I recently wrote an evaluation of the S&W Model 649 Bodyguard. Some consider the humpback Bodyguard to be one of the ugliest pistols ever to come out of Springfield. If that is the case, then the Centennial series is the sleek and sexy roscoe that you want to take to the prom. After the article on the 649, it was only natural to evaluate the new Model 640.
The Centennial was introduced in 1952 to celebrate Smith & Wesson’s 100th year and remained in production until 1974. The sleek design features a fully enclosed hammer, a scalloped frame, and a grip safety. It was commonly referred to as a “lemon squeezer.” Interestingly, the original guns came with a small pin that could be used to deactivate the grip safety. The Centennial was chambered in .38 Special and was produced in both a steel frame and an alloy frame version. In 1957, when Smith & Wesson adopted model numbers, the Centennials became the Model 40 and Model 42 respectively.
The Model 40 and Model 42 had a large following. The totally enclosed hammer made the Centennials, especially Model 42 Airweight, perfect for concealed carry, particularly pocket carry. In extreme circumstances, the pistol could be fired from inside a pocket without the worry of the hammer becoming fouled. However, by 1974, sales had fallen off and the Centennials were cut from Smith’s lineup.
In 1989, Smith reintroduced the Centennial in an all stainless model. The Model 640 was a faithful reproduction but lacked the grip safety of the original Centennials. Chambered in .38 Special, the 640 was not rated for +P ammunition. The early Model 640 guns had a serial number prefix of “CEN”, a tribute to its family tree.
But perhaps the most significant Centennial, in terms of sales and popularity, came in 1990 with the introduction of the Model 642. The 642 was an alloy framed version of the 640 and was extremely popular. As with the original Model 640, the 642 was chambered for .38 Special but was not rated for +P. It featured a stainless steel barrel, yoke, and crane with an alloy frame that was clear coated. In 1993, Smith introduced the Model 442 which was a 642 with a black finish. In 1996, both models were upgraded with the strengthened J magnum frame and, for the first time, rated for +P loads. The 442/642 series is perhaps the most popular and most carried J-frame on the market today.
Enter the Magnum
In 1996, Smith introduced the Model 640-1 in .357 Magnum. The 640-1 was the first J-frame to be chambered in .357 Magnum. The frame was strengthened and slightly enlarged and a reinforced cylinder stop was machined as part of the frame. The 640-1 also featured a slightly longer barrel that measured 2 1/8”. The same year, Smith introduced the Model 649-3 Bodyguard and the Model 60-9 Stainless Chiefs Special, also chambered in .357 Magnum.
We received a Model 640-3 for this evaluation. The 640-3 weighs 22.1 ounces as compared to my original 640 which, with Uncle Mikes Boot Grips, weighs 21 ounces. By comparison, the alloy frame 442 and 642 come in at a mere 14.7 ounces. The finish on our pistol was void of blemishes, machine marks, or sharp edges. The actual finish is soft matte and the entire pistol is void of any offending sharp edges. The internal parts are a combination of steel and MIM parts. Like other .357 Magnum J-frames, the 640 features a 2.125” with a full underlug. This extended length allowed Smith to use a longer ejection rod for positive ejection of the longer magnum case.
The smooth-face trigger features nicely radiused edges and the action was smooth and without any grit. Unfortunately, the action exceeded the 12 pound limit on my electronic trigger pull gauge. Like on the 649, the front sight on the 640 is a pinned black ramp. This makes replacement relatively easy. As shown in the photo, my preference is to replace the factory blade with a standard Tritium dot from XS Sights. The XS sight features a small Tritium insert that is surrounded by a larger dot. Colors include orange, yellow, green, and white. The installation requires drilling the new sight blade for the retaining pin.
The Crimson Trace Advantage
Prior to hitting the range, I swapped out the factory stocks for Crimson Trace 405 Lasergrips. I have used CTC Lasergrips for many years and they are on any J-frame that I carry for personal defense. Like all CTC Lasergrips, the switch is located where the laser is activated by a proper firing grip. This intuitive design is essential in a critical or stressful confrontation. The design of the 405s is similar to a boot grip in that it fills the space behind the trigger guard but does not extend beyond the butt of the frame. The 405s also have a cushioned backstrap that works to reduce felt recoil. Crimson Trace 405 Lasergrip
While the new 640 is chambered for .357 Magnum, the use of Magnum ammunition is, in my opinion, not practical. The recoil is best described as punishing! This translates into discomfort for the shooter and difficulty in both accuracy and follow-up shots. It is hard on the pistol. When I evaluated the Model 649, I shot a few rounds of Speer’s 135 grain Gold Dot Magnum Short barrel load. The purpose was to get a baseline, on velocity, as compared to the +P loads. The Gold Dot Magnum load averaged 1,196 fps. Given the barrel lengths are the same, I did not repeat the exercise with the 640.
It is important, especially with fixed sight revolvers, to ensure that your chosen load hits to point of aim. This is a step that is often overlooked by many shooters. Since the Model 640 is chambered in magnum, I was curious to see where the point of impact was with the selected .39 +P loads. At seven yards, I found that the Federal HST hit the point of aim and the Speer 135 Grain Gold Dot hit to point of aim while the 110 grain Hornady load hit approximately 2” low.
The below chart indicates the velocity readings from the loads we tested.
|Speer Gold Dot .38 Special +P 135 gr. GDHP Short Barrel||899|
|Federal .38 Special +P 130 gr. Micro HST||828|
|Hornady Critical Defense .38 +P 110 gr. FTX||880|
|Velocity 10 ft/Accuracy 20 yards|
One of my favorite drills is a modification of Ken Hackathorn’s 10-10-10 drill. I modified the drill for J-frames where I shoot 5 rounds, from 5 yards, in 5 seconds. This is repeated twice for a total of 10 rounds. The target used, for this drill, is the NRA bullseye. Scoring is done by the values on the target. I managed a score of 96 after losing one round in the 8 ring and two rounds to the 9 ring. I was pleased that I had four hits in the X ring. I did find that I had trouble tracking the black front sight on the black bullseye but the XS front sight will correct that issue.
For the past several years, my secondary gun has been a Model 642 that is carried in a Galco Ankle Glove. After ensuring that the new 640 was reliable, and determining what the best carry load was, I substituted it for my 642. Wearing it in the ankle rig, I hardly noticed the additional seven ounces or so. I attribute this to the excellent design of the Galco rig. Galco Ankle Glove
I also carried the 640 in an appendix position using a Philster City Special. I don’t normally carry AIWB but I found the City Special to work very well. Philster City Special
In the end, the Model 640 proved to be a solid performer. The stainless construction, combined with the longer barrel, made the 640 significantly easier to shoot when compared with the alloy guns. My friends have told me that I’ve never met a J-frame that I didn’t like. That is not quite the case but certainly, the new 640 has a lot to offer.
Model: Model 640
Caliber: .357 Magnum
Barrel Length: 2.125”
Overall Length: 6.6″
Front Sight: Pinned Black Ramp
Rear Sight: Fixed
Action: Single/Double Action
Weight: 22.1 oz.
Cylinder Material: Stainless Steel
Barrel Material: Stainless Steel
Frame Material: Stainless Steel
Frame Finish: Satin Stainless
Note: The historical information contained in this article came from History of Smith & Wesson by Roy Jinks and Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson by Jim Supica and Richard Nahas. Any errors are the responsibility of the author and not Supica or Nahas.