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Handguns

Savage Model 1907 Automatic Pistol

by Paul Scarlata   |  January 3rd, 2011 1


The Savage Model 1907 was one of the most popular American-made pocket pistols of the 20th century. It featured a tubular slide, burr-style cocking lever, coarse slide serrations, and magazine release in the front of the grip.From its beginnings, the .32 ACP and .380 ACP Model 1907 was intended for personal protection and home defense.
Illustration courtesy of Dave Koch.

From the 1840s until the early 1900s, the words “handgun” and “revolver” had been more or less synonymous, and it was assumed that nothing could replace the wheelgun in the holsters–and hearts–of American shooters, soldiers, and policemen.

It should come as no surprise that it was those dang furriners in Europe who screwed up everything when they began introducing self-loading pistols. And if that wasn’t bad enough, America’s premier gun designer, John Moses Browning, jumped on the bandwagon and began designing semiautomatic pistols too.

Those persons occupying the boardrooms of American gun companies started inquiring, “Where was the respect for tradition? Where was the concern for American soldiers and police officers? Where…was there a profit to be made?”

Colt quietly came to an agreement with Browning to manufacture and market several of his designs. Thus it was in 1905, when the U.S. Army expressed an interest in replacing its revolvers with one of these newfangled pistols, that Colt was the only American firm with the experience and wherewithal to produce them. Or at least that’s what Colt thought.

When the Army announced trials to find a suitable semiautomatic pistol, Savage–founded in 1884 and well known for the Model 99 lever-action rifle–was one of the first American companies to announce an entry.

Known as the Savage Model 1907 .45 Caliber Military Pistol, it was based upon the designs of Maj. Elbert H. Searle and utilized, what the good major referred to as, a “hesitation” or “delayed” blowback system to lock the breech.

Searle’s design consisted of a separate breechblock that contained a spring-loaded striker with a prominent cocking lever that was inserted into the rear of the pistol’s slide where it was held in place by a tongue-and-groove system. The barrel had a lug on top of the chamber that mated with a helical groove on the inside of the slide and another on the bottom that fitted into a slot in the frame. At the instant of firing, the barrel and breechblock/slide unit were locked together, but as the slide started rearward, it bore against the top lug. As the bottom lug prevented the barrel from moving to the rear to any degree, the helical groove in the slide rotated the barrel to the right approximately 5 degrees where the lug entered a straight groove in the slide and allowed the breechblock to recoil fully, extracting the spent cartridge case.

As the slide reciprocated, the cocking lever was forced upward as the rear end of the breechblock–to which the lever was pivoted–slid over the rear of the receiver and drew back the striker and engaged it to the sear. A recoil spring located around the barrel pulled the breechblock forward, stripped the next round out of the magazine, and chambered it. As the breechblock went into battery, the section of helical groove inside the slide bore on the barrel lug, rotated the barrel to the left, and locked the barrel and breechblock together.

In an attempt to retard barrel rotation and further delay breech opening, the Model 1907′s barrel was rifled so that the bullet spun in a clockwise direction, which, theoretically, counteracted barrel movement. But while Searle’s system apparently worked, the breech opened much faster and more violently than that of the Colt/Browning system.


When the U.S. Army expressed an interest in semiautomatic sidearms in 1905, Savage entered the .45-caliber Model 1907 in the military trials. The design was later scaled down for the civilian pocket pistol market.

Although the Army favored Colt’s M1905 pistol, trials showed that none of the entrants were up to the task, and everyone’s engineers went back to their respective drawing boards.

In 1900, the Belgian firm of Fabrique Nationale (FN) had introduced the Pistolet Automatique Browning Mle. 1900. It was a blowback design in which the weight of the slide and tension of the recoil spring held the breech closed until the bullet had exited the barrel.

The Model 1900′s cartridge–the 7.65mm Browning–utilized a semirimmed case 17mm long loaded with a 71-grain FMJ bullet with a rated velocity of 900 fps. While underpowered, it was embraced by European military and police forces.

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Savage Model 1907 Automatic Pistol:

Action Type: Delayed-blowback semiautomatic
Magazine type/ capacity: Detachable box/10 rounds
Caliber: .32 ACP, .380 ACP
Barrel Length: 3.75 inches
Sights: Blade front; V-notch rear
Grip Material: Plastic
Overall Length : 6.5 in.
Weight, empty: 19 oz.

In 1903, Colt introduced the Browning-designed Model 1903 Pocket Pistol whose cartridge Colt rebaptized as the .32 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol). Flat, lightweight, and very user friendly, the Model 1903 was an instant hit on the American market. Seeing the acceptance of the Model 1903, Savage decided to enter the booming pocket-pistol market. So, in 1905, while some of Savage’s engineers were working on the .45 pistol, others set about downsizing the design to handle the .32 ACP cartridge.

The result was the Savage Model of 1907 Automatic Pistol, and it introduced a number of unique features that set it apart from the other pocket pistols of the day. Besides the Searle breech system, the Model 1907 was the first pistol to feature a staggered-column magazine that held 10 rounds of ammunition. Thus, it required a grip frame wider than the competition. The Searle breech system permitted the use of a lightweight slide, which pared the Model 1907′s unloaded weight to a svelte 19 ounces, 3 less than the FN Model 1900 and 5 lighter than the Colt Model 1903.

The Model 1907′s single-action trigger moved in a straight line, not on a pivot, and its upper edge was connected to a link with a spring plunger. The tail of this link acted as a trigger bar and pressed against the tail of the sear. It also acted as a disconnector, as it could only bear on the sear when the slide was fully forward and the breech was locked.

A manual safety was located on the left-hand side of the frame; it was rotated up to lock the sear and prevent the slide from moving. Another unique feature was the location of the magazine release. It was positioned on the frontstrap of the grip. where it could be depressed by the fingers of the shooting hand.

While the Model 1907 appeared to have a prominent burr hammer, this appendage was in fact a cocking lever that was used to retract and cock the striker assembly so as to relieve mainspring tension when the slide was retracted to chamber a round. In the forward position, the striker protruded past the breech face and rested on the primer of a chambered round. For this reason, the Model 1907 should never be carried with a round in the chamber and the cocking lever forward.

Perhaps the Model 1907′s most distinguishing characteristic was that there was not a single screw in the design, and this allowed it to be quickly disassembled without tools. Unlike many pocket pistols, its wide grip frame provided excellent ergonomics and allowed a firm purchase, which in turn enhanced recoil control and accuracy. In fact, one of Savage’s earliest advertising slogans was “Aims easy as pointing your finger.”


The Model 1907′s cocking lever looks like a hammer, but it is used to retract the striker to make it easier to manipulate the slide and load a round.

The Model 1907 hit the market in 1908, and despite its higher cost, it was the biggest selling pocket pistol on the U.S. market between 1908 and the beginning of World War I.

Savage’s marketing department proved adroit at obtaining endorsements from such heros of the Wild West as Buffalo Bill Cody and Bat Masterson. Masterson claimed, “A tenderfoot with a Savage Automatic, and the nerve to stand his ground, could have run the worst six-shooter man the West ever knew right off the range.”

Other advertisements for the Savage Model 1907 lauded its use as a personal/home-defense firearm with such claims as: “It banishes fear!” “If grandma could handle it, so can you!” and “Ten quick shots!”

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Savage Model 1907 .32 ACP Accuracy:

Factory Load Velocity (fps) 10-Yard Accuracy (in.)
Federal 71-gr. FMJ 836 2.50
Remington 71-gr. FMJ 925 2.00
Notes: Accuracy is the average of three, five-shot groups fired from an MTM Predator rest at 10 yards. Velocity is the average of five rounds measured 15 15 feet from the guns muzzle.

While Savage began offering the Model 1907 chambered for the .380 ACP cartridge in 1913, it never proved as popular as the .32 pistol, and only 9,800 units were produced by 1920. Savage offered deluxe versions of the Model 1907 that featured any combination of custom engraving, gold or silver inlays, and grips made from exotic woods and ivory.

According to Dave Koch’s website on Savage pistols, when World War I erupted, the French army was desperate for handguns and placed an order for 27,000 Savage pistols. At the request of the French, some minor changes were made by the factory, including a lanyard ring, a fixed rear sight, a smaller burr-type cocking lever, and a loaded-chamber indicator set in
a recess in the chamber area of the barrel. The French referred to them as le Pistolet Militaire Savage, while in factory records, they were the Model 1907-1913 Modification No. 3. The Portuguese navy also purchased 1,200 French pattern pistols (Pistola Savage da Marinha portuguesa M/914) during the Great War.

During the war, Savage introduced the Model 1915 Hammerless, which was little more than the Model 1907 with a cover over the cocking lever, a grip safety that immobilized the trigger unless depressed, and a catch to lock the slide open. Available in .32 and .380 calibers, it did not prove popular and was dropped after two years.

Savage Arms went bankrupt in 1917 and was reorganized as the Savage Arms Corporation later that year. In the postwar years, several changes were made to the basic design, including a new pattern of slide serrations (27 instead of 10), a loaded chamber indicator, matte-black finish, and a long spur on the cocking lever.

In 1920, production of the Model 1907 ceased, and the last of the Savage pistols–the Model 1917–was introduced. It differed from earlier patterns in having a wider, flared grip frame that required the use of screws to hold the grip panels in place. It was available in both .32 and .380 caliber, with the former being the most popular.

Pistol production at Savage ceased in 1928 with approximately 235,000 Model 1907 and 43,000 Model 1917 pistols having been manufactured.


While the Savage Model 1907 and 1917 pistols are mechanically identical, the 1917 (shown)has a larger grip, differently shaped cocking lever, and more slide serrations.

Shooting Savage’s Pistol
My good friend Michael Jon Littman provided me with a Savage Model 1907 and a Model 1917 from his collection for this report. The 1907 was manufactured in 1916 and was in VG+ condition, while the 1917 left the factory around 1921 and also showed very few signs of use. Remington and Federal provided a quantity of .32 ACP ammunition; both loads featured 71-grain FMJ bullets.

I limited my test-firing of the Model 1907. The first chore was to shoot it for accuracy from a rest at a moderate 10 yards, the results of which are listed in the accompanying chart. I then set up a D-1 target at 7 yards and proceeded to send 30, .32-caliber projectiles downrange, firing the pistol both supported and unsupported. While the Savage pointed very naturally, it printed a bit below and left of point of aim, but the rounds formed a very compact group on the target.

Despite its miniscule sights and gritty trigger, I found the Model 1907 to point naturally, and it was comfortable to fire. The safety was a bit difficult to manipulate without moving the pistol around in my hand, and the cocking lever took considerable effort to retract, but the little Savage proved 100 percent reliable with the 80-plus rounds I fired that afternoon.

While the Savage Model 1907 was accurate and reliable, and it performed as the advertisements claimed it would, I must admit that I found the Colt .32 Caliber M1903 Pocket Pistol I tested several months earlier to be more user friendly.


Despite its miniscule sights, the Model 1907 produced 10-yard groups averaging from 2.00 to 2.50 inches.

  • walderj

    I recently received the .380 model and enjoyed shooting it (more pop and accuracy than I had thought). It had been sitting a while, and the clip went in smoothly, but did not eject well, as I had to pry it out. Is there a spring mechanism that I should be aware of? I'm somewhat of a novice, and any info is appreciated. Thanks.

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