Whether the year was 1929 or 1931 – sources vary – it was nearly a century ago when Walther introduced the PPK. It was a revolutionary design at the time because of its double-action trigger and its safety which also decocked the gun. Actually, it was based on the Walther PP which was a slightly larger pistol. The German police asked for a smaller, more easily carried pistol, so Walther decreased the size of the PP to come up with the PPK which stands for Police Pistol Kriminal. It was intended for carry by plainclothes law enforcement.
The PPK became very popular and has also been carried by the military and civilians. And it has been produced in a number of countries although under different names. Back in the early 1960s, Walther imported the PPK from Germany into the US, but then came the Gun Control Act of 1968 which changed the game and resulted in a set of rules to be applied to any gun to determine if it was eligible to be imported. The PPK did not qualify for importation, so Walther created the PPK/S which mated the slightly larger PP frame with a PPK barrel and slide. It did qualify for importation, but people still wanted a PPK.
At that time, the PPK, it could be argued, was the standard in pocket pistols. So Walther licensed production of the PPK for manufacturing in the US by Ranger Manufacturing. Distribution was handled by Interarms of Alexandria, Virginia. But, the gun, despite wearing the Walther name and designation, was still not a genuine Walther manufactured gun. As the ban on importation of the Walther PPK continued, Walther licensed Smith & Wesson to produce the PPK, but that eventually ended. In time, Walther built a manufacturing facility in Arkansas and is now producing a genuine Walther PPK that can be sold in the US giving purists and everyone else access to a new Walther produced PPK.
Walther is very proud of the PPK and notes that it is one of only a few vintage pistol designs that continues to be made and sold by the original manufacturer. And Walther says the gun is better than ever because of improved manufacturing methods and some small design changes. But all manufacturers say similar things about their products. In this case, though, I had access to a PPK that bears the Interarms name and was purchased sometime in the early 1990s during the period when importing a Walther PPK was illegal. For comparison, Walther sent me a new production PPK.
The most noticeable change in the new production PPK compared to the original PPK is the length of the beavertail. The new PPK has a longer one that is designed to reduce the chance that the shooter will be cut by the reciprocating slide or hammer. The original design had an abbreviated beavertail which was too small to prevent some shooters from suffering this minor injury. Other than that, the two guns are remarkably similar and it would take a side-by-side comparison by a person with a careful eye to see any differences.
While the new production PPK and its sibling the PPK/S are available in black or stainless steel versions, the old Interarms model used for comparison was rendered in stainless steel. And judging by the wear marks on it, it has seen a fair amount of carry and use. Nevertheless, it still functions correctly. Both are chambered in .380 ACP, although the original PPK was chambered .32 ACP. Eventually, the PPK was also made in .22 Long Rifle and .380 ACP.
Back in the early days of PPK production, the .32 ACP cartridge was considered a viable self-defense round and was used by many military and police units. Today, that round is seen as inadequate for that role. For many years, people also considered the .380 ACP as inadequate for self-defense. But bullet makers and ammunition manufacturers have worked hard and now the .380 ACP round is considered a viable self-defense round by most knowledgeable people. The terminal ballistics of modern .380 ACP ammunition is very similar to other self-defense rounds to the point that differences are negligible.
There are many modern self-defense handguns chambered in .380 ACP, but the PPK, despite its nearly century-old design, can still compete with modern designs. The PPK may weigh a few ounces more than some of the similar-sized .380 ACP striker-fired pistols, but that extra weight and the comfortable grip of the PPK make the snappy recoil of the .380 ACP a bit more tolerable.
Nearly every writer when drafting an article about the PPK makes reference to novelist Ian Fleming’s fictional spy character, James Bond because Bond carried a PPK. While there is no doubt that exposure on the screen helped to increase the gun’s popularity, the PPK is a quality handgun and has features that make it a desirable self-defense sidearm. Bond’s use of the PPK aside, the gun has characteristics that make the nearly century-old design a solid choice for self-defense today.
The PPK has a double-action (DA) firing mechanism and a slide-mounted safety that also decocks the gun. This combination of features leads many people to carry the gun with a round in the chamber, the hammer down and the safety in the off, or up, position. Those people rely on the rather heavy and long double-action trigger pull to prevent unintentional discharges. Follow up shots are fired in the single-action (SA) mode where the hammer is cocked by the reciprocation of the slide and the trigger pull is considerably shorter and lighter than the DA pull.
After the last round in the magazine is fired, the slide is locked to the rear by an internal slide catch. There is no external slide catch so after the magazine is replaced with a loaded one, the shooter pulls the slide slightly to the rear and lets it go so that the recoil spring drives the slide back into battery and loads another round into the chamber. If the shooter wishes to lock the slide back without firing the gun until it is empty, an unloaded magazine is inserted into the gun and the slide pulled to the rear where it will stay until the magazine is removed and the slide is pulled slightly farther rearward and released.
The lack of an external slide lock does not seem to be a problem for most shooters as is evident from the life of the PPK’s design. And another feature of the PPK that is different than many modern guns of the same size is the sights. Most modern guns have large three-dot sights that are adjustable, but the PPK has smaller sights that are machined into the slide and are not adjustable. With the test PPK, it didn’t matter because the sights were regulated correctly and the point of aim (POA) was the same as the point of impact (POI). Despite the small size, sights seemed to be adequate for the job and were easy to see. They also sport a small round red dot on the front sight and a small rectangular shaped red dot on the rear that helps.
However, the rear sight on the older Interarms PPK, while it has a square notch with a small rectangular red dot below it like the newer PPK, can be drift adjusted. All the photos I’ve seen of original PPKs show a fixed rear sight, so it appears that Walther followed the original sight design with the new gun. And a note to Walther: Your manual says the rear sight is drift adjustable, but it is not.
Originally, the PPK had a heel style magazine catch which was the common standard in Europe at the time. Sometime during the evolution of the PPK though, the heel catch was disposed of and replaced with a button type catch located near where American shooters have come to expect them. It is placed just below the slide and in front of the right grip panel. And it worked correctly on both the older Interarms model and the new Walther gun.
According to Garry James, a well known and respected writer who is an expert on vintage firearms, the PPK originally sold for the American equivalent of about $15.50 and came in a cardboard box with three dummy rounds, a spare magazine, a cleaning kit, cleaning rod and instruction manual. At that time, the loaded chamber indicator was an optional feature that increased the cost of the gun slightly.
The loaded chamber indicator is standard on the new PPK. It’s pretty simple and consists merely of a steel rod that, when a round is chambered, protrudes from the rear of the slide just in front of the hammer. It is easily seen if there is enough light and can also be felt.
Interestingly, James also says that originally a conversion kit was offered that changed the PPK chambering to a 4mm practice round that could be fired indoors. The kit consisted of a barrel insert, a few 4mm chambers, a cleaning rod, and an ejector rod. The practice rounds would not cycle the gun, however. Those were different times.
The elegant lines of the PPK have not changed over time. The top of the slide is rounded, which conceals better compared to the square, uninspired blocky look of most slides these days. And the slide still retains the serrations at the rear to aid in obtaining a solid grip to manually cycle the slide. Along the top of the slide between the front and rear sight, Walther has kept the flat that is machined with a series of wavy serrations that help reduce glare. They look great, too.
The hammer retains the rowel style spur with a hole in the middle. It is easy to cock by hand if the shooter wishes to for the first shot. The slide-mounted safety and decocker are present on the new PPK as on the older comparison model. They are a little stiff, but not so stiff that they are too hard to manipulate. Up is off and reveals a red dot, while down is engaged and hides the red dot. When engaged, the hammer is safely dropped and blocked from contacting the firing pin, and the trigger is locked. It’s very effective, but a friend purchased a PPK and a PPK/S recently and had problems. Both were the new models made by Walther and with one it was nearly impossible to rotate the safety while with the other it was very difficult to. Both required gunsmith attention to correct.
Disassembly of the PPK for cleaning is the same as it has always been. First, after removing the magazine and making sure the gun is unloaded – double check this and keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction – the trigger guard is rotated downward on the hinge at the intersection of it and the front strap. Using the trigger finger to push the front of the guard slightly to the side keeps it from snapping back up into the frame. Then the slide is pulled to the rear, lifted free of the frame, and while holding on to it, allowed to go forward to clear the barrel. Then the recoil spring which surrounds the barrel is pulled forward to separate them. That’s all it takes. Assembly is in reverse.
Both the older Interarms model and the new Walther PPK functioned flawlessly and the same in testing. The trigger pull on both guns was remarkably similar. In DA, the weight was around 16 pounds – that’s heavy – and a few ounces over four pounds in SA mode. There was no stacking. The new PPK had a little grittiness in the DA pull, while the older PPK was smooth. That’s probably because the older trigger had worn-in from being pulled a lot more. The SA pull was the same on both guns – after a little take-up, there was a minor amount of creep, a surprise break and a little over travel.
There was a difference in the trigger face though. The older PPK had a serrated trigger face, while the new Walther has a smooth trigger face making the pull, especially in the stiffer DA mode, a little easier because the trigger finger could more easily slide over the surface. That’s personal preference though, and some shooters will like it while others would prefer a serrated trigger.
Both guns were comfortable to shoot and more than accurate enough for self-defense work. And the slightly heavier steel frame compared to the prevalent polymer frames today, along with the slightly larger grip of the PPK, tamed felt recoil well. This is a gun that can be shot for recreation as well as serve a self-defense role.
So Walther has another hit on its hands. And this from an almost century-old design.
Load Velocity (fps) Average Best
Hornady Critical Defense 90 FTX 981 .74 .45
Remington Golden Saber 102 JHP 936 .98 .40
Winchester Bonded PDX1 95 JHP 983 1.02 .80
Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in feet per second 15’ from the muzzle by chronograph, and accuracy in inches for three five-shot groups at seven yards.
Caliber: .380 ACP
Barrel length: 3.3 inches
Overall length: 6.1 inches
Weight: 19 ounces
Sights: fixed rear notch and fixed front blade
Action: double action
Finish: stainless or black (tested)
Capacity: 6 rounds