(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)
By Doug G.
What happens when a dog finally catches a car it’s been chasing? Gun collecting is an aspirational hobby. Once most enthusiasts acquire the firearms they “need,” they move on to “wants.” If I am being perfectly honest with myself, my needs only include a carry pistol, a hunting/sporting shotgun, and a big game hunting rifle. A home defense weapon is a need, but could be satisfied by one or more of the foregoing. Nevertheless, we can always recognize a need for a more specialized firearm (a dedicated trap gun, a choice of carry options to best suit wardrobe or weather, a small game rifle, etc.).
Additionally, as we use and practice with our firearms, we often realize (or rationalize) that one or more of our guns that previously satisfied a particular need are not quite as good for their role as that shiny object we read about in TTAG. My wife will tell you that all my needs are satisfied and that I don’t have to get any more guns. Methinks she doesn’t understand.
Having said all that, there are definitely “wants” that in no way, shape, or form can be convincingly characterized as “needs.” Most of us have a bucket list of our firearm wants: e.g., a Wilson Combat 1911, a Grizzly Customs lever gun, or an out of production historical weapon.
I have now satisfied one of my wants: a P-08 Luger.
Three years ago, I handled my first P-08 in a small gun store while on vacation in Michigan. I didn’t buy it: the price was too high, and I didn’t have enough Luger knowledge at that point to make an informed purchase. Nevertheless, I left that store knowing that I wanted a Luger. Badly. Why?
Georg Luger designed one of the world’s most iconic pistols. It was one of the first modern, mass produced semiautomatic, detachable box magazine-fed handguns. It was the first gun chambered in what is now the world’s most popular centerfire handgun cartridge, the 9x19mm (also called the 9mm Luger). Finally, it’s just plain cool-looking.
After some lucky bidding in a recent Rock Island Auction (my bid was below the expected $1300-$1800 gavel price), I finally acquired my Luger. Due to my general distaste for all things Nazi, I limited my search to Lugers manufactured before and during World War I. From 1908-1918 there were two main manufacturers of Lugers: Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM) and the Erfurt Arsenal.
My specimen is an Erfurt model that was manufactured in 1911 (why does that date seem familiar?) with the standard 4” barrel. It is serial numbered 276 and has matching numbers on most of its constituent parts, including the magazine. It has a variety of proof marks which, based on the results of my online searches, indicate that it was a military issue with a later arsenal modification to add a toggle hold open on an empty magazine–a feature that was not present when the gun was manufactured.
When I opened the box and held it for the first time, I was floored by how good the condition appeared. The auction house had indicated that the pistol was non-professionally refinished. While this fact likely diminishes the value for avid Luger collectors, the gun itself looks to be in remarkably good shape and the blued and the straw finish (gold-colored) portions appear in great shape. I sense that the straw finish may wear off if it is handled too much, though.
Per the limited information from Rock Island Auction, the pistol has all original parts and better than 30% of the original finish. It is also listed as having an “A B/5” crossed scepter proof stamp between the trigger guard and the back side of the takedown pin. (To my eyes, it looks more like crossed swords than crossed scepters, but I’ll let you, the reader, decide–see photo below.)
I haven’t been able to track the meaning of that particular stamp, but I think this may be a British mark indicating it was captured or otherwise officially brought into Britain at some point. There do not appear to be any Nazi stamps so if it was captured, my guess is that it happened during WWI.
Overall, the pistol is tight. Everything fits perfectly with no play in any of the parts. Almost all of the weight is in the grip or just above the shooting hand. To my eyes, with its sleek lines and tapering barrel, it is an elegant gun.
While the ergonomics of the grip and the pointability of the pistol are excellent, the gun’s sights are not user-friendly. The front post is barely visible through the tiny rear “v” notch and appears to bounce around more than I am used too. The thin profile and light weight of the barrel contribute to this problem.
The magazine release is on the left side of the frame behind the trigger guard, similar to what most of us in the United States are used to. For my medium/small hands, however, it is placed too far forward and requires me to change my grip in order to drop the magazine. Tactical reloads will not be smooth with this pistol.
Most semi-automatic pistol designs use a reciprocating slide to chamber the initial round. After firing, the slide moves back to eject the empty shell casing and load a new cartridge. The Luger does not have a slide. Instead it has a toggle action that goes up and back, like bending a knee, to chamber, eject and load.
The extractor is on the top of the action and acts as a loaded chamber indicator, protruding slightly and exposing the word “Geladen” when the gun is loaded. Spent casing are ejected through the top of the action and tend to fly backwards (I caught one in the forehead while testing). The Toggle is tight and pulling it is made easier if you point the pistol up at a 30-45 degree angle as you work the action. To release a locked back toggle, drop the magazine, or insert a loaded magazine, and push back (or pull back) on the toggle.
The manual safety on the luger is located on the left side of the frame above the thumb of a right-handed shooter. When in the up position, the gun is in firing mode. When down, it is on safe and the German word “Gesichert” (safe) is visible. Its design does not allow for an easy on/off sweep with the shooter’s right thumb like on an M1911.
The crisp trigger has very little take up and no creep. I do not have a way to measure trigger pull weight, but based on experience, I would judge the trigger pull to require 7-8 pounds. It is consistent and repeatable and quite good. There is no hammer on the pistol, so re-cocking requires the toggle action to be worked.
Initial Shooting Impressions
Because I couldn’t wait to load it and try it out, and because I had limited time after picking up the pistol, although I fully inspected the pistol, I did not field strip and clean it before taking it directly to the range.
I was not sure the original magazine would function so in preparation for the gun’s arrival, I ordered two spare Mec-Gar P-08 magazines. I brought those with me to the range.
NATO spec for 9mm ammunition is 124gr, the same as original Luger loads, but I couldn’t find any 124gr hardball in my stash, or at Gander Mountain. What I brought with me was 200 rounds of Winchester white box 115gr FMJ, 50 rounds of Remington 115gr white and green box JHP, a couple boxes of Hornady 115gr Critical Defense, and a box of Speer 115gr Gold Dots. I did not end up using any of the Hornady or Speer rounds.
Toggle: locked back on empty magazine. Safety off.
Loading a Luger magazine is comparable in difficulty to loading Ruger Mark I and Mark II magazines–and those can be a royal pain (perhaps because Bill Ruger based the design of those guns on the Luger). For my first trip to the firing line, I loaded 5 rounds of the Winchesters into the original magazine (Luger magazines are designed to hold 8 rounds).
When I stepped up to the 20’ line for the first time, it took a while to align the sights.
Ready, aim, press, BANG.
Ugh. 8” to the right of point of aim and a little down.
Let’s try again. Ready, aim, press, BANG.
That’s better. On the target about 1” left and 1.5” below the bullseye.
Third shot. Ready, aim, press, BANG.
Wow. I’m starting to like this. Just above the bullseye.
Fourth shot. Ready, aim, press, Nothing. Not even a click. Press again, nothing.
HMMM. This was odd. Round three’s case properly ejected, round four was chambered, the pistol appeared in to be in battery. I extracted round four. On inspection, there was no dimple in the primer. The firing pin never actuated.
Oh well, let’s chamber round five and see what happens. Ready, aim, press, BANG.
A couple inches left of the bullseye-not bad.
I reloaded the fourth round and fired. Just below bullseye.
After the first five rounds, the pistol seemed fairly accurate. I assumed the first round flyer was a fouling shot.
Was the problem the magazine? I next tried one of the Mec-Gar magazines. The results were worse. The first two shots worked, but then I had another failure to cock. Unloaded round three. Loaded round four in the chamber. It worked, but round five which followed it, did not: pull the trigger-no click, no nothing. Extract round five and then shoot each of round three and five as a single shots.
The results were much the same for the second Mec-Gar.
I tried loading eight rounds in the original magazine with similar results-I was lucky to get two rounds in a row to fire.
The pistol consistently extracted and loaded, but seemed to have a failure to cock upon returning to battery.
I was getting frustrated but decided to try a different load of ammunition. I put five rounds of the Remington 115gr JHP into one of the new magazines and had similar results.
Most of these strings of fire were taken standing with a firm two-handed grip from a modified isosceles stance. I did, however, take 5 shots one-handed from a bullseye stance.
At this point, I decided I needed to field strip the pistol, do a thorough cleaning, and retry the gun with 124gr ammunition.
The Luger is a remarkably well-designed machine and when I removed the top from the frame for the first time, I said out loud (to the empty room) “this is so cool!” To take off the top, push back the barrel about ¼” and turn the takedown pin down 90 degrees (located above and in front of the trigger guard on the left side of the gun). Remove the side trigger plate directly behind the takedown pin, and then slide off the barrel and action.
The toggle system (which includes the firing pin housing) can be removed by pushing out a pin in the back of the barrel system. Use a flathead screw driver to twist out the breech-block end piece that holds in the firing pin and firing pin spring (careful, don’t let it shoot across the room), and you are basically ready to start cleaning.
After I gave the Luger a full cleaning with Break Free and applied RemOil, I was ready to take it back to the range.
Shooting Impressions-Second Trip to the Range
In preparation for my second trip to the range, I purchased a box of Blazer 124gr FMJ cartridges.
During this range session, I fired a total of 33 rounds, 28 of the Blazers and 5 of the Winchester 115gr white box. I alternated among my three magazines and initially shot 5-round strings and mixed in one 8-shot string. All shots were taken from 20’ away and were shot standing using a firm two-hand grip from a modified isosceles stance.
Unfortunately, the results were largely the same as my initial session, with one slightly disconcerting difference. On four occasions, after the gun had failed to fire a follow-on shot after I pulled the trigger on the newly chambered round, when I pressed the trigger a second time, the gun discharged.
This had not previously happened when I gave the trigger a second (or third) press following earlier failures to fire, and it did not happen every time there was as a failure to fire during this range session. These were merely quick follow-on trigger presses to confirm that nothing was going to happen. When the gun fired following the second trigger press for the first time, I was very surprised. Even with these surprise discharges and the heavier weight bullets, I never was able to string together more than 4 shots in a row.
Not that an informed TTAG reader needs to be reminded of this, but I’ll state it anyway: Always keep your gun pointed downrange.
Notwithstanding these difficulties, the pistol proved accurate. All 33 rounds were on the target at 20’. About 80% of them were in a vertical 4”x1½” box. Most of the flyers were a result of the surprise discharges.
The pistol itself is beautiful. At 105 years old, it is accurate and feels great. On the other hand, this is not the pistol to bet your life on. It fills no need. It was a want, and now it is a “have.” It will never be a carry gun, and I am more likely to show it off than shoot it. I will try to fix it to make it more reliable and I will certainly spend more time researching its various proof marks to better understand its history.
So, in answer to question at the top of this review, when this dog finally catches one of the cars it’s been chasing, he cleans it up and finds a place of royalty in his safe to keep this safe queen comfortable and protected.
Specifications: P-08 Luger
Manufacturer: Erfurt Arsenal
Model: Military P-08 Luger
Manufacture Date: 1911
Type: Semiautomatic pistol
Operation: Recoil operated (toggle action), striker fired
Action: Single action
Caliber: 9mm Luger (9x19mm)
Magazine capacity: 8
Barrel length: 4″
Trigger pull: 7-8 lbs.
Sights: V-notch rear, dovetail mounted front
Finish: blued steel with some straw finish parts
Grips: 2-piece; checkered walnut
Overall length: 8-1/2″
Weight: 30 oz (with empty magazine)
Country of origin: Germany
Price: Depending on condition and provenance $750 to more than $3000
Ratings (out of five stars):
It reliably fired every cartridge that was loaded by hand operation of the toggle, and it ejected all empties and loaded the next rounds out of the magazine. Unfortunately, it would not reliably fire the newly loaded round. If you need your gun to go boom every time you pull the trigger, this is not the gun for you.
Accuracy * * * *
Once you are able to acquire a sight picture with the tiny sights, the gun fires to point of aim.
Style * * * * *
This pistol has a silhouette that is recognized around the world. The model was standardized in 1908 and it’s still in fashion.
Customize This *
Spare parts are available and you can purchase original or new flap holsters, if you desire. Snail drum magazines are an available, if expensive option, but there are not a lot of readily available gegaws with which to gussy up this classic.
Overall * * * * *
It’s a Luger. The design is timeless, the fit and finish is solid. It is a piece of history and, at 105 years old, I’m impressed it works as well as it does.