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.
The 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.