Sometimes called John Browning's Last Design, that genius began work on what would become the Hi-Power in 1914, following the success of his immortal Government Model .45 of 1911. (Reportedly, when Saint John fell dead at his workbench in Belgium in 1926, the project before him was the Superposed shotgun.) After Browning's passing the design was picked up by FN's Diudonne Saive, who changed the design in several ways: from Browning's original striker-fired plan to an exposed hammer; to a double-column magazine, arguably the first high-capacity pistol; and the addition of a magazine safety, which weapon authority and historian Ian Hogg considers of "dubious utility in a combat pistol."
In any case introduction of the pistol was delayed, not least by the Great Depression, until 1935, as war once again loomed over Europe. With the fall of Belgium to invading Nazis, the design was smuggled across the channel to England and entered production in Canada. Meanwhile FN's factory continued to operate under Nazi occupation and the Hi-Power, already in the standard German pistol caliber, was issued to the Third Reich's Fallschirmjaeger, paratroopers. Today Nazi-marked Hi-Power pistols can bring four figures from collectors.
After the war, dozens of nations adopted the Hi-Power as their official military sidearm. Other countries made their own copies: Hungary, Israel and Bulgaria are some sources. Genuine Belgian production is still the most highly-prized, but recent output was assembled in Portugal. The Hi-Power was a favorite of genocidal dictator Saddam Hussein, and many Hi-Power pistols are encountered in the Iraq War.
I've wanted a Hi-Power for over twenty years - see the August 2002 weblog section, entry #5, for details. Finally in the summer of 2004 I found a suitable piece in a pawn shop and acquired it.
Originally the pistol was not fully functional. The detent plunger in the safety lever was worn or broken, and the safety re-engaged from recoil after each shot, and the "high thumb" hold causes hammer bite in my hands. Fortunately my friend Cruffler (see weblog) checked with his contacts and located a replacement for essentially free. Then, I had sear trouble - sometimes the pistol will slip to half-cock, and on one occasion it doubled. After about a thousand rounds I think I've narrowed that problem down to the magazines of all things, as the P35's sear is an L-shaped item that reaches down into the magazine well to engage the sear spring. Removing small amounts of metal from certain points on the magazine bodies does appear to have made an improvement, but testing continues. I am also developing handloads for this pistol, particularly with lead bullets (to reduce the risk of ricochet as opposed to jacketed) for practice and competition on steel plates. See the weblog for details.
The pistol came with three 15-round magazines (design capacity was 13), and they might be trouble too. I've considered ordering some 17-round units from CDNN, but they appear to be the exact same design with an extended floorplate. Cruffler exhorts me to get original-capacity 13-round units. The sights are original military but, in limited testing thus far, appear to be properly aligned, and their low profile would be an advantage in concealed carry. The pistol has been proven to feed hollowpoint ammunition and, once the bugs are worked out, I intend to make this my regular carry piece. The Pachmayr wraparound grips it had in the pawn shop have since been replaced with synthetic copies of the popular Chris Spegel design, from Michael's of Oregon, designed for slimness for concealment. Future additions may include a hammer-and-sear set from Cylinder & Slide or Power Custom, and a .22LR conversion kit from Ciener. CMC's "drop-in" Novak-style replacement rear sight is another possibility.
Presently (December 2004) the front sight is being difficult. The original military sight disappeared in a practice session, and a hobbyist-gunsmith installed a very nice replacement that is exactly on-target for 115gr factory FMJ or JHP loads, but now that's coming loose too. The three 15-round Argentine magazines it came with appear to be causing the pistol to slip to half-cock (the sear extends into the magazine well), but two cheap 13-round units found at a show are now working nicely, as are my lead-bullet handloads intended for steel-plate matches. I have found that the extractor must be carefully cleaned to ensure reliability, but if I can get the front sight to stay put this pistol is now fully functional!
Update, April 2005: After some other faults and the occasional mechanical misadventure, the sights are now the only thing needing work on this pistol. Everything else works now. A new extractor spring (Wolff extra-power) solved the last of the feeding problems; tweaking the trigger spring stopped the trigger pin from drifting out; the safety plunger pin is unnecessary and has been discarded since it wouldn't stay put anyway. Pending income, I'm looking at a Bomar TPU low-profile adjustable rear sight, with white outline, and a Millett Orange Bar front, and an extended and/or ambidextrous safety.
Update, September 2005: Actually there are some lingering reliability problems (okay, those may be due to my handloads), and it's been so battered and abused before I rescued it from the pawn shop that it needs a lot of work to become accurate again - no wonder I did so poorly with it in the April '05 plate match, the next time I shot paper with it I was shocked. Fortunately ('blog entry #924) I received some valuable tips on gunsmithing from one of the range officers at my club and will be implementing them. As of 19 September the feed ramp is polished.
Update, Christmas 2005: My sister gave me the "Detective" upper and this has finally solved all remaining problems with this pistol. The slide and barrel it came with are now in the spares pile. Details here. New picture at top. Not displeased with the subtle two-tone finish.
Update, 26 August 2006: VICTORY! Finally I've won the monthly plate match at Clark Rifles with this pistol! Details!
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