The early 20th century saw the introduction of the first practical semiauto pistols, and the popularity of Colt’s Model 1903 and Savage’s Model 1907 pocket pistols caused rising consternation at the offices of Smith & Wesson. So in 1910 S&W purchased the rights to a blowback-operated pistol designed by Charles Philibert Clement. It was chambered for the 7.65mm Browning (.32 ACP) and used a fixed barrel and a lightweight slide. The slide contained the breechblock, which engaged a recoil spring located in a channel above the barrel. A very heavy recoil spring was required, which made it difficult to retract to chamber a round.
The first change made to Clement’s pistol was the inclusion of a grip safety on the frame’s frontstrap that was depressed by the middle finger of the shooting hand. Another safety consisted of a rowel on the backstrap that was rotated up to put the pistol on “Safe.”
The problem with the heavy recoil spring that made it difficult to retract the slide to chamber the first round was solved with a slide crossbolt lock on the left side of the slide. When the slide was grasped with the thumb and trigger finger, the crossbolt was pushed from left to right, disengaging the slide from the recoil spring and allowing the slide to be pulled back and pushed forward to chamber a round. When released, the spring-loaded crossbolt snapped back and engaged the recoil spring.
A seven-round box magazine contained in the grip was released via a button on the bottom of the grip frame.
S&W developed a proprietary cartridge, the .35 Smith & Wesson, for this new pistol. It used a straight-walled, semirimmed case that was 17mm long and loaded with 76- to 80-grain FMJ and softpoint bullets with velocities in the vicinity of 825 fps. The bullet was actually 7.65mm in size, but the “.35″ designation was decided upon to prevent customer confusion. It quickly became known that the more readily available–and cheaper–.32 ACP cartridge would function perfectly in the S&W “.35 Caliber Pistol.”
The pistol was released on the market in May 1913 as the Smith & Wesson .35 Caliber Automatic, although it is often referred to by collectors as the Model 1913.
Initial sales were brisk, but production ceased in 1915 so that the factory could produce revolvers for the British government. It started up again in mid-1916 but was discontinued in 1918 when all factory output was devoted to producing revolvers for the U.S. Army.
The S&W .35 Caliber Pistol lacked the streamlined appearance of the Colt Model 1903, its manual of arms and operation were more complicated, and .35 S&W ammunition was more expensive and less available than .32 ACP ammo. These facts severely limited sales, and production of the Model 1913 ceased in 1922.
During its production life 8,350 S&W .35 Caliber Pistols were produced, but the factory made a continual series of changes and today collectors recognize eight “Types.”
First Type — the original version as described above. The grip safety was operated by pressing it to the rear.
Second Type — the grip safety was redesigned so that it had to be pushed to the left and rearward.
|Manufacturer:||Smith & Wesson|
|Model:||.35 Caliber Automatic (1913)|
|Magazine Capacity:||Seven rounds|
|Barrel:||3.5 in.; hinged barrel/frame assembly|
|Overall Length:||6.5 in.|
|Weight, empty:||22 oz.|
|Sights:||Round blade front; groove in barrel assembly rear|
|Grips:||Smooth walnut with S&W medallions|
|Safety:||Grip safety on front-strap; rotating manual safety on backstrap|
Third Type — the grip safety was changed back to the original style of operation.
Fourth Type — the magazine catch was redesigned.
Fifth Type — used a heavier recoil spring and wider slide crossbolt lock.
Sixth Type — the shape of the recoil spring channel was changed, and the sides of the slide were extended so they overlapped the sides of the frame.
Seventh Type — the S&W stamp on the frame flat behind the grip was discontinued.
Eighth Type — the caliber markings were moved from the left side of the barrel to the right, and the left was marked “Smith & Wesson.”
The commercial failure of the .35 Caliber Pistol left a lingering suspicion at the Springfield factory. It would be 1956 before S&W marketed another centerfire semiautomatic pistol.
Reliable, Yes; Ergonomic, No
My brother Vincent obtained an S&W .35 Caliber Pistol after a decade of searching, and he graciously allowed me to use it for this report. It is an Eighth Type gun in very good condition except for some light external pitting. It has a bright bore and excellent grips.
I fired the Model 1913 for accuracy by shooting five-shot groups from a benchrest at 15 yards. Fellow InterMedia Outdoors contributor Bob Shell provided a supply of custom-loaded .35 S&W cartridges, and I also used a box of UMC .32 ACP ammo to see if the claims of interchangeability were factual.
In general the pistol shot to point of aim, although the all-but-nonexistent rear sight notch caused flyers no matter how careful I was. After several attempts, my groups with the .35 S&W loads averaged just over 3 inches; those fired with the .32s came in at 4 inches.
I then set up a D-1 target and ran a few offhand drills with the little autoloader. Considering its ergonomic deficiencies, the pistol performed extremely well, and the majority of rounds found their way into the higher scoring zones of the target. Reliability was excellent, and I did not experience a single failure to feed, fire, or eject with either the .35 S&W or .32 ACP cartridges.
I found the grip to be too short and too narrow for a positive purchase, and while the grip safety was operated easily, the rowel safety on the backstrap was very difficult to manipulate. Once I had the hang of the slide crossbolt, it could be operated easily.
All in all I found the S&W .35 Caliber Pistol to be a fascinating little pistol. It displayed first-class workmanship and materials and functioned 100-percent reliably, but it was awkward to operate and was sadly lacking in ergonomics. It is not difficult to fathom why a potential purchaser would have opted for a small-frame S&W revolver or one of S&W’s competitor’s pistols instead.
|SHOOTING S&W’S .35-CALIBER MODEL 1913|
|Ammunition||Velocity (fps)||15-yard Accuracy (inches)|
|Shell Custom Loads||842||3.40|
|WARNING: The loads shown here are safe only in the guns for which they were developed. Neither the author nor InterMedia Outdoors, Inc. assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data. NOTES: Accuracy is the average of three, seven-shot groups fired from an MTM rest at 15 yards. Velocity is the average of five rounds measured 10 feet from the gun’s muzzle.|