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The Smith & Wesson Model 5903 SSV is a rare bird for sure, and now I have one thanks to a very special donation by a person who wishes to remain anonymous. First and for most, you know who you are. Thank you very much for allowing me to own one of the rarer S&W Third Gen Automatics.

So what exactly is a Model 5903 SSV, you ask? It’s a traditional 9mm S&W Third Generation semi-automatic with a few differences from the normal run-of-the-mill guns. The fabled S&W “Wiz Wheel” can’t event describe it.

The “Wiz Wheel” was Big Blue’s answer to the confusing model numbers for all their Third Generation Automatics.

The 5903 SSV was a one-off product made in 1990 and released in 1991 by the now defunct Lew Horton Distributing Co. of Westborough Massachusetts. S&W was transitioning from the first production design of their guns to what would be their mainstay layout for the Third Generation.

The original frame design of the Third Generation semi-automatic pistols had a hooked combat trigger guard and Big Blue was moving to a rounded trigger guard.

The original frame design with the hooked combat trigger guard.

So they had first production run frames just lying around. Smith, being the company that they are, wouldn’t just junk them. S&W has a history of using older parts and frames to make one-offs and that exactly what they did. They took those first production run frames and made something special.

The original dealer sales flyer.

SSV stands for Short Slide Variation. S&W took the compact 6904 slide and barrel and slapped it on the 5903 frame. The 5903, being the full-size aluminum framed 9mm duty gun, meant it was already a light weight gun. But by adding the 6904 upper, they trimmed the weight a little more and instead of it having a 4″ barrel, it had a 3.5″ barrel.

So in essence, Smith & Wesson made a Commander variant of their tried and true 9mm duty guns. Or for you younger shooters out there who aren’t 1911 aficionados, S&W made their own version of the GLOCK 19X and GLOCK 45.

My 5903 SSV has a set of replacement Hogue Grips and I use the 17rd Mec-Gar magazines for it. But it shipped from the factory with 15rd magazines and wore the “straight back” one piece wrap-around plastic grip.

Another touch they gave the gun was a bobbed hammer instead of a spurred version. Also they used a stainless decocker/safety lever to give it a two-tone look and they shaved down and thinned the slide stop lever, too.

The sights are the ever-classic 3-Dot Novaks…rugged, reliable, and slick. They’re far better than what S&W originally used when they first came out with the Third Generation line.

Smith only made 1,500 of these. Along with the 5903 SSV, they made a double action only version, the 5943 SSV. They made just over 3,200 of those. But the 5903 SSV is a traditional double/single action gun. The pistol has a long DA pull for the first shot and then a short, crisp SA pull from there.

Size wise, the 5903 SSV and a traditional Third Generation Compact like the 6906 aren’t that different.

Notice the round trigger guard versus the hooked combat trigger guard.

The guns both weigh in about the same. The length of barrel is the same and even the grip length is the same due to the pinky extension on the magazine. But the main difference is magazine capacity. The 6906 can take a regular full-size mag. But their specific mags are limited to 12 rounds while the original magazine for the 5903 was 15 rounds.

Like I said, I use the Mec-Gar 17-round mags for my gun, but the 6906 is easier to conceal if you use a flush base plate on the 12-rd magazine.

If you have a compact gun like my 6906 and want to know what it’s like shooting the 5903 SSV. You can always get Grip Plus 2 magazine adapter from Precision Gun Specialties. It gives you a full grip when using the full size magazines in the compact guns.

What makes this gun special is the little “SSV” marking on the gun, because nothing stops you from buying a regular 5903 and getting a surplused 6906 or 6904 upper and making your own. I know on the various Smith & Wesson forums, folks have done exactly that. But the fact that this gun was a factory build from S&W with that little marking is what sets it apart.

All in all, the 5903 SSV is a gun for the hardcore S&W fan or someone who wants something different, but reliable. They’re great carry guns since they have the shorter barrel and slide but you still get the full-length grip. The weight isn’t bad either due to the aluminum frame so they’re easier to carry in a good OWB holster and belt.

Only 1,500 of these were made in 1990 and released in 1991. How many of them still exist? Who knows? All I know is I have one.



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  1. I’m still annoyed that I missed out on police trade in S&W metal frames when they could be had for $299. Alas I was in college and broke.

  2. I’m a fan! So far I’ve stacked up a few 3rd gens. Added a Marlin Camp 9 to partner with those full size 9mm pistols a while back, too. I’m looking for a 4506 eventually and 1006 “some day.” Now I need to add a 5903 to the “want” list!

  3. This is similar to Inrange/forgotten weapons when they explain people have emotional attachments to obsolete or at least obsolescent designs or firearms. A modern $500 rifle from a sporting good store can generally shoot a much better group than a celebrated WW2 rifle. This isn’t to say that collecting things isn’t fun and interesting, but it is important to keep it all in perspective when you compare old to new in the firearms industry. Ive never shot the pistol in the article but I’ve shot some of the gen 1 smiths and with what is available now you would be insane to try to compare the two.

  4. Back in the day… I had what ever the number is, a 5906 but with an aluminum frame. Too bad it’s long gone… but… I kept a 645 and a 1006. So all is well. 🙂

  5. I have a slew of S&W third generation pistols. Prepaid the two most interesting are the CS-45 and the 1006 which once belonged to an FBI agent who had to trade it in for a .45 because he was to limp wristed to control the recoil.

    I am a great fan of the safety/decocking lever that so many TactiCoolFools loath.


  7. Are these the precursor to the 3913? Or after them?!? My buddy has one and while it shoots ok it’s got an INSANE takedown and hard to reassemble. Anywho my 70 year friend is buying a Radical Firearms AR15 today. Got the AR bug and has $. And no ammo. Just in time for the apocalypse😖

  8. It is good to have adult sons. My oldest gave me a set of SSV’s. The 5903 and 5943 with both in relatively good condition.

  9. Ugly sum itch. “Morphodite”! LOL

    S&W has always been one to use existing parts – especially post WWII.

    1990-91 was also the time they made the 042. They had resurrected the Centennial line with the 640 in all stainless steel. Rated for +P+, its a great gun.

    Next they brought the 642 with airweight frame and stainless cylinder. They had some aluminum frames that did not look right with anodized finish. So they “blued” the frame and added a blued barrel and cylinder to make a model 42. Since the frames had already been marked 642, they altered it to 042.

    Seems like there were 500 or so made. I owe mine to a friend with a gunshop who called and said “got something weird in the S&W catalog that you may like”.

    My carry gun for almost 20 years. Cool stuff.

  10. Those pistols do have very clean and classic lines. I sold a 6906 years ago to finance other gun purchases, and sometimes miss it. I did well during a couple of high-round-count classes that I attended, but I switched over to the 1911 platform, and later to other striker-fired platforms.

    One thing I’ve always thought a little funny about these hybrid “carry” variants. They shorten the barrel – which is generally not the problem to conceal – and extend the grip length, which is the part that is harder to keep from printing. I never really have had any printing issues with a full sized 1911 or compact double-stacked .45 or 9mm pistols, and I’m not that big of a guy. Why reduce the sight radius and muzzle velocity when it doesn’t really affect the concealability of the gun?

    • I’ve always wondered the SAME thing, but then I really DO understand their rationale. It’s just not MY way of looking at it. If they only want to trim the fat in one direction they would rather give up performance and sight radius than rounds of ammo.

  11. I have carried a 6906 almost daily since the late 80s, for work and play. Light, easy to carry and has no reliability problems with any ammo.

    The third generation S&Ws were developed with input from Wayne Novak, right here in West Virginia. Over the years he has offered several different improvement packages for these pistols.

    I’ve also had two different 1006 10mm, nice but a bit light for the recoil.

    My first S&W 9mm was a mod 59 I bought in 1978, one of the first double stack American ‘wonder9s’.

    • Who cares. Pure bs, mommy wouldn’t even let you have a bb gun or even a slingshot. Probably still use blunt scissors. Don’t eat the paste.

      • Actually I do have a slingshot, with surgical tubing bands as well as a red Ryder BB gun.

        A simple wrist rocket can be amazingly effective using marbles.

  12. I don’t have one, but since I have several 3rd gens of different shapes and sizes I can make one whenever I want. The same way I can make a long slide variant. 3rd Gens are very interchangeable and Smith rarely gets the credit they deserve for producing guns ahead of their time.

  13. I owned a 5906, and in a fit of momentary stupidity sold it. I’ve sold and traded a lot of guns over the last 40+ years. Most I couldn’t get rid of fast enough, and a very few make the Regrets List. That 5906 is one of 5 or 6 I wish I’d kept.
    When all the Police Trade Ins were happening, I missed out as I was broke than the 10 Commandments right then.

  14. I got into 3rd Gen pistols a few years back. Have a 5926, 4026, 1026 and 1076. Have looked for a 4576 with any luck. Hopefully I’ll come across one.

  15. Congrats on the 5903 SSV, it’s a fine looking piece. I bought two new from LGS in 91′, one was stolen along with Mac-10 and never recovered. The other I still have but it has never been fired.

  16. I’ve had one in the safe for 29 years. Would like to know what it’s worth?

    Its a great pistol a dear friend told me I had to buy from him and hang on to. He passed soon after. I think of him every time it gets cleaned. I only fired 50 rounds when I first got it. Very sweet setup.

    Thanks for the article I enjoyed it.


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