Bond. James Bond. If a fictional character has more brand awareness in firearms than James Bond and his Walther, I am unaware of it. Dirty Harry and his Model 29 have long since retired, but Ian Fleming’s 007 turns 60 this year and shows no signs of slowing down. Bond has starred in 23 movies and now even has his own “James Bond 007 Fragrance.” And he still has his Walther. The relationship between Bond and Walther dates to Ian Fleming’s 1958 novel Dr. No in which 007 relinquishes his Beretta “ladies gun” and starts carrying a Walther PPK in .32 ACP. In more recent years, Bond has appeared on screen with the Walther P99.
It is odd to me that the company founded in Zella-Mehlis in 1886 by Carl Walther and his son Fritz and that introduced the first successful double-action, semi-automatic pistol, the Polizei Pistole or PP and the subsequent 5/8-inch shorter Polizei Pistole Kriminal or PPK, is perhaps best known for its role in pop culture. This is the company that made the first double-action 9 mm Luger pistol with a decocker, the P.38 (replacing the vaunted Luger as the sidearm of the Wehrmacht in 1935), the company that developed the G41 rifle, the TT Olympia pistol and countless other designs, and still it is best known for its use by a secret agent that never lived. But part of Walther’s parent company’s early success had to do with another fictional character: Sherlock Holmes. We’ll get to that in a minute.
When it comes to Walther in the United States, the firm that handled it for most of the post-World War II era was Interarms starting in the early 1960s. Remember, the factory was destroyed during the war, and Zella-Mehlis was on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. Walther resumed operation in Ulm in West Germany in 1953. But after the death of Interarms’ founder Sam Cummings, the company became a shell of itself, and Walther importation ceased by the Alexandria, Va., firm in 1999. Smith & Wesson partnered with Walther starting in 2002, and it was a relationship that included not only importation, distribution and marketing of Walther guns made in Ulm, but American production of the PPK and PPK/S, which was shifted to S&W’s Houlton, Maine, plant. Smith and Walther even collaborated on a variant of the Walther P99 pistol designed to compete in the United States, the SW99. Aspects of the Smith/Walther partnership ranged from extremely successful to struggling at best.
The Walther Line
P22—Walther’s .22 Long Rifle plinking or training rimfire made in Ulm with either a 3.42 inch or 4.5-inch barrel and 10-round magazine. It is scaled to be a three-quarter-size, blowback-operated version of its big brother, the P99. The magazine release and takedown are similar to those of the P99. There are six models—including some with threaded barrels (many Walthers have that feature) and laser sights—ranging in price from $379 to $579.
PPK/S—This is the PPK slide mated to a PP frame and is offered only in .380 ACP. Available in blue or stainless steel, the guns are made by S&W for Walther in Houghton, Maine. This is the classic, blowback-operated gun with a slide-mounted decocker and is priced at $629.
PPK/S .22—Made by Umarex for Walther in Arnsberg, this is a 10-round-capacity .22 Long Rifle version of the PPK/S offered in blue or nickel that has the same size, controls and weight as the center-fire PPK/S. Priced from $399 to $429, there is more on this gun below.
PK380—This recoil-operated, hammer-fired .380 ACP has double-action/single-action lockwork and shares the polymer grip frame design of the PK22. The frame is easy for those with small hands to grip securely, and the slide is one of the easiest for those without a lot of upper body strength to manipulate. PK380s are offered in black or two-tone, and there is a laser-equipped variant. They run from $389 to $489.
P99AS—The P99 was likely the most fully featured polymer-frame pistol of its day, and it has been updated with an integral accessory rail. Made in Ulm, it is a recoil-operated, striker-fired design with flush-fitting decocker. In 9 mm Luger, it has a 15-round magazine capacity and in .40 S&W it holds 11 rounds in the full-size 4-inch barreled versions. It is also offered as the P99AS Compact with a grip frame shortened by a full inch and with a 3.5-inch barrel. Magazines are available with up to 20-round capacity in the 9 mm, as well as with collars for the extended magazines. Ergonomically, the pistol is excellent, and it is priced at $599.
PPS—The Polizie Pistole Schmal (small) is polymer-frame, dedicated carry gun with a single-stack magazine and an articulated blade safety in its trigger. The recoil-operated, striker-fired PPS isn’t quite an inch wide, has a 3.2-inch barrel and is only 4.4-inches high. With its single-stack magazine, it holds 10 rounds of 9 mm or eight of .40 S&W. It, too, is priced at $599.
PPQ—Introduced in 2011, this pistol is the most modern iteration of the Walther personal-protection or duty pistol. A full-size, Ulm-made gun, the polymer-frame, striker-fired PPQ M2 has the take-down system and bilateral slide lock of the P99 combined with an articulated blade safety in the trigger and a new grip design with the magazine release behind the trigger guard on the frame. Offered in 9 mm or .40 S&W, there is more below on this gun. It is priced from $599 to $699.
PPX—A new design from Ulm intended specifically for Walther Arms and the United States, the PPX is a polymer frame, double-action-only hammer-fired pistol with the hammer partially pre-cocked by slide movement. It is a tall gun, but one with a grip frame that small hands can wrap around easily, as much of the frame bulk for the operating parts is above the grip. Offered in 9 mm (16 rounds) or .40 S&W (14 rounds), it is priced aggressively from $449 to $499. There is not enough room here to adequately describe the PPX, so look for a “Dope Bag” review soon.
So What Is Umarex?
For a guy who decided to get out of the gun business in the early 1970s, Wulf-Heinz Pflaumer and his company sure make a lot of guns. In fact, you might have a firearm—or perhaps an airgun—made or imported by the company run by Pflaumer and partner Franz Wonisch. And that is a multi-generational partnership now, as Eyck Pflaumer and Martin Wonisch today are managing partners of the company founded 41 years ago but changed its name to Umarex Sportwaffen GmbH & Co. in 1981.
Wulf-Heinz Pflaumer has a bit of the showman in him. Think of him as part P.T. Barnum, part Roy Weatherby, part modern industrialist and all entrepreneur. Umarex sells, in many ways, the dream of firearms. In 1972, the laws for gun ownership in Germany changed dramatically. Licenses to own handguns in particular became quite restricted, but gas, blank and alarm guns had always been popular in central Europe and were unaffected. One such gun was the Perfecta Model G1 as made by Mayer & Reim; ironically, designed by Walther employee Walter Reim as an alarm pistol in his spare time.
After growing up in the gun business and becoming a trained gunsmith, Pflaumer eventually moved on to the catalog company Neckermann, and later went to work with Karl Mayer of Mayer & Rheim. Blank and alarm guns could still be sold over the counter, and they saw an opportunity. While Wonisch was on the engineering and finance side, Pflaumer handled marketing and promotion, and he is a man who understood branding. Align your product with a powerful brand, and your odds of success are much higher. Remember the previous reference to Sherlock Holmes? Pflaumer tracked down the descendents of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and licensed the fictional detective’s name to go with a blank-firing revolver inside a book-shaped package, together with a magnifying glass. For each set sold, 25 cents would go to the family, and the pattern for a business model was established. That was in 1979, the same year Wonisch had the idea to build a blank-only version of the PPK, the Reck PK800.