The Astra Model 400

Shooting The Old Stuff

There’s no slide release lever but once the slide is locked back and you’ve reloaded a
fresh magazine, just pull the slide back and release.

The Astra Model 400 is more accurate than most old-school duty-type autos.
J.B. got 3.5" to 4" groups at 15 yards.

That grand old man Skeeter Skelton once described the Astra Model 400 as “wart-hog ugly,” but I’ve always thought it had a certain simple elegance. And, in that simplicity there are numerous touches of brilliant design. To make the Model 400 — also called the Model 1921 — Astra looked at the earlier Campo-Giro and corrected all the mistakes. 

The Model 400 is chambered for the 9mm Bergmann-Bayard cartridge, known in Spain as the 9mm Largo (Long). Well-known in Europe, it has not, until recently, been available here. It’s long been known some Model 400 pistols will work with the old .38 Colt cartridge, but this is an individual thing. If the extractor and bolt face will accept the tiny difference in rim diameter, it might work. 

But let me caution you! The .38 Super has the same dimensions, but its pressure levels could be dangerous in the Model 400. This is an unlocked action, relying on a heavy slide and an extremely strong recoil spring. The slide rails are internal and run the full length of the grip-frame. It’s a strong pistol — but let’s not push our luck. 

If you dare to do it, take down can be more easily accomplished using a common empty
.50 GI case. However, J.B. warns don’t try it unless you know what you’re doing!

Made in Spain, the 400 is chambered for the 9mm Largo round. Use caution and don’t use .38 Super!


The well-positioned manual safety lever blocks the trigger and can also be used as a slide hold-open for cleaning. At the rear, a grip-safety directly blocks the gear. The slide locks open after the last shot, but there’s no manual release. Just retract the slide slightly and let it go. An internal magazine-out safety blocks the trigger. 

The Model 400 has a pivoting hammer inside, and the sear engagement is at its rear. This helps to give a crisp trigger pull, with minimal take-up and over-travel. On my pistol, the pull averaged 6.5 lbs. Hey, it’s a military-issue piece, not a target-pistol. The let-off, though, is crisp and clean. 

The sights are square-picture, with a U-notch at the rear. Both are part of the slide, so can’t be adjusted. Fortunately, my Model 400 shoots to the point-of-aim. Every time I try it out, well-centered groups average 3.5″ to 4″ at 15 yards. Many other military-issue pistols won’t do that well. 

One of the things contributing to accuracy is that long slide giving a sight radius of 7.5″. For those who like to have all the numbers, here are the rest of them: Empty weight is 33.5 oz., overall length is 8.7″, height is 5.25″, the barrel is 5.9″ and the magazine holds eight rounds. 

Recently, when I wanted to go out and shoot my pistol, I ran into two problems. The first was ammunition. My original supply of imported 9mm Largo had dwindled. Steinel Ammunition came to the rescue with a beautiful load, and priced more moderately than the custom loaders.

The other problem seemed to have no solution. When the hammer is in “fired” position, retracting the slide is against the combined power of two very stiff springs. My hands have served me well for 80-plus years, and I use a hand exerciser regularly. Even so, I found I can no longer rack the slide of a Model 400! Disaster! 

Then, I found the Handi-Racker. It’s made of a hard polymer and comes in two sizes, each of those having two graduated bearing surfaces. If a pistol’s slide comes all the way to the muzzle, one of these will fit it. You just hold it against a firm surface, like a shooting-bench, insert the pistol and push. It works beautifully and only costs about $20. 

The “Handi-Racker” was used to help J.B. overcome the extremely strong recoil springs.
Installed,the Handi-Racker is pushed against a wall or table, “racking” the slide.
Demonstrated on a GLOCK here.

Steinel makes excellent 9mm Largo ammo and J.B. was very impressed by the quality.


Those springs are also a factor in after-shooting takedown. It’s best to just lock it open and brush it out. If it needs to be field stripped, take it to a gunsmith. When you push the little locking collar and turn the muzzle bushing — watch out! Wear full-face protection and hold a shop-cloth over it as the spring is released. 

Assuming you’re going to try it anyway, here’s a tip: That locking collar is difficult to depress and requires a tool to push it. Many muzzle-bushings get marred. Now, thanks to my old friend Dave Shellenberg, there’s a perfect non-marring tool — an empty U.S. .50 caliber cartridge case. It’s exactly the right size. 

The Astra firm has, alas, been gone now for quite a few years. A victim, I’ve been told, of corporate regulations of the government of Spain. Fortunately, the elegant Model 400 lives on. Having written this, I think I’ll take my Handi-Racker and my Steinel ammo and go out and shoot it again. 

For more info: Steinel Ammunition,, Ph: (330) 840-7086;

Handi-Racker,, Ph: (515) 480-4905.

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