Legend Reborn: Springfield Armory SA-35 Hi-Power

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Springfield announced their Hi-Power surprise, the SA-35, on October 25th 2021 — causing the Internet to break. I know, I know … people say that about cat videos and babies and dogs. But in this case, the net exploded with images, reviews, history, photos, emails, blogs, forum postings and videos. In my 40-odd years in the industry I honestly don’t think I’ve seen such a fuss. All this for an 88-year-old design that obviously still tugs at heartstrings everywhere.

The best part of all is the fact the SA-35 deserves every moment of attention. It’s obvious Springfield took their time on this one and it shows in the attention to fit, detail, quality of construction and frankly, somehow capturing the history and charm of what the original design has stood for over the decades.

In short, Springfield Armory nailed it.

A Personal Perspective

So why do I care? In 1975 I bought an unfired Hi-Power from a fire fighter for $175, a huge amount of money for me then. I had a Series 70 Colt 1911, but was instantly struck by the slender seriousness of that shiny, high-polished blued Hi-Power. The diminutive sights, impossible to operate external thumb safety and gritty trigger caused me frustration, but I could see in the bones it was a brilliant design. At the time there were no custom parts for the gun so alas, I sold it — to my constant regret over these many years.

By the mid-1980s, I had discovered the MKII Model with ambi-safety, 3-dot sights and a throated barrel. I was on our informal police department action pistol team then (The Border Bandits, courtesy of our policing the San Diego/Mexico border) and together, we pretty much beat everyone, including some wins in the police Olympics. Mostly because, I think, we showed up regularly and didn’t know any better other than to try. Guess what rode in my custom holster?

I found the Hi-Power simply fit my hand better, held more ammo and the lower recoil of the 9mm allowed me to shoot fast and accurately. I had learned how to tune the trigger by then, had tossed the magazine disconnect feature away and for about 10 years I lived and breathed Hi-Power. In about 1994 or so, when I was invited for a look at the then-new Thunder Ranch in Texas, that Hi-Power came with me, along with a spare one, which, by the way, I never needed.

Other class members that trip shuffled their feet, averting their gaze. They wouldn’t exactly look at my Hi-Power in that bastion of the 1911. But after the first day, they wanted to learn more about just why it seemed to hit so well, never malfunctioned and how I handled it so easily. I showed them, making some converts in the process I think. I’ve enjoyed the design ever since, have never been without Hi-Powers, and welcomed Springfield’s SA-35 with huge grins when I heard it was approaching.

Chronicles

I think it’s unfair to talk about the resurrection of a classic design without paying due respect to the history involved. There are, literally, millions of new shooters over the past few years so a peek back is appropriate to help them see how we got here.

Call it 1922 or so and the French called for a new military pistol meeting certain design criteria. Among them were a magazine capacity of at least 10 rounds, a magazine disconnect, external hammer and “positive” safety. It also had to be lethal at 50 meters. FN decided the 9mm was perfect and set John Browning to work on the problem since he was designing for FN. The design was called the Grand Rendement (“high yield”) or more commonly as the Grande Puissance (literally, “high power”). It had to do with capacity, not stopping power.

In June of 1923 Browning filed a patent on his two prototypes in Utah and the patent was granted in February of 1927. The blow-back design didn’t work out, and the second, a locked-breech striker-fired model (designed to get around the 1911 patents still in effect), also used the staggered mag design by Dieudonné Saive (who also designed the famous FN FAL rifle, amazingly enough).

Alas, Browning died and Saive continued to refine the design, adding an external hammer while the model continued government testing. By about 1934, the Browning P-35 was done (with a 13-round magazine) but France declined to purchase it. Why are we not surprised? Belgium anteed up to the bar though, adopting the pistol in 1935, soon followed by countries all over the world, mostly thanks to that pesky WWII incident.

Post-war, the design continued to be popular, being improved, changed and refined, eventually adopted by dozens of countries as both military and police guns. In the U.S., thousands were brought back by returning GI’s and even today, there are Hi-Powers in military and police holsters around the world.

If it works, don’t fix it, eh?

The SA-35

I think since we’ve placed the design on firm footing now, I’d like to introduce you to Mike Humphries from Springfield Armory. I asked Mike what gives with bringing back this almost 90-year-old design — other than the fact shooters everywhere instantly missed it when Browning shut down production a few years ago.

“Springfield Armory is known for producing high-quality, modern versions of classic firearms, as you know. These combine the charms of the original designs with all the benefits of modern materials and manufacturing techniques,” explained Mike.

“With the SA-35, Springfield continues that tradition, taking another design coming from the mind of firearms engineering genius John Moses Browning, and adapting it to the needs of modern shooters.”

And I think that’s important to know. Springfield made some small but significant changes to the original design. The rough, gritty trigger common to originals is gone now, thanks to careful engineering and quality control. The silly magazine disconnect is gone as well as the firing pin safety. All contributed to clutter and could interfere with the trigger pull quality.

The sights on the new gun are much better, modern, bold, easy to see and effective. They’re also in dovetails making adjustments or changing easy. The hammer has also been redesigned so now the SA-35 doesn’t bite any longer! The extended thumb safety has a flat allowing easy manipulation and a secure feel. The slightly beveled magazine well is “just right” and makes mag insertions go more smoothly. The all-steel slide and frame are both machined from forgings right here in the U.S.A., while the barrel is also hammer forged.

The checkered walnut grips can be replaced with any grip fitting a Hi-Power, and the matte blue finish is business-like and serious. The history is there, and like Springfield’s other models, the SA-35 shows careful attention to the bits and pieces going into a design like this. I’d compare this with the best FN made, even in the heyday of the Hi-Power. I’ve also no doubt more models will be coming down the line. I think a high-polish blued one with the same features would be a strong contender for a “must have” for many of us.

Design Specifics

Those sights are a white dot front with a serrated rear having a sort of “U-shaped” notch in the blade. The recoil system is classic Hi-Power with a single recoil spring and guide rod and slide release acting on a cam on the barrel’s underside. The barrel and slide recoil together after firing, with the barrel eventually camming down to clear the lugs in the slide. The slide cycles, feeds the next round and it all happens again. That barrel is 4.7″ and shows excellent fit and finish with good work around the ramp area.

Height is 4.8″, length 7.8″ and weight is right at 31.5 oz. For perspective, most all-steel 5″ 1911s weigh in at about 38 oz. or so. The SA-35 feels much lighter than it is, which has always been a bit of Hi-Power magic.

Trigger pull on my test gun hovered around five lbs. and was, frankly, as good as on some of my custom Hi-Powers. It had just a bit of creep at first, but smoothed out after shooting. At this point, I have a bit over 500 rounds of assorted 9mm through it with no issues whatsoever. I did give it a good clean and lube prior to shooting and broke it down after a few hundred rounds to take a peek and put a bit of lube on things again. Why abuse your equipment? The slide runs smoothly and indeed, the entire gun feel more like a custom Hi-Power than a stock, factory base model gun.

Out of curiosity I slipped a stock Hi-Power slide assembly on the SA-35 frame and it went right on. Barrels seemed to fit fine, and some grip swapping revealed other grip fits for Hi-Powers fit perfectly. I’m thinking after-market custom parts like those from the Cylinder & Slide Shop (ambi-safety, etc.) would work fine. I checked with Bill Laughridge there and he’s going to get an SA-35 to make sure.

A Bit Of Shooting

I made two “First Look” videos with the SA-35. A quick look on the day of release, then an extended one, shooting it fast and close, then for accuracy and at 70 yards. Along with other bench testing I did, the test gun seemed to deliver very reliable 1.25″ to 1.5″ groups at 20 yards. It seemed to like heavier ammo too, with the 147-grain sub-sonic HP loads chasing 1″. I was able to easily keep shots on my torso gong out to 80 yards and even hit the 100-yard 14″ square plate regular enough to be great fun. This gun is a shooter.

The trigger has a distinct re-set, and when I put a set of slim grips on the SA-35, I found fast, accurate shooting at torso targets out to 10 or even 15 yards was easy. A falling plate rack I have was just plain fun to shoot. I had forgotten how much it was to shoot this sort of “living history” — and digging out my old holsters and putting them back to work was great fun!

A Final Thought Or Two

When I first saw the new gun in Springfield’s confidential press info, I expected it to be in the $1,000 to $1,200 range. When I saw the MSRP of $699 I thought it was a typo and called Mike Humphries to make sure.

“Yep,” he said. “That’s right, you’re not seeing things!”

That’s a basketful of features and value for the money, for sure.

I asked Mike why he thinks the SA-35 strikes such a chord with so many shooters.

“Roy, the pistol features subtle, yet significant enhancements, making the SA-35 a modern, capable defensive pistol — as well as one appealing to those who revere the history of the design.”

Well, there you go. I couldn’t have said it better, Mike.

For more info: Springfield-Armory.com, [email protected], (800) 680-6866

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