With a legacy of being produced for more than eight decades, the P-35 9mm pistol is justifiably considered a classic. But, commercial variants have been vacant from the market for several years and original military pistols are commanding increasingly steeper prices. There was clearly demand for a newly made version of the iconic handgun. Enter the new Springfield Armory SA-35.
Editor’s Note: This article is a “first look” at the gun. After reading this, be sure to read Rob Garrett’s full SA-35 review for an in-depth test of the pistol.
Made here in the United States in Geneseo, Illinois, the new SA-35 takes everything that was good with the original and then adds Springfield’s own enhancements, improvements and modernizations.
The original P-35 was first conceived by legendary firearms inventor John Moses Browning in 1921, in response to a request from the French military for a pistol in 9mm that could hold at least 10 rounds. Browning set about developing the pistol, working with renowned engineer Dieudonné Saive. The result was a pistol that featured a double-column magazine that held an astounding 15 rounds, practically doubling the capacity of all comparable pistols of the time.
Unfortunately, Browning passed away as the pistol was being developed, but work on the pistol continued, with the capacity being reduced down to 13 rounds due to what was perceived as too long a grip. The pistol that we know as the P-35 would eventually appear in 1935. While the French ultimately passed on the design, it would go on to become one of the most prolific and influential handguns in the world.
A New Take
Although the P-35 is still a very capable pistol, it does show its age when compared to more modern designs. Springfield Armory has a long history of taking time-honored designs and updating them with modern manufacturing and materials, making them both classic and cutting-edge.
For strength and durability, Springfield utilized forged steel for the slide and frame, with a cold hammer-forged barrel rounding out the package. The frame, slide and barrel are all precision CNC machined for extremely tight tolerances. Another welcomed quality is the use of modern heat treating to increase the strength of the metals.
Beyond the materials and construction, Springfield Armory also added upgrades and enhancements to the ergonomics, operation and performance of the pistol. Firstly, they have included a 15-round, flush-fit magazine that gets you two more rounds over the original magazine (which the pistol will also accept). Also, the magazine well is beveled to help feed those magazines more quickly and easily. Other improvements include a factory-tuned trigger, “no-bite” hammer design, a modernized extended thumb safety, “Tactical Rack” sights and more.
One of the most significant changes was Springfield’s choice to configure the SA-35 without the magazine disconnect, as found in the original design. This brings it in line with the rest of Springfield Armory’s offerings and provides the ability for magazines to drop freely.
Maintaining aftermarket support was also high on Springfield Armory’s priority list for the SA-35, and much like their 1911 line, many tolerances were tweaked/refined for more precise, consistent fitment of the major components compared against the original.
Additionally, Springfield worked hard on the aesthetics of the SA-35. Beyond the attractive matte blued finish and slim checkered walnut grips, they put a lot of work into the integral barrel lug to make the exterior outline of it blend aesthetically with the frame.
Here are the Springfield SA-35 specs:
|Barrel||4.7″ cold hammer-forged|
|Sights||White dot front, serrated Tactical Rack rear|
|Finish||Blued carbon steel|
|Capacity||15+1, one magazine included|
As a collector and a student of firearms history, being able to get my hands on one of the first SA-35 pistols was a dream come true. There is something special about holding a firearm that has roots to one of the most prolific firearms designers in history. The SA-35 is extremely accurate and very easy to shoot, and as I manipulate and fire the pistol I can see where many of today’s designs have followed the design of this trailblazer. The original P-35 really influenced a lot of what we see and use today and was way ahead of its time. With the release of the SA-35, I believe Springfield has taken a classic and updated it to become a design that will continue to compete for decades to come.
Modern polymer guns have their place and, in many ways, can excel over firearm designs of the past. But there is nothing quite like shooting a precision-crafted pistol made from forged steel. The pistol just wants to shoot flat. Rapid firing this pistol is just plain fun, and it is ready for quick and accurate follow-up shots. The trigger is a much-improved trigger over the original design. You can really tell the difference between Springfield’s SA-35 and an original. The tolerances are tight, and the pistol is solid and well built with the end user in mind.
Springfield really worked on the shootability of this pistol. By my third magazine, I had completely forgotten I was shooting a pistol designed in the 1920s. The extended thumb safety was very similar to other more modern guns that I am used to. It’s easy to actuate and has very tactile “on” and “off” positions, which made going from safe to fire very discernable.
Reloading was effortless thanks to the subtle beveling of the magwell. Maximizing the accuracy of this pistol was made easier with the Tactical Rack sights. More and more I prefer to have blacked-out rear sights and a bright front sight as it makes quick sight acquisition easier and keeps your focus on one point. The sights are also very durable and aid in the event of one-handed slide manipulation from a belt or other hard surface against the forward flat face of the rear sight.
Further aiming to bring this venerable pistol into the modern age, Springfield chose to not include the bemoaned “magazine disconnect” from the original design. This system would prevent the pistol from firing when the magazine was removed, while also impacting the quality of the trigger pull and preventing magazines from falling freely from the pistol. Not incorporating this feature brings the SA-35 in line with the entire Springfield Armory line, allows for a much-improved trigger pull and allows mags to drop freely when you hit the magazine release button. Thank you, Springfield!
Springfield also worked very hard to improve the ergonomics of the pistol. For example, the recontoured hammer eliminates the “bite” you could receive from the original P-35 hammer design, which could come into contact with your hand if you have a high grip or large hands.
The SA-35, even with its retro charm, is actually a very solid choice compared against most “modern” firearms, thanks to the efforts Springfield has taken with it. I noticed that the grip on the SA-35 is on the shorter side compared with most full-size handguns. This makes for a good concealment pistol. With my first look, I used a DeSantis Slim-Tuk holster from the Springfield Armory Store to test fitment and comfort. As a guy who normally EDCs a Hellcat, I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the SA-35 was on my hip. For an all-metal gun, the SA-35 only weighs in at 31.5 oz. with an empty magazine.
Frankly, I didn’t expect to love the SA-35 as much as I do. It was extremely enjoyable to shoot, and the accuracy and lack of recoil made that day at the range a blast. For a guy who has a lot of “go fast” training, I felt like the SA-35 could keep up easily against any more “modern” gun. I am really looking forward to what aftermarket options are out there to further customize this pistol to my liking. I’ve already got my eyes on some nice Lok Grips.
I think people are really going to love this pistol, especially those who are fans of the original P-35. The SA-35 has paid a great tribute to the original while modernizing it for today’s discerning users. I am looking forward to how the SA-35 evolves under the care of Springfield Armory. I would love to eventually see different finishes, custom grip options, etc… Fingers crossed!
And, now for the most amazing part of the story — the price. The MSRP on this pistol is an astounding $699. I was shocked when I heard that number. Considering its features and quality, I expected it to cost much more. So be sure to take a look at the new SA-35. It is well-made, reliable and attractive. I am sure it will exceed all your expectations.
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