Coefficient of freshness: appearance and aesthetics in the design of firearms
Like many other gun specialists, I sometimes develop an interest in obscure gun topics that are “haunting” lacking, but not by much. In this regard, I see the American rifleman article by Dr Leonardo M. Antaris as one of the best gun-related things I’ve read in a long time. It is called “In The Beginning” and deals with the range and characteristics of early (late 1880s and earlier), mainly European autoloading pistols.
The author’s research uncovered a number of handguns that most of us have never heard of. Most were not produced in large quantities, but history sheds a different light on this time, when the introduction of smokeless powder had such a big impact on the arms industry. The reduction of fouling with smokeless powder made cartridge feed systems a practical reality, which spawned the first automatic guns. They were generally called “automatic” in the sense that they automatically recharged their own rooms.
As described in the Antaris article, a number of unique semi-automatics were developed and produced during this time of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The designers of the day were primarily concerned with making their contraption work, as obviously there was little effort in the styling elements – pistols from this era are generally ugly as hell. Only the legendary pistol designed by Georg Luger has a lasting style. Bumper sticker philosophers have long proclaimed that “life is too short to shoot a lousy gun.”
As much as we would like to think that we are coldly objective about our choices of personal weaponry, the fact is that we are curiously subjective in the matter. This is true for these first semi-cars. We often base our selection on reputation, popularity and appearance. Since the choice of firearms for personal defense is, in fact, quite a personal matter, this trend is understandable enough. We base part of our reasoning on the so-called “cool coefficient,” slang attributed to gun designer Tom Campbell. Let’s take a look at a pistol that’s pretty cool – and still popular after 88 years – Walther’s classic PPK.
The Walther Weapons The mark dates back to 1908, although family members had already been involved in the arms industry for many years before. The firm has manufactured long guns on several occasions, but it is best known for a long series of high quality pistols. The first guns were small backfire models in the typical calibers of the time: .22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP and .380 ACP. Two different 9mm flashback attempts failed.
Generally the firm’s small semi-automatics were respected, but the police and military were looking for more sophisticated weaponry and Walther sought to fill this need in 1929. He introduced the Model PP, a .380 ACP and semi-automatic. 32 ACP for police officers in uniform. A year later, the manufacturer shortened the PP to a slightly smaller and much cooler handgun. It was called the PPK. This term translates to “police pistol, detective” and it was essentially a PP shorter in length and height. Rarely does a firearm snag like this little pocket pistol.
The major improvement of the PPK in the mechanical sense was the pistol lock. This is common in today’s world, but there were no competing designs in 1930. Walther PPKs have a DA / SA lock, where the first shot fires with long arc trigger pressure that both arms and draws the pistol, then extracts, ejects, feeds and chambers a round, and rearms the hammer when the slide cycles. Subsequent shots involve a short, sharp squeeze of the trigger. The lever on the slide is also a disarmer, which returns the pistol to a safe double-action status.
The above are practical reasons why PPK has become a popular weapon and continues to be produced. But practicality is not the total reason for the weapon’s continued existence and popularity. The various curves, angles and straight lines defined on the planes of the pistol combine to create a pistol that is very visually appealing. In the hand, the shape of the grip, back strap, and trigger reach produce a handgun that points well and evenly distributes recoil when firing. It is light, well finished and enjoys a good reputation. And that reputation may be the result of some intangible factor that has kept one factory or another in business for nearly nine decades.
The appearance of a gun in a popular movie can boost sales to a remarkable extent. Few handguns have seen a spike in sales, however, as has the PPK when Her Majesty’s Secret Service Agent 007 put his in his holster and got to work. Rightly or wrongly, little Walther PPK has become an icon.
have they been used? Of course, I know of a rather contradictory use of a PPK. When the guys finished the evening shift at the Sheriff’s Department, they gathered in the far corner of the huge parking lot to rehash the events of the evening, compare notes, and generally chill out. For reasons unknown, a misguided disbeliever walked past the small group of tired plainclothes patrol officers and shot them. He missed, they gave chase and caught up in a few minutes.
A policeman approached the shooter’s moving car and saw the criminal aim a handgun at him. He knew this guy had to be stopped, so he fired a quick shot, which hit the house and killed the shooter. It’s good that he shot well, as it’s difficult to clear a power jam and drive at the same time. His pistol – a Walther PPK – experienced rare failure as a fighting iron.