Two For One: Creative Reloading


This is the Astra Model 1921 (aka Model 400) 9mm Largo Duke bought on a whim.

I’m nothing if not impetuous. A few years back I got it in my head a shiny nickel-plated Colt 1911 would suit me, so I bought the first one encountered. I would have preferred .45 ACP but this one was 38 Super. It sufficed anyway because all the necessary .38 Super cases, bullets and reloading dies were on hand.

Imagine my surprise after getting the 1911 home when I discovered it was actually brightly polished stainless steel. No matter, shiny is shiny. Right? My new handgun turned out to be one of the “ELCEN” series Colt had produced in the 1990s for a large distributor to sell south of the border. It actually had the flat mainspring housing of earlier 1911s, but sights were modern, high-profile front and rear with white dots. It is a fine example of quality pistol manufacture.

Duke’s shiny stainless-steel Colt 1911 .38 Super.

9mm … Something

Fast forward a few years to a Montana gun show when I spotted a pistol with which I was familiar without having ever held one. On its slide was stamped “Modelo 1921 (400).” It is an Astra made in Spain. Naturally, I had to nab it too. I say it was familiar to me because back in my teens (1960s) they were offered for sale dirt cheap by modern standards in many gun magazine advertisements. Converse from the flat-side Model 1911, these Astras are rounded in shape but crudely made compared to the Colt ELCEN 1911. Crude but certainly robust as befits a pistol designed for military use.

Remembering from those old ads that Modelo 1921s were 9mm I wouldn’t have known exactly which 9mm this one was chambered for except it also came with a box of CCI Blazer ammo labeled 9mm Largo. In Spanish “largo” means long. This cartridge started as the 9mm Bergman Bayard, dating from the early 1900s. The Spanish military adopted it circa 1913 and renamed it 9mm Largo. Its case is 0.905″ in length as opposed to 0.754″ of 9mm Parabellum or 23mm compared to 19mm. However, both 9mms fire bullets nominally of 0.355″.

Starline’s rimless “comp” .38 Super brass works perfectly in both his .38 Super and 9mm Largo pistols.

Not Entirely Distant Relatives

My original plan was to shoot up the now discontinued box of Blazer 9mm Largo and then sell the Astra. Then I noticed in the instruction sheet accompanying the pistol that shooting .38 Colt Auto in it was acceptable. Please note: the .38 Colt Auto cartridge is not the same as the .38 Super! The .38 Colt Auto and .38 Super Auto are the same dimensionally, but the latter version develops much higher pressures which would be dangerous in the old Astra or any other .38 Colt Auto. The .38 Colt Auto’s and .38 Super’s case length is 0.900″ and a 0.005″ difference in semi-auto pistol case length is negligible. New cases will vary that much in the same lot.

However, I wondered about the following. Case design for the 9mm Largo is rimless but .38 Colt Auto is semi-rimmed. I had some old .38 Colt Auto factory loads on hand and they sure enough wouldn’t chamber in my 9mm Largo. But Starline’s .38 Super Competition cases are rimless and most certainly they chambered perfectly in the Astra. So, I was set. No new brass or dies were needed. One handload could be assembled that would function perfectly in both pistols ­— at least I hoped.

However, there is one caveat. Reloading data for .38 Largo is limited. The only current manual in which I could find data is Speer’s Reloading Manual #14. Starting loads listed for .38 Super are at or near maximum for the old Astra 9mm Largo. Of course, 0.355″ bullets are proper for both rounds.

I settled on 5.0 grains of Unique with Zero Bullet Company’s 124-grain, 0.355″ RN and also with Oregon Trail’s 0.356″ 124-grain commercially cast RN. Both bullet and powder combinations chamber, function and fire fine through either semi-auto. Velocities run about 1,100 fps. Somebody has to be mentally asking, “Duke, what size are the groups each pistol delivers?” I say, “Who cares? I hit what I’m aiming at more often than not.” Incidentally I chronographed the CCI Blazer 9mm Largo factory loads through both pistols and got about 1,200 fps.

With this two-for-one situation, I’m not as keen to sell off the Astra as I formerly intended. It’s a neat historical handgun, albeit in an odd clunky way. And the shiny 1911 gives me some “bling!”

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