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The “Gen-2″ .380 Hellcat

The “Gen-2″ .380 Hellcat
Pistol By I.O. Inc. A Half-Pint Pocket Pal.

I don’t like teensy-tiny micro-mini pocket pistols, period. They try to squirt outta my oversized mitts like crazed goldfish. Their sights are generally minuscule and atrocious, more pro forma than professional. These little 91/2-ounce party-poppers are so light that in some garments I hardly know they’re there, and my heavy-gun heart misses the comforting heft that whispers “Ordnance on board, buddy!” Ain’t none of ’em pleasant to shoot, and the .380 ACP cartridge itself? It doesn’t inspire much fight-stopping confidence …

So why do I now carry one — sometimes two — of these party favors all the time? Because I drift back into reality, and realize what they’re for, and what they can realistically do. In those rare situations where you can’t carry even compact cannons, you can conceal one of these with ease. If your regular Roscoe has run dry and you’re surrounded by empty mags and piles of hot brass, they’ll give you another spin of the big Wheel-O’-Fortune.

The Hellcat Reborn

Why review “just another (yawn) teensy pocket pistol”? Three reasons: Uli, Improved and Money. I’ve known Uli Wiegand, the honcho at I.O. Inc. for 5 years. He has tirelessly pursued his dream of producing 100 percent made-in-USA guns, and as he says, “Keeping the jobs, the factories and all the profits right here in America!” After years of incorporating imported parts while building a factory in North Carolina, he has achieved that goal with his AKs, and the Hellcat .380 was his first all-American pistol. While some native-born Americans are “going off-shore” with their business, this “Euro-imported” guy proudly builds in the USA.

The “Gen-1” Hellcat .380 was serviceable; a decent pistol. Then Uli did something unusual. He gathered up all the consumer comments, hired a high-priced mechanical engineer and said “Make it so.” The trigger mechanism, extractor and barrel were redesigned for smoother pull and greater reliability, and all tolerances retuned; the slide was re-dimensioned to produce a better sight plane and its mass rebalanced; magazines were upgraded and a pinky support added. The new Gen-2 Hellcat is topped off with much better sights, including a fluorescent-dot front sight, and a lifetime warranty. Finally, he kept the price rock-bottom, listed to retail at $239.95.

The Hellcat employs CNC-machined solid billets, not castings, and a polymer frame with a slightly larger triggerguard than some competitors. It’s a bit wider at the web of the hand, which mitigates recoil. Action is DA only, and there’s no external safety or slide-locking lever.

They’re not needed, and their absence contributes to a snag-free profile. It’s a hammer-fired design, and the hammer is hidden, recessed in the frame.

Temperament & Targets

After break-in, the new Hellcat proved reliable, performing best with premium ammo on the warm side, like Winchester’s Supreme Elite PDX1. During testing I shot mostly at 7 yards, 1-handed, right and left, simply bringing the pistol up, getting a quick or flash sight picture on the first round and flash sight pictures or just sighting down the sight plane on succeeding shots. Other times I just shoved out my fist while keeping eyes on-target and shot the pistols dry. Since .380 pocket autos are decidedly not target pistols, I’ve tested them under what I’d call “optimum gunfight conditions.” Realistically, engagement conditions would be closer, faster and darker. I was getting 7-shot groups running 1.5″ by 1.75″ in silhouette targets.

I’ve shot five different makes of .380 micros in the past few months and haven’t found any that didn’t need break-in. The Hellcat smoothed out with zero malf’s after about 40 rounds. There were seven or eight failures to extract and failures to feed, almost all within the first 21 rounds.

Tips: Above all, if, like me, you’re not experienced with teensy-tiny pistols, practice getting them out and safely into action — a lot — with an unloaded piece. Their sheer lack of size and weight can make them dangerous to control. Use a good pocket holster, and don’t carry anything else in that pocket. Lube well during break-in, then much less. Use a firm grip and straight hold, rolling the trigger like a DA revolver, and don’t try to over-control the trigger and stage shots. Shoot it like what it is; a last-ditch tool for fast, close shooting, and the Hellcat .380 will do the job for you.
By John Connor

For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/io-inc or (866) 882-1479

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July/August 2012

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  1. John,

    Thanks very much for taking a close look at the Hellcat .380 II. We are, of course, very proud of it and of manufacturing every single part of it right here in the USA. In fact, for the parts the we manufacture in-house, even the machining tools we use are made in America.

    For more info and to keep up with all new developments for the Hellcat .380 II, you should click here (http://Hellcat380.com).

    Thanks again.

    Uli

    Uli Wiegand (http://UliWiegand.com)
    President
    I.O., Inc.
    3305 Westwood Industrial Dr.
    Monroe, NC 28110

    P.S. Questions about the Hellcat .380 or any of our other products? Please let me know. To email me personally, you should click here ( http://ulrichhwiegand.com/contact-uli/).

  2. Chris Chung says:

    In March I bought a Hellcat as a backup for my Glock 19 since the price was right, it was American made, and the Hellcat was the perfect size. Well, I guess you get what you pay for. The Hellcat is a kitten and the most unreliable weapon I have ever used, and I would not trust it in an emergency.

    On the range I could not get more than 2 – 3 shots off before it would FTE—and it wasn’t cause by limp wristing. My range master even tried to fire it, and had the same FTE problems. When our small arms armor tested it and had a jam after every single mag change, he finally gave up and said (in his exact words): “Throw it away. You’re OC spray is more effective than this POS.”

    I did contact I.O. about the problem. And they did eventually “fix” things, but that was after a month and a half of being jerked around. I left four phone messages that were never returned, I sent three emails that were ignored until the third time, and when I finally got my Hellcat back from repairs, the alleged free repairs actually cost me $25.00 and it was just the gun in the box without any explanation as to what was done. I had to call them and request the engineer’s log so I could find out what was repaired. (New slide, new barrel, new mag.) I also requested a compensary spare mag (my Hellcat did not include the second mag or holster) since it was the same price as the not-so-free repairs. I was denied, but told I could always buy a spare at Royal Tiger Imports. Umm yeah, that wasn’t the point… So on top of crappy customer service, I had to pay them for fixing a mistake I didn’t make—except perhaps buying the Hellcat.

    When I tested it out, there was a marked improvement, but I still had two FTEs during 50 rounds. That sucked, but it was at least better than not being able to empty one mag without a jam. So much for American craftsmanship. :(

  3. I just purchased the Hellcat 380 and have to admit I was surprised. I have several Colt’s and a couple of Glocks but wanted a small summer carry gun. This seemed to be the perfect size and the the fit was great. Compared to the Ruger LCP, the sights and grip feel was much better. The trigger is excellent for a long pull trigger.

    I cleaned and oiled the gun before I took it out. Set-up at 7 yards and started shooting. After 100 rounds I had no failure to feeds or fire with the gun. The accuracy is good and the recoil is about nothing (compared to a Colt Defender).

    I couldn’t be happier with this little pistol.

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