Not long ago, I was able to spend time with a long time correspondent and email buddy at an NRA convention. Each of us were carrying cocked-and-locked 1911 .45s and snubnose .38 backups. Each of us has real-world experience that lead to this combination.
‘Old School’ he noted. Things become classics because they work and do the task well. That is why the Colt Single Action Army is still in production and the Merwin and Hulbert isn’t.
The Colt 1911 is alive and well while the Luger isn’t—although historically it is a classic. You have to know what old school is to appreciate it. My friend and I are conversant with modern firearms and make our living testing handguns and training individuals to use these firearms well. We have seen handguns come and go while others are too good to die. A lot of forward planning and attention to detail goes into designing a successful handgun. Necessary details are required to design a handgun and the details that have stood the test of time make for an old school handgun.
There are certain attributes that set Old School apart. At the time of their introduction they were new and innovative and served a real need. They were the cutting edge and stood head and shoulders above the competition. This is true of the Colt 1911, the Browning Hi-Power, the Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum revolver and few other handguns. Today, new introductions are seldom true innovations. The maker has simply found a way to make the handgun cheaper or added a new finish. Sure, there are exceptions such as the Ruger SR1911 9mm, but for the most part a ‘new classic’ isn’t forthcoming and isn’t on the drawing board.
In today’s competitive market improvements are most often incremental. Authentic genius was behind the Colt, Browning and Smith and Wesson handguns of the previous century. There are a few out of production classics that left a big imprint on the firearms tapestry. The Walther P38 is one. Arguably, the P38 lives on in the form of the Beretta 92, which most of us recognize as a high capacity and highly developed P38 variant. The Smith and Wesson Model 39, an Americanized P38 with enclosed slide, had its day in the sun and is now a footnote in history.
Looking for a modern classic isn’t easy. About 40 years after the Walther P38 came the Czech CZ 75. The all steel Czech 9mm is arguably the youngest of the true Old School handguns. It is a contemporary of the Beretta 92, which is a modified Walther, and the SIG P220. The SIG is almost a classic but its stamped slide and other innovations perhaps makes it a Glock forerunner rather than a true classic. With the introduction of the SIG P226 and the Beretta 92 came a new day in firearms.
Competition is fierce and there are a number of truly excellent products. No longer would a single type dominate the market. A generation or a niche is now filled by several different handguns. And today, much like in the past, there are more cheap firearms than good firearms. The classics are not inexpensive or cheap. When I was young, there were plenty of Star and Llama handguns around on the cheap. I gained experience, and the experience wasn’t too costly. Once you have begun with such handguns, you appreciate the quality you purchase later.
The novice will not recognize quality in the beginning. Some handguns of the previous century were so cheaply made they were intended simply to fleece the uninitiated. Today, we have plenty of second- and third-rate handguns. They may look like the 1911 or a Smith and Wesson revolver but they are not old school quality. Neither are they new CNC quality. Old school is forgings. Some say blue steel and walnut. That is perhaps a good definition but there are classics in nickel and stainless steel as well.
Cast frames are often very durable with a nod to Caspian but then all cast frames are not equal. There are old school 1911s other than the Colt. Some of Springfield’s production is arguably possessed of the best barrel to slide fit ever seen on a 1911. We are seeing new CZ 75 pistols that are both old school and old world. These handguns are proven in hard use the world over. If the cheap gun is just as good as some would have us believe, well, then perhaps it was Jonah that swallowed the whale.
Are you Old School? What Old School model have you owned or carried and why? Share your answers in the comments section.