Birth of the Combat Magnum
Smith & Wesson’s K-frame series is, without question, the most prolific series of revolvers ever produced. If my count is correct, Smith offers, at least 14 models based on the K-frame. Calibers includes .22 LR, .38 Special, .357 Magnum. However, the Queen of the K-frames is, and will always be the Model 19 Combat Magnum.
The Model 19 Combat Magnum is the result of legendary U.S. Border Patrol shooter, Bill Jordan, convincing Smith & Wesson to chamber a K frame in .357 Magnum. Up until this time, Magnum had been reserved for the larger N-frame Smiths. The first Model 19 came off the production line in November of 1955, 65 years ago. The new pistol featured an improved K frame that was stronger and had a three-screw side plate. It also featured a fully shrouded ejection rod, a heavy barrel profile, a Baughman ramped front sight, and a fully micrometer adjustable rear sight. The new Combat Magnum was initially offered with a 4” barrel. In 1963, a 6” model was introduced, and, in 1966, a 2½” barrel, round butt model was introduced.
During the sixties and seventies, the Model 19s were works of art with pinned barrels, recessed cylinders, and the walnut “magna” stocks were hand-fitted to each frame. They were available in both a deep blue and a polished nickel finish. Options were limited to a target trigger, red ramp front sight, and a white outline rear sight blade. In 1966, Smith introduced a Stainless Combat Magnum, the Model 66. The Model 66 quickly became the preferred service pistol for law enforcement agencies across the country. Due to its rust-resistant qualities, the Model 66 was even used by SEAL Team 6.
As time progressed, Smith & Wesson looked for ways to reduce the manufacturing cost of the Model 19 and 66. Soon the pinned barrel and recessed cylinder were dropped while a number of improvements increased the service life. As the law enforcement community transitioned to semi-auto pistols, the demand for the Combat Magnum waned. Smith & Wesson discontinued the production of the Model 19 in 1999 and the Model 66 in 2005.
The Model 19 Classic
The loss of the Model 19 was mourned by many Smith & Wesson fans. Fortunately, in 2018, Smith & Wesson reintroduced the Model 19 in their Classic line. Let me start by saying, the new Classic model, while looking to the original 19, is a different pistol from yesteryear. The Classic Model is finished in a nice blue that is close to the original guns. It features a 4” barrel, with checkered stocks that are very similar to the original Magna stocks.
However, there are differences. The most obvious difference is the arched profile of the frame, at the hammer. This is the result of an engineering change to move from a hammer mounted to a frame mounted pin. The second significant difference is that the diameter of the barrel is thicker than the older guns. This is due to the new Classic model having a sleeved barrel. Even though this is a 4” pistol with square butt stocks, the frame has a round butt contour. The new model also has an un-serrated back strap. Smith has also installed a ball/detent crane lock, and of course, the new 19 has the obligatory key lock. The trigger on our test pistol was surprisingly smooth and the single action broke cleanly at 4 lbs. 9 oz. The front sight is a pinned ramp with a retro red ramp insert. The rear sight is the classic micrometer adjustable blade but lacks a white outline rear sight.
Design and production of new firearms is always a trade-off. New materials and manufacturing processes allow for more efficient production, both in labor and cost. However, with this comes the loss of hand polishing and fitting. Given these parameters, the Smith did a very good job on the Model 19 Classic. While purest will focus on the changes, I found myself appreciating how much that Smith actually got right.
On the range, the Classic 19 handled and shot as well as my older Model 19. The balance of 4” K-frame is close to perfect. We shot a combination of full magnum loads as well as lighter .38 Special loads during two different range trips. The two stoutest Magnum loads were Speer’s Gold Dot 125 gr. GDHP and Agulia’s 158 gr. JSP. The Gold Dot averaged 1,372 fps while the Agulia load averaged 1,178 fps. Make no mistake, the recoil is very stout! These loads are not for the faint of heart. History has shown that the K frame does not hold up well under a steady diet of magnum loads. It was this issue that motivated Smith to introduce the L frame series.
For most applications, I would recommend a good .38 Special +P load. Speer’s .38 +P 125 grain Gold Dot was very controllable at a mild 888 fps. It was also more enjoyable for the shooter and much kinder on the pistol. Range work always brings out things that are not readily noticeable from a cursory examination. The first item that all the shooters noticed is how short the rear sight blade is, necessitating a shallow the rear sight notch. It is significantly shorter than the rear sight on my 1975 vintage Model 19. We also noticed that the new stocks are slimmer than the originals. The thinner stocks, combined with the tapered profile, caused the pistol, with stout loads, to ride up in the hand. This was not a serious issue with the .38 Special +P loads. Those who want to carry the Model 19 concealed should consider the VZ Grips VZ 320 boot stocks. They provide a reduced profile but still allow for a full grip on the pistol.
|Speer Gold Dot .38 Special +P 125 gr. GDHP||888 fps||2.75”|
|Speer Gold Dot .357 Magnum 125 gr. GDHP||1,337 fps||3.9”|
|Aguila .357 Magnum 158 gr. JSP||1,178 fps||4.25”|
|Velocity 10 ft/Accuracy 20 yards|
The Classic 19 is a great addition to the Smith & Wesson line. It joins other medium frame revolvers on the market, such as the Kimber K6, and the Colt King Cobra. It is also a sleek, good looking pistol with great lines and a very nice finish. The Model 19 is great for those just learning to shoot a revolver, as well as for a daily carry, personal defense pistol. Daily carry requires a good holster. I used the Galco Combat Master with a Galco gun belt and replaced the factory stocks with VZ 320 boot stocks.
Smith has expanded their Classic line of revolvers to include thirteen models. I think shooters would jump at either a 2 ½” Model 19 or even a new stainless Model 66. The fact that many manufacturers are resurrecting old wheelgun modes indicates that round guns are far from dead. I look forward to seeing what Smith does in the future. In the meantime, give the Model 19 Classic a look. Overall, I am impressed with the it and think you will be as well.
Model: Model 19 Classic
Caliber: 357 Magnum, 38 S&W SPECIAL +P
Barrel Length: 4.25″ / 10.8 cm
Overall Length: 9.9″
Front Sight: Red Ramp
Rear Sight: Black Blade Adjustable
Action: Single/Double Action
Grip: Custom Wood
Weight: 37.2 oz. / 1,054.6g
Cylinder Material: Carbon Steel
Barrel Material: Stainless Steel
Frame Material: Carbon Steel