As I recently wrote, I discovered a forgotten treasure in guns that my father kept in his collection. One was a Smith and Wesson Model 1917 in .45 Auto caliber. My particular gun is a Brazilian contract gun made in 1937. It was made in America for the Brazilian Military Contract, and I forget how many were shipped over to them over the years but in the 1960's through 1970's both American and Brazilian military surplus began being sold to the public.
Some 11,ooo of these Brazilian Contract Model 1917's, as they were called, were imported back in the USA. Many of these guns made their way to Smith and Wesson, who parkerized them, refurbished and replaced the springs, firing pins and other interior parts, and they were then resold.
The model 1917 served well in both World Wars, and I saw numerous scenes in the HBO series The Pacific in which period correct holsters and ammo carriers and belts for these guns were used. They were particularly popular with those soldiers carrying the .45 Tommy guns, as they shared the same ammo. And could be counted on not to jam.
With half moon (3 rounds), quarter moon (2 rounds) and full moon (6 rounds) clips, these guns are faster to load than with a speedloader. But the beauty in the Smith M1917 over the Colt M1917 was that the Smith would chamber and fire rounds not mounted in any clips. The Colt would not fire shells not mounted in a form of clip, as I understand.
So if you fire without using the moon clips, you have to hand pick or poke out the emptys, often swollen from being fired. And hot, I might add. The moon clips allow the rounds to be ejected by the extractor wheel, since the .45 auto have no rim to eject the shell by themselves.
The trigger was nice on this family gun, very nice. More like a Model 19 Smith than a Python, both of which I have much experience with. I took it to my local gunsmith, John, and he was fascinated by the gun. As I suspected by the notch sight configuration (different than that issued to the American Military), he was very excited by the gun and it's history. He's a big Colt man, loving the Practical Police, and Official Police and the Colt version of the Model 1917.
So he put a bit of break free, just a dab will do it, he said, on the seal on the right side of the faceplate. It was a Brazilian State Seal. After removing the Pachmayer presentation grips my dad bought the gun with at some gun show or pawn shop, John excitedly exclaimed that the interior parts of the gun were damned near brand new. They were shiny.
John excitedly told me that this gun had undergone and extensive trigger job, a very careful and safe job designed to make the double and single action pull smoother, not necessarily dangerously light. He agreed it was definitely a high-dollar trigger job, possibly done at the Smith factory. In fact, he surmised that the gun was in near 100% condition, not counting the refinishing, which certainly would cost some points.
He's going to work on the extremely large front sight for me, as it was grouping 2" to the right and about that same distance down. He refuses to alter the gun in any way. "It's a piece of history, man". But he did agree to straighten the front blade sight and perhaps do some minicule filing, as it appears to be not straight not even across the top.
Shooting it at the range was a joy. Both El Fisho Jr. and I were astonished by the lack of felt recoil. My gun weighs in at just over a couple of pounds, less than both of the 6" S&W Model 25-5's I've owned chambered in .45 Long Colt. And I could not believe that the recoil from the moderate federal solid bullets I was shooting was just SO MUCH LESS than the 25-5's I've shot. The more modern Model 1917, which is the Smith and Wesson Model 22, is heavier than the Model 1917 yet also has more recoil, and the M22 shoots the same .45 ACP ammo as the M1917.
So it's hard to explain how this 73 year old handgun, based on a 1917 production weapon and virtually unchanged in those 20 years between design and the manufacture of my gun, shoots better and nicer than the guns based on it's design that have been made by Smith in the intervening years. Many say the Colt variant shoots even better than the Smith M1917.
I like the gun so much I would strongly consider it as a carry gun. It is damn long with that 5 1/2 inch barrel, but it didn't seem as wide as the modern Smith Model 325 .45 auto combat revolver he produced as an option to me cutting the barrel of my gun.
Besides, he said, it would cost more to have the Model 1917 barrel customized than it would to buy a nice used Model 325 for carry purposes. That may be true, but deep in my mind, I feel a desire to customize it for a family hierloom for El Fisho Jr.
John looked it up in some gun value book, and based on it's condition he said from $800 to $1,000. Which is nice but he was resolute that the gun unaltered would be very valuable by the time El Fisho jr. is in his 30's.
I tend to disagree, based upon my research about the Brazilian contract gun. I'll write to Smith to see if there is any info on the refurb, if they still offer this service. Much of this info may be online. It might be worth that much now, but it is such a damn fine shooting gun with such minimalistic recoil (think .38 short in this same size gun) that you can't believe it blasting out a FMJ practice ammo of 230 grains of .45 auto.
If I did customize it, I'd leave the grips, as they surely contribute much to the less felt recoil. They are handfilling and perfectly fit my hand, as well as El Fisho Jr's, despite the disparity in our hand sizes. El Fisho Jr. was shooting nice groups one handed and the recoil was no biggie to him.
After John made an ever so slight adjustment to the trigger spring tension screw under the grip, El Fisho Jr. is able to accurately shoot rapid fire double action in both groups of twos and threes with no issues at all. Some of my DA revolvers have a bit strong of a double action pull, but El Fisho Jr. had no control problems or accuracy issues doing rapid double and triple taps at the range. It was a new gun to us and we were both getting used to it, just as El Fisho Jr. is easing into range practice, but he attracted a crowd of several other shooters who stopped to watch him shoot some pretty nice groups (albeit with the M1917 off center) with the M1917 and the Combat Masterpiece M67 4".
SO I'm totally impressed with this firearm. Low recoil. With a slight bit of sight work, I'll have excellent accuracy, but it has fair accuracy as it stands now for defense purposes. I'm going to hit a 2" radius from where I'm aiming, but I look forward to having that problem solved with the sight work.
And somewhere in the back of my mind I see this gun with a 3" barrel. A deep rich blue finish, with a gold plated ejector rod, cylinder release lever, trigger and hammer. I don't know if the parts are interchangeable, but I'm sure a good gunsmith could adapt a wide target hammer and trigger to this gun from a Model 22 or perhaps an earlier model of Smith gun featuring the wider models.
I've always been skeptical of trigger shoes, despite the huge worship revolver and holster guru Chic Gaylord had for them, but I might try one on this gun. The current trigger and hammer are not untenable. The hammer reminds me of the one on the colt D frame snubnose revolvers.
In any event, there won't be any customization anytime soon. I think of the history of these guns. They found all over Brazil, and in America, they used them as late as Vietnam, being issued to various naval forces, particularly gunboat soldiers. I have spoken to several naval fellows who worked the exteme backcountry rivers, constantly under fire, who often carried two of these at a time, in crossdraw holsters, with a ton of moon clips in large pouches, a few grenades and M16 clips and a canteen on their pistol belts.
I can see why they liked these pistols. John the gunsmith is also going to look for me a nice concealed carry holster for this gun at the gun shows he works, although I think any wear of this gun is going to be limited to winter clothing months.