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: 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?
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.
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!
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.