Walther P5
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Last month we brought you the Heckler & Koch P7 which Jeremy believes is the best pistol ever made in the history of the world. Now here’s a look at a dearly departed contemporary of the P7, the Walther P5.

Born of the same German government request for a modern pistol, the Walther P5 represents the end of the line for the legendary WWII-era P38 and included innovations that, for some reason, the firearms industry decided not to stick with. We’ll go down the list from most to least obvious.

An abbreviated video of the pistol can be seen here. Here’s a full, in-depth tabletop look at the Walther . . .

In a nutshell 

The Walther P5 is an aluminum-framed, single-stack, 9mm, double-action/single-action pistol with a de-cocker. It was introduced in 1977 and produced until 1993 and has a host of features and designs cues not seen elsewhere since. I’d like to hear from you all why you think these features didn’t stick around.

Left side eject and non-tilting barrel of the Walther P5

Left-side Eject: The most obvious Walther P5 feature is the ejection port is on the “wrong” side. Although my example has yet to malfunction at all, I imagine this would make identifying the malfunction much easier for right-handed shooters. I wondered if there would be any issues from the ejected brass being distracting or coming back at the shooter, but I didn’t experience that through more than a dozen different types of ammo.

So if that’s not a risk, why not have an ejection port where most shooters can more easily see what’s going on with the gun?

The slide release and decocker are the same lever. Magazine release is in the heel of the grip.

Integrated Slide Release and Decocker: Aside from the Arex Zero1 and Zero 2S models, I haven’t seen other Western manufacturers attempt this. (Yes, the NB Inat evolutions of Zastava evolutions of SIG do this, too.) This feature allows all the controls one might need, but saves weight and precious real estate by combining both functions into one lever.

Is there a risk of accidentally de-cocking the Walther P5 when only intending to release the slide? Nope, it’s not possible, I’ve tried. When using the lever as a slide release it comes to a hard mechanical stop. To de-cock you need to release pressure for a moment, then sweep down again.

The Walther P5’s recoil assembly are smaller springs hidden beneath the rails. Firing pin safety pocket also visible on the hammer.

Dual, Side-mounted Recoil Springs: By placing the recoil assembly above the rails and at the rear of the gun much space is freed up on the front of the gun for a slimmer profile. This also moves that weight rearward for a slight reduction in nose heft. Running two smaller recoil assemblies instead of one larger one also permits them to be smaller. Wear is even as one tires the other picks up additional load. I have no idea how many rounds my example has seen, but it still runs great!

The Walther P5’s firing pin rests out of alignment with the hammer. Only when the trigger is pulled does it lift into alignment.

Tilting Firing Pin: I’m can only recall one other company doing this, and I don’t think they’ll ever go mainstream. The Walther P5’s firing pin rest out of alignment with the hammer. The firing pin tilts downward to meet up with a pocket in the hammer. This makes the gun more drop safe, and also prevents de-cocking from firing a round. The firing pin only lifts up into position when the trigger is pulled. I wish I was tech-savvy enough to make a .gif of it, for now you’ll just have to see it in the tabletop video.

Non-Tilting Barrel: The Walther P5’s action is familiar for those who know the Beretta 92 series of pistols. It’s a short-recoil operation in which the slide and barrel move rearward together under recoil until a locking block falls out of the way, halting the barrel, and permitting the slide to continue movement rearward. As a result the barrel needs almost no feed ramp as the magazine presents rounds almost perfectly into the chamber. In today’s trend of “low bore axis” this seems like a perfect candidate! The mechanism looks nearly identical to the Beretta 92. Were it to be modernized like the Archon Type B it could be even smaller and lighter.

How does it shoot? I subjected the uncommon historical Walther P5  to the same examination process I do ever pistol: Testing cold shot impressions, full magazine +1 ability, tolerance for 10 different loads of ammunition, and practical accuracy.  The results can be seen in the Shooting Impressions video:

So why don’t we see guns like this anymore? I’d love this design with a 4.5″ barrel and a double-stack magazine. Unfortunately I think we’re victims of our own market. Most Americans have come to accept a $500 price range for a quality, polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol. That leaves a lot of margin for the manufacturer (few parts, plastic frame).

For a manufacturer to CNC steel and aluminum for a gun like this, and all the parts that go into a more complicated set of controls a pistol like this would likely be priced above $1000.  Sure there are plenty of guns in that price range, but they’re low-volume guns. Given that the aforementioned simple guns sell for around $500 a modern make of the Walther P5 is likely to be priced too high for the market to accept.

As a gun nerd I might be convinced to accept such a price, how about you? Wouldn’t it be great if the TTAG crowd made enough noise to revive such an innovative design? Let us know in the comment section if you’d be interested in seeing a revival of the P5 or at least some of these design features.

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37 COMMENTS

  1. Looks kinda like my PPK. (Well, duh!)

    “So why don’t we see guns like this anymore? I’d love this design with a 4.5″ barrel and a double-stack magazine.”

    You just described the hottest market class of concealed carry weapons today, albeit most with a polymer frame. I don’t see much interest in “yet another” pistol in this class, especially if it couldn’t be produced at a similar price point.

  2. Plastic, striker fired double stack 9mm’s are the worlds pistol now. 500 bucks give or take a little is the going market price.

    I spent nearly a grand on my last handgun purchase. A revolver. But most new buyers are not as likely to be POTG. At least not at first. They just want simple and reliable and the plastic market has them covered.

  3. A nod to the author. An interesting read. I remember this pistol. I never shot, or even handled one. I do remember thinking at the time it sounded a bit complicated for my taste. But I do really like vintage Walthers.

  4. The little P365 I’m wearing right now is more compact, holds more rounds and fits my hands far better than any of the little Walthers I own or have shot, is completely reliable with defensive HP ammo, and cost less.

    • Craig, everything you said is exactly correct. But, you have to admit, a vintage blue Walther PPK, or even a PPK/s is a much more stylish pistol. I probably wouldn’t carry another one today, but I wish I still owned one.

      • Until you own, shot any carry one, you have no idea what you are missing. Paid 2k for mine in the compact version. I own many pistols and have carried and trained with most of them. The P5 is simply safer, more reliable, more intuitive and more accurate than any striker-fired polymer SA pistol in the $500 American price point. End of discussion … because, again, you simply can’t know because you don’t own one, nor have you trained with one. And with Speer G2 147 gr. ammo the P5C is THE perfect CC pistol.

    • Sure, and my FN509 Compact is MUCH more compact, holds more rounds, fits my hand better than my Colt Army Model 1860 with matching original shoulder stock, and is completely reliable with defensive HP ammo, and costs less.

      Lol, I can’t tell anymore if I’m flexing with my collection or my argument. The classic hand finished wood and steel will always have a greater appeal than a modern soulless plastic

    • I carried my PPK/S for 25+ years. With my meat hooks, I had to slide two of the Hogue rubber sleeves to get a good grip, and it worked. The only reason it was retired to range baby status was because of the sights. My aging eyes had issues in low light drills. Still one of the most accurate pistols in my modest collection. Across a rest, <1" groups at 25 feet.

    • It is more than a curio, it works. Guns don’t have to be pretty, the function is what counts. If it can be carried and doesn’t snag in the holster, goes bang all the time with no misfires, is accurate, and does not make my pants fall down, it can be beautiful.

  5. Like a PPK and a P38 made an ugly baby. Still, I kinda want one. It’s nice that it’s chambered in 9MM and I have a fondness for Cold War era firearms.

  6. By placing the recoil assembly above the rails and at the rear of the gun much space is freed up on the front of the gun for a slimmer profile.

    “Slimmer” – LOL! I don’t have a P5 in front of me, but the very similar P-38 slide makes my Witness Hunter slide look positively anorexic. A pistol that answers “Which is more important – capacity, or slenderness and concealability?” with “The absolute worst of both worlds!” Who could discard such greatness?

    • Yes, the P38 slide is quite fat- most likely to accommodate the side protrusions on the locking block. Likewise the Beretta 92.

      There might be the potential to make a slimmer gun with this recoil spring setup if the falling block lockup was eliminated.

      • But why? Spring(s) under the barrel use volume already occupied by other parts. The dual springs, like the disappearing firing pin, are “clever solutions” to complete non-issues.

        Excellent comparison with the Beretta, though. I’m a huge believer in proportionality and have always thought a 1911 is the right size for a .45, a G19 or EMP for 9mm, and an M9 for a box of Frosted Flakes.

    • Did the photos not load for you? By not housing the recoil assembly in the dust cover it’s considerably slimmer.

      • The photos loaded just fine, and I watched both videos. As I noted in my response to “Name”, I believe strongly in proportionality, and that depends on optimal use of areas already occupied by other parts.

        Given that the dust cover doesn’t impact any real dimensions of the pistol, and the slide dictates the dimensions of the whole top area, how does shrinking the dust cover (by making the slide 3/8″ thicker than required for a safe and effective 9mm) benefit anything? In what situation, mission, body build, clothing type, etc. would a P5 be effectively slimmer than e.g. a P365 in any meaningful way?

        Despite my disagreement here, and the snarky way I expressed it, I really do appreciate your format / approach, and thoroughly enjoy your reviews.

  7. The real reason nobody remembers the P5: It appeared in BOTH Never Say Never Again and Octopussy at release, but neither film bothered to pay much attention to it (unlike the P99, where Bond explicitly identifies it when he grabs it from an arms catch and express having wanted it) and it looked like a PPK from a distance so people didn’t realize the change.

    • The P88 was a work in progress, and much larger then it needed to be.
      The P88Compact was the final evolution of the P88 design, is called ‘Compact’, yet is hardly small. Only .2″ shorter barrel and one fewer round. The P88Compact is similar in size to a PPQ 45.

  8. I’m a huge fan of the P5. I own seven examples, even imported a few from Germany a few years back.
    The Unicorn of my collection is a rare P5 Lang, has a 6″ barrel. Walther produced under 70 complete P5 Lang handguns.

    Two of the factory test targets that came with my P5s have 8 rounds in a sub 1″ group fired by hand (bench rested) @ 25 meters.

  9. Well; the market’s spoken on these pistols already – prices are easily north of $1,000 for used examples, sometimes double that for nice ones.

    • The market spoke of the P5 Lang (6″ barrel) value in 2019

      Two examples came up on GunBroker that year. The used example exceeded $8.5k, the NIB example almost hit $9.5k.

  10. quote————Integrated Slide Release and Decocker: Aside from the Arex Zero1 and Zero 2S models, I haven’t seen other Western manufacturers attempt this.———quote

    Wrong. The Czech (CZ99) incorporated this feature. I know, I own one.

    Now on to the Walther P5. The author failed to mention they also made a very rare and short lived Walther P5 Compact model.

    The P5 was an update on the P38 pistol. They did away with the P38’s troublesome stamped sheet metal top cover that often blew right off the top of the pistol when hot loads were used.

    The P5 incorporated a newly designed extractor that did not blow out the side of the gun like the P38 extractor often does when hot loads are used.

    The barrel of the P5 has a stabilizer lug located under the front of the barrel to help improve accuracy which was never a shining aspect of the P38.

    The P5 had very wide combat sights that were great for close range combat but very poor for target grade accuracy.

    The P5 had a gritty trigger pull but was manageable.

    The main marketing failure of the P5 was that Walther was too dumb to make the pistol into a 15 shot gun with a double stack magazine. They chose to stick with the low capacity Walther P38 style single column magazine although they do not interchange even though they do look somewhat similar.

    The thick slide which is necessary to accommodate the P38 style locking block makes this pistol less concealable than say the Glock 19.

    Accuracy was not bad with this gun but not spectacular either.

    These gun never were cheap even when they were making them. I bought one at a gun show after literally hundreds of people looked at it and said “I would like to own that gun but I am too cheap and stingy to pay the money”. Now they are all crying the blues that they did not buy it when the price was more reasonable than the out of this world collector prices they are bringing now.

    If we had some marketing executives that did not have their head up their ass this gun could be produced today and probably for way less than some of the prices they get for 1911 guns. No, the Germans could not make it at a reasonable price but a lot of other countries could like say Turkey.

    • You just detailed your own criticisms of the P5’s sights, trigger, magazine capacity, bulky slide, and accuracy – all of which sound reasonable. How are people who chose instead to buy modern, less-expensive pistols with few/none of those drawbacks “cheap and stingy”?

      • The answer to your question is multifold.

        Unless you actually owned one many of the problems I mentioned you would not be aware of till you owned one. And I might mention no weapon is perfect, none, I could even critique the much worshiped 1911 to the point where if a person who never owned one was thinking of buying one the person would be probably be talked out of buying one if I emphasized its problems rather than its virtues. The same is true of the P5.

        Also there is the prestige of owning a Walther. Its called snob appeal.

        And there is the investment potential. I have never known any of the old fashioned steel, real pistols not to rise dramatically in value. Not true of course for the junk Walther is making today and that includes the present made American made PPK/s guns. Real steel is not junk castings

        I might add that if the P5 held 15 rounds like the Glock 19 I would be carrying a P5. I never said I hated the gun or that I would not carry it if I had to even with the low magazine capacity.

        • “You don’t know until you try” statements are valid only for mindless, unthinking animals. Rational humans are capable of research, interpolation, extrapolation, and countless other means of knowing facts and procedures without putting hands on.

          It is often useful to frame a decision in terms of tradeoffs. In a true tradeoff, either answer could be valid for a particular situation or individual. For instance, as I noted above: there are some situations where a large, high-capacity sidearm would be preferable, and others where a small concealable one would be more suitable, even if it held fewer rounds. Framing problems this way also throws into sharper contrast options where sacrificing on one side does not produce the anticipated offsetting advantage on the other. A brick-thick 8rd 9mm is a perfect example of such a Wrong Answer, which requires zero hands-on experience to discover.

          Rejection of “snob appeal” (superficial vanity) is not “cheap and stingy”; it’s rational.

  11. I didn’t see anyone else mention the single biggest ‘killer’ (IMHO)- the magazine release is in the ‘wrong’ place. That can be overcome by training though. But add that to the single stack magazine and that was likely why this one never quite made it. If someone has one that they would like to donate to a needy person I’ll take it off their hands 😉

  12. The Legends of Runeterra Apk is a quick win for me. When I first played this game I was impressed with its appearance and interface. The entire concept behind the game was extremely interesting for me, as it was about creating an imaginary kingdom with champions and advancing your characters to get access up to the level above. There are also a variety of difficulties while playing the game.

  13. Reply to “Ummm”

    In my former profession there were two sayings whenever someone like you opened their mouth …

    “There is no substitute for experience.”

    And …

    “Ego eats brain.”

  14. The P5 had very wide combat sights that were great for close range combat but very poor for target grade accuracy.

    The P5 had a gritty trigger pull but was manageable

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