Is the SA-35 Suited for Modern CCW? An Undercover Cop’s Perspective

By Scott Wagner
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Is the SA-35 Suited for Modern CCW? An Undercover Cop’s Perspective

September 25th, 2022

6 minute read

I always had a desire to own a P-35-pattern pistol ever since the early 1970’s when I became seriously interested in guns as a young teenager. The Belgian P-35 was particularly fascinating due to its legendary 13+1 round 9mm capacity. It was also very sleek and graceful in appearance, with a nice blued finish on the slide and frame and attractive walnut grips. It was unlike anything else on the market — there were very few double-stack 9mm designs available then.

is the SA-35 suited for modern CCW on motorcycle
The Springfield Armory SA-35 is a proven technology. Is it worth considering for your CCW needs?

As I entered the field of law enforcement in 1980, there were times I considered purchasing one, even though as an auxiliary patrol deputy I likely would not have been allowed to carry it as it was not on the approved list due to its 9mm caliber. We were limited to .38 Special revolvers or 1911 .45 pistols — not a bad choice for 1980! Besides, I didn’t have the money for one at that time.

When I really wanted one was when I was a detective making drug buys with the county’s Metropolitan Enforcement Group. That was when that 13+1 round capacity would have been comforting — and since only one cop in our entire county carried one at his PD, the pistol would never be “made” as a cop gun. But once again, I couldn’t seem to come up with the cash for one. The desire for one was shelved for many years.

What was also driving my interest in the design was its inclusion in the 1984 movie Beverly Hills Cop starring Eddie Murphy. Eddie Murphy’s character is an undercover Detroit P.D. detective who packs one of these pistols — the only movie cop other than “Serpico” I know of who did.

Murphy’s weapon handling was excellent. His weak-hand-only reloading technique was picked up by many agencies. I taught it after it was shown to me at our state training academy. It’s a legendary flick for fans of the design. However, I still couldn’t afford one.

A Second Chance

When commercial production of the design ended in 2018, I figured that it was time to let my dream go. Besides, the price of a gun had increased to $1,000 or more and I couldn’t justify the price tag. Then out of the blue, Springfield Armory introduced a nicely upgraded and American-made version of the design — the SA-35.

is the SA-35 suited for modern ccw with horse
The SA-35 can be carried in a variety of locations and methods, from IWB to OWB to shoulder rigs.

In my opinion, the Springfield SA-35 is the pistol that the original design should have evolved into. Better yet, the average shooter who has always wanted one — as I did — can at last afford it. After all these years, I had an opportunity to get my hands on one. But how would it hold up against all the other modern, double-column 9mm pistols available now?

What It’s Not

The SA-35 is not intended as a “classic” reintroduction — Springfield boldly proclaims that fact in its full-page ads you’ll see in print magazines. It is also not a “safe queen”, a curio or an investment. It’s designed to be used — used for home defense, concealed carry and recreational shooting of all sorts. If I were still working as an officer, I’d pack it on the street.

the SA-35 for daily carry
While beautiful, the Springfield SA-35 is designed to be used not hidden away in a safe. Get it out for training and daily carry.

The improvements made by Springfield Armory are subtle and slight, because the foundation of the original was so solid. If you like the looks of the original, you’ll love the styling of the SA-35. Springfield’s web page refers to the SA-35 as a “Re-birth of an Icon”. I’d say that is an accurate description.

One thing that the SA-35 isn’t is a double action/single action (DA/SA) handgun. It features a single-action trigger, and is a gun meant to be carried cocked and locked. The SA-35’s graceful curved trigger is very crisp and light at a measured 4 lbs. 3 oz. What also makes the trigger so good is that Springfield eliminated the original magazine disconnect “safety” system to bring the design in line with its other pistol offerings. This feature of the original prevented the development of a first-class trigger. Unlike the P-35, the SA-35 can fire with the magazine removed.

What It Is

The SA-35 is the finest shooting production pistol I’ve ever handled, carried and fired. Its 31.5-oz. forged steel weight — which is 5.5 ounces less than an average 1911 — sits perfectly in the hand and is a natural pointer. The feel is phenomenal.

The enhanced manual safety lever (which “snicks” off and on when operated) makes operation under stress quite smooth. There is no grip safety. The sights are modernized with a white dot front and a great serrated plain “U” notch rear. I would like to see a brass dot or a Tritium front sight available as options.

The fully checkered walnut grips assure control when firing. Recoil is tame even with hot +P loads. Because of these qualities, the SA-35 would make a great gun to use for introducing a novice to centerfire pistol shooting.

Daily Carry

I spent time shooting the SA-35 against paper targets and steel on two separate occasions to really get a feel for it. It was on the steel that I knew this handgun belonged “on-duty” with a retired cop after it handled the aforementioned +P ammo as well as FMJ ball ammo from Fiocchi and Sellier and Bellot flawlessly.

carrying the SA-35 in a shoulder holster in a car
The author found the SA-35 fit perfectly in an El Paso Saddlery Tanker Shoulder Holster designed for the 1911.

The slide cycled through the shots like it was running on ball bearings, and the sights were dead-on to the point of aim. There was no-hammer bite from the redesigned hammer spur. There were no malfunctions, and at 30 feet firing from two-hand standing the groups were in the 2” range. The all-steel magazines inserted smoothly into the beveled magazine well, and dropped free just as easily. The slide release lever was easy to access.

Simply put, shooting the SA-35 was pure joy. While I learned a lot at the range, I found out some other interesting things about the SA-35 through extensive concealed carry of this fine handgun. I tried out carrying it in a range of OWB belt rigs from Gould and Goodrich, Craft, Galco and DeSantis — whose nylon IWB holster also worked quite well. It also fit perfectly in an El Paso Saddlery Tanker Shoulder Holster designed for the 1911.

The SA-35 rides extremely well. It obviously conceals just as well as a 1911 or 4” revolver. It fills the hand instantly on the draw without needing to shift the grip as I do sometimes on my Beretta 92. I’ve worn it to church (two services in a row), shopping, on my morning walks, driving to the City of Columbus, quick trips to the store, and while sitting outside at the campfire. Most of the time with one spare magazine. Its trim size makes it much more comfortable to carry than my Beretta 92, whose bulkier size is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to carry. Most importantly, while armed with the Springfield Armory SA-35, I feel totally capable of mounting an effective defense with it, even against an active shooter armed with a rifle. I certainly feel just as well armed with it at home.

What’s Next

The SA-35 is a true defensive handgun just as it comes out of the box. However, I need to add two things to it to keep it in line with my other self-defense handguns. The first is the addition of a set of Crimson Trace LaserGrips, and the second is a Tritium front sight. The rear sight is perfect, as is.

If you can’t figure it out yet, I highly recommend the Springfield Armory SA-35. In fact, I am glad I passed on a P-35 back in the day before I got my hands on the Springfield version. If you are at all interested in a fighting handgun with great history behind it, then this is the one. Oh, and the MSRP is $699. I can finally afford it!

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Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles and videos are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Springfield Armory.

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Scott Wagner

Scott Wagner

Scott W. Wagner is a criminal justice professor and police academy commander in Ohio. He started his law enforcement career in 1980 as a reserve deputy sheriff. He later became an undercover liquor control investigator in 1981 and narcotics investigator in 1982. In 1984, he became a full-time patrol officer for a municipal police department. In 1991, his career changed to law enforcement instruction at a community college. At the same time, he took a position as a reserve deputy sheriff with a rural Ohio agency, where he spent 20 years as a patrol deputy, trainer, and SWAT team member, earning the position of sniper and assistant team leader. The final 10 years of his career was spent as patrol sergeant with a village police agency, retiring in August of 2020. Scott is a police firearms instructor certified to train revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun.

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