The other day I was in my favorite firearms emporium, Vance’s Shooter’s Supply in Columbus, Ohio (www.vanceoutdoors.com), perusing the gun cases. I hadn’t paid much attention to the prices lately, and was struck by how expensive many of the handguns are, even in a store where prices are very reasonable. It’s hard to find reliable, quality defensive handguns on a restricted budget. One option is the surplus Walther P1 semi-automatic pistol imported by Century Arms International and priced around $325.
The Walther P1 is the updated, much improved version of the WWII era 9mm Walther P38, which is the successor to the famous Luger 9mm pistol.
The P1 borrows the DA/SA trigger system and slide mounted de-cocking lever from the earlier Walther PPK. The P1 operating system and open top slide design was later incorporated into the Beretta Model 92 pistol series.
Manufactured for the post-war West German Police and security forces with a lightweight aluminum frame, the P1 is a genuine “Cold Warrior” handgun. Weighing in at 28.2 ounces with a 4-7/8-inch barrel, the P1 is still quite capable of defensive service and recreational shooting, and can be a fine option for days when the Beretta 92 is too large to pack around. But, there are a few considerations to take into account when choosing the P1 as a defensive arm.
Walther began production of the P1 in 1956, and it is not technically rated for +P or +P+ defensive ammo. However, NATO and European 9mm ammo has always been loaded hotter than our stateside commercial 9mm ammo, so limited +P use won’t destroy it. My advice would be to stick with non- +P loads to save wear and tear on this fine piece, as there are plenty of great standard pressure 9mm loads available.
The P1 uses the European style “heel” magazine release, located at the base of the backstrap. While many will claim this is a terrible disadvantage for defensive users, it is really not a big deal. In fact, for concealed carry, it is an overlooked plus! There is no way to accidentally bump a European release and cause a partial disengagement of the magazine, disabling the gun. Reloading is fast with a bit of practice.
My first shots from the Walther P1 were fired with ZVS 9mm ball ammo from Century Arms and made me think “where have you been all my life?” Recoil was easily controlled and accuracy—out to 100 yards—was excellent! There were no malfunctions.
Hollow points are a somewhat different story. Speer Gold Dot 124-grain, Wilson Combat 115-grain, Winchester Ranger 124-grain +P and Hornady Critical Duty 130-grain loads all cycled well. But, the first hollow-point round would only chamber with seven rounds loaded in the magazine, not eight. Field test any ammo before carrying it.
The Walther P1 ships with one magazine. Excellent spares are available from Keep Shooting (www.keepshooting.com) for $12.95 each.
New holsters suitable for concealed carry are also available. I found a nice hand-boned Falco Holster from Craft Holsters (www.craftholsters.com). This beautiful mahogany thumb break belt holster ($56.95 MSRP) fits like a glove and allows the P1 to ride with comfort. There are other models on their website that fit the P1 as well.
The Walther P1 is a great pistol, and a great piece of history. It is a viable defensive option for those without a lot of money to spend, or those who want something different. Learn more at www.centuryarms.com.
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