Thursday, May 13, 2010

Smith of the Week: Model 52-1 .38 Spl. Wadcutter Target Pistol

It's time once again for the Smith of the Week. I bet I got one this time you've never seen and maybe never even heard of. It's the Smith & Wesson Model 52-1 .38 Special Wadcutter semi-automatic target pistol.

The sample shown is missing the original factory wood grips and instead has a set of special target grips, Fitz Accu-Riser black synthetic grips with adjustable butt hand-rest, but the rest appears to be original.

Here's my description for the gunbroker auction which I took these photos for:

Very Good Condition: Smith & Wesson Model 52-1 .38 Special Wadcutter Single-Action Semi-Auto Competition Target Pistol, 5" stainless-steel barrel, black steel slide and frame, Fitz Accu-Riser black synthetic grips with adjustable butt hand-rest, adjustable target rear sight, ramp front sight, trigger-stop adjustment screw, thumb safety, checkered rear grip frame, milled front grip frame, (1) 5-rd. magazine. Serial number is 100671. No box, no papers, original grips not available.
Here's what Bluebook says about it:
- .38 S&W Spl. Wadcutter only, similar action to Model 39, except incorporates a set screw locking out the double action, 5 in. barrel, 5 shot mag. Approx. 3,500 mfg. 1961-63.
Frankly I never heard of it either until the gun show crew brought it back from a recent show. I found an article on Shooting Times that gives the history of the Model 52.
In 1960, the U.S. Army Marksmanship Training Unit was so impressed with the performance of the Model 39, it requested that Smith & Wesson produce a similar model chambered for a proprietary cartridge it had developed, the .38 AMU, which was little more than the .38 Spl. Mid-Range wadcutter load but using a semirimless case. The new pistol was designated as the Model 52A, and approximately 90 pistols were delivered. They were used by the Army's pistol team for a short time.
S&W saw possibilities for this type of pistol, and in 1961, the company released it on the commercial market as the Model 52. It was similar to the Army pistol, except it was fitted with a longer, 5-inch barrel, used a setscrew to lock out the double-action option on the trigger, and it was chambered for the standard .38 Spl. Mid-Range wadcutter cartridge.
The company saw the Model 52 as the target pistol of the future, and great pains were taken to ensure quality. The company wanted to make sure it was the most accurate out-of-the-box target pistol available to the American shooter. One of the most prominent design features was the barrel shape, in that it increased in diameter at the muzzle so as to lock into a special threaded bushing that was screwed into the front of the slide and secured in place by a spring-loaded plunger. The setup removed all play in the barrel.
According to History of Smith & Wesson by S&W historian Roy Jinks, "To insure the accuracy of the pistol, extra rigid inspection was incorporated by having the Model 52 machine rest tested at 50 yards to insure that the pistol would shoot five-shot groups having maximum spread of two inches. Any pistol that could not meet this standard was returned to production for reworking."

Insistence upon such tight tolerances meant that production was slow, and only 3,500 units were produced by 1963.
In 1963, the Model 52-1 was introduced; it incorporated a steel frame, a new single-action trigger mechanism, and a different hammer. With its innate accuracy, excellent balance, and the ergonomic perfection of its grip frame, the Model 52-1 was an immediate success with competitive handgun shooters. Smith & Wesson labored mightily to meet demand but without sacrificing quality.
The Model 52 was fitted with a rugged-but-precise, fully adjustable rear sight. Much of the Model 52’s accuracy was derived from its precisely fitted muzzle bushing, which was held in place by a spring-loaded pin.
Now you know everything I know about the S&W 52-1, which admittedly is not much.

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