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Custom PPK .380
S&W + Walther + C&S = one fine pocket pistol
By Denis Prisbrey

  We don't have to go into the complete history of the Walther PPK/S here most of us know the little pistol was a result of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which left Walther unable to import their PPK into this country when it couldn't meet the requirements imposed for foreign pistols under that law. Walther wanted to maintain a viable presence in the American gun market, where the PPK was popular with police officers, thus the idea of taking the PPK slide and mating it with the PP frame to produce a pistol that was shorter front to rear than the PP, but taller top to bottom than the PPK, and the hybrid made-for-America pistol was off and running. The PPK/S has since been made by Walther in Germany, by the defunct Interarms in Virginia, and now by Smith and Wesson under a licensing arrangement with Walther.


The original PPK was a 7.65 (.32) caliber pistol that didn't have much real punch to it, especially with the full metal jacket bullets, but the PP in the same caliber, introduced in 1929 as the first successful double-action autopistol, was standard police issue in Europe through most of the 1930s and when the more concealable PPK was introduced in 1931 for plainclothes carry, it was a natural progression of the larger pistol. Herein the 'Land Of The Colt .45,' we tend to sneer at the little .32ACP, but it was the cartridge of choice for police in many European Countries for a good part of the last century, and the more powerful .380ACP chambering didn't come along in these Walther until much later.


Walther and Smith & Wesson have been tighter than two fingers in a mitten recently, with Walther \USA (the US branch of the company) sharing the same corporate address as Smith & Wesson in Springfield, and some commingling of personnel and assets. Walther USA has disbanded, and now Smith & Wesson is the US distributor for Walther products, as well as the maker of the current PPK/S. So we're up to date on the who, what, where and why, let's take a look at the gun.

Gun Details

Smith and Wesson and Walther have big plans for the PPK/S-the Walther website catalogs four versions of the pistol, two in stainless (bright & satin), one in blue, and one in a two-tone finish. The bright stainless pistol is listed in both .32ACP and .380ACP, the other three in .380ACP only.

When I first heard that the guns were being resurrected in the U8A again, I asked for an early production sample to test. When it arrived, it looked just like a bright stainless .380 PPK'S with a couple of new touches.

The basic frame on the S&W produced pistol is cast for Walther/S&W by Ruger's Pine Tree casting facility in New Hampshire, with final machining done by Smith & Wesson. The slide and other major components are produced in-house by S&W. My sample PPK'S came with the typical small sights and very heavy double-action trigger pull common to the breed, along with black plastic checkere4 grips and two 7-round magazines, one with finger rest and one without. The pistol features a rounded hammer spur, safety lever on the left rear of the slide, magazine latch button up near the slide behind the triggerguard on the left side of the frame, and the blowback pistol operates the same way as its multinational predecessors. With a loaded magazine and round chambered with the hammer down, the first shot is double-action and all subsequent shots are single-action. The safety lever also works as a de-cocker. Rotate it down and the hammer falls to a safety position with a small bar of steel blocking it from contact with the firing pin.   You can carry the pistol with the safety down or up, if it's down the hammer can't be cocked, if it's up the trigger will work the hammer either cocked or uncocked. The safety will NOT lock the cocked hammer, there's no way to safely carry this pistol with the hammer back and a live round in the chamber, unless you have a holster that puts the thumbstrap between the hammer and the firing pin, and I've never seen one for a PPK/S. This pistol's action was revolutionary in 1929, and its whole reason for being was safe carry with the hammer down while being ready for immediate use with that DA trigger. The Walther/S&W PPK/S also retains the loaded chamber indicator ~in in the slide just below the rear sight. One major new feature that anybody who shoots this pistol very much ought to really like is the extended tang that eliminates the hammer bite the little pistol tends to produce. Also, this PPK/S has a brand new second hammer strut inside that Smith & Wesson says is there to help reduce the heavy. DA trigger pull that's built into the design.

I did mention that my sample was an early production gun, and there were some areas that needed attention. The pistol was covered with sharp edges all around. The double-action trigger pull was heavy, and the traditional tiny PPK'S sights were way too small for tired eyeballs like mine to pick up in a hurry. My gun needed some fine tuning.

Bill Laughridge's Cylinder & Slide Shop has established sort of a tradition of building a custom handgun for me each year, just to show off what they can do, and the solution for the little Walther was obvious. Off it went.

Cylinder & Slide

During phone calls and e-mails with C&S, my basic requests were to get rid of everything sharp on the entire pistol, reduce that very heavy DA trigger pull as much as practical, round off the trigger face, and put some sights on the slide that I could actually find in a hurry. Other than that, I left the field pretty much open to whatever their more extensive Walther experience suggested. Our only disagreement came when I suggested emeralds and they wanted to do sapphires. We compromised on a 14-carat gold front sight bead instead.

This outfit stays busy, and it's best to have a hobby to keep your mind diverted while you wait for the finished product, but it's always worth the wait.

C&S did a carry bevel package on the outside to get rid of all sharp edges, contoured and re-shaped the beavertail tang to round the corners and make it fit the web of the hand more comfortably, and bead blasted the pistol to give it a subdued matte gray finish that's much less reflective than the original glossy stainless. They were also able to remove some material from the frame at the top of the backstrap where it curves into the tang to let the pistol sit slightly lower in the hand, which leaves the bore lower to help reduce muzzle flip during recoil. The frontstrap and backstrap were also stippled to increase control under recoil, and the trigger was radiused and polished.

The less-than-ideal-for-older-eyes factory sights were replaced by a set of fixed Novaks modified to fit the Walther. The new sights feature white dots on the rear, and that gold bead on the front. Admittedly, the PPK/S is not built to be a target pistol, but I just think a fairly serious defensive handgun should have very visible sights, and this one now does.

Inside, the barrel was throated and the feed ramp polished to facilitate positive feeding, and the extractor was radiused and tensioned for more positive extraction.

The muzzle was re-crowned, the chamber was honed, the pistol's insides were polished and de-burred, and a trigger job brought the DA pull down from 14 pounds to 11, and the SA pull from 6 to 4 pounds.

We're almost there.

Hogue Grips

The original black plastic grips that came on the PPK/S were already cracked when it arrived from the factory. Again, this is something that Smith & Wesson has gotten the word on, and they've since changed the material used in the PPK/S grip panels. Mine needed to be replaced though, and they were, by a beautiful set of Pau Ferros from Hogue. The Hogues are thicker than the factory grips, which makes the Walther a little wider in the hand and marginally bulkier to conceal, but also makes it very comfortable to shoot. The .380 ACP is no elephant gun, but you need control if you ever have to fire fast to defend yourself.

Okay, the gun's there, how about leather?


Alessi Leather

Lou Alessi makes one of the best ankle rigs in the business, I wore one regularly at work before I retired, and the little Walther is a natural for an ankle holster. He provided one to fit my PPK/S, and like my older one this rig uses a very substantial leather band that's padded with thick felt for all day comfort, and cinches up with a heavy duty Velcro strap. As always, if you use this ankle holster, strap it on empty first, tighten it up to where it'll stay put, and then holster the pistol. That should leave you plenty tight for fairly strenuous activity short of bungee jumping. The holster body itself is moulded for secure retention while providing instant access without a snap strap.

Lou also sent a Close Quarter Covert snap-on snap-off belt holster and matching magazine pouch for the PPK/S. I like this one, it snugs the pistol in close and tight, the top is reinforced to stay open for one-handed reholstering (a big plus), and you don't have to get half undressed to put the holster on or take it off. It's also rugged and gives a good grip on the gun for the draw.

And, we're good to go. Lets see how it shoots.


Shooting Impressions

I took two Remington loads, a Winchester load, and a CorBon load to the pit for testing with the Walther. I started out at ten feet with rapid double taps alternating between two standard B27 black silhouettes and had no trouble at all staying inside the torso "stop" zone. The pistol is very controllable, particularly with the thicker Hogue grips, and quite easy to shoot.

Moving back to the 25-yard bench, I fired several five-shot strings with each factory load for accuracy. I wouldn't take the Walther to the Olympics, but it was respectable at distances beyond what it was designed for, and I have no complaints. The best five-shot groups are shown in the chart.


It All Adds Up

The results justify the effort. After some fine tuning that's common in any new gun startup process, Smith & Wesson should have a handle on the new PPK/S by now, and the Walther tradition continues. When my department first went to autos back in the early 80s, the Walther PPK/S was one of the first two pistols approved for private purchase duty and off duty use. I tried one out back then and, frankly, didn't like it. The extended tang on the new S&W version makes a difference, and with the thicker Hogue grips and the Cylinder & Slide magic, I'd give the little pistol a second chance if I were a working man today.

The total cost of the work that Cylinder & Slide did on my PPK/S was $905. And, before you give up on the idea in despair, I'll point out like I always do with C&S projects that you most definitely don't have to get the whole package. You can pick and choose the work you'd like done and ignore the rest. If you're interested in one of the new Walthers and might want to tweak it a little, I'd recommend the carry bevel at $63.50, barrel throat and feed ramp polish at $42.75, and the trigger job at $124, as minimums. The modified Novak sights are pricey at $148.50, but well worth it for me. And, the rest is up to you and your own budget. (Prices have changed, since the publication of this article, please visit our online store for the latest prices.)  C&S is always happy to do as much or as little as you want, and you can get with them for a list of services and prices.


Final Notes

This Walther is a reincarnation of a classic backup and concealed carry pistol, and for those who like theirs shaken, not stirred, Smith & Wesson says the PPK itself is not too far behind. Look for both pistols at your local dealer, or get with Smith & Wesson for more information.