Angus McClellan’s Top 10 Handguns

posted on August 19, 2009

1. Borchardt C-93 – Although awkward, expensive and unsuccessful compared with the Mauser C96 "Broomhandle," the C-93 was the first reliable semi-automatic pistol made in significant numbers. It played a major part in bridging the gap between non-semi-automatic and semi-automatic pistols, helping mark a major turning point in modern pistol operation.

2. Luger P-08 – Influenced by the Borchardt C-93 design, Georg Luger developed this first semi-automatic pistol to chamber the 9x19 mm Luger cartridge. Given the pistol's wide acceptance and use by some of the most powerful militaries of the 20th century, and given the 9 mm Luger cartridge's wide use and acceptance by militaries, police and civilians around the world during the last 100 years, the original Luger has had a significant influence in the development of semi-automatic pistols up to this day.

3. Volcanic Pistol – Not only was this pistol one of the first successful designs to use a self-contained cartridge, but it also was the first to use the patented toggle-link lever-action design. Also, it was around the Volcanic Repeating Arms Co. that Horace Smith, Daniel Wesson and Oliver Winchester first gained footing as major firearm designers and manufacturers - Smith and Wesson formed the company, and the president and major stockholder Winchester took it over to form New Haven Arms Co. after Smith and Wesson left to form their own company.

4. Lefaucheux Pinfire Revolver – Casimir Lefaucheux patented one of the first self-contained cartridges for his pinfire revolver in 1835, more than 20 years before Smith & Wesson's rimfire Model One. Although less efficient than later rimfire and center-fire revolvers, the Lefaucheux cartridge and revolver was one of the starting points in the evolvement of self-contained cartridge revolvers.

5. M1911 – With around 100 years as the primary service sidearm of the greatest country in history, it is hard to argue against the influence the M1911 has had on world events and firearm development in the 20th and 21st centuries. Countless manufacturers have mimicked its short-recoil tilting-barrel operation, in addition to its ergonomically exceptional design.

6. Walther PP – The creation of double-action/single-action pistols was an important milestone in the evolvement of semi-automatic pistols, and the Walther PP was the first to do so successfully. Many police agencies and militaries have used the Walther PP, and DA/SA remains a popular action option in designs all over the world.

7. Walther P-38 – The P-38 was a standard service pistol of the most powerful military force of its day, the German Wehrmacht. It was the first DA/SA locked-breech pistol, its dropping-block short-recoil design has been copied through the years, and together with its Walther PP-like safety/de-cocking lever established a high-quality combination and refinement of semi-automatic pistol elements that continues in many designs today.

8. Beretta 92FS – The Beretta Model 92F (later the Model 92FS with the addition of a slide retention device) passed some of the most rigorous military firearm testing in modern history to become the U.S. Army's "Pistol, Semiautomatic, 9 mm, M9." It is accurate, reliable and incorporates a wide variety of time-tested design features. In exceeding the performance of all other entries, the pistol overcame political, legal and technical hurdles-in addition to harsh criticism from both military and civilian firearm enthusiasts-to become accepted as the standard sidearm of the most powerful fighting force today, the U.S. military.

9. Smith & Wesson Model 29 – The Model 29 was one of the first revolvers to use the .44 Mag. cartridge, which is perhaps the most popular large-bore magnum cartridge today. Although the pistol isn't particularly revolutionary in design, its "coolness" factor is off the charts – Dirty Harry, ignorer of punks' pleas for mercy, instigator of confrontations with The Man, and producer of massive storefront destruction with tax-funded police cruisers, will go down in history as the only police officer who truly matches up with "the most powerful handgun in the world."

10. Colt Single Action Army – The SAA was a U.S. service pistol that proved itself reliable and trustworthy, especially in the rugged Western Frontier in the latter part of the 19th century. It ushered in the era of relatively high-powered self-contained cartridge revolvers of the U.S. military and civilian market, and it was the choice of armament for just about anyone in its day.


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