Return Of The Combat Magnum


S&W's Classi Model 19, Reborn!

Bill Jordan, Marine combat veteran and Border Patrol Chief Inspector when he retired in 1965, was directly responsible for the Smith & Wesson .357 Combat Magnum. In 1986 Bill spoke of how the Combat Magnum came about: “In 1950, Smith & Wesson introduced the Model 15, a 4″-barreled version of its K-Frame Masterpiece series acclaimed by law enforcement officers. The only thing wrong with it was it was a bit too light for defensive use, especially the barrel and it was chambered for the .38 Spl. cartridge.

Bill decided he wanted a lighter and much easier to carry .357 Mag. than the original larger-framed Smith & Wesson .357 Mag. which arrived in 1935. What he wanted was a .357 Mag. sixgun on the smaller K-Frame with a heavy 4″ barrel with an extractor shroud similar to those used on the larger frame .357 Mag. revolvers, target grips and target sights. On November 15, 1955, the first production medium-frame .357 Mag. was completed and dubbed the Combat Magnum. Jordan called it the answer to a peace officer’s dream.

Jordan envisioned the Combat Magnum being carried with .357 Mag. loads while using .38 Special loads for practice. Some complained of the smaller Magnum not holding up to continuous use of .357 loads. Personally, I’ve never experienced any problems resulting from using .357 loads in several Model 19s in all three barrel lengths as well as both blue and nickel models.

Most of my .357 Mag. loads over the past half-century plus have been assembled with #2400 and my own cast bullets, either the Lyman-Keith #358429 173-gr. plain-based or Lyman-Thompson #358156 gas-checked bullets. Curiously, I have a K-Frame 4″ Model 19 which will handle heavier loads without complaining than an N-Frame 5″ Model 27. Fired cases literally fall out of the 19 while they stick in the 27, proving once again every sixgun is a law unto itself.

The new Model 19 Classic from S&W performed well with a variety
of .38 Spl. and .357 Mag. loads.

The Resurrected Model 19 (left) compared to an original blued Combat
Magnum and stainless steel Model 66.

More Than a Number

In 1957 all Smith & Wesson sixguns lost their personal name and became a number. The Combat Magnum became the Model 19 and when it appeared in stainless steel form in 1975 it was known as the Model 66. The original Model 19 was dropped in 1999 while the stainless steel Model 66 lasted a few years into this century. Recently, the stainless steel Model 66 Combat Magnum was resurrected and now this year the Model 19 is back.

While the original Combat Magnum and the resurrected 21st-century version look like twins at first glance, there are differences. Internally they’re quite different as the modern version, which is known as the Model 19 Classic, has all of what Smith & Wesson calls “enhanced with modern internal components” while still maintaining the look and feel of the original models.

Both of these sixguns have bright blue finishes and came with the diamond in the center target stocks. However, the new Model 19 has a round butt frame concealed under the grip. My hands have certainly changed since the mid-1950s, first becoming tougher and stronger and then beginning their downhill slide. This, of course, means the stocks are not as comfortable to me as they were 60 years ago.

My favorite .357 Mag. load for carry today is the same load I use on turkeys in areas where I’m not required to use a shotgun. It’s the Black Hills 125-gr. JHP. In a long-barreled, scoped .357 Mag. it works fine for head shooting turkeys. Loaded in a carry gun, it’s rated as one of the most dependable stopping loads. In the Model 19 Classic it clocks out at 1,350 fps and will put 5 shots in just over 1″ at 20 yards. This sixgun also works very well with .38 Spl. rounds such as the Black Hills 125-gr. JHP (900 fps) and their 100-gr. HoneyBadger (1,050 fps) with the same accuracy as the .357 load.

Sights on both consist of a fully adjustable rear sight and a ramp front sight. The modern version has a red insert instead of the plain black front sight of the original. Barrel length was 4″ and is now 41/4″. The original was known as the Combat Magnum but was not marked on the barrel; the new Model 19 Classic has “COMBAT MAGNUM” on the left side of the barrel. In 1955 the Combat Magnum was all blued steel; now frame and cylinder are carbon steel while the barrel is stainless steel.

The Model 19 Carry Comp shot this group at 7 yards for John.

The Carry Comp comes with two sets of stocks ... one fancy wood set
and another rubber set for everyday carry.

Today's Take

A second version of the new Model 19 comes from the S&W Performance Center and is known as the Model 19 Carry Comp. This serious little packing pistol comes with a 3″ barrel and, as the official name suggests, is compensated. The front sight, which is a Trijicon unit, is set back from the front edge of the barrel enough to allow room for the port. This port makes a huge difference in felt recoil, making .38 Spl. loads feel like shooting .22s and full-house magnums seem more like .38 Spl. shots.

Just as with the Model 19 Classic, this version has a rounded butt. It comes with custom wood grips that do not fill in the backstrap or under the butt and have one finger groove on the front strap. In addition to this grip Smith & Wesson also provides a very comfortable, more hand-filling wrap-around rubber grip that also fills in at the bottom of the butt.

This grip combined with the porting makes this the most comfortable short-barreled .357 Mag. gun I’ve ever fired. In fact, I enjoyed shooting this one so much I gathered up all the ammunition I could find and went through 16 different .38 Spl. loads and seven .357 Mag. loads. All loads were fired at a self-defense distance of 7 yards with groups averaging 1″ or less. My favorite Black Hills 125-gr. JHP clocked out at 1,275 fps and placed 5 shots in 1″. The Black Hills 158-gr. JHP at 1,055 fps and the SIG SAUER 125-gr. FMJ (1,250 fps) are also excellent shooting and delivered groups less than 1″.

The Performance Center Model 19-9 Carry Comp has an MSRP of $1,092 while the 19-9 Classic Combat Magnum’s MSRP is $826.

For more info:
Smith & Wesson
Ph: (800) 331-0852

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