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 !

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