P35. M1935. Hi-Power or High Power. Grand Puissance. M647(b). It's been known by a number of names, and that doesn't even include the clones of which there have been more than a few. At one time we had several members who were fans of what has often been rather erroneously called John Browning's last masterpiece. I say erroneously because as many of you know the P35 design was started out by Browning but he passed away before it came anything close to completion. It was taken through development and to completion by Dieudonné Joseph Saive, a highly gifted designer in his own right who worked under John Browning in the early days and later was to create such masterpieces as the SAFN (FN49) and FAL rifles.
It doesn't seem the P35 is a popular pistol in this forum, nor perhaps anywhere these last ten years or so. The Browning Company practically ceased importation for a while then steadied off by importing it in minimal numbers. Their sister company, FNH of McLean, Virginia has also imported the same pistol save for identification stamps, both made in Belgium by their parent company, FN. For a while in the 1990s both the licensed Argentine clones and the unlicensed Hungarian clones were popular but I haven't seen one in a store for many years. Former importer KBI (now called Charles Daly) of the Hungarian FEG pistols began selling the pistol under their own name as the Charles Daly but this pistol is no longer shown on their web site and I believe its gone. (Update, 2010: Charles Daly has now gone out of business.) I think it was imported as parts from Hungary and assembled here and probably was too expensive to survive. FEGs sold for $200 wholesale ten years ago and were easily worth twice that in terms of quality.
It seems the only single action pistol to remain universally desirable today is the Government Model pistol. It's somewhat ironic that the older of the two pistols is the one that has flourished but I might suggest that the Government Model has done so because it is primarily a .45 caliber pistol and Americans love .45 caliber pistols. That's not a fresh observation but that makes it no less true. And it doesn't mean the 9mm Parabellum, the P35's traditional chambering, is unpopular, but for whatever reason the 9mm seems to be more popular with pistol buyers who don't necessarily care terribly much about traditional guns or cartridges and are as happy with something, usually very modern, with no history to it. Several years ago I thought the chambering of the Browning Hi-Power in .40S&W was a marriage made in heaven but it didn't take long for me to move past that relationship and I don't even own a .40 caliber version any more, much less use P-35 for anything serious. Apparently not too many other people do either. The Hungarian FEG company also made some of their P35-style pistols in .40 because some were surplussed and sold in the USA a few years ago. I believe they were advertised as former Lithuanian police pistols but don't quote me.
It is debatable--because everything is debatable--that the P35 is a better pistol than the Government Model. If you are interested in the mechanical aspects of this debate and haven't already read it, I wrote an essay on this several years ago which can also be found in this area of the forum, specifically here. Note I don't say that the P35 is a better pistol. If you want to debate though, pick your side and I'll take the other side. That's my way of saying that both pistols have good points, although in different areas.
Frankly, I believe the design of the P35 is clearly more modern and is sturdier in most ways. Where the P35 falls short is the trigger design as the Government Model trigger is simply far better in every way. It is easier to set up and it is easier and faster to shoot. A properly set up P35 trigger will probably last longer but that is an empty sort of claim as both will last longer than our ammo budget. And because the Government Model is ten thousand times more popular we have found ways to deal with the supposed shortcomings. There is really nothing the P35 has over the Government Model as an all-around, heavy duty service pistol. And one other major benefit of the Government Model and its .45ACP chambering is that it will last forever due to the low pressure of the .45 caliber cartridge. The 9mmP is a high pressure round. And the .40 caliber versions of the Hi-Power took so long to hit the market in the 1990s precisely because FN apparently knew better than anyone that you do not simply cram a .40 caliber cartridge the same pressure as the 9mmP into a pistol never designed for it and expect it to last. You will note you don't hear about "Hi-Power Ka-BOOMs?" There is probably no better redesigned forty caliber pistol, although it took FN about a half dozen years and the minor ignominy of being last out with a forty version of their nine mil pistol. Water under the bridge, though.
If you have never shot a P35 for whatever reason it really isn't something you should miss if you enjoy shooting handguns in general. The shape of the grip frame is such that most people find it very comfortable in the hand. An all-steel handgun chambered in 9mm recoil means is very mild. As this pistol dates back to 1929, there are all kinds of pistols floating around out there from older commercial models to WWII military models to various other surplus pistols. Modern pistols are the best of the bunch. They are the best made, have the best sights, best triggers, and should prove to be the most reliable. P35s are a lot like many pistols that have been around seemingly forever, including the Government Model. You cannot shoot one and think you have experienced the genre. You wouldn't shoot a well worn Argentine surplus M1927 and then think you'd experience nothing different by shooting a Les Baer 1911. In the same way you shouldn't shoot a John Inglis that went to China and think it is the same experience as a new Browning Hi-Power. I guess I'm saying...shoot them all. (11 July 09)