Smith & Wesson's 460XVR

posted on June 16, 2009

Bored with the industry-wide trend of incrementally trumping the competition in both size and performance of big-bore revolvers, Herb Belin, Smith & Wesson’s then-handgun product manager, sought to break that pattern while also asserting the firm’s standing by designing the “most powerful production revolver”—a goal the company handily achieved with the 2003 introduction of the Model 500 in 500 Smith & Wesson Magnum (May 2003, p. 54). But Belin, who’s admittedly greedy, wasn’t content with that title alone. Like any addict, he craved more. In this case … speed.

The Cartridge: 460 Smith & Wesson Magnum
From the outset, Belin’s purpose for developing the 460 Smith & Wesson Mag. (and the 460XVR platform) was simple: create the fastest production revolver. The first step, designing a cartridge to achieve that goal, proved to be no easy endeavor.

Surveying the field of cartridges for which revolvers were manufactured at production levels, the .454 Casull stood out prominently to Belin, again—as loaded by Cor-Bon, the cartridge’s muzzle energy levels served as performance minimums in the development of the 500 S&W Mag. More importantly, though, at least in regard to the 460 S&W Mag., were the velocities the .454 Casull achieved to produce those energy levels.

Approaching the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute (SAAMI) maximum average pressure (MAP) of 65,000 p.s.i., Cor-Bon’s 265-gr. bonded-core, hollow-point .454 load attained 1725 f.p.s., producing 1,751 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle. Even the 300-gr. jacketed-soft-point round reached 1650 f.p.s., for 1,814 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy. To earn the title “fastest production revolver,” Belin needed to exceed the performance of those loads.

Knowing the problems associated with bottleneck cartridges in revolvers, Belin opted for a straight-walled, rimmed case for the new design. He chose to make the cartridge a .45 caliber because, among other reasons, reducing diameter in a straight-walled case would lessen propellant capacity, not to mention negatively affect external and terminal ballistics and efficiency.

Wanting to take full advantage of the X-frame’s (Extra Large Frame) pressure capability and cylinder length, and aware of the velocities achieved from the .454 Casull’s 1.383" case when loaded near its MAP, Belin determined the new cartridge required pressures of 60,000 p.s.i. or higher, as well as additional case length—ultimately, 0.417"—for propellant, to achieve his target velocity: 2500 f.p.s. from the 460XVR’s 83⁄8" barrel with a 200-gr. bullet. In addition to the velocity requirement, Belin mandated the 460 S&W Mag./460XVR combination produce 1-m.o.a. or better accuracy.

For cartridge development, he employed the services of Cor-Bon and Hornady; however, neither ammunition company communicated with the other during the process. Instead, Belin relayed performance updates between the two. As it turned out, this helped in the development of the cartridge. How? As each company reached a performance plateau and announced such to Belin, he passed the news along, pitting both in a healthy competition to outdo the other. Sneaky, but effective.

According to Mitch Mittelstaedt, then-project manager for Hornady, shortly after the project began the company encountered a major setback. When using Belin’s prescribed 200-gr. bullet weight, the propellants initially tested gave less-than-acceptable performance, forcing the company to consider switching to heavier bullet weights—upward of 360 grs. Of course, this would be counterproductive to the goal for which the cartridge was envisioned. Thankfully, Hornady’s powder supplier had a solution—a propellant with the optimal burn rate for the cartridge. With a burn rate slightly faster than Hodgdon H-110 and a tad slower than Accurate Arms No. 9, the undisclosed, non-canister-grade propellant proved to be ideal.


LLE Leadweb
LLE Leadweb

The L42A1: A Sniper Rifle To Remember

For most of the 20th century, Lee-Enfield rifles were the backbone of the British army. The last British service Lee was the L42A1 sniping rifle. Built on the World War II No.4(T), the reliable and accurate L42A1 was retired in the early 1990s.

The Armed Citizen® July 30, 2021

Read today's "The Armed Citizen" entry for real stories of law-abiding citizens, past and present, who used their firearms to save lives.

NRA Gun of the Week: Uberti USA 1873 Single-Action Cattleman New Model

On this week’s “Gun of the Week” video preview, American Rifleman staff take to the range for a closer look at Uberti USA’s special edition "Teddy" revolver, a replica of Colt's New Model 1873 SAA. 

Kentucky Rifle Raffle to Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Contemporary Longrifle Association

In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Contemporary Longrifle Association, Judson Brenman and sons have made a masterpiece contemporary Kentucky Longrifle for a raffle held by the organization for the occasion.

The ArmaLite Story

The history of ArmaLite is long and tortured, filled with marvelous innovation and crushingly bad timing. Yet, now it looks like its day has finally dawned.

The Immortal Winchester Model 94: From the 19th Into The 21st Century

Since its invention at the end of the 19th century, the Winchester Model 1894 lever-action rifle design has become an iconic American firearm that is still produced and celebrated to this day.


Subscribe to the NRA American Rifleman newsletter