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EAA Girsan MC P35 Affordable Hi-Power Clone Review

If you're tired of polymer and want to shoot a classic, the Girsan MC P35 Pistol has a lot of great features at an affordable price.

EAA Girsan MC P35 Affordable Hi-Power Clone Review

The EAA/Girsan MC P35 from the left side. So much is updated, so much is classic, and so much is right about this. From the right side, if not for the markings, you’d think you were looking like a super- custom BHP from the glory days. 

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Those of you who have grown up in the polymer-framed pistol era have no idea. Compared to a Hi-Power with Navidrex, Spegel or VZ grips, the original polymer pistols feel like 2x4s in your hand. No, not even the swappable backstraps can make up for the awkwardness of the modern pistol grip. You have to go old-school to go cool. There was a time when the hottest pistol to be had was one that was even by then half a century old. No, I’m not talking about the 1911, but the Browning Hi-Power. The Girsan MC P35. The last of John Browning’s designs, even though it started with Deudionne Saive, and then was finalized by Saive after Browning had a pass at it.

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A balmy day, a pile of ammo, a classic pistol, and the cell phone set to mute. Life is good.

Initially meant to satisfy a French military proposal, after a few years of mucking about, Saive and FN decided that the French weren’t really interested in buying from them, but wanted FN to do all the design, R&D and testing scutwork for them. So, in 1935, FN ditched the French and offered the P35 for sale on their own. In an era when a typical pistol, military or otherwise, has a magazine capacity of seven or eight rounds, the thirteen rounds of the P35 was revolutionary, and it was in a grip that was actually grip-able by humans. WWII intervened, and the initial production was confiscated, and continued production used by the Germans. That didn’t stop Saive from absconding to Canada, where the Inglis company made a metric buttload of P35s for the Chinese front of the war. Post-war, most of the non-commie world adopted the P35 as their military sidearm. Here, the Hi-Power had a devoted following. The FBI had Wayne Novak build up custom versions for their HRT. Our gun club treasurer, a City of Detroit employee, carried two of them, in blatant disregard of city law, and he was not at all alone as a non-police city employee in being armed. In fact, if you were a city employee or a resident who wasn’t armed in Detroit, you were the rarity. Not all carried Hi-Powers, but they were not unknown as carry ordnance.

The Hi-Power even got used in IPSC in the early days. The capacity outweighed the power/scoring disadvantage, at least until we developed enough skill to shoot the .45 ACP 1911 fast enough to simply negate the capacity advantage. In all that time, a custom Hi-Power was a desired item. Some, like the HRT pistol, had improved triggers, removed magazine safeties, and a Bar-Sto barrel. Some had a tang welded on, to eliminate “hammer bite.” But for most of that time they were all 9mms. Then, the .40s arrived. Alas, the Hi-Power did not adopt to the .40 as well as other designs did. It lacked capacity, holding only ten rounds. The light slide was lightning-fast in cycling, which could lead to feeding problems, and killed adjustable sights. And the forged frames in the initial testing died at alarming rates. FN went to a cast frame, and the pistols survived. But in all that time, if you wanted a modern Hi-Power, you had to go custom.

Well, no longer. EAA is bringing us P35s build to custom specs, from Turkey, and they are everything we wanted back then and then some. And remarkable compared to the plastic perfectness many are accustomed to seeing. The EAA offerings are six in total, but for this review I decided to go as up to date as possible and pass over the more-classic interpretations. So, I have on hand (and it may well not be going back, I’m still agonizing over that) the MC P35 Match OPS pistol. This is a 9mm pistol, because the .40 is dead. Yes, dead like the Norwegian Blue, despite still being pushed in some circles. The P35 (I’m not going to type out the full name but once, so your eyes don’t glaze over) has an adjustable rear sight, and a fiber optic front blade. While it was possible to have a custom pistolsmith install an adjustable rear on an HP, it was not common even for custom guns, and it was not easy or inexpensive. The rear is adjustable for windage and elevation, although I didn’t need to make any changes at all. The front is drilled for a fiber optic tube, and it came with a red/orange tube in it. Somewhere along the way, I broke it (this is not unusual for fiber optic front sights) and installing a replacement tube is easy. As an interesting touch, the base of the front sight, a novak-style dovetail, has the bottom of the slight contoured to match the curve of the slide top. That’s a detail that custom pistolsmiths, back in the day, charged a lot for. Most just left the bottom flat, and you’d have small corner edges poking out from the curve of the slide. On a 1911, that wasn’t much. But the P35 slide, being a tighter radius, meant it showed more if left flat. Nice touch, EAA.

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The various EAA/Girsan P35s come with a single, fifteen-round magazine. BHP mags are easy enough to come by that this isn’t a problem, not like the “good old days.”

The slide is the classic Hi-Power (and from now on I’m going to refer to the EAA Girsan MC P35 simply as the P35, and the other as the HP) so that means an external extractor, and small but entirely up-to-the-task ejection port, and cocking serrations on the rear of the slide. The front of the slide has the “HP cut,” the narrowed slide width that instantly identifies it as a Hi-Power. At the rear there’s a “rowel” hammer, what a lot of us regularly refer to as a “commander” hammer. Then we get to the frame, and that’s where things get really interesting and modern. Depending on which end you start with, your eye is caught by either the accessory rail or the extended beavertail. I’ll start up front. The MC P35 OPS has the accessory rail (If you don’t want that, you can get everything else here in the MC P35 Match) and it is one of those “love ‘em or hate ‘em” details of modern life. The classicists will hate it and can simply move over to the Match. Those who have to have a light or laser on their pistols will love it. I have to be frank here, I expected to hate it. I had seen a couple of attempted upgrades and custom mods of Hi-Powers in the distant past, where someone had tried to weld on or bolt and epoxy an accessory rail to the frame. Ugly does not begin to describe those attempts. The EAA MC P35 is not ugly. They did a really good job of making the rail proportional and blending it with the lines of the frame. So, if you want a rail, you can get one, and it looks kinda good. I was prepared to hate it, almost regardless of what it was, but now that it’s been here a while, it is growing on me.

On the back of that, you’ll notice the straight trigger. Straight triggers are all the rage in some circles, and they do have benefits. What it does here is get rid of the overly curved trigger of the classic HP, so curved it felt like it was hugging your finger. As much as I liked the old HP, I could never warm up to the curved trigger. I always wanted it flatter. Well, now it is straight, and, EAA, through the manufacturer, Girsan, has made another improvement: they ditched the magazine disconnector. Now, on the classic HP models EAA is bringing in, the magazine disconnector is still there so the trigger is, well, not all that fun. Since the spring-loaded plunger of the mag safety has to be doings its work, the trigger pull on the classics (and the old HP) ends up being heavy and often gritty. Well, in the Match and OPS the disconnector is gone, and the trigger is now nice and normal. It’s heavy compared to a custom 1911, but this isn’t a custom 1911. Compared to your typical polymer-framed striker gun, the P35 trigger is plenty good. Above the trigger (on the left side) is the slide stop lever. Here Girsan took a page from the most-modern iterations of the HP, and the slide stop is sculpted in an angular manner and looks really sharp.

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The front sight is a fiber optic blade, which I broke soon after beginning testing, fiber optic tubes are easy-enough to install that you can swap the orange out for whatever color you prefer. The rear is adjustable, but it does not have white dots, a white line or other fripperies. The thumb safety is ambidextrous, and the slide stop is the modern design of the BHP. They are both ergonomic and work as expected.

At the rear, the safety is safeties, as in ambi. The thumb safety has paddles on both sides, and it is a direct copy of the safety levers that you could find on the last of the HPs, which is a good thing. On the classic ones, the safety lever was so small it might as well have not been there. Custom safety levers in the past varied, and some were good, and others were themselves problematic. Of the custom ones I’ve had a chance to handle (not all, alas), the best were done by Ted Yost and Ned Christiansen. The problem there is neither has any openings for work before…ever. Much better than the factory, but still needing some help, were the levers from Cylinder & Slide, and Novak’s. For out-of-the-box, the EAA P35 safeties are first-rate.

And now, we come to the tang. This is a source of almost as much teeth-gnashing by classicists as the accessory rail. I have to confess that as much as the original HP bit me (and oh how they’d bite me) I was not all that keen on a tang. They were just not classic. Well, the MC P35 tang is as restrained as such a thing can be, as useful as its advocates say it is, and not such a change that I can’t get behind it. It is comfortable, it helps keep the recoil under control (not that the 9mm has that much, out of a 29-ounce pistol) and lets you really choke up on the grips. While it might end up in not getting the axis of the bore as low as possible in your hand (something fellow writer Jim Tarr is known to go on at length about) the added leverage it provides means that a perhaps-too-high axis isn’t a big deal. Or perhaps a deal at all. The edges on the slide and frame have all been dealt with, and none are so sharp that your hands are at risk of damage from handling your own pistol. The frame has the serial number on the right side, and the barrel is serial numbered as well.

The grips on the P35 are made out of G10, and they are sculpted to be comfortable. As well as comfortable, the traction pattern machined into the G10 (that’s how it is done, G10 is so hard) have been arranged so as to increase the non-slip function. The rear portion has down-angled grooves to catch your hand, and the front has recessed dimples to lock your fingertips in place. At several times in the production of the HP, they were made with grips that were about as square as you could make them. No, really, they felt like someone has simply taken the packaging crates the steel came in, drilled some grips screw holes, and bolted the slabs on. As soon as each new HP owner found out about them, they’d send a check off to Spegels for a set of proper grips. Oh, those felt good. Then we could get Navidrex, and the newest are VZ Grips, which the EAA grips, frankly, seem to be copies of. However, the design came about, they are comfortable, they feel good in the hand, and they are non-slip. Oh, are they non-slip. That’s the beauty (or terror, if you have office-soft hands) of G10. A sharp edge stays sharp, your hand does not wear it down.

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The Falco C603L arrived quickly and was a snug fit with the light installed. Pretty much ready to go as it arrived, but Falco sent along their Break-In set so it would be even more perfect. The Girsan MC P35 has the integral feedramp that the HP has always had, but the modern single ramp, not the two-step of old. The MC P35 barrel does not have a link, there’s a lower lug that engages the frame bolt to lock and unlock. The Streamlight TRS-8 fit just fine, worked like a charm, and added light and laser to an updated classic pistol.

At the bottom of the frame, the front strap has a forward flange, to help lock your hand onto the frame. If your hand or hands are large enough to contact it, you benefit. If not, then you might not notice it, but for those of us who can take advantage, it is a big deal though it seems a small detail. The front strap and backstraps of the P35 are smooth. One detail of the P35, and the HP, is that to make it sexy and compact, there isn’t a lot of excess metal there. As the gunsmith who taught me mentioned more than once “You get just one chance to checker a Hi Power.” If you want some extra non-slip work there, you’ll have to find a ‘smith who is familiar with the HP, because not just anyone can pull it off. The EAA/Girsan MC P35 PPS and Match come in a latching plastic case, with the foam insert cut to hold the pistol, owner’s manual, lock, and a magazine. You might object to getting one magazine, but the one in there is a Mec-Gar fifteen round magazine, so it is top-notch. And it isn’t as if sourcing Hi-Power mags is a difficult thing these days. A few years ago, it wasn’t easy to find any, let alone some that held more than 13 rounds, but now the supply is up to our needs. Since the EAA is a close copy of the original, legacy magazines will work just fine. I tried the OPS with the included magazine as well as my stash of legacy magazines; the 13-round ones plus the hard-to-find 20-round magazines as well as the current fifteen-round tubes. All worked just fine.

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The G10 grips, cut in a pattern to maximize the non-slip grip. The front and rear of the P35 frame is smooth, and you’ll need a top-notch pistolsmith to have that tractioned. The corners of the frame of the BHP are rather thin. Thick enough to be strong, but not so thick you can make a mistake in checkering and then do it over again.

Now, as to the matter of the accessory rail. It is not the largest one out there, and you will have to be careful about your expectations. I found that my Surefire 300 would not quite fit on the rail, as the light was just a bit too long in the back to let the latch catch in the front slot. However, a Streamlight TLR-8 worked, once I tested the various adapter plates it comes with. So, you will have to be using a light or laser designed to go on a compact or mid-sized pistol, and the biggest ones, ones that would fit on a big-rail 1911, for example, will be too large. But, there are many lights to be had, and some time at the local gun shop testing them for fit will net you a bunch of candidates. As an HP clone, the P35 comes apart the same way as the classics. Unload and remove the magazine. Run the slide back until the safety lever can pivot up into the second safety catch clearance notch in the slide. This locks the slide to the rear. Now press the slide stop lever out from the right. The recoil spring guide rod has an enclosed spring-loaded plunger built into it. This bears on a notch in the shaft of the slide stop lever, and you’ll have to push hard enough to pop the shaft notch out of engagement with the plunger. Once you get the feel for it, it is no big deal. Control the slide and press the safety lever down, and now run the slide assembly forward off of the frame. The recoil spring guide rod is inset into the bottom lug of the barrel, and it will take good hand strength to get them apart. Simply press the spring and guide rod forward, towards the muzzle, and once it clears, pivot it slightly to the side and then ease the spring to a relaxed position. Pull the spring out, tip the barrel down, and pull it out. You’re done.

Recommended


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An afternoon spent at the range, and the demo targets to show that just because it is an old design, and nothing in there is polymer, doesn’t mean it can’t perform. Various ammo designs, weights and velocities, and the P35 still worked like a champ. Yes, that one target has six holes, because gun writers sometimes lose count. Every range trip has at least one bragging group, and in this instance, the MC P35 and Hornady delivered a group like this.

With the P35 disassembled, you can see the HP trigger linkage. When you press the trigger (you can do that when it is disassembled, and not risk damaging things) you’ll see that the lever poking up out of the frame moves upwards. That presses on the lever you’ll see when you turn the slide upside down. That lever then presses down on the little square tab on the sear, and thus releases he hammer. You can see why the HP trigger is prone to being not as nice as a 1911, with all those moving parts. Add in the magazine disconnector on the classic HP pistols, and it can get ugly. Once apart, you can see the improvements that Saive and Browning added into the basic 1911 starting point. The barrel does not have a separate link, it has a cam surface on the bottom lug, that bears on the crossbar in the frame to link the barrel down. The feed ramp is not two pieces as it is in the 1911, frame and barrel, but one piece, all on the barrel. We take this for granted today, but back in 1935 this was quite radical. The older HPs had a feed ramp with a bend, or hitch, or whatever in it. This was designed back in the days when there was only FMJ. When JHPs became common, that had to be changed, and the MC P35 has the one-ramp, proper angle feed ramp to handle anything you will see today in the way of bullet design.

With the sculptured grips, and the already sexy HP frame shape, the P35 was really nice in the hand. The tang lets me really choke up on the frame, and as a result 9mm ammo just didn’t kick all that hard. I ran a variety of ammo through it, including my current softy-shooting bowling pin load for the tip-over events which is a pinch of VV-330 over a 115-grain Blue Bullets round nose. This load barely qualifies as Minor for USPSA or IDPA Power Factor, but it tips pins over and runs slick through every pistol I’ve tried it in. One caveat: it is so soft it might not lock the slide open on stiff-sprung pistols, or for shooters with a limp-wrist hold. The MC P35 worked just fine, and locked open after the last round, each time. And yes, it hit to the sights. You might ask just how close a copy is the P35 to the HP? Well, to answer that I grabbed an array of Belgian-made HPs out of the safe, and tried their slide assemblies on the P35, and vice-versa. Yep, no problem. All the 9mms, both of the .40s; the stock and the Ted Yost custom, and the 7.65 all hand-cycled fine, dry-fired fine and locked the slide open on an empty magazine.

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To disassemble, you lock the slide back with the safety lever in the forward slide notch, then press the slide stop lever out from the right side. Unless you need to take off the grips (use a screwdriver, not difficult) this is as far as you’ll need to go in disassembly. Do this after each range trip, wipe scrub and lube, and life will be good.

The EAA Girsan line is not just the Match/OPS, however. Sure, they are the ones a lot will be interested in, and for the list price they are plenty attractive. There’s an OPS Optic, with a red dot on the slide, but fair warning: you give up a rear sight to get an optic. They offer a close clone of the MKIII, with thumb-rest black plastic grips, ambi safety but a strange looking front sight. It is, however, in the same dovetail as the others so you can readily swap that out if its lines offend you. And there are two “commander” sized pistols, with a 3.9-inch barrel and slide to match, both as a classic and as an OPS with tang. And finally, if you just can’t get enough bling in your life, there’s a classic P35, but with a gold plating. Well, gold-colored, as real gold plating would blow past the list price of this one at $1,075 by a wide margin. But it does come in a leather-covered lockable case, instead of the blue plastic one, and the case alone is worth a bunch of points on the bling-meter.

One of the supposed big problems with the BHP design is that it just wasn’t up to the task of handling the volume of shooting we American shooters consume. Back when the FBI was flogging their HRT pistols, the story goes “It was almost like there was an odometer on each gun. At this point, this would break, at that round count this other thing would fall off, and so-on.” When I finally had a late-production Belgian-made BHP built to the FBI specs, I set out finding out the truth of that. 23,000 rounds later, nothing had broken or fallen off. I had encountered two malfunctions, one of which was a bad reload, the other a bad spring on a really old magazine. As long as you don’t heap on lots of +P ammo, or any +P+, I don’t see longevity of a BHP, made in Belgium or Turkey, as a problem. One detail to know: the proper recoil spring for a BHP IN 9MM is 17 pounds. If you plan on shooting your MC P35 a lot, stock up on springs (they are all of eight bucks, don’t be cheap) and swap out the old for a new every 10,000 rounds. It may seem like I’m buying stock in a spring company, but think about it: at a bare minimum you’ve just blasted off $2,500 in ammo, not including range fees, driving to the range, etc. eight bucks for a new spring, to keep things working properly is cheap insurance. In fact, most of you have probably been neglecting routine spring replacements in all your firearms, even the ones not of this design.

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With a smokey load, you can see the laser when it is on. Not like the movies, where they go to great lengths to show laser beams sweeping across the landscape. The light slide of the BHP design means empties are hurled at brisk speeds. That’s why you replace springs every 10,000 rounds.

FN stopped making the Hi-Power back in 2017, and the prices of those they had made have climbed ever since. Finding one at a reasonable price to use as a shooter, or as a start for a custom build, has been frustrating. The last time I could bear to look, a not-new MKIII was running literally twice what the P35 Match/OPS lists for, and the P35s come with the extras already on them. I already have a shelf in the safe filled with various Hi-Powers and clones, but with the features the P35 offers, and the Match and OPS in particular, I have to say the EAA/Girsan offerings are very tempting. If you are tired of polymer, and want to shoot a classic, now’s your chance. OK, so a P35 with an accessory rail is a new thing. So how do you get holsters? I really wasn’t expecting to find any, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that Falco offered such an option. It was an even more pleasant surprise when the package arrived. A quality-made leather holster that fit just right and came with leather treatments as well. The pancake holster that arrived (all the way from Slovakia, and quickly I might add) came with their two-step break-In set, which is a swab and two leather treatments. The full process is on their website, but the idea is to make your holster a perfect fit to your handgun.

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EAA Girsan MC P35 Match/OPS

  • Type: Hammer-fired, semi-automatic
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 10, 13, 15+1 rds. 
  • Barrel: 4.8 in. 
  • Overall Length: 7.75 in. 
  • Weight: 29 oz. 
  • Finish: G10
  • Sights: Adjustable rear, fiber optic front 
  • MSRP: $721 (tested) 
  • Contact: EAACorp.com 

Falco Holsters

The holster that arrived is the C603L OWB, with light. And the list of lights they can make fit the C603L is extensive. I requested one for the Streamlight TLR-8, as it is compact and adaptable. The fit as it came out of the box was plenty good enough for me with the Streamlight attached. Once in, the P35 would not fall out of its own weight, which is the starting point for testing. Since even pistols that can have lights attached don’t always have their light attached, I tried the fit without the TLR-8 and found, not surprisingly, that the fit was a bit loose. However, an extra notch tighter on the belt would easily snug up the fit, and allow you to carry without the light, without having to swap holsters. If leather isn’t your thing, Falco offers nylon, kydex and hybrid holsters. Each is made to order and shipped quickly. In leather, you can choose the leather color, stitching color, even have your initials embossed if you wish. Falco should be on your short list of holster makers, even if the shipping distance at first glance seems to be long. The world of shipping is modern, and Slovakia isn’t that far away anymore.


If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.




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