BROWN­ING HI POWER RE­DUX

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Now, if you were a mem­ber of the cognoscenti there re­ally was only one choice, the one which had been adopted by the armed forces of over 50 coun­tries, the one gifted to the masses from the hands of the prophet John Moses (peace be upon him). The one, the only, GP35.

The Hi Power isn’t with­out its faults. Its trig­ger isn’t the finest ex­am­ple of an in­ter­face be­tween man and ma­chine, it has an ap­petite for the flesh and blood of its user’s hand, and given its size, 13-round mag­a­zines aren’t all that and a bag of chips. Un­for­tu­nately, FNH froze de­vel­op­ment of the Hi Power with the in­tro­duc­tion of the Mk3 ver­sion in 1988, and there’s a strong case to be made that noth­ing of great sig­nif­i­cance hap­pened to the de­sign from 1982 on­ward. With in­creased com­pe­ti­tion from poly­mer­framed, striker-fired hand­guns, sales slumped and parts pro­duc­tion was halted in 2016, although the fac­tory didn’t of­fi­cially an­nounce its death un­til two years later.

We were left to won­der what might have been, had FN con­tin­ued to de­velop the pis­tol, rather than sub­ject it to in­sti­tu­tional in­dif­fer­ence. Af­ter all, 1911s still have a cult fol­low­ing, and we can think of no one who car- ries the other iconic JMB pis­tol who elects to lug around an ’80s vin­tage ver­sion of that gun. In­stead of just won­der­ing about it, we chose to get off our ar­ses and do some­thing — as if we needed an ex­cuse to start an­other gun project.

There’s no deny­ing the el­e­gance of the ba­sic de­sign. Even ratty, old mil­i­tary ex­am­ples of the Hi Power are more aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing than most striker-fired pis­tols to­day. It’s like com­par­ing Lana Turner to Lena Dun­ham — not all progress is for­ward. Could we keep the fea­tures that at­tract us, while dress­ing the short­com­ings? We’ll leave that to you, dear reader, to judge.

Jodi Gri­tus took our beat-up sow’s ear and turned it into the silk purse you see on th­ese pages. Fol­low her on In­sta­gram @hipow­er­princess.

Our project started with a sur­plus Hi Power with FNH, rather than Brown­ing roll­marks. Part of a con­sign­ment of Mk3 vari­ants, which ended up in Is­raeli ser­vice in the late ’80s, it landed on th­ese shores a few years ago and was snapped up for the first is­sue of CON­CEAL­MENT, where it was fea­tured in an ar­ti­cle on bar­gain hand­guns. It had the usual Mk3 re­fine­ments, but also that model’s draw­backs: ham­mer bite, 12-pound trig­ger (yes, that’s not a mis­print), small­ish sights and, due to be­ing dropped by some care­less con­script, a big ding in the bar­rel crown. It was fin­ished in epoxy, which was show­ing signs of abuse, and while still a very vi­able de­fen­sive hand­gun, it wasn’t one which in­spired pride of own­er­ship.

Down to busi­ness. The first de­fi­ciency to be ad­dressed was the lack of a beaver­tail. For those of us with man hands, the Hi Power hurts. Its ham­mer and frame tang com­bine to pinch the web be­tween thumb and fore­fin­ger, and I can usu­ally send about three rounds downrange be­fore blood starts drip­ping. This has been a Hi Power fea­ture since 1935, and there’s no rea­son it shouldn’t have been ad­dressed from the get-go. To fix this chronic over­sight, a chunk of steel is welded to the frame, then con­toured and blended by hand un­til it looks like it came from the fac­tory that way. Which it should have.

To fix the gra­tu­itously bad trig­ger pull (not all of them suck — I have a nickel Mk3 with a crisp, 5-pound break from the fac­tory) a Cylin­der and Slide sear and ham­mer were in­stalled and tuned, along with a Wolfe spring kit. Th­ese were teamed with a Garth­waite flat trig­ger, which al­lows for bet­ter fin­ger place­ment and feel, as well as a stronger trig­ger re­turn spring to in­crease re­li­a­bil­ity. As a rule of thumb, any­thing in­flicted on weapons de­sign by the French gov­ern­ment is a bad a thing, so our mag­a­zine safety was con­signed to the scrap pile.

Th­ese changes com­bined to make for a sweet, 4-pound trig­ger pull with about 1/8 inch of take-up, a short re­set, and just a hint of over­travel.

The base gun ar­rived with an ambi safety, whose stock levers looked like dead slugs ly­ing on the frame and weren’t too pos­i­tive when it came to en­gage­ment. Un­less you’re wrong­handed, am­bidex­trous safeties on a sin­gle-ac­tion carry gun are a mixed bless­ing and we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced sev­eral in­stances when a 1911 wound up with the safety dis­en­gaged due to the right-side lever catch­ing cloth­ing or bump­ing against car seats. It’s not too much of a con­tor­tion to reach around the beaver­tail with your thumb if you have to sweep it off left-handed, so we spec’d out a Cylin­der and Slide ex­tended ver­sion, which snicks into place with an air of qual­ity. To com­ple­ment the safety, we picked a C&S slide stop.

It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to checker a Hi Power, as the front strap is pa­per thin and there’s an ever-present risk of cut­ting through into the mag­well. In or­der to pro­vide bet­ter trac­tion, our ’smith stip­pled around the se­rial num­ber, but be­fore do­ing so she un­der­cut the frame ad­ja­cent to the trig­ger guard, to al­low a higher hold and greater con­trol un­der re­coil. The back­strap was treated to the same tex­tur­ing, which was de­lib­er­ately kept to the lower half so that the mas­ter hand could slide up un­der the beaver­tail with­out much fric­tion, but once a fir­ing grip was taken the pis­tol would stick like sh*t to an army blan­ket.

Our sur­plus pis­tola ap­peared as if it had been car­ried by in­dif­fer­ent re­cruits, who likely used it as a con­ve­nient com­bi­na­tion door stop and gar­den­ing im­ple­ment, but shot it per­haps once ev­ery cou­ple of years, so the bar­rel was in good shape in­ter­nally. We elected to keep it, but have it re­crowned. The cham­ber end was throated and pol­ished to aid with feed­ing hol­low-point bul­lets, which were car­ried in a pair of up­dated

Mec Gar 15-round mag­a­zines. Th­ese are a big step up in qual­ity from the stan­dard, phos­phated Mil-spec num­bers, and al­low for two more rounds, with­out in­creas­ing over­all length. It was a no-brainer to swap out the orig­i­nal ny­lon grips for a pair of VZ’s palm­swell G10 mod­els, which were in keep­ing with the un­der­stated, pro­fes­sional look we were aim­ing for.

Once all the gun­smithing work had been de­cided on, it was time to pick a fin­ish. One ad­van­tage of poly­mer­framed guns is their re­sis­tance to cor­ro­sion — just don’t set them down too close to a fire — and we wanted some­thing that would stand up to ev­ery­day carry. Tra­di­tional blue­ing, while at­trac­tive and fit­ting for a weapon de­signed in the 1930s, was con­sid­ered then dis­missed for prac­ti­cal rea­sons. As luck would have it, Ro­bar was in the process of fin­ish­ing up tri­als of a new sur­face treat­ment, which showed con­sid­er­able prom­ise. Lured by tales of its per­for­mance in salt spray tests, we signed on. Known as Ar­morLube, it’s a spe­cial­ist phys­i­cal va­por de­po­si­tion (PVD) process us­ing a pro­pri­etary cock­tail of ex­otic (and deadly) or­ganic gases ap­plied in a vac­uum un­der high volt­age. The re­sult is very slip­pery, very hard, and avail­able in any color, so long as it’s black.

While the two-tone look was all the rage in the ’80s, we didn’t want to go to the ex­treme of a sil­ver slide on a black frame. So for con­trast we chose Ro­bar’s NP3 plus, elec­tro­less nickel for small parts, such as the con­trols, ex­trac­tor, and grip screws, due to its lu­bric­ity and cor­ro­sion re­sis­tance.

The re­sult is a nod to the Co­caine Cowboys era, while be­ing rel­a­tively sub­tle and un­der­stated.

So did we achieve the goal of drag­ging the Hi Power into the 21st cen­tury? Yes and no. De­spite our best ef­forts, there’s still no place to mount a light, which would re­quire a whole new frame, or a lot of ma­chine work and weld­ing. Ev­ery­thing else has been re­worked to ad­dress weak­nesses. Sights are first class, re­li­a­bil­ity has been im­proved, er­gonomic prob­lems with the orig­i­nal are ad­dressed, and there’s a night-and-day dif­fer­ence in terms of trig­ger qual­ity. We think it’s the gun FN should’ve been sell­ing dur­ing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion — done at the fac­tory in a pro­duc­tion en­vi­ron­ment, economies of scale kick in, and the cost of im­prove­ments is driven down. When you sit on them, lau­rels just don’t last too long.

Orig­i­nal gun is shown above, and wound up as you see here. Pretty isn’t she? With con­trast­ing small par ts against the most ad­vanced PVD coat­ing we could find, our Hi Power MkIV stands out in a sea of drab plas­tic.

Cus­tom guns are ex­pen­sive, be­cause just about ever y in­di­vid­ual par t is re­worked by a fel­low Amer­i­can who ac­tu­ally gives a sh*t about why they show up for work. Want to save a few bucks? Learn to do it your­self (which is some­thing we whole­hear tedly en­dorse), or send it to China. Oh, wait ...

That beaver tail took sev­eral hours of weld­ing, grind­ing and fin­ish­ing by hand. It could have shipped from the fac­tor y that way for a few pen­nies, but no.

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