June 12, 2020
At the industry functions, we gun writers get invited to, there is usually a lot of ammo to be shot, and many firearms to shoot ammo from. (Yes, it is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.) And inevitably, there are contests. So, there I was on the line, shooting with Phil Strader. Phil is the pro shooter who inhabits the SIG house, and I have known him for something going on two decades now. We’ve never competed head to head before, because in all that time we were usually in different Divisions in a match. (Lucky me.)
Not this day. We were shooting the new SIG P210 Standard, an all-steel 9mm pistol. Someone walked up as Phil was taking his run.
“What are you shooting?”
“The new SIG P210 Standard.”
“Oh cool. At what?”
“You see that steel target down there?” I asked, pointing to the back of the range bay.
“That one, the silhouette that’s, what, 100 yards away? That’s not too hard to hit.”
“Yes, now, do you see the little plates, hanging off of the frame, down near the ground?”
Just then, Phil connected, sending the plate swinging on its axle.
“That plate? How big is that thing?”
“I’m told it is three inches. My turn.”
The contest was simple: five shots in a magazine, most hits on a run wins. Phil and I went back and forth a couple of times, getting one hit per five-shot magazine, until I failed to come up with a hit. Phil made his hit on the next run, winning the contest. What was the prize? Pride of shooting, and bragging rights. No loot this time, only glory. The P210 began life as the Swiss P49, adopted in 1949 as part of the Swiss small arms modernization program. As they transitioned to the new pistol, they retired their fleet of M1900 7.62 Luger pistols, sidearms that had dated from their adoption of self-loading pistols in, you guessed it, 1900. The P49 is an all-steel single stack 9mm pistol with a single-action trigger, with an interesting origin.
The Swiss licensed the use of the basic design from the French, and their 1935 SACM pistol, but the Swiss cleverly dropped all the bad details of that French pistol. Those who might not have an encyclopedic knowledge of firearms will be surprised to find that the French 1935 was adopted by them rather than use the FN High Power which had been offered to them. That’s right, they went with a 7.65 caliber, single-stack pistol, when they could have had a hi-cap 9mm. Go French DoD. And that the 1935 fired the unique (and French) 7.65x20 Longue pistol cartridge which is/was basically the US .30 Pedersen case, but loaded for pistols. We’re talking a thundering 77 grains of full metal jacketed fury, at a blistering 1,100 fps. And in a final French-only decision, they made two Model 1935 pistols chambered in 7.65x20 Longue, the 1935S and the 1935A, which were externally similar but had no parts commonality between them. No, really, I can’t make this stuff up.
The Swiss were not going to put up with any of that. What they wanted was an all-steel 9mm pistol, and they licensed the 1935 for two reasons: they wanted to use the Petter-designed fire control system, and they were Swiss. They were not going to steal it. The Petter fire control system is a self-contained unit. All the essential parts; hammer, sear, mainspring, were contained in a single assembly that could be removed as a unit. We are all now very familiar with the concept, as there is no end of AR-15 trigger system manufacturers who offer packet triggers for your carbine. Well, this was the original, and it was for pistols. The result of Petter’s genius is a system where you can have the fire control systems assembled, inspected, tested and inventoried at a higher level than unit or local armorers shop. Plus, if you wanted to build special target pistols, all you really had to do was swap out a combat trigger set for a target trigger set, and viola, a much easier trigger pull. Unit armorers could have duty-level trigger weight assemblies in their toolbox. If a pistol went down due to trigger problems, it was a simple fix to swap out the old for the new, no tuning required. Pistol back in business in a couple of minutes, and trigger assembly packet shipped off to Depot for rebuilding. So, in 1937, they licensed the Petter system and the pistol design. Then war intervenes, and they have more important things to do than change equipment. It takes until 1945 before they can stop guarding the border against possible invasion, as well as testing various prototypes, and settle down to upgrading old gear.
After testing and final adoption, the Swiss, building the P49 in the Neuhausen factory, use it until 1975, when they change to the pistol known as the P220. That one is also a single-stack 9mm, but with an aluminum frame, a traditional double action trigger system, and does not use the Petter fire control design. The P49s are also adopted in small numbers by the Danish military and the German Border Police, the Bundesgrenschutz. While still in service in Denmark last I heard (but being replaced by the SIG P320, an excellent choice), the P49s in German use have long since been retired. For many years, the P210 was rare here in the States. Then SIG Sauer began importing them from Europe, but while the rarity decreased slightly, the price was always stiff. The low volume and import costs meant that only those who really, really wanted one would be willing to pay the freight. (Sometime literally.) Then, SIG Sauer announced they would be making them here in the US, in their entirety. The first model available was the Target version, and while it was excellent, it was also a target version. Adjustable sights and a set of target grips were not what I was thinking of, back when the P210 was made of unobtainium. Well, the Standard is now here, and those details are taken care of.
OK, let’s start from the variances from the expected Browning design. On the P210, the frame rails are on the inside of the frame. The slide rails are on the outside of the slide. You can see the machined remnants of the rails, on the slide, poking out in front of the frame. This means that the slide is guided by the frame rails from the back end of the frame, all the way out to the front end of the dust cover.
This increases potential accuracy. The amount of lateral wobble a slide can experience is a function of the clearance between the slide and frame, and the length of the support surface. Think of it as a triangle. If you keep the short end of a right triangle the same length, the longer you make the other leg and the hypotenuse, the sharper the angle becomes on the pointy end. Think of it this way: if you allow a thousandth of an inch of play between slide and frame, and the rails are three inches long, you have one level of accuracy. (Actually, precision in slide to frame fit, but it ends up being accuracy we measure.) If you lengthen the rails to six inches, the slide can’t tilt as much side-to-side, even though you still have that thousandth of an inch of play in the fit. Potential accuracy improves just because the slide has less wobble. SIG uses CNC machining centers to produce the slide and frame out of stainless steel, then gives them a black finish, courtesy of their Nitron process. On top of the slide, in place of the adjustable target sights on the previous USA-made P-210, SIG has installed fixed sights. The modern sights are mounted in transverse dovetails, and the rear sight is much more robust than that of the M49 predecessor. The P210 Standard sights are also of the three-dot design, for them that wants dots.
The extractor is a long section of spring steel, inset in the side of the slide, and extending to the rear edge of the ejector port. It is actuated by a coil spring inside the slide, and held in place by means of a roll pin down through the top of the slide. Behind it there are cocking serrations. The slide is a paragon of minimalist engineering, lacking the scallops, slots, edgy cosmetic details and florid logos that are so en-vogue in the polymer pistol arena these days. Good. The five-inch barrel is carbon steel, fitted to the slide without a barrel bushing, and the bottom lug of the barrel also dispenses with the John Moses Browning legacy of a link. Instead, it has a kidney-shaped cam slot, which the slide stop pin passes through. This both unlocks and locks the barrel during cycling, depending on what part of the firing cycle the slide happens to be in at that moment. An interesting addition to the design is the recoil spring guide rod. The bottom lug of the barrel is machined with a slot down the center, parallel to the bore. The rear of the guide rod has a hole through it for the slide stop pin, and the entire assembly is locked together inside the frame once you’ve assembled the pistol. The barrel has an integral feed ramp, so your 9mm ammo won’t have to jump the gap as on a 1911, and the cases will have complete support, just in case you fancy a go with some +P ammo.
The frame is, as described, made with the rails interior, and full length. This does pose a small problem in slide manipulation, as there just isn’t as much to grab a-hold of when you need to get the slide worked, but the cocking serrations on the slide are robust enough to make the problem a trivial one. SIG, in US production of the P210, made some changes. The slide contours of the US-made pistol vary slightly from the German-made P210s, but that isn’t a big deal. What is a big deal is that they have changed the slide stop and safety shapes, as well as the safety location. On the M49, the slide stop is a large-ish rectangular block, with horizontal ribs running its length. The safety lever is a low-profile lever that rides forward of the front edge of the left-hand grip panel. I’m sure it was deemed more than sufficient for Swiss soldiers, circa 1949, but that design, especially of the thumb safety, is not at all what we’d expect in the 21st century.
So, SIG changed the shape of both those levers, and the location of the safety lever. The two levers are now more sculpted, and the thumb safety is positioned so it rides above the top edge of the left-hand grip panel, a location much more familiar to current shooters. They are not serrated or otherwise given a non-slip surface, but they are shaped such that you are highly unlikely toned checkering or other treatments. The front of the trigger guard is still shaped with a flat face and has a vestigial hook on the bottom, as a place for your off-hand index finger if you shoot that way. The magazine button is right behind the trigger guard, and the eight-round magazines drop free. The magazine well is not beveled, as that is an operation that long post-dates the origins of the M49. The grips wrap around the back of the P210 frame, while the frontstrap is checkered for a non-slip grip.
The trigger is pivoted, you can see the pivot pin through the frame, just above the back edge of the trigger guard opening. The trigger pull on the P210 is, well, Swiss. You have a light take-up, with the trigger pivoting (an odd sensation for someone used to the 1911 trigger and its straight-back motion) and then once you’ve pressed with enough force, the hammer falls. The rest is crisp, and you simply repeat as necessary. I had dry-fired and shot at the range the P210 Standard for a bunch before I hauled out the trigger pull gauge. I was surprised to read it at four pounds. From the dry-firing I would have pegged it at three, but that’s what a clean, crisp trigger pull does for you, it fools you into thinking it is lighter than it actually is. The magazines are steel, blued, with a pressed-in groove on the left side to act as a cartridge guide. The finger-hook shaped baseplates come off for cleaning, and there are witness holes along the side so you can tell at a glance how many cartridges are present. SIG has extras in stock, should you want more. They sent me extras, not that I needed them, since I wasn’t going to be using the P210 Standard in a match.
The slide moves with a silky smoothness, it locks up with no hesitation, and the entire experience just oozes precision and quality. Felt recoil, in an all-steel 9mm pistol that weighs two and a quarter pounds? Really, you have to ask? The recoil is not exactly inconsequential, but it is utterly manageable, and in that you will be aided by the generous beavertail on the back of the frame. The beavertail, or tang, is longer on the new model than on the original, as there were a few complaints of hammer-strikes on shooters hands. As one who has bled like a stuck pig from other pistols, I have to say I’ve never experienced hammer bite in a P210, old or new. But if you have, the new contour will minimize or eliminate that.
Loading is simple. Stuff rounds in a magazine. Insert the magazine until it locks in place. Cycle the slide. Push the safety to Safe, and remove the magazine to replace the chambered round. The shoot, aim, press the safety down, press the trigger. Repeat as necessary. The slide will lock open when you’ve fired the last round. Accuracy? Again, you have to ask? One word sums it up: exemplary.
Taking the P210 apart is pretty much like any other pistol, with a few details you have to be aware of. First, if it is loaded, unload it and remove the magazine. Check again, even if it wasn’t loaded before. Then, ease the slide back a quarter-inch or so, and push the slide stop out from right to left. The fit and alignment of the slide stop and its clearances in the slide and frame can be a bit fussy, especially when new. When learning the details of your P210, you will benefit from some patience, and also by nudging the slide back and forth fractionally, until you hit the sweet spot.
Once you get the slide stop out, run the slide forward off of the frame like any other pistol. Turn the slide over and pry the rear end of the guide rod assembly out of the barrel lug. Then lift the barrel out of the slide.
You are finished at this point, unless you want to remove the grips. They require a torx bit, and the screw goes through from the left side grip to the right side one.
An interesting detail that is a historical curiosity. The original M49, and the imports, retained the removable trigger assembly packet. If you have one of those, you strip the M49 down to this point. Then, insert an empty magazine into the frame. Get a thumb or finger on the hammer, press the trigger and ease the hammer down. You can then simply lift the trigger assembly out of the frame. For the US-made pistols, SIG uses a screw on the tang of the frame, a screw that holds the packet in place. On the one hand, I find it a bit disappointing that the original design has been changed. On the other hand, there is nothing you can do to alter, modify, adjust or otherwise screw around with the trigger packet, so it is best left alone. No, I’m not kidding, you can’t improve it, so leave it alone.
In testing the P210 Standard, I had no malfunctions of any kind, Actually, I would have been outraged had there been any. The quality of 9mm ammo these days is such that we can hardly blame the ammo. And pistol manufacturers know they will be held to a high bar. SIG most of all, and they delivered. The P210 delivered on accuracy as well. On the matter of sights, the P210 Standard comes with three-dot combat sights. I prefer plain black sights, and were this my P210, I’d blacken them in. In group-shooting the dots aren’t a problem, but when I start to get up to speed on plate racks and USPSA targets, the dots get in the way. Here, obviously, they did not. The groups would probably be smaller in the hands of someone with younger or sharper eyes. These days, an inch and a half at 25 yards is just about the limit of my ability to see, hold and squeeze, contests included.
Oh, and the contest with Phil? As I said, it was just for bragging rights. Sometimes these contests get quite involved, and very competitive, because there is loot as well as glory involved. But this one, for some reason, didn’t have a lot of volunteers. Perhaps it was because we were shooting it in classic bullseye offhand position. That, and having a three-inch steel plate at 100 yards as the target might have had something to do with it as well. Just in case you were wondering, a three-inch plate, at 100 yards isn’t easy. Hitting it one time out of five shots means holding a no larger than six-inch sized group at that distance. (There is arithmetic involved in figuring that out. I leave it as an exercise for the readers who are interested.) That means we were holding every single shot inside the 10 ring of an NRA slow-fire bullseye 50-yard target, at 50 yards. Had I had a moment to do the arithmetic I might not have taken Phil up on the challenge. But I did, and the SIG P210 Standard, using SIG 9mm ammo, was easily up to the task, even if we were barely up to it. But having said yes, I got a chance to shoot the new P210 Standard, and man was it fun. Now that I’ve had another chance, I’ve found that the fun has held up.
The SIG P210, aka M49, was also in the vanguard of IPSC shooting. No, really. You see, the second World Shoot, held in 1976 (Salzburg, Austria) was won with a P210, and the third, held in 1977 (Salisbury, Rhodesia) was won with a Browning Hi Power. Yes, that’s right, back in the early days of IPSC, the P210, scored Minor, and with the thumb safety in a location we’d find odd today, was the tool that Jan Foss used to beat all other competitors.
What place does the P210 have in the 21st century? It is rather big and heavy for a defensive pistol, and were I packing a 9mm all day long I think I’d want something that held more than 8+1 rounds. The Swiss did experiment with a double-stack variant of the M49 back when they were still deciding on just what they wanted. Now that would have been interesting. And a hi-cap M49 might well have kept the 9mm competitive for IPSC. A durable, accurate, 16+1 9mm, to duke it out with the 1911, in the mid-1970s would have been quite the tool. Sigh, but not to be.
As a competition gun, the P210 Standard suffers from the same problem as it did in 1975: it lacks capacity to be competitive in the Limited Division. It isn’t a striker-fired pistol, so it wouldn’t pass muster in Production. It is a single-stack pistol, but the USPSA Single Stack Division specifically requires 1911 pistols, no other need apply. You could shoot it in Limited 10, but you’d have to declare Minor and take the scoring hit. And you’d have 8-round magazines to everyone else’s 10. Of course, given the accuracy Phil and I experienced, and what my own group-shooting produced later, the P210 Standard would make a cracking good “Any Centerfire” pistol for Bullseye. And if you can find a place to shoot PPC (a great wintertime league match to enroll in, to learn precision shooting) you will be the envy of those shooting in the Duty Pistol category.
No, you don’t buy a P210 Standard for daily carry, you buy a P210 Standard because you appreciate fine design and craftsmanship. Because you want a superbly accurate pistol. And because you desire steel more than polymer. The most surprising thing about the P210 Standard, besides the audacity of offering an all-steel 9mm single stack, is the price. I was fully prepared to see a list price a full grand higher. At the list price of just over thirteen Benjamins, the P210 Standard is a steal. I mean, there are vanilla-plain 1911s you can’t buy for that. Sure, it is twice the cost of what a polymer-framed, striker-fired 9mm is going to cost you, but the combat Tupperware is not going to have soul, character, style or panache.
If you haven’t ever shot a pistol that was more accurate than you are, or more accurate than anyone you know, now’s your chance. All I’m asking for now from SIG is a set of grips just like the originals, the P49 wood grips with the horizontal grooves, and the lanyard loop staple on the left side of the frame.
SIG Sauer P210 Standard SpecsType:
SIG Sauer; (603) 610-3000; SIGSauer.com
SIG Sauer P210 Standard Accuracy Results