AN OLD DOG WITH NEW TRICKS
OVERHAULING A VINTAGE WEST GERMAN P226
Overhauling a Vintage West German P226
Like most love stories, it started in a gun shop.
The West German SIG SAUER P226 remains a desirable and acquirable pistol to this day. Whether it’s due to the unique mandrel-stamped slide, sheer nostalgia, appearance in awful action movies, or history, we know not. But finding one at a decent price and chambered in 9mm always brings the boys to the yard. There are probably thousands of old P226s languishing in old desk drawers or shoeboxes tucked into clos- ets. After all, it was a very popular LEO pistol through the ’80s and ’90s. There are many out there who have either inherited an old duty P226 or will very soon. And a lucky few will come across one in a gun shop for a song — count us among the latter.
In fact, we picked up this gem at a gun shop full of awful owners. And the only reason we felt good buying it from them is because it was priced at just over $400, including three period correct “zipper” magazines and a plastic Paleolithic pre-Pelican case. It’s like we stole at least $200 from them. (Before you cry foul, understand that they asked us if we “had felonies” at least three times before calling in a NICS check. Us having an FFL/SOT be damned, apparently).
Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s useless or a mere wall hanger though. No, it doesn’t have an accessory rail. Yes, that “battle worn” finish was actually earned. No, it isn’t the latest and greatest tactical weapon, but there’s
still some fight in it yet. Today, we’ll go through our reconstruction and modernization, and look at the troubles and warts along the way.
Our normal order of upgrades with any new pistol purchase would be sights, mags, and lights, in that order. However, since we’re dealing with a gun that was born before at least half of our readership, there are some additional considerations — namely, reliability. Which brings us to our preliminary point.
The first thing you should do when overhauling an old pistol is to replace all of the springs that you can. There’s no way to know how many rounds have been put through that vintage SIG, and it’s a fairly easy upgrade. There are some caveats, of course.
The new-style trigger bar spring will drop right in, but it may not necessarily work with the original grips. Oftentimes, a relief cut will have to be made on the right-side grip to accommodate it. Hello Dremel tool. Of course.
One of the real motherf*cks of these old guns is the mainspring housing. We’re sure they were never intended to be removed, and we have a cut or two to show for it. The newer E2 mainspring isn’t only in three easy-to-install pieces, but doesn’t involve a hammer, punch, and profanity to remove. Once again, your grips may or may not accommodate the E2 mainspring — but if they don’t, that’s a worthy upgrade for this feature alone.
We’re not sure if the sights on this P226 were considered “low light” when the gun was made in 1984, but they certainly aren’t in 2018. We took advantage of the new suppressor-height SIG SAUER X-Ray3 sights. In the daytime, they have a blacked-out rear and a bright, easyto-find green dot on the front sight. At nighttime they’ll pop like any other green tritium lamp three-dot sights.
Installation is fairly standard, and can be performed with a brass punch, nonmarring hammer, and a careful hand. Bear in mind that it’s not terribly hard to snap off the front sight during installation, especially the taller suppressor front sights. If you’re unsure of your own prowess, well, send it someone who knows better. Actually, that last piece of advice goes for damn near everything we’re covering today. If you’re not handy with a hammer or a punch, just read, enjoy, and send off your pistol to the SIG Pro Shop. You’ll save a lot of disgruntlement.
While a red dot would certainly be nice, we’re not about to mill out a mandrel-stamped slide. Your mileage may vary.
INTERNAL UPGRADES (AND BLOOD)
We set out to make this pistol a sleeper. Have it look externally like the old warrior that it is, and have it entirely full of new guts, parts, and pieces. This is easier said than done, however. The SIG P226 has changed several times throughout the years, to a point that it leaves us scratching our heads a bit. Surely there would be some changes when manufacturing was moved from
West Germany to New Hampshire, but that doesn’t explain the subtle seven or so different variations that have cropped up over the years.
You absolutely cannot expect every new part to just drop into an old pistol without some tinkering, testing, and modification. Oh yeah, and a bit of hair pulling and frustration along the way.
We purchased a brand-new SilencerCo P226 threaded barrel. And it took us two hours to get it to fit properly. Granted, we were going slow, as to not dicker the new barrel, but in gunsmith hours that adds up to a few hundred bucks. New parts for the lower involved some similar grievances.
Did you know that a new P226 trigger bar has to be modified to fit an old P226? Well, we know now.
Ultimately upgrading the internals to current-spec smooth and nice DLCcoated parts meant a lot of testing and trials. And just because something worked for our particular pistol doesn’t mean it’ll work for yours, the variances being what they are. Like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, every fix seemed to furnish new issues. This isn’t for the lighthearted.
One upgrade we definitely liked was the short reset trigger (SRT) parts kit. You can’t mix and match these sear and safety levers with old ones, but man does it make for a much nicer trigger.
After replacing the trigger, sear, hammer, safety lever, and mainspring housing, our single-action trigger pull didn’t change terribly too much; both sat comfortably at just over 4 pounds. But the double-action trigger pull? It went from just over 12 pounds down to a smooth 10 pounds and 5 ounces. Put a check mark in the win column.
It’s been said that a gun truly isn’t your own until you bleed on it. If that’s true, this one is unconditionally ours, as one hand was pouring blood prolifically at one point, and we admit that a mainspring housing spring possibly made our face bleed. Whoever owned this pistol prior must’ve cursed it, but now no one else can own it like us. Call it voodoo, but it runs like a bastard now.
LIGHTS (AND FIRE)
Back in the ’80s not too many people were rocking weapon-mounted lights. Double-so on handguns. However, it isn’t the ’80s anymore. We consider a white light to be essential for a firearm used for home defense, and a few of us even have them on our carry guns.
But we wanted to keep it looking traditional and still be functional by modern standards.
When SureFire first began producing weapon lights and lasers, the pistol Picatinny rail didn’t exist. They had to develop workarounds, and they did so for the SIG P226. The SureFire P114-series was specifically designed for the non-railed 226. There were several variations, some allowing for constant-on, while others had a kill switch. All of them included a plastic adapter that secured to the trigger guard with four screws. They accepted standard P60 bulbs, usually 65 lumens.
And that’s when the fire started.
The P60 bulb format is über-common. Old SureFire 6P? P60 bulb. G2? P60 bulb. Millennium series rifle light? P60 bulb. M900? P60 bulb. We think you get the idea ...
They’re so common, in fact, that a whole cottage industry exists just to upgrade these old low-powered incandescent bulbs to something more useful.
So of course, we dropped an all-flood 1k+ lumen triple bulb head into it. For
a split second when we powered it on, everything seemed right in the world. Then, it shut off. And smoke started pouring from the sides. In a panic, we turned off the power switch and removed the now blazing-hot batteries.
As it turns out, SureFire used small ribbon cables in these older lights. While they were more than capable of the current draw of a 65-lumen light, the amperage required of this aftermarket bulb was more than it could handle. All was not lost, for two reasons. First, someone at SureFire found a replacement P114 WML in the back of an old dusty closet someplace, and second, we took apart and carefully rewired the now-burned WML with wires capable of handling the new juice over the course of a weekend.
Looks old school. Pumps out a ton of lumens. Winning all around.
If you’re not married to the look of a ’90s movie SWAT cop, you have other more modern options. The NC Star WML adapter actually works very well (believe us, we’re as surprised as you). Not only is it a lower profile than the SureFire adapter, it’s metal, locks up tight, and allows the use of something distinctly more modern such as an X300U. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
We learned a lot about the internal workings of the P226 during this revamping, and also came to some hard lessons. If you find yourself with a West German SIG P226, we recommend not doing all sorts of f*ckery with the internals, but instead focus on changing springs and sights. While the SRT trigger system is certainly better than the Cold War contents, the amount of pain in the ass with testing and modification and testing again likely isn’t worth it for a pistol you won’t be relying on for defensive use.
Like many trips, it’s more about the journey than the destination — but we hit a sh*tload of potholes along the way.
The new par ts (right) have some similarities to the old warrior ones, but still some significant differences. The suppressorheight X-Ray3 sights are absolutely a wor thy upgrade
The new production SilencerCo barrel took a considerable amount of fitting. The added par ts and pieces of the (formerly on-fire) SureFire.
The NC Star adapter (we know!) is sturdy and wor thy of an X300U.