October 26, 2021
Springfield Armory resurrecting the classic 9mm Hi-Power pistol is a huge story. The Browning/Saive designed 9mm P-35 Grande Puissance or “Hi-Power” is an old warhorse that has served around the globe in a surprising number of armies, both large and small. It fought with both Axis and Allied troops during World War II, served throughout the Cold War and in many dirty forgotten little wars in far-flung places during the collapse of the colonial period. It was even the pistol of choice of highly specialized units like the British SAS and SBS. The reason for its popularity is rather simple; it’s an excellent design with the features you would want on a fighting pistol. But, like all warhorses, the P-35 was eventually put out to pasture and replaced by more modern designs, and in 2018 Browning finally discontinued it.
Springfield Armory, known for both their M1911 pistols and M1A rifles, believed there was still a market for the Hi-Power and so carefully evaluated the US commercial market. They came to the conclusion that there were still a lot of potential customers interested in this classic design. Springfield Armory’s CEO Dennis Reese stated, “The SA-35 represents a classic firearm design born from the genius of John Moses Browning. Just like the 1911 before it, this pistol was truly revolutionary and would influence firearm design for the decades that would follow, even through to today. Springfield Armory recognized there would be strong demand for an offering like this in the market and that a firearm like this would be a terrific fit for the Springfield Armory firearms family.”
I agree, there is a market for a well-made Hi-Power, IF it has the right features. As a potential buyer, this is what you should really be interested in. In the days ahead you will be hearing a lot about the new Springfield Armory SA-35 on blogs, social media and Youtube. Much of it will be penned by people who never even previously heard of Dieudonne Saive and have little relevant experience with this model. They will wax eloquent over its classic design, connection to John Moses Browning and long military service life. But, I suspect few will touch on WHY the Hi-Power went away and if you should really consider buying one today. So, why don’t we do just that.
I began carrying an Inglis manufactured No. 1 Mark 1* Hi-Power daily for concealed carry in 1986. I liked the design, how it carried, its reliability and accuracy. It isn’t perfect, but even so I have been a fan of the Browning P-35 Hi-Power ever since. Firearms News Handguns Editor James Tarr happened to be staying at my home when I sat down to put my thoughts on the SA-35 to paper. Tarr was returning home from competing in the Red Oktober Match, and is currently writing a full review on the Springfield Army SA-35 to appear in our print magazine. So, I took the opportunity to include his thoughts. Firearms News Field Editor Michelle Hamilton happened to be pestering me, which she is alarmingly good at, so I put her to work as well. What follows will hopefully give anyone interested in a Springfield Armory SA-35 9mm pistol some useful information to make an educated decision on if they should purchase one or not.
Let’s start by considering the pros and cons of the original Browning P-35 9mm pistol. I asked Michelle Hamilton her thoughts on it, and she did an excellent job of summing up what all three of us thought:
- Magazine capacity for the time period in which it was designed.
- Very good ergonomics.
- No grip safety (I hate grip safeties).
- Very good practical accuracy.
- Great reliability, even with modern hollow point ammunition.
- Lower capacity than more modern designed "wonder 9" handguns. While 15 round flush fit magazines do exist from magazine giant Mec-Gar and with this, rivals more modern examples of handguns, all while in a smaller package (see P226 and Beretta M92FS for example), standard capacity is 13 rounds and rivaled (or surpassed) by sub-compact handguns like the Sig Sauer P365.
- Small and hard to manipulate manual safety lever.
- Three words, “European Magazine Safety”. The magazine safety negatively affects the trigger pull AND prevents the magazine from dropping free.
- Cost vs practical application. Meaning, a person can purchase a more practical and suitable firearm for substantially less.
- Lack of customer support in terms of replacement and aftermarket parts.
She went on to state: “For me, as much as I love the Browning/FN Hi-Power, if I were not a collector of firearms, I would not purchase one for self-defense or carry. The Glock 19 is more practical, with better capacity and at half the price. The Browning Hi-Power, while it offers great ergonomics and is user friendly, especially in the Mk. III configuration; is becoming antiquated for the most part, overshadowed by modern offerings. Overall, the physical appearance, attraction, history and sheer love for the design keep it alive for the average American owner.”
So, for a newly introduced Hi-Power pistol, namely Springfield Armory’s new SA-35, to be successful the three of us felt it would need to bring certain things to the table. James Tarr summed it up by saying, “A modern Hi-Power needs to have good low profile combat sights you can actually see, a manual safety lever properly sized and contoured for easy manipulation, no magazine safety to detract from the trigger pull or prevent the magazine from dropping free, a redesigned hammer to prevent hammer bite and a higher capacity magazine. Plus, it needs to have the build quality and looks deserving of an old-school classic design. Lastly, it needs to feed and function reliably with modern defensive 9mm JHP loads. Basically, it needs to have all the features you’d previously only find in a custom gun.”
I received a first look at Springfield Armory’s new SA-35 in July 2021. My initial reaction was very positive. The preproduction piece I handled combined the classic Hi-Power look with practical gunfighter features normally found only on a piece which had been sent off for custom work. The vibe it gave off was that of a very cool retro carry gun. The very first thing I looked for while examining it was a magazine safety. I did not find one, so that was a very positive sign. Next, I noted the sights were very usable and the manual safety lever was big enough to easily manipulate without being too big and obtrusive. While I liked what I saw, it was a preproduction piece.
Firearms News Editor Vince DeNiro assigned James Tarr to review a production SA-35 9mm pistol. James has an SA-35 he is currently testing and he shared his initial thoughts. His full review will appear in the pages of a future issue of Firearms News, but here are 5 important facts you will want to know about Springfield Armory’s new SA-35 pistol.
- Sights. Good sights are critical on a fighting pistol, but the Hi-Power was developed during a time period when this was simply not so. Typically in the “good old days”, you sent your Hi-Power out to a custom smith to have a good set of custom sights installed. Springfield Armory recognizes times have changed and fitted good practical sights to their SA-35. The front sight is dovetailed into the slide and features a prominent white dot. The Tactical Rack rear sight is low profile but provides an excellent sight picture. So, the out-of-the-box sights on the SA-35 are very good.
- Safety lever. The original manual safety lever on the P-35 was small and less than optimum on a fighting pistol. Like the sights, the manually safety was typically upgraded by sending your pistol out to a good smith. Due to this Springfield Armory fits the SA-35 with a manual safety lever that is a good balance in size and shape. It is easy to manipulate without being overly big or in the way. This is a must-have feature on a single-action design which will be carried with a round in the chamber, hammer cocked and manual safety engaged.
- Magazine Safety. The Saive designed magazine safety is a pox on the P-35 design as it degrades the quality of the trigger pull while also preventing the magazine from dropping free, greatly slowing reloads. A crappy trigger and slower reloads, no wonder the magazine safety was typically removed and thrown away when having custom work done. I am very happy to report the SA-35 does not incorporate the original magazine safety. Without it magazines eject cleanly with the press of the mag release button. Better still, the trigger pull is noticeably improved over a traditional P-35.
- Hammer bite. The P-35 is not blessed with a large beavertail, and for some hammer bite can be an issue. Americans are not getting any thinner either. With this in mind, Springfield Armory subtly reshaped the ring hammer to prevent hammer bite. This makes for a much more comfortable shooting experience.
- Build quality. The SA-35 is built on a forged steel frame and slide, features a cold hammer-forged barrel and Springfield Armory is stating it is made in the USA. Our initial impression of the SA-35 is positive. Build quality looks good and there are improvements to the original design, such as an improved feed ramp and a 15-round, rather than a 13-round magazine. The checkered walnut grips combined with the matte blued finish give it a pleasing classic look which adds to its appeal.
Time will tell if Springfield Armory read the market correctly. I think there is a market for a well-made pistol though like the SA-35. Plus, the MSRP is reasonable at $699. There was always a lot to like about the original P-35 Hi-Power. Hamilton, Tarr and I are glad to see Springfield Armory putting the effort in to bring the SA-35 to market and we are interested to see what else they have on the horizon for this legendary Browning/Saive design.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.
About the Authors:
David M. Fortier has been covering firearms, ammunition and optics since 1998. He is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Outdoor Writer of the Year award and his writing has been recognized by the Civil Rights organization JPFO. In 2007 he covered the war in Iraq as an embedded journalist.
James Tarr is a former police officer and private investigator, and is a nationally ranked competitive shooter. He has been writing professionally for 20 years, both magazine articles and books.
Michelle Hamilton has a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice/Homeland Security, is a serious student of wound ballistics, military history, small arms design and manufacturing and is a competitive shooter.