Engineering Excellence Embraces Artistic Style

The Mongoose Carry Special and Heritage Models
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Nighthawk Custom’s collaboration with the German makers of the astounding Korth revolver series has helped serve to rewrite expectations on what a revolver can — or might — be. Essentially full-custom guns, Korth combines famous Teutonic technological marvel with the eye-appeal of Nighthawk Custom’s design ideas. The result, a collaboration of engineering excellence and artistic flair setting the Korth family apart from — essentially — anything else.

But first, let’s clear the air and tackle the obvious. These are not price-point revolvers. They are works of shooting art deserving of a place at the very highest peak of gun-making skill and distinctive design. They’re an inspiring celebration, showcasing what gifted engineers and artisans in steel and wood can do when no limits on expectations force them into that corner where price-point meets polymer. They are, in short — breathtakingly unique and shameless in their obvious beauty and functional distinction.

While a Custom Korth Heritage — the lovely case-colored model in Rob’s sublime photos — may not be within your budget, you can still allow yourself to enjoy what it is of its own accord. We were once mortified to read about custom 1911s in these very pages costing “upwards of $1,200!” in the late 1970s and early ’80s. The same price seems quaint today, nudging what many stock factory handguns cost. So, lest you risk your hair catching on fire at the “horror” of it all; let’s agree this little adventure with the Korths is just that — a modest exploration in creative and capable excellence.

Building The Brand

What we have here are two guns, very different yet very much the same simultaneously. Both come from the fertile mind of Herr Willi Korth, a German engineer having a gift for firearms design. Born in 1913, Korth grew into machining and in the summer of 1944, worked briefly at the Mauser-Werke as a designer of small arms. Bouncing around a bit, in 1952 he decided to pursue his own ideas, designing a 9mm blank firing “gas” revolver. At the time “real” guns in Germany were heavily restricted, and Willi’s blank guns were so over-built they were easily converted to “real” guns! Something evidently not lost on Herr Korth.

Following the post-war ban on gun-making in Germany, Willi founded his first gun-making company in 1955 — “Willi Korth, Waffenfabrikation.” His first revolver was in .32 S&W Long (due to restrictions) and had some interesting design ideas. Perhaps the most novel was the button on the frame’s right side you could push to easily remove the cylinder and crane. That touch is still in the designs today.

As the brand grew to more resemble today’s guns, Korth’s quality of workmanship followed the lines of Rolls rather than Ford. Five gunsmiths made revolvers at the bench, building an average of 120 guns a year. Except for a small handful of screws, every part was made in-house. Rather than being milled or cast, each part was ground to size and fit. It took 70 man-hours and over 600 operations to create a single revolver. Major parts were surface hardened to 60 Rockwell — unheard of even today.

Original production ended in 1981, and much to my surprise, included not only .38/.357, but also 9mm, .22 LR and even .22 Magnum. Can you imagine a Korth in .22 Magnum? Barrel lengths ran the gamut of 3″ to 6″, with 5- and 6-shot cylinders.

Market Challenges

At this point, the company bounced around a bit from one investor and gun-maker to another, with some production maintained off and on. Improvements to Willi’s designs were made, but the Korth brand struggled with marketing and consequently sales. Never, however, losing their reputation as one of the world’s finest revolvers.

Herr Korth passed away in 1992. In 1999, Korth underwent bankruptcy, but it was taken over in 2000 by Armurerie Freylinger of Luxembourg. During this ownership, the eye-catching plasma TiA1NPVD surface coating was introduced and the U.S. market grew.

But more changes were in the works. In 2008 the Korth factory shut down, but the Korth trademark was reborn in 2009, exhibiting revolvers — and Korth’s auto — at the SHOT show in 2013. A few years after that, Mark Stone, president of Nighthawk Custom met with the Korth team, forming an alliance and breaking entirely new ground for both companies. Korth now had a sure method for U.S. distribution, and NHC embraced the elegant designs and engineering — mirroring their own guns — of the respected Korth brand. Magic was about to emerge in the U.S.

A Fortunate Meeting

“In January 2016 at Shot we went over to the Korth booth and introduced ourselves,” Mark explained to me. “Great people at every level. They’ve been awesome to work with and we truly have a friendship that has developed. Everyone at Korth, from the owner, Martin Rothmann, to their gunsmiths and machinist are simply first class,” Mark told me. “We’ve been at their factory in Lollar, Germany several times, and they’ve visited us as well several times. It’s always a great experience!

“What struck me at first — and still does — is the quality of the Korth revolver, their long history of perfecting the designs, and how their build strategy is very similar to ours,” Mark explained. “Just like we here at Nighthawk Custom do with our guns, every part of a Korth revolver is fully machined out of a block of steel — and a single gunsmith hand fits each part, building the revolver from start to finish. The pairing of our products, engineering and skills is a natural and has been reflected in the enthusiasm ourcustomers have for the Korth revolvers.”

According to Mark, Korth is selling a lot of revolvers in the United States thanks to the relationship with Nighthawk, and Nighthawk is pleased to offer a great product line here. Every Korth imported from Germany has the Korth logo and the Nighthawk Custom proudly visible.

“If we sell something we stand behind it,” said Mark. “That’s why we wanted our logo on each revolver. We don’t just import and resell like many importers. We have input on the design, cosmetic and artistic details. Once the revolver arrives at NHC, we will log it into our books and then each revolver is checked over by one of our gunsmiths. Each revolver goes through a quality control inspection and is then test fired, targeted and cleaned before it ships to our customers,” explained Mark. “The program is every bit as rigorous as our 1911 inspection and testing procedures.”

When a proud owner opens his Korth Nighthawk Revolver, it’s accompanied by a Nighthawk test target, signed off by the gunsmith who inspected and tested the revolver. According to Mark, their customers love the Korth Revolvers.

“I love getting reader feedback,” said Mark, “Things like ‘Great Gun! Unbelievable!’ and ‘Best trigger I’ve ever felt on a revolver!’ are common. Another one we hear regularly is ‘Truly a work of art!’ — and I agree completely!”

Mongoose Carry Special

Custom barrel lengths are all part of this package and our test gun had a handy 2.75″ barrel. A 6-shot, all-steel hand-built revolver, there’s an optional 9mm cylinder assembly available and easy to manage thanks to the push-button cylinder change built into each Korth. It’s a conventional DA/SA revolver but that’s where convention pretty much stops. The action is smooth, and the polished trigger face excellent, yielding a comfortable DA and SA experience. My test gun had a consistent 3-lb. SA pull (average over 10 tries) and a smooth 7-lb. DA pull (average over 10 pulls). The DA trigger pull has two distinct stages but isn’t grabby or gritty at all and the SA pull sort of “rolls” off rather than “breaks.”

Keep in mind too, the hammer spring tension is easily adjusted by the user, as well as the trigger return spring. So, they can be tuned to your own desires and ammo needs. The majority of domestic revolvers require the attention of a talented gunsmith to accomplish the same thing.

Sights are bold but compact and fully adjustable via a clever design. The fit, finish and interplay of the parts is uncommonly admirable, spoiling you for other factory revolvers more commonly encountered. I was particularly taken by the obvious care and attention taken with the muzzle crown. It’s, dare I say, perfectly done — and no doubt a strong contributor to these guns’ outstanding accuracy. The business-like coating on the gun is the modern “industrial” DLC type.

Handling was a bit like an L-Frame S&W when it comes to size and weight. At about 30 oz. give or take, the Mongoose is no lightweight, but the Hogue designed “rubber” grips really lend a hand in control, comfort and feel. Small things like the slippery “snick” of the cylinder locking home and the unusual hammer spur shape helped to create a revolver shooting experience different from the norm for me. I have experience with a Korth from around 2000 (with the sort of lever arrangement to the right of the hammer unlocking the cylinder) and I confess this is a much better gun in design, action and feel. I like the more conventional cylinder release although the classic style is still available on some models.

Shooting, with full-power .357 from several makers and various .38 Special loads was, as you might expect — a delight. All were in the sub-2″ range, regardless of maker, with most doing much better at the 25-yard line. The classic 148-grain wadcutter — from Black Hills — dropped into a solid 1″ at 25 yards when I used my “computer” glasses with the innovative “Eyepal” peep sight attached to the lens. This gun is a shooter!

This late 1990s Korth Roy tested back then displays the distinctive plasma TiA1NPVD finish.
Note the cylinder release lever adjacent to the hammer. Photo: Roy Huntington

Korth Heritage

This is a new design and idea built on the collaborative efforts of NHC and Korth. While it hints at a sort of “Python-esc” look with the lugged and ribbed barrel, this is no Python. Featuring everything good about the Korth design, it ups the game with the “Heritage” finish and even higher attention to detail.

While it seems longer, the barrel is actually 5.25" but looks just right. I’ve always noticed about older DA revolvers — most feel “just right” with 5" barrels. But being a custom gun, you can have the barrel length you desire if you’re willing to pay the piper. The grips are Turkish Walnut and in typical German fashion I might label them more “functional” than beautiful. They feel good, even great, in the hand and definitely contribute to how this gun handles. But if it were me — I’d find someone to make me some custom grips worthy of this genuine barbecue gun.

Alas, I confess I didn’t shoot it. I know Mark Stone would have encouraged me but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It mirrors the Mongoose in all-things mechanical, right down to the remarkable muzzle chamfer. The included NHC test target showed a slightly oval one-hole group at 12 yards — so what was I going to prove? And since this gun will ultimately be sold to a customer (and it’s passed NHC’s quality control already) I simply didn’t want to risk a scratch or get it dirty. I want this “first shot” experience to go to the first delighted owner. Will that be you?

Closing Considerations

The Nighthawk Custom Korth Mongoose 2.75″ Carry Special MSRPs right at $3,699 — well within the price range of custom 1911s from Nighthawk. The even fancier Heritage 5.25″ rings the bell at $8,999. Just like a Nighthawk Custom 1911, Korth Revolvers are not inexpensive. But when you actually get to see how they’re built, the attention to detail and craftmanship going into every build then you can understand the price — and many don’t mind paying it.

“We had a customer a few weeks ago write a note to us,” Mark Stone told me recently. “He said, he could be blind-folded and pick up a Nighthawk 1911 and know it’s a Nighthawk just by the feel. Korth Revolvers are the same way — and that’s just one thing making our collaboration really special.” 

I’m sure, as I’ve said before, you own guns you rarely — or never — shoot. They’re possibly even guns worth a good deal. With an open mind to your dreams, cast a critical eye at your gun safe and ponder the possibilities lurking within. Then feel free to wonder what might be in your own future.

For more info: NighthawkCustom.com, [email protected], Ph: (877) 423-4867; EyePalUSA.com