Before the age of the micro-compact double stack polymer framed 9mm pistol, there was were two elegant, more refined (though lower capacity) options; the Walther PPK and SIG Sauer P230. They were considered by many in the second half of the 20th century to be the classic concealed carry pistols.
These guns are from a (mostly) bygone era when steel and direct blowback meant high end European quality imports from the land of Teutonic engineering wizardry known as West Germany.
There was actually a time when the ideal conceal carry semi-automatic was an all-steel single stack pistol chambered in 9x17mm Kurz, AKA .380 ACP. The round was considered plenty of power in the days before the plastic fantastic lightweight 9x19mm Parabellums of today.
Introduced to the shooting world in 1935 by Carl Walther Waffenfabrik as the Polizeipistole kriminal, the PPK was Walther’s answer to what plain clothes German polizei wanted…a reliable DA/SA compact pistol chambered in a capable cartridge.
These days the .380 ACP is more often looked down upon as having not enough “stopping power.” Back then, however, the .380 FMJ round was viewed as a very viable self defense cartridge.
The pistol was an instant hit, purchased across the world by militaries, police departments, and private citizens. The gun set the standard for what a then-modern concealable pistol should be.
The PPK saw use in WWII by the German Wehrmacht. Later, the post war West German government along with numerous police forces like, for instance, the Kentucky State Police carried the gun as a backup. Even the UK’s Royal Air Force chose it as an official issued pistol for soldiers stationed in Northern Ireland as an off-duty gun during “the troubles.”
After WWII, Walther fled Zella-Mehlis in the state of Thuringia as it fell under Soviet Occupation Zone. The company reestablished itelf in Ulm, located in the state of Baden-Württemberg, in what was then the French Occupation Zone.
That led to an interesting development. Walther was barred by the conditions of the WWII treaties from making weapons in Germany. Since Walther was in the French zone, they struck up a partnership with Manufacture de Machines du Haut-Rhin, also known as Manurhin, the same Manurhin that makes the world famous MR-73 revolver.
As part of the partnership, Manurhin could make Walther firearms for their own markets and for Walther. And that is exactly what happened with this particular Walther PPK.
As a post war gun, it was made by Manurhin in France and then shipped to Walther in Germany for final assembly and proofing. This is the real deal, not a post-1968 imported PPK/S.
This gun was made and imported into the US just prior to passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968 that created the draconian point system that barred high quality pocket guns like FN’s Baby Browning and Walther’s TPH that didn’t qualify with enough “import points.”
The PPK is a 6+1 capacity, DA/SA, direct blowback operated pistol. Takedown is a breeze. Simply unload and remove the magazine, pull down the trigger guard, pull the slide all the way back, lift up, and voilà!
The gun famously starred as the issued pistol for James Bond for the majority of the character’s film history.
The only difference is Bond’s gun was chambered in .32 ACP in the scripts.
The SIG Sauer P230, was developed for West German police contracts after the 1972 Munich massacre. Prior to that, the majority of the police West Germany were armed with .32 ACP pistols like…the Walther PPK and Walther PP. But the police wanted something harder-hitting so SIG Sauer developed the P230 as the answer. Ultimately, it was passed over for a 9x19mm chambered pistol, the SIG P6 (also known as the P225).
Made at SIG’s Eckernförde, Germany plant and introduced to the shooting public in 1977, the P230 saw tremendous sales and popularity. A number of agencies across the globe issued the P230 including the Japanese Prefectural police departments. They issued the P230 as a duty pistol for their cops as did the UK’s Special Air Service (SAS) and a number of agencies in the US and Switzerland.
The P230 was a hit and very popular in the 1980s and up to the mid 1990s as a concealed carry gun. The P230 being held in high regard due to its design, trigger, and ergonomics.
With a 7+1 capacity pistol, the P230 was made in a couple of variations. Most were aluminum framed guns, but SIG made the SL variant with a stainless steel frame. That’s what this one is.
The ergonomics are very good. Takedown for cleaning is easy. Unload the gun and remove the magazine, flick down the lever, pull the slide back all the way and lift off and it is good to go.
Like the Walther PPK, the SIG P230 was used in a number of films and TV shows.
It served as Will Smith’s back up gun in the 1995 film, Bad Boys and and Nicolas Cage’s gun in the 1999 film 8MM.
Both guns have very similar lines, but there are differences. For example, the Walther uses a slide-mounted safety/de-cocker while the SIG has a frame-mounted de-cock only lever.
Both shipped from the factory with stainless finished magazines.
The SIG magazine has witness holes on both sides, while the Walther’s is only on the right side.
The sights on the SIG stand out much better, especially with the dayglo orange paint. The Walther’s sights are still adequate for its intended use.
The SIG is delightful to shoot. I shot both the SIG and the Walther at standard defensive distances of seven yards with Fiocchi 95gr FMJ. The trigger is smooth and while the gun is an unlocked blowback design, it’s very controllable.
The Walther is also plenty accurate, slightly moreso than the SIG. But for some reason, it fails to lock back after the last shot. While you might think the gun is loaded due to the loaded chamber indicator sticking out. With this particular PPK, if you hold the gun a certain way, the indicator pin will pop out freely.
The Walther has a heavier trigger pull weight and recoil is more pronounced due its smaller size. But overall, it is an enjoyable gun to shoot.
Overall, both guns are excellent shooters, even in today’s world. They’re still very viable carry pieces even though there are “better” options available now. The SIG P230 was replaced in the 1990s by the P232 and that model has since also gone to the great shooting range in the sky since SIG Sauer has outright ceased production of all guns in Eckernförde. SIG is now strictly making guns in the US of A and the P232 didn’t make the trip.
Walther is still making the PPK at their production plant in Fort Smith, Arkansas so you can still get a new production Walther. But if you want the svelte SIG, your only option is on the used market.
Luis Valdes is the Florida Director for Gun Owners of America.