heel of the butt in the European fashion, and the slide does not lock to the rear on the last round fired. The recoil spring telescopes around the barrel in the manner of the Walther PPK. The safety is a crossbolt located underneath the trigger. Disassembly is utterly painless. Pull down on the disassembly tab, retract the slide back, up, and over the barrel and let everything come off to the front.

Will Dabbs shooting the HK VP70Z
The HK VP70Z certainly looks cool.

The sights really are weird. They are cut into the slide, so they aren’t adjustable. The front sight includes a groove that seems to project a black strip onto the rear sight. The odd sights, the unlocked blowback action, and the minimalist entrails of the gun all conspire to make it inexpensive to make. HK still charged a premium for the thing back in the 1970s. After all, this is still HK. However, it would have been easy to produce them by the zillions if the Cold War ever got hot.


The VP70 looked so cool it made it into several high-end science fiction movies. The U.S. Colonial Marines in the James Cameron epic sci-fi combat movie Aliens packed the VP70 as their standard-issue handgun. The sleek lines and radical materials placed the gun generations ahead of its time.

The HK VP70 entreats the studious gun nerd to ponder what might have been. 65% of the cops in America pack Glock pistols. Had the HK guys made the trigger on the VP70 just a wee bit more user friendly all that glorious business might have been theirs. Now that is thought provoking indeed.

What do you think the firearms landscape would look like today if the HK VP70 would have had a better trigger? Do you think the Glock would still have the popularity and dominance it does today? Why or why not? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (16)

  1. Wow, sorry for the typos!
    Also, just remembered that after my complaints about the heavy trigger, my dad miked it at 10 pounds. I practiced curling one-gallon milk jugs to get strength and control after that revelation. Ten isn’t light, but it wasn’t considered bad for a DAO those days.

    To the comment about the grip not feeling right–it fit my hand very well at that age, and still feels better than a Glock. That’s a very individual thing. To get a great non-slip grip, try rolling a Glock sock on it–that’s where you take a piece of inner tube, cut it to length, and wrap it around the grip like rolling on a condom. Early Glocks were hellishly hard to hold onto!

  2. My first pistol was one of these, when I was 10 years old. The trigger on mine miked out at nearly 16 pounds, which made hitting anything past seven yards impossible; while the front sight design works well in low light and makes it pretty-well snag-free, it just doesn’t work if you are back-lit (sun over your shoulder makes the shadow disappear). By the time I was twelve, I could manage the trigger, which is decidedly two-stage: pull to the pause, fine sight, pull to break is about five pounds. From a fast crossdraw holster I had, I could very reliable hit empty 12-gauge hulls at fifteen to twenty feet, or a roll of paper towels (an excellent practical target) at fifty feet.
    What really standard out about the VZ-70, besides then-amazing ease of cleaning, was its utter reliability. I one put five hundred rounds of the crappiest lead-bullet reloads–semi-wadcutter, loose measurement of the dirtiest-burning powder I’ve ever seen, primers all over the place, flat, extruded, intruded–in one day, no cleaning–and it fired every single one! I remember two taking restrikes (An advantage of double action, not taking manual recocking, as I had five hangfires that might otherwise have meant losing a thumb!) And, thanks to the deep rifling, even at the end of the day, every bullet still hit its target.

    Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one pulling its trigger that day!

  3. I owned 3 of these and I sent them back to HK and they fixed the trigger pul from 10+ lbs to a pretty nice 7.25lb( a lot better)

  4. I have one of these, you can fix the trigger, (a little) with a wolff spring.

    That said, it’s not as ergonomically friendly as the Smith MP2.0, which I’d put forward as one of the best 9mm pistols on the market.

    The VP-70, cool as it looks, just never feels like it fits right in the hand.

  5. I haven’t fired mine in quite a while, because of that crap trigger ! I need to dust it off soon and exercise my trigger finger !

  6. A group of us purchased the VP70Z in the 1980’s and I never fired it. Yes the trigger pull was insane. It was simple to field strip but can’t say more about it. Bought it for $200. and sold it for $300. before going over seas.

  7. I bought a used VP70Z in the 80’s. One trip to the range convinced me that it is damn near impossible to hit anything you’re aiming at due to the execrable trigger pull. You pull and pull and pull, harder and harder – and it still hasn’t gone “bang” – while the pistol is wavering all over the place. Bystanders beware! At least I sold it for what I paid for it.

  8. I kind of have to chuckle a bit, because a group of us Ammoheads recently had a discussion, only a week ago, in our chat room on Facebook, where I brought up the VP70. We we discussing Hi Points, that nefarious low end gun, that so many of us love to hate. Hi Points are one of the ugliest guns currently on the market most will agree, but I find the design similar to the VP70 in looks and ergonomics. Several others agreed with this assessment. My experience with the VP70 was in 87′ or 88′, when a friend brought his to a range trip we had. Horrendous doesn’t begin to describe the trigger pull. It had to be at least 20 lbs.(our trigger pull gauge maxed out at 15 lbs, so there was no way to tell for sure, but that was the agreed estimate). Because of that trigger pull, accuracy suffered too. A couple of us had just recently purchased Ruger P 85’s, and in comparison they were much easier to operate (although I never cared for the accuracy of the P85, that gun could double as a maraca in a music band. you shook one and that’s how bad it rattled, even in battery). The Hi Point, being a SA design does beat out the VP70. But it’s the looks and how it felt in my hand that reminded me of HK’s worst ever gun. I had one of those 9 shot .22 LR H&R revolvers that had a better trigger pull than the HK, and that’s saying something.

  9. Who, gives one sh-t about comparing ancient gun/artifacts to the worlds best looking handgun – bar none, the Glock, which in my humble opinion still resembles some sort of space age stapler…!!!

    Will, please write & have something pertinent published, OK?

    1. Oh please spare us your criticism. I thought the article was interesting, historical, and relevant. My thanks to the writer for informing me about a weapon I didnt know existed. And im no genius. The glock may be reliable, but it aint pretty. My idea of pretty is SIG thank you sir.
      Bill Smith

  10. I’ve seen the “Volkspistole” manufactured as a prototype for the Nazi party militia at the end of the Second World War, the Volkssturm. Also the various “Volksgewehr” prototypes, the “Volkssturmgewehr” by Gustlofwerke/Barnitzke that prefigured the H und K P7 and Steyr GB operating system, the concrete or nipolit “Volksgranate” and of course the Volkswagen, which through clever marketing went from the fascist “Kraft durch Freude wagen” strenth-through-joy-mobile for the suitably Aryan factory foreman and his hausfrau und kinder to the hippie Love Bug of the 1960s…

    Is there a citation that the VP in the VP70Z and VP70M stood for “Volkspistole?” Where may that assertion be checked, if indeed the survivors of WWIII and the Soviet invasion of Central Europe would be armed with these things as they contested the Soviet occupation of the nuked ashes and rubble east of the radioactive Rhine? I’d sure like to see that record or document!

  11. I think in addition to the trigger,those sights would be aproblem for my eyes.
    I’m still looking for t-shirt with the HK MP5K front sight and the caption:”this is my peace symbol”

  12. From what I recall[or think!] the HK VP70Z offered a low profile machine pistol for air port or tanker defense.To me the Glock 18 has bee its successor.I am slightly amused with all the anti-gun hysteria when the Glock came..the VP70Z was already there;dittto the Remington Nylon series 22LR rifles and the Charter Arms AR-7. If I were in state where automatic[select fire]firearms were permitted,a silenced Glock 18 would be my 1st choice…one more reason to exit New York State
    PS During that same era the 44 Automag came out,and ammo could be made from 308Win brass.Clint Eastwood used an Automag in one of his Dirty Harry films.

  13. VP70Z – When I weighed a scant 180 I could do chin-ups on the trigger. 18 rounds??? You needed several times that many to hit your trarget if it were more than arms length away! PLUS, your trigger finger was tired out long before that 18 rounds was dispensed.
    Just an observation, of course.

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