In 1935 the handgun that John Moses Browning designed for yet another military request went into production – although Browning himself didn’t live to see it finished. That gun would go on to become an iconic firearm. The pistol was initially manufactured by FN, and later by Browning, and it has had several model names, such as the P-35. But most of us know it as the Browning Hi-Power. Now extinct, those wanting one have to take their chances – and their checkbook – to the used market.
While there is no substitute for a vintage classic, this author is betting that there are many firearm enthusiasts who would love to have a brand-new, modern version of this iconic design that they can appreciate as a tangible reminder of bygone elegance, and also as a range toy, or even the home defense gun. Heck, while we’re at it – it is small enough to be your EDC! Let’s face it, when John Browning put pencil to paper – magic happened. Best of all, the beloved design that most had sadly assumed extinct has risen from the ashes as the new Springfield Armory SA-35 – and it is something to cheer about!
I think many of us presumed that somewhere, someday, someone would revive the classic Browning handgun, most assumed it would take the form of an offshore reproduction with both quality and pedigree perhaps in question. When this sample arrived for testing and review, I was already excited that a stoic American company was making it – and even better that it be Springfield Armory, who is well known for making superb 1911’s. In fact, despite its enormous catalog of modern polymer framed, striker fired handguns – it is the perhaps the model 1911 for which Springfield remains famous. Having established itself as the go-to manufacturer for a high-quality, high-reliability classic handgun at a blue-collar price – the prospect of a production of “Browning’s other handgun” is a sweet one, indeed!
My first impression when removing the SA-35 from its black nylon pouch was the beauty of the finish. The gun has been completed in a matte bluing that makes it look like it could have come from a time capsule. Solidifying that aesthetic is a pair of checkered wood grips that are done in the fashion of mid-century workmanship, with checkering that goes edge to edge except for the very top and bottom where they are nicely smoothed. The single grip screw nicely matches the finish of the gun – one of many examples of attention to detail.
Springfield indicated that it was a firm requirement to manufacture the SA-35 frames and slides from forgings – just as they do with their 1911s. This provides a strength and durability that will last.
And while the original design elements of the gun have been reverently observed, this is by no mistake a modern shooter. Some of the modernizations to the gun include:
- A modernized thumb safety that is more shooter friendly and fits today’s aesthetics.
- Updated sights that present a modern sight picture without looking out of place.
- Changes made to the geometry of the hammer to prevent “hammer bite”.
- Hammer forged barrel.
- An improved trigger than has a targeted max pull weight of 5.5 lbs.
- Tweaks to the feeding system to reliably handle modern defensive ammunition.
Simultaneously, Springfield was dedicated to staying true and authentic to the original styling of the handgun. Some internal changes were made as well, such as tweaking the barrel lug for a better blend to the frame.
Springfield tells me that the team strove to maintain as much interchangeability of parts as possible while reducing tolerances and tweaking the gun for a more precise fitment when compared to the original. I was pleased to hear that it was a specific goal to retain compatibility with aftermarket grip panels. As beautiful as the wood stocks are on the gun, it can be fun to change them for an easy statement of personality.
Other small details that the user can appreciate include beveling of the magazine well – bringing a modern touch and increasing user functionality. And speaking of user functionality and general happiness – there is no magazine disconnect safety in this pistol.
The SA-35 comes with a single 15-round magazine of Italian manufacture. It does not bear the name Mec-Gar, but I presume that is the OEM provider. The magazine is completely modern but does not look a bit out of place with the gun. The purist may wish for a metal follower, but the black polymer one it has seems just fine to me and is almost certainly more reliable.
The SA-35 is relatively small in most dimensions and fits nicely into a smaller hand. The ergonomics are very nice – not unlike the 1911 (no surprise here), and the gun manages the recoil of the modern 9mm cartridge nicely.
SHOOTING THE SA-35
Putting rounds downrange with the SA-35 was a joy. The ergonomics of the pistol seem frozen in time – hard to beat with even the most recently designed modern gun. Those with smaller hands will appreciate the shallow depth of the grip, which makes it feel thin despite the double-stacked magazine contained within.
Unchanged by time, the controls are all well within the operator’s reach and can be manipulated without altering the grip by most adult hands. Serrations on the slide are a sharply cut sawtooth pattern, in the traditional form – and are highly effective. The slide catch is easily within reach and functions easily to either lock or unlock the slide. The round hammer spur has nice grooves that make it easy to cock the gun with the strong hand thumb when necessary. The magazine release is of the traditional size and placement and is not too stiff. Lastly, the manual thumb safety has been modernized by adding width and giving it a modern dogleg bend and ‘shelf’ design. It feels and functions much like an up-market 1911 safety.
When you raise the gun to your eye to find the target, you appreciate the modern sights. The front sight is a standard blade containing a white dot, while the rear sight is all black with horizontal serrations to reduce glare and Springfield’s U-notch. Finding your target and maintaining a good sight picture is easy to do.
Recoil is well managed by the SA-35, due in part to the recoil spring, and in part to the all-steel construction that balances the weight. Banging 6-inch steel targets from 15 yards was easily done. I also rested the pistol and put four groups (five shots each) on paper at 25 yards. Yours truly, being the weak link in the chain, produced a flyer or three in the process – but when I look at the “best three” results (which I do to help eliminate my errors) the SA-35 performed well. It was particularly fond of the SIG Sauer Elite Performance V-Crown 124 grain ammo.
What is significant about this is not only the accuracy of wide-mouth hollow point ammo – but the reliability of it. I shot a few types of hollow points during testing, as well as varying bullet weights, and the gun never even hinted at jamming. Springfield says that some geometry has been tweaked to accommodate modern defense ammo (aka hollow points), and my experience with the gun bears that out.
JUST MY OPINION
Going after a legendary pistol design like this one from John Moses himself is a precarious path to tread, and I applaud the folks in Geneseo, IL for stepping into their trail shoes. There will be purists who nay-say some of the modernizations to the gun, and perhaps others will feel it was not modernized enough. I find it to be nearly a Goldilocks blend of vintage design being faithfully respected while being interpreted as a modern shooter.
And in the end, I believe that is the purpose of the SA-35. Owners of vintage pistols are not likely to want to use them as range toys – which will become truer as more time goes by. But even a fussy collector might like a near-perfect copy of that design to take to the range and do mag dumps, or simply enjoy and share the love of the design with young family members, etc. Priced as low as many common polymer-framed, striker-fired handguns – this is a taste of an elegant handgun design that can be a range toy, home defense, or concealed carry. If you can stop admiring the simple beauty, accented by a fantastic factory finish – it’s a shooter!
Learn more about this new gun here: Springfield Armory’s NEW Model SA-35