Perfectly Sublime: The Cylinder & Slide Custom SA-35
September 8th, 2022
9 minute read
Significant historical moments, designs, ideas and iconic items demand to be noticed and remembered. Just try not to. Ford Model T? Check. Apollo 11? Check. World War II? Check. The list goes on.
I’d like to add John Moses Browning’s P-35 pistol to that list.
One of the most prolifically produced handguns of all time, production of the original pistol ended in early 2018. Frankly, it struck me as odd that such an iconic pistol would simply disappear. But disappear it did.
Suddenly there was a scramble to buy up any still for sale, and used values skyrocketed. We all just assumed, like so many things, that these would “always” be there. Alas, we were wrong, and once that door closed, shooters in the United States crossed fingers and hoped. But it seemed nobody was listening.
But at least one company was.
Rebirth of an Icon
You can imagine my surprise when Mike Humphries, editor of The Armory Life, phoned me saying, “There’s a brand-new P-35-pattern pistol from Springfield Armory called the SA-35 available. If you want one, I’d like to send it to you for review.”
Want one? Was he serious? Besides catching me and hundreds of thousands of other shooters completely flat-footed, I’m not entirely sure Springfield realized just what they had done. Like a surgical laser, they had hit the exact point where the pain was and unerringly supplying precisely what many American shooters had been wishing for — an affordable, high-quality pistol based on the classic P-35.
Oh, and did I mention it’s made right here in this country? The fact it’s made in the U.S.A. caused collective cups to gush over. No, really, it did. I know mine gushed some.
My test sample arrived and, as Clint Smith used to say, “I shot the snot out of it.” It proved to be solid, well-crafted, and addressed issues many of us had with the original design. Gone was the silly magazine disconnect safety, bringing it in line with all of Springfield’s other pistol offerings. On the original, this disconnect wreaked havoc with the trigger pull. Good riddance.
The firing pin safety that was on many old models disappeared, the trigger was better, and the magazine well was beveled and accepts a flush-fitting 15-round magazine that gives you two more rounds over the original’s 13-rounders — which will also work in the gun, by the way. In addition, the hammer ergonomics were changed to lower the chance of the irritating hammer bite for which the original was known. It was like a custom gun — but wearing stock gun clothing.
In short, Springfield delivered what shooters were hoping for, tidily wrapped into a well-constructed package, and made in the U.S.A. — for just $699. When Mike first called, I had assumed the price was going to be in the $1,200 range or so. When I asked if the $699 price I saw in the specifications sheet was correct, he said, ““Yep, that’s right. You’re not seeing things!” I honestly recall thinking, “Does Springfield Armory have any idea of what they’ve just done?”
They did, though. Cue the smiles, I’m betting.
My early test gun now has upwards of 900 rounds through it and has tracked just fine. I’ve had no issues, and also confess I clean it, lube it, shoot high-quality ammo through it and always use a firm firing platform. When you do those things, good guns tend to run fine. But still, there are always things to wish for, even in a solid base gun, right?
Cylinder & Slide, Inc. — known by many of us simply as “C&S” — was started by that mustachioed scoundrel Bill Laughridge after he cut his gunsmithing teeth in the late 1970s. Bill’s innovative, high-quality work soon gave the C&S brand significant gravitas among shooters. C&S custom 1911 and P-35 work was soon followed by Bill making superior parts for both platforms, parts soon in demand for custom builds by pistolsmiths everywhere.
But it was the C&S focus on P-35-pattern pistol builds and parts which really helped to keep that breed alive. Today, C&S’s parts, carefully designed, built and vetted by Bill and his team, are the go-to source if you want to upgrade your own gun.
In our case, we cut Bill loose and challenged him: “What would you do to the SA-35 to make it even better?” We figured Bill would dig deep into his decades of experience building custom variants of this design, and the result would be compelling, attractive and frankly, make good sense.
“The SA-35 is a strong base gun,” explained Bill. “And strong bones are what you need to build on. There’s nothing wrong with it to begin with, which means we don’t need to ‘fix’ any issues right off the bat. We’re just honing, improving and enhancing usability and performance with the addition of certain key parts and custom work.”
Well, it also helps to have the experience to know what to do, and Bill’s ace-in-the-hole at C&S is Ralph Gutekunst. Ralph has been at the company for over 25 years and what he knows about this revered design could, well, fill a good-sized book. Bill set him loose on the SA-35.
Most custom builds combine modifications to existing parts, the addition of custom parts, and handwork to improve the looks or function of things. For this build, Ralph re-crowned the factory barrel (which is a good barrel to begin with) to 11 degrees, throated it, and polished the feed ramp at the same time. Since the gun was detail-stripped, it was also carefully deburred and polished inside. Most factory-built guns can benefit from some careful polishing treatment regardless of the make, model or brand.
A C&S extractor has been installed, tensioned and radiused, a carry bevel performed, breaking any edges to make carry even more comfy, and a wide C&S Combat trigger was installed and fit. Part of that work entails fitting a C&S Commander-style hammer, shortening the trigger re-connect bar (to shorten the re-set) and working things to a 4- to 4.5-lb. trigger pull into the mix. Over-travel is touched up, too, so the break is clean and sharp. The addition of the C&S firing pin stop assures things are tight and to spec there, too.
The front and back grip straps are stippled by hand with the result being a unique feel, one different from checkering. It’s aggressive and you can feel it sort of flow into your skin, but it doesn’t rub you raw after shooting. It really changes the way the SA-35 feels, and I like it a good deal. The slide top now sports lengthwise serrations too, front cocking serrations are in-place, a C&S thumb safety (not ambi) is fitted, and the slide sides have been polished — glinting nicely in the right light.
The C&S beavertail is noteworthy in that it’s silver-brazed on, shaped and blended. When the gun was blued, the joint line magically disappeared. It showcases Ralph’s skills, allowing a high and tight grip on the SA-35. It’s a nice enhancement and well worth the fuss in my opinion.
The new sights are particularly compelling, consisting of a Champion adjustable rear and a strong, dovetailed front, complete with a 14-kt. gold bead. A small touch is the Allen head grip screws on the stock grips, but touches like that assure unblemished screw heads as time passes. The SA-35 uses standard P-35-pattern grips, so customizing your grips is as easy as simply replacing them. The ones that come on the gun are a nice set of checkered walnut.
The result of this undeniably interesting work enhances the original package, encouraging accurate, reliable functioning and a high level of pride in ownership. Simply put, investing in something like this enriches the experience for any shooter. “Ask the man who owns one,” as the old Packard ad offered.
I put about 350 assorted rounds through the gun, shooting five loads from five makers. I had also just finished testing two other custom SA-35 pistols from C&S. What struck me was the consistency between them. Everything ran fine, smoothly and reliably on all three guns. That’s often hard to do when it comes to customs.
One of the joys of the original design is the sterling grip frame with just enough girth to hold onto, but not so fat as to be ungainly. The result is an easy-to-control, full-sized 9mm holster gun. With the C&S additions, the game gets ramped up.
I found the safety to “snick” when levered off, unlike on original pistols that just sort of mush “off” and “on.” The adjustable sights offer a bold, easy-to-find sight picture and as different loads impacted different points on the target, I was reminded how nice it is to simply re-zero sights as you change loads.
During shooting, the grip texture showed its value and helped to keep the gun solidly in place. I did a couple of plate rack runs just for fun and it took me back to my early IPSC days in the late 1970s and early ’80s when I shot an original. Such fun, and I’d have walked on hot coals for a gun like this back then.
|Black Hills 125-gr. Honey Badger||1.25″||1,026 fps|
|Blazer Brass 124-gr. FMJ||1.6″||1,094 fps|
|Doubletap 77-gr. SCHP||1.45″||1,558 fps|
|Nosler 124-gr. JHP “Match”||1.55″||1,170 fps|
|Winchester 147-gr. JHP Sub-Sonic||1.0″||1,039 fps|
I pushed the targets out to 25 yards rather than my usual 20 and found groups on high-definition targets with easy-to-find aiming points to average in the 1.25″ to 1.6″ range. The C&S SA-35 really liked an old 147-gr. sub-sonic load I had from Winchester, putting five rounds into a nicely rounded 1″ group.
I have an 80-yard steel torso gong here in my backyard, and even off-hand it was very easy to keep it clanging. This gun is a shooter, no doubt about it. The C&S shop’s 40+ years of experience shows in every shot.
This is easy. While the stock SA-35 is a solidly performing friend, and at an MSRP of only $699 an astonishing bargain, virtually anything can be improved upon. A factory production line doesn’t have the luxury of taking the time to devote the sort of attention to detail, fit and finish a true custom shop can.
I have a 1991 Bentley EIGHT and the build sheet I got for it runs to 160 mostly hand-written pages covering five months of build. Of course, the build quality of the car shows why it takes time. Most autos today have a one page, computer generated “build sheet” and takes about an hour on the production line. Sure, each car can go 100,000 miles, but one does it with flair, style and performance.
But that exclusivity costs. MSRP on this C&S Custom SA-35 is $3,860.31 with the base gun included. It’s a true custom, so on your own base gun and depending on the options you want, your results may vary. A far cry from $699? Sure. But honestly, what price do you put on happiness?
Besides, I enjoy my old Bentley — but I also have a pick-up truck. I think there’s room for both in life.
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