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As a stubborn, ardent follower of the 1911, I have always treated the P-35 as sort of a “red-headed step child” of our Lord and Savior, John Moses Browning. It is true that while the initial concept was of Browning’s design, his death in 1926 led to the rest of the pistol’s development being done by Dieudonne Saive. And, it was a pistol designed for foreign military contracts. How could a red-blooded fan of the 1911 like that?
But hey, we can all be wrong, right? It was the appearance of the American-made SA-35 that got me to reconsider this proven 9mm design.
Coming to America
Springfield Armory has brought P-35 production to America, tweaking some of these less desirable features, and creating a proper version of the fabled NATO military pistol. Essentially, they have done what Carroll Shelby did with the Ford GT40 — importing a European piece of kit and giving it some much-needed American performance upgrades. Springfield’s new SA-35 has all the classic lines of the original but without some of its quirky features.
For instance, the P-35 has been known to have a nasty hammer bite for folks with thicker paws. I for one have been a repeat offender of the pistol’s sharp nip. Springfield has redesigned the hammer geometry to prevent this, and after more than a few blood-less range days, I find the redesigned hammer profile to be a big improvement.
Furthermore, the sights have been updated, and the safety has become larger and more positive — much like a 1911. The most important upgrade though, is the trigger. Originally, the P-35’s trigger was … well … quite rubbish. As far as single-action triggers go, it has one of the worst in my opinion. This is due to a magazine-trigger disconnect, another bit of Euro-inspired design.
Luckily for you and me, Springfield Armory has removed the magazine disconnect on the SA-35 to bring it in line with the rest of its offerings, and fitted the SA-35 with a clean-breaking trigger that is quite literally a night-and-day difference from the original. Of course, the SA-35 has upgraded, modern sights compared to the original, which is very nice.
A Classic Holster
So, now that the SA-35 has won the American hearts and minds (at least mine!), it is the proper evolution of the pistol to be strapped into the holsters of concealed carriers across the states, myself included. For my rig, I am using a Galco Holster Summer Comfort, an inside-the-waistband (IWB) leather holster held tight by a matching Galco SB3 Dress Belt. A proper leather holster for a proper, classically styled handgun.
In addition to the gun, I carry a pocket knife and, most importantly, a handheld flashlight. Because the SA-35 does not currently have a way to attach a WML (weapon mounted light), I carry a Surefire G2X with a Thyrm Switchback for low-light target acquisition. This allows me to keep a two-handed grip on the handgun with the flashlight pointed downrange. Regardless of if your pistol has the ability to attach a WML, it is imperative to carry a handheld light, in my opinion. It is the single-most used piece of kit in my EDC.
Back to the matter at hand. The SA-35 and its soft curves make for a fabulous concealed carry piece. The forward cant of the Galco Summer Comfort helps to conceal the full-size grip of the SA-35, and the inside-the-waistband nature of the holster conceals the barrel, regardless of shirt or jacket used for concealment. Much like a 1911, I carry the SA-35 “cocked & locked”, which means that there is a round in the chamber, hammer is back and the safety is on.
The safety is exposed with the Summer Comfort and the SA-35. This allows me to “build” my firing grip directly from the holster, and because I grip the handgun with my strong-hand thumb over the safety, I am able to stage (but not disengage) that while the gun is still in the holster.
Springfield’s SA-35 ships with one 15-round magazine, which when carried becomes a 16-round pistol with one in the chamber. This competes with most any gun in its size bracket. At 31.5 ounces, the SA-35 is a touch heavier than many of the polymer-frame guns available. This weight, however, translates to a flatter-shooting pistol, as the SA-35’s heft keeps the barrel flat and on target during the recoil cycle. Coupled with the ergonomic shape of the SA-35, the weight makes for a very, very comfortable shooter.
Carrying over from my experience with a 1911 pistol, I use a “thumb-over” grip on the safety. This grip is built from the holster, allowing me to manipulate the safety off once the gun clears my feet on the draw. The thumb remains over the safety, effectively “pinning” it down. In a world where most defensive handguns do not have thumb safeties, it is imperative to practice drawing while disengaging an external safety.
But, a carry handgun is more than the sum of its performance and aesthetic. Parts, magazines, and accessories are important to a carry handgun’s success. Luckily, Springfield Armory did the right thing, making the SA-35 parts and magazine compatible with the venerable original. This means that the new SA-35 can be serviced using parts from a handgun that has been in production across the world for the better part of a century.
Magazines are plentiful, and 15- and 13-round magazines can be found easily and usually under $30. Accessories are also plentiful, from threaded barrels, grip panels, holsters and even rail fixtures for mounting weapon lights. Because of this compatibility with the original, the SA-35 has an entire network of market support right off the bat, which is crucial for a hard-use, carry handgun.
Heinie Specialty Meets the SA-35
Shortly after my first few range days with the SA-35, I packed it up and sent it off to the good folks at Heinie Specialty. Heinie used to be one of the premier names in the custom 1911 business and while they still do provide custom work, they have become known for pistol sights. Heinie used my pistol as a sample to help develop new sights for the SA-35.
Serrated blacked-out front and ledge rear sights were installed on my SA-35 when it was returned to me, along with a beautiful trigger job and rounded thumb safety. These enhancements, while seemingly small, made a world of difference on the range. Heinie sights are simple, with a thin front sight that really cleans up the target picture when presented. Oh, and the trigger job is just absolutely wonderful with a clean break.
While Heinie Specialty may not be your first thought for SA-35 work, it’s definitely a name that should be on your list.
So, it seems that we Americans finally have ourselves a U.S.-made rendition of John Browning’s “wonder-nine”. Classic aesthetics with modern performance, the SA-35 is just done right. With good reliability over the course of my range days and comfortable function, I’d say that the SA-35 has earned its place in my carry rotation amongst a stable of 1911s. It may not be my favorite handgun ever, but it is a close second.
I may not be able to pronounce Dieudonne Saive’s name, but there is one name that is also important to the history of this fabled Browning design that I can say: Springfield Armory.
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