The Browning Hi-Power
The Wonder Nine your handgun wishes it was; the Browning Hi-Power. Sleek, lightweight, and accurate.
Designed in the 1920s by John Moses Browning and finished by Dieudonne Saive (the man who would go on to give us the FAL and FN-49), the Hi-Power survived in service for over 80 years and remains one of the few firearms to have fought against itself in wars. It was originally created for the French military trials, but was ultimately first adopted by the Belgians in 1935 under the nomenclature “P-35”. It’s one of the few handguns that was produced for both the Allied and Axis powers (at the same time) during WWII.
Changes: The original P-35 Hi-Powers (produced from 1935 until 1962) typically featured a blued finish, simple metal sights, and internal extractors which, while serviceable, proved delicate and difficult to replace. In 1962 the Mark II model was introduced, featuring a more reliable and durable external extractor, optional ambidextrous safety, and a barrel made from two pieces welded together to reduce costs. In 1988 the Mark III model was introduced, with the most notable upgrade being a firing pin safety which makes the pistol drop safe. Following the introduction of the Mark III, frames went from forged to cast when .40 S&W was introduced in the early 90s; and, when combined with the two piece barrel, is a hot topic. Many Hi-Power purists insist on forged frames with one piece barrels, preferring the higher grade of heat treating and metal along with a hypothetical (although largely unfounded) improved durability of a one-piece barrel.
Made in August 1994, my Hi-Power is a typical Mk-III “Super gloss blued” model.
Trigger pull: After removing the magazine safety (a holdover from French army trials in the late 1920s) the Hi-Power’s single action only trigger pull is easily one of the best I’ve encountered, full stop. The pull is crisp, light and clear lending well to accuracy.
Capacity: With Mec-Gar magazines, the capacity is a solid 15 rounds, stock magazines are 13 or 10 rounds; if you also own a Beretta 92, I highly advise marking the magazines with bright tape or marker to avoid unfortunate stuck magazines as the Beretta mags will fit into the Hi-Power and feed but stick badly and require mutilation to remove.
Form: The grip is modestly sized and fits into the hand well but can be made thicker or slimmer with aftermarket pieces. The slide and frame are still one of, if not the thinnest among full size handguns while still boasting a 4.7 inch long barrel. The gun weighs a mere 2.2 pounds loaded.
Aesthetics: The gun is a curvy, glossy beauty. Like many things of the time period, there seems to be an emphasis on form and function together unlike later forms of brutalism (achem, Glock). The slide serrations are ample and unlike a CZ-75 you will likely never find yourself struggling with what feels to be simply too small of a slide.
Reliability: I have put easily two thousand rounds through my handgun and have failed to record a single stoppage between hollow point and FMJ ammunition. Disassembly of the handgun is far easier than it’s brother in the 1911 and requires the simple retraction of the slide and pushing on the opposite side of the slide release.
Surplus: Police or military use examples can be had for less than $600 granted in often poor condition that I feel does not exactly represent what I consider to be a high quality ‘heirloom’ style gun, but are definitely more approachable to a newcomer. For the economically challenged, clones such as the PJK-9HP from FEG of Hungary or the Kareen of J.O. Israeli Arms are mostly faithful reproductions that will often (but not always) fit FN made parts and can cost as little as $300.
Price: The Hi-Power is no longer produced by FN (as of 2017) and most of the examples upon that announcement were bought up by fanatics, collectors, and Blackhawk, a company known for customized handguns at frankly absurd price points. I paid $900 for mine and you could expect to pay $1100+ for a “New in Box” example now. The Turkish company Tisas sells a mostly faithful modern reproduction for as little as $500, however the durability and reliability of these Turkish guns has come under some scrutiny.
Magazine Disconnect: With the disconnect in the handgun, the Hi-Power trigger is mushy and poor. The magazines do not drop free. It seems absurd to include this antiquated feature which in most cases will immediately be removed when the gun sold for $1,049 brand new in 2016. I removed the disconnect in my handgun immediately and kept it in the handgun’s hard case.
Features: For ‘modern’ handgun owners, the lack of a native rail for a light and/or optic is a huge downside, not to mention that the factory irons lack even white paint on the posts. This can be easily changed but should’ve been sold with such a basic improvement at this price point.