Smith & Wesson is bringing back the well-loved, if not outrageously over-engineered, Model 66 ‘Combat Magnum’ for 2014. The original Model 66 has been out of production for nine years, which apparently has whetted shooters’ appetites enough to justify a new production run . . .

Essentially a stainless iteration of the .357 Magnum Model 19, the K-Frame 66 was in steady production from 1970 until 2005. Smith enthusiasts believe the Model 19/66 trigger to be lighter and smoother than the later Model 686 trigger, because the latter revolver’s oversized cylinder simply requires too much effort to spin in the frame. I’ve always considered the 19/66 to be a more attractive gun than the (still handsome) 586/686 because of its slightly more rounded lines and recessed cylinder heads.

Image courtesy S&WThe 19/66 design had a reputation for wearing itself loose if you fed it too many full-power (as in: hotrod 125-grain) .357 pills. Frames would sometimes stretch and cause the cylinder timing to wander, and some guns showed significant forcing cone damage as well. Whether the Model 66 Revisited will have a stronger stomach has yet to be determined. Some press reports are hinting that the new Model 66 is ‘strong where the earlier version was weak’ but I haven’t seen Smith & Wesson make any particular representations to that effect.

Sixguns are not in vogue these days, but a medium-frame .357 is an excellent handgun for beginners because of its safety, reliability and versatility. And if you’re accustomed to the gritty go-pedals of Glocks and M&Ps, the double-action K-Frame will probably have the sweetest trigger pull you’ve ever felt. 37-ounce handguns have a way of taming recoil; .38 +P loads barely kick at all, and even the hottest magnums will produce recoil and muzzle snap that’s more manageable than the current crop of micronines.

Once you remove the dastardly ‘safety’ lock, there’s almost nothing you can do to make a K-Frame not function properly. The manual of arms is shockingly simple: load it with any .38 or .357 ammo that’s less than 20 years old and hasn’t been stored underwater, aim it and squeeze the trigger. Lather, rinse and repeat as needed.

MSRP for this 1970s wheelgun icon is $850, but the street price is at least $100 below that. Of course, you’ll probably turn right around and spend that C-note having your gunsmith remove the ‘safety’ lock.

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72 Responses to Old From Smith & Wesson: Model 66 Revisited

  1. First pistol I ever shot.. a S&W Model 66. Thanks to an Indiana County Deputy at the time and later a State Policeman.

    • The first centerfire revolver I ever shot was a model 19. That was way back “before the war” when no one made stainless handguns. I loved that gun. It was 1950’s vintage when S&W quality was near perfection, and that revolver was sweet to shoot. The owner also had the .22LR version, I believe a model 17? I could kick myself many times for not buying one of each 35 years ago. I wish I could afford this new one.

    • Hell yes! I frequently tote a Ruger GP100 Wiley Clapp, which to my mind is just about the perfect .357 Mag revolver for carry. Also, while I can provide no statistics, it seems like there must be something to be said for the visual deterrence value of a stainless, full-size (depending on how you want to define that) wheel gun.

    • I bought a 686 with some of the unused leave money I received when I got out of the Army in 1987. I still have it. This pistol is much better than I am and is the ONLY weapon with which I have ever achieved a single hole from six consecutive shots with full-power magnum loads at approximately 30 foot range.

      If the trigger on this new Model 66 is BETTER than the trigger on my 686 it has to be one sweet shootin’ mother!

  2. Will it be able to stand up to hundreds of hot 125gr .357s? The forcing cones would crack on the bottom of the old ones.

    • I’ve never heard of one cracking a forcing cone after only hundreds of rounds. Thousands of rounds, yes, I’ve heard of problems. These things were carried by many LEOs back in the day and their reputation for eventually wearing out from hot magnum loads is valid, but not from such a low round count. I’ve heard people say that hundreds of rounds can do it, but have never seen that substantiated. Thousands of rounds, yes, it can eventually cause problems.

        • Model 19, not 66. Only carry it rarely and only when doing some hiking or just messing around on private land (some relatives more well off than me, God bless ’em). It is a great hip companion for the outdoors. But it’s blued and I would really like a shorter, stainless version and have never seen a used 66 around for sale. Could do Gunbroker, but clearly haven’t wanted one badly enough yet to go through the effort. A 6″ bbl revolver is great for open carry but not much for concealed.

    • The whole reason for the 19/66 was to give uniform cops a magnum handgun that was light enough to comfortably carry all day. S&W always told people to practice with .38s and only use magnum rounds for carry and very rarely for practice. Model 13 was the same gun without adjustable sights.

      The reason I’m leery of buying one of the originals on the used market is there’s no way to know how much of a diet of magnum loads it’s ate in it’s lifetime.

      I can see myself buying a new one.

    • The new Model 66 does not have a ‘notch’ in the bottom of the forcing cone like traditional K-frames, which should make it less likely to crack under hard use. The new 66 also has a ball detent on the crane which should help keep lockup tighter, longer.

      I want a 3″ version, because older Model 66 3″ guns are rare and way, way expensive. Are you listening S&W?

        • Stop “sayin” I’m revoking your 1st amendment rights for the good of gun and man alike. Who wants to elect me president so I can instigate these clearly common sense reeducation programs?

      • I agree! I was fairly bummed when I found out that S&W was reintroducing the model 27 (in blue AND nickel!) but only in 4″ and 6.5″ barrel lengths… The fairly rare 3.5″ length of the old days is the most popular… WTH, S&W?!

  3. “Safety” lock…echh. Were I in the market, I’d simply buy a cherry used Model 66. Shopping around, you should be able to get one in the neighborhood of $650 or so.

    In the meantime, since I have the day off today I may just have to take out the fairly nice S&W 1937 Brazilian contract .45 ACP revolver I recently acquired! No #$@&%*! “safety” lock on a classic like that…!

      • While it’s not my first choice for a home defense handgun (that would be a Glock 22), I wouldn’t feel under-armed were I to rely on a S&W .45 ACP revolver. It worked perfectly well almost a century ago, and still does today.

        • Absolutely. I have a CZ 75 SP01 tactical by the bed, but a Model 19 in my office. In case of a DGU during the day, I am going for additional style points. Wouldn’t mind having a couple of those old Model 1917s, though. Max style points for WWI veterans, I’m thinking.

        • I picked up a Colt M1917 revolver about 20 years ago, original military configuration. That’s one that’s gone up in value over the years…!

    • Glad I kept my old 66 w/4″ barrel (duty gun) after reading all these. Was a gift from ex-father-in-law when I became a police officer. Nice gun after I had the trigger pull reduced a little, poly grips.
      Also own a Glock 26 & Glock 30, for CLP.

  4. I have a (significant, to me at least) gap in my collection (we’ll call it that) for a 4″ Model 66. Looks like it might be time to fill that unsightly gap. I’m not a purist and would happily fill it with a re-released pistol. My 6″ 19-3 is without fail my favorite revolver and has a place in my heart next to my CZ 75s. It is that good.

    I know Model 19/66s have a rep for stretching, though I’ve never encountered anyone who experienced it. But it is a testament to the K frames that people actually *do* wear them out from shooting them *that* much. Granted, I save really hot magnum rounds for my Ruger Blackhawk, which shoot less because at the end of the day, really hot magnum loads have so much more blast and noise. I probably shoot lighter loads in my Model 19 at a ratio of 30-1 to hot magnum loads in my Ruger. Hel, that Model 19 is why I started hand loading so I could afford to feed it.

    Maybe it’s an age think, but a great semi-auto is a great tool, but a great revolver is more like a member of the family. That old Model 19 sits in a drawer next to me as I type this. It’s never far away and never will be.

        • Don’t be. The statement really needs to be expanded thus:

          “Everyone should own at least one great quality, full size revolver in a magnum cartridge

          And no, I don’t mean .22 Mag. .357 or bigger. Otherwise what’s the point of something this big and heavy?

        • To Int19h – I respectfully disagree. Per my comment below, there are many of us who are susceptible to nerve damage from firing magnum loads. Add to that the fact that using a .357 indoors in a home defense situation (are you going to stop to put on hearing protection?) is likely to result in profound and permanent deafness, and you will see that most people don’t actually NEED a magnum revolver. Yes, you can just load it with .38+P ammo, but check out the price difference between, say, a S&W model 13 and a model 10. For many people, a .38 makes better financial AND utilitarian sense.

  5. Why must they still include that ugly safety lock? There’s no reason for it. As excited as I am for this, I’d rather pay MSRP for a used Model 19/66 without the damn lock.

  6. Hate to be the one to break it to you, but the 19-4 was the last of the model 19’s with a recessed cylinder. Not sure about the 66.

      • No, I get that….but I never get that price. AFTER I get the gun home and look up MSRP that always seems to be what I’ve paid. Do I just need to find a better store?

        • It depends on the gun. If it’s rare and I really want it NOW I’m usually willing to pay retail. But if you go to one gun store and always pay MSRP for guns you buy there you might try haggling with them next time.

        • Gunbroker is a good alternative, although you do have to take the costs of shipping and an FFL fee into account.

        • No, not really. It depends what you buy. Sometimes MSRP and street price are equivalent, sometimes MSRP is greater than street price, especially if a particular gun is in higher demand.

          Here’s the best way to see the difference. Go to galleryofguns.com, click on Gun Genie, and do some price shopping. Select a manufacturer and select a model of gun and enter your zip code. You’ll get a list of models that match your search criteria. Click on one and click on Instant Quote to get a list of dealers in your area and prices they would charge. Maybe they are all near MSRP. Maybe not. Very location and model of gun specific. Unfortunately, you may also see that the gun is “allocated” which mean demand is high and you can’t buy one through that site.

          Even if you don’t buy anything, it can be fun to see the local spread in pricing. Where I live a couple of local pawn shops function in this retail network and their prices may be hundreds of dollars less than other gun shops. Some won’t. It is hit or miss.

  7. That still pic there looks like the new Model 69 .44 Mag, not the new Model 66. (Appears to only have 5 chambers in the cylinder.)

  8. I have a 4″ Model 65-3. Fixed combat sights vs the 66’s adjustable. Wonderful revolver and for a hell of a price when it was purchased.

    • That’s a fine piece. Great barrel length. I like a 6″ and adjustable sights, but wish I had shorter to make carrying outdoors just that much easier. Damn, but I like old guns. 🙂

  9. I owned a 66 high polish 6″ & it was a beauty. I would open carry it into Cabelas…because I could . The 66 was the reason for the first of the reduced pressure 357 mag round, the J frame was the 2nd.

  10. Hmm, the new version has a matte stainless. Prefer the high polish stainless on my ’86 66 better. Maybe they will be offering both. The Model 19/66 was carried by many many LE agencies, and the Navy SEALS for awhile, its a great pistol. You can still find 19/66 models in very good condition used, but they are selling for alot more now than the 200.00 I paid back when the rush to dump revolvers and buy 9MM wondernines was all the rage.

  11. As for the 20 year shelf life of the ammo, I shot two boxes of .38 special wad cutters hand-loaded circa 1978 at the range two years ago out of a Model 686 with my father, and I still carry a cylinder of them in my Model 36 as self defense ammo. Not a bad bullet in the bunch.

    • Ammo from WW2 is still being found in usable condition. The whole “ammo lifespan” thing is a myth. Ammo that was stored in dry reasonably cool conditions can probably last for a century or more. I always laugh when I hear instructors or LE say they have to shoot up their current batch of ammo because its a year old. I laugh then I offer to buy it for pennies on the dollar because its now “bad ammo.”

      • Indeed. I’m still finding (and shooting) .30-06 ball ammo from the late 40’s that I find in estate sales around here. Just have to make sure to clean the rifle afterwards, because it might have had corrosive primers. But it goes “bang” every time I pull the trigger.

        My shooting buddy gave me several hundred rounds of .45 ACP ball mil-surp ammo from the 60’s. It too went “bang” quite reliably.

        The whole “we need fresh ammo” thing by police departments and LEO’s is just more evidence of how they rip off the taxpayers at every turn.

  12. Whenever I see the manual of arms for a double action revolver written in short form there is always an omission that irks me;
    When closing the cylinder, always gently rotate it until it locks.

    The reason is if it’s not locked the cylinder pawl remains depressed by the cylinder and over time the spring will fail. Perhaps I’m only being paranoid because I’ve had this happen but I now routinely ensure lockup when closing the cylinders of my DA revolvers. Has anyone else ever had this happen and can a gunsmith perhaps tell me if I’m right in this or just worried about a rare problem?

    I have the 66’s little brother, the 64. It has a title that is worth typing out if only because of its absurd length: S&W K frame mod.64 K-38 Combat Masterpiece (subtitled the ‘City Police’)
    Every bit of that is on the front of it’s owners manual.

    It’s essentially the same pistol except different factory grips, 4″ bull barrel and fixed sights and chambered in .38spl instead of .357. I received it as a Christmas present the year I was 13 (no lock on that one!) and I still really like the gun, only I’ve always wished it had been a 66.

    I only migrated away from it because of the talk of the .38 being so under powered back in the day and admittedly speed loaders are not as fast or sure as mag swaps. These days I stoke it with Hornady Critical Defense and use it as nightstand gun, though I’m not sure that with it and a couple of speed loaders I’d feel poorly armed to this very day.

    Still, I wish it had been a 66 . . .

    • I always rotate the cylinder after closing to insure bolt lock. I’d never heard of that problem, I just want the cylinder timed up to where it is supposed to be.

      If you pay attention to where the cylinder has to be when swinging inwards on the frame, you can eventually time up the cylinder so that you’re barely rotating it at all to achieve lock.

  13. I’ll stick to my Service Six. Heavy, beautiful, able to take hot loads, and quite possibly the smoothest trigger I’ve used (although I believe the former owner had done some smoothing himself). Cost me half the price my wife’s 686 cost, and some of the best money I’ve ever spent.

  14. I’ve owned most of the K frame S&Ws at one time or another, and only had a problem with one, a 4″ model 19. I only fired it once with magnum loads, and after fifty rounds the side plate was loose enough to rattle, and the rear sight screws had backed out to the point of almost falling out. At the time (late seventies) I was not aware of the timing and forcing cone issues, so I didn’t inspect for damage in those areas. I eventually sold the gun to a co-worker who had no plans to load magnums. A few years ago I bought a 686SSR to use with magnums. After a few boxes of ammo I sold that too. The recoil was screwing up my hand enough to affect my guitar playing, which was my livelihood at the time. I also realized that using magnums in a home defense gun would likely permanently destroy my hearing if I ever had to use it. I’ll stick to .38+P, thank you.

  15. Or you could just buy a Ruger Six series gun (used) or a GP100 new and not have any of those problems. However I did buy a 4″ GP100 recently that would not hit the broad side of a barn. My Security 6, GP100 six” and SP101 are plenty accurate and I would bet my life on any of the 3. Years ago I had an old model 66 police trade in that I’m sure had never been fired except to qualify annually. I did not know about it’s supposed design weaknesses. Glad I got rid of it.

  16. Model 19 and Model 66 were designed to shoot 158 grain magnums. Stick to big boy magnums and you are fine. Even medium power magnums (158 gr @ 1100-1200 fps) pack a punch. 125 grain at 1400 fps are what breaks forcing cone at the flat spot.

  17. BTW, about that safety lock and paying a gunsmith a “C-note” to remove it…

    I can’t and won’t try to speak for any other gunsmiths out there, but I can tell you that you can’t pay me to remove a safety lock on any gun – and a C-note to remove the safety in a S&W would be a very generous hourly rate. I think it would take me all of 10 leisurely minutes. If I had six people asking me to do this back-to-back, that would add up to $600/hour. That’s more than most lawyers make. Whoo-hoo!

    Trouble is, I’d need every bit of that hourly rate to pay for… lawyers.

    It’s a liability tar pit, as told to me by legal counsel. See? I’ve already paid a lawyer to tell me to not do it.

    Is it easy to do? Yes.

    Will I tell you how to do it? No.

    But I will tell you this: Please use real gunsmithing screwdrivers to open up the revolver. Pretty pleeeeeasse? Don’t use those POS screwdrivers you get at auto repair, Sears, the local Ace Hardware store or other places? Please? Go get a set of real gunsmithing screwdrivers at Brownells, MidwayUSA or other sources. Forester, Brownells Magna-Tips, Wheeler Engineering, Winchester, etc. They all work. The Brownells are probably the best out there. Or, if you’re really handy, you can make your own from O-1 drill rod, on a mill with a collet block. Heat to red, quench in linseed oil, draw back to dark straw.

    Don’t mess up the screw slots or the sides of a perfectly nice gun with POS mechanics’ screwdrivers.

    Pretty please? With sugar and cherries on top?

    • There are so many how-to Youtube viddys for removing the lock that anyone who asks you how to do so must be lazy or lack google-fu.

      Removing the lock on revolvers is so easy even I can do it (and I have). My gunsmith removed the lock on my M&P pistol when he installed the Apex trigger kit (eliminating the horrid MA boat anchor trigger). No extra charge.

  18. I’ve owned a Model 19, 6″ barrel that I put a couple of hundred thousand .38 reloads through, as well as a thousand or so cast 158 gr. SWC’s; I shot PPC in the ’80’s. I switched to a 586, by trading in my M-19; I wish I’d just bought it instead! Ran the 586 until it needed a new cylinder stop, replaced it and sold it, buying a 686 that I still use and have several hundred thousand through and have replaced the stop and hand. Never a forcing cone problem on any of them; only heavy-use wear. I’ll likely own one of the new 66’s, despite that damnable lock! I had a lock tie up a 657 twice, and won’t have one on a defensive-type gun. If I miss a shot at a deer it’s annoying; if I can’t count on a defense gun running, it’s life-threatening.

  19. Bring back the model 19. Nickel and blue finish please. I won’t be buying one, as I own 6 already(one of each barrel and finish). But other people should be allowed to own such a wonderful gun.

  20. As my name implies, I love my 66. I was searching for a SP101 and happened to finda ‘rare’ 3 inch 66-3. Excellent conditionand ONLY $400! (it was mislabeled and the retail staff were clueless.)
    My revolver is 20 years old and I’m only 31…so its a classic to me. I love shooting it, my friends love shooting it, and maybe some day my kids will too.If you’ve never handled one, seek out one. I’m curious about the new ones…but a bit skeptical.

  21. The article talks about the old guns shooting loose, and “forcing cone damage” as if they were separate problems. IMO, they are the same problem. A cracked forcing cone is usually a sign of timing issues. You show a gunsmith a cracked forcing cone, and the first thing he’ll do is check the timing.

    This isn’t a problem unique to K-frame .357s; the unique part is simply the flat-cut bottom edge of the forcing cone that insures the crack occurs in the same spot pretty much every time.

    Smith’s answer to that seems to be a two piece barrel combined with ball/detent lockup. The two piece barrel assembly results in a stronger gun by eliminating both torque stressing of the frame and the flat-cut forcing cone (it also eliminates the dreaded “canted barrel”). Ball/detent lockup prevents unlocking under recoil, and helps insure mechanical accuracy, by eliminating the lockup point at the end of the ejector rod.

    Frame stretching… hmmm… I’m not sure how much of a problem that really was, but it could imply that the steel wasn’t good enough? Maybe they have better metallurgy now, or maybe they have better quality control, or maybe they just think the service life is/was good enough. I tend to think service life is good enough. I personally wouldn’t be shooting a whole lot of .357 Magnum—I’d probably buy the gun whether it was chambered for .357 Magnum or not.

    I’d be careful about buying an old gun just because the new one has a lock. Collectors have seriously depleted the supply of old guns for one thing, and if you don’t know your stuff you could easily end up buying a gun from a time period that serious collectors know to avoid, because that is a lot of what is left out there. Smith quality hasn’t always been what it should, you know—buying a slipshod piece just because it doesn’t have a lock is not a very smart thing to do.

    Today Smith is building great revolvers, and the current production is better than the ones made in the “good old days” in every way except one: guns made back in the day, in particular the 50s and 60s, had awesome metal finishing. Those days are pretty much over… that kind of finishing is practically a lost art. At least with these new Combat Magnums you get the glass bead finish without having to send your gun in to the Performance Center.

    Now, where’s that 629 Combat Magnum?

  22. Would any of you guy’s buy a S&W 357, 4 inch barrel, Stainless Steel 66 that had Arlington Police dept engraved on it? Would an officer give it a heavy diet of 357’s wearing it out? He’s wanting $475.

    August 8, 2014

    • Give it a good looking over. Most LEOs practice and qualify with 38 special or low 357. They may carry antipersonnel loads but only fire on the line of duty. Not a bad price……don’t wait too long if it’s clean. The normal eye won’t see forcing cone damage unless it is severe. Look for gas cutting of the frame above the cylinder gap and for severe burn marks on the front of he cylinder (easier to see on non-blue guns). Holster wear is cosmetic, so that is a personal tolerance thing. I have owned and still own a lot of S&W revolvers. Never had bad one. Many I wish I had back. Gun OCD is a b**ch.

    • Give it a good looking over. Most LEOs practice and qualify with 38 special or low 357. They may carry antipersonnel loads but only fire on the line of duty. Not a bad price……don’t wait too long if it’s clean. The normal eye won’t see forcing cone damage unless It is severe. Look for gas cutting of the frame above the cylinder gap and for severe burn marks on the front of the cylinder (easier to see on non-blue guns). Holster wear is cosmetic, so that is a personal tolerance thing. I have owned and still own a lot of S&W revolvers. Never had a bad one. Many I wish I had back. Gun OCD is a b**ch.

    • Give it a good looking over. Most LEOs practice and qualify with 38 special or low 357. They may carry antipersonnel loads but only fire on the line of duty. Not a bad price……don’t wait too long if it’s clean. The normal eye won’t see forcing cone damage unless It is severe. Look for gas cutting of the frame above the cylinder gap and for severe burn marks on the front of he cylinder (easier to see on non-blue guns). Holster wear is cosmetic, so that is a personal tolerance thing. I have owned and still own a lot of S&W revolvers. Never had a bad one. Many I wish I had back. Gun OCD is a b**ch.

  23. just bought me my first 357 magnum its a 66-5 and I love it although I don’t know how to date
    the gun but I am pretty happy to own it!

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