January 04, 2023
Coming of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s, my introduction to the Browning Hi-Power 9mm semiautomatic pistol came when I read Serpico, the book by Peter Maas published in 1973 that chronicled the life of New York City plainclothes police officer Frank Serpico during the late 1960s. The book was made into a major motion picture, starring Al Pacino as the intrepid detective. I wanted a Hi-Power immediately. My hankering increased incrementally after I became the assistant editor of Shooting Times in 1992. You see, my office mate, John Crowley, had a Browning Hi-Power that was tuned-up and tricked-out by the Novak company. It was one sweet pistol! I’ve never owned a Hi-Power, but I have a feeling that’s about to change because Springfield Armory’s new SA-35 is priced right, shoots great, and fills my need.
Springfield advises customers to not call the new SA-35 a classic. Why? I’ll let their own words answer that. According to their promo materials, Springfield says, “It’s had many names in its century-old history, and today we reimagine this renowned design for modern use. Based on one of the most prolific and popular pistols in small arms history, the Springfield Armory SA-35 gives today’s shooters a modern take on a revered design. Featuring subtle but significant upgrades to John Moses Browning’s original P-35, the 9mm SA-35 captures the appeal of the ‘wood and steel’ era of arms making while offering the upgraded enhancements of today’s defensive pistols.
“Made in the U.S.A., the SA-35 features rugged forged steel parts for strength and durability, improved ergonomics and enhanced controls, modern sights, an improved feedramp design, and an increased 15-round capacity. Configured without a magazine disconnect for a drop-free magazine, the SA-35 features a factory-tuned trigger with a smooth pull and crisp, clean break.
“Call it a legend, call it an icon, but whatever you do, don’t call it a classic.”
The Hi-Power that John M. Browning (JMB) designed came after the classic Model 1911 that he also designed, and it was conceived as being an improvement over the Model 1911. Key changes included doing away with the Model 1911-style grip safety, making the Model 1911’s separate barrel bushing an integral part of the Hi-Power’s slide, replacing the swinging barrel link of the Model 1911 with a fixed cam, and making the Model 1911’s two-piece feedramp an integral part of the barrel itself. Importantly, the Hi-Power also utilized a wide-body, higher-capacity, double-stack magazine. In fact, the first Hi-Power pistols produced by Fabrique Nationale had a magazine capacity of 13 rounds of 9mm Luger ammunition. Oh, one more thing: JMB had died several years before the original Hi-Power was produced, and in fact, his protégé, Dieudonné Saive, actually finished the pistol’s design. (For anyone interested in JMB’s life story, my “Hipshots” column this month is dedicated to him. It starts on page 64.)
Springfield’s version of the Hi-Power, called the SA-35, has all those features and much more. And as you will see from the accuracy and velocity results chart, the pistol is a top performer.
The SA-35 has a cold-hammer-forged, carbon-steel, 4.7-inch barrel with an improved feedramp; a Tactical Rack combat-style rear sight with a finely striated, all-black face and a U-shaped notch; a white-dot front sight; and checkered walnut grips. The original Browning version had a 4.75-inch barrel. Some versions had fixed sights, while other variations had tangent-type adjustable rear sights and slotted grips for attaching a shoulder stock. Other grips offered included checkered walnut and checkered plastic.
In addition, the SA-35 has a matte blued finish, an external extractor, a smooth trigger, and a knurled rowel-style hammerspur. The original Browning Hi-Power had this style of hammer (later changed to a spur-type hammer) and trigger, but the first pistols had an internal extractor (later changed to an external one), and the finish was Parkerized (later, blued, nickeled, black epoxy, chrome, silver gray, and highly engraved finishes were offered).
The SA-35 I’ve been working with has the serial number HP536, and its forged frame is marked “SI Geneseo IL USA” on the right side just above the serial number. The slide is marked “Springfield Armory Model SA-35 Geneseo, IL” on the left side. The slide stop and a manual thumb safety are positioned on the left side. The thumb pads for both controls are striated, and the magazine release button, which is located in the usual Model 1911 position, is lightly checkered.
The fit and finish of this sample SA-35 are excellent. The trigger pull averaged 4 pounds, 12 ounces, according to 10 measurements with my RCBS trigger pull scale. There was some take-up, but when it broke, it did so crisply and consistently. There was just 4 ounces of variance over all 10 measurements. I’m not an expert on the Hi-Power, but my understanding is the originals all had a bit of slack in their trigger pulls.
By the way, the front sight and the rear sight are dovetailed into the slide, and the slide has grasping grooves at the rear only. There are 21 of them on each side. Of course, the slide has the distinctive Hi-Power recessed areas at the muzzle end and a smooth, rounded top. The front sight is 0.13 inch thick and 0.18 inch tall. The rear sight’s U-shaped notch is 0.13 inch wide at the top.
The walnut grip panels have fine checkering. They are held in place by one screw each. The grip frame’s backstrap and frontstrap are smooth and are just about the most comfortable shape I have ever experienced—and I’m a true fan of the Model 1911 grip shape and angle. The trigger guard is rounded and smooth, and it’s wide enough for my medium-sized trigger finger with a shooting glove on.
The SA-35 is 7.80 inches long, 1.30 inches thick, and 4.80 inches tall. It weighs 31.5 ounces, unloaded. The blued-steel magazine is stamped with Springfield Armory’s crossed cannons and flame company logo, and it holds 15 rounds of 9mm ammunition. To help make inserting the magazine faster and smoother, the magazine well has been slightly beveled. Also worth noting is the pistol does not have a magazine disconnect safety, meaning it will fire without the magazine inserted. (Michael Anschuetz photo)
Now to the gun’s shooting performance.
As per my usual shooting protocol, I fired the new SA-35 for accuracy from a sandbag benchrest at a distance of 25 yards. I was able to round up 20 factory loads with bullet weights ranging from 108 grains to 150 grains and bullet styles ranging from solid FMJs through synthetic-coated TSJs and polymer-tipped FTXs, FlexLocks, and MonoFlexes to a wide variety of hollowpoints (including BXPs, Gold Dot G2s, Golden Sabers, HSTs, JHPs, MHPs, TAC-XPs, and XTPs). All loads functioned reliably, and I didn’t experience a single malfunction. All bullet styles fed, fired, extracted, and ejected. In most cases, the empties were flung about four feet to the right.
I won’t go into all the details, but as you can see from the accompanying chart, the SA-35 averaged between 1.22 and 3.57 inches with the 20 factory loads. Three, five-shot groups with each load were fired and averaged. Overall average accuracy was 2.43 inches. That’s definitely acceptable for self-defense and, in fact, is quite good compared to many other 9mm personal-protection pistols that I’ve fired in the last 12 months. I should note here that the barrel’s twist rate is one turn in 10 inches, which is common for 9mm barrels.
The top prize for accuracy went to the Wilson Combat High Performance 135-grain HBFN loading. It averaged 1.22 inches. The load producing the highest velocity was the Winchester Active Duty 115-grain FN FMJ, which averaged a velocity of 1,331 fps for five rounds measured 12 feet from the muzzle with a Competition Electronics Pro Digital Chronograph.
To simulate some self-defense scenarios, I put the SA-35 through some action-shooting drills. At seven yards I fired a modified El Presidente Drill, during which I performed a double-tap on three targets, repeated the drill, and then fired a single round on each target (for a total of 15 rounds) as quickly as I could acquire the sights.
At five yards I fired an FBI Drill in which I fired two body shots and then one headshot on two silhouette targets. I repeated shooting like that until I emptied the fully loaded magazine.
At three yards I fired the pistol one-handed on three targets, three rounds at a time until I emptied the magazine.
And just for fun, in a separate drill, I fired a fully loaded magazine with the SA-35 upside down, right side up, and left side up.
During all the shooting, including from the bench for accuracy and all the action drills, the SA-35 functioned flawlessly. And I can honestly say it was one of the most pleasant afternoons I’ve spent shooting so far this year.
Like I said at the beginning of this article, I’ve hankered for a Hi-Power for almost 50 years. With Springfield introducing its own new version, my wait is finally over.
SA-35 Hi-Power Specifications
- Manufacturer: Springfield Armory; springfield-armory.com
- Type: Recoil-operated autoloader
- Caliber: 9mm Luger
- Magazine Capacity: 15 rounds
- Barrel Length: 4.70 in.
- Overall Length: 7.80 in.
- Width: 1.30 in.
- Height: 4.80 in.
- Weight, Empty: 31.5 oz.
- Grips: Checkered walnut
- Finish: Matte blued
- Sights: Tactical Rack rear, white-dot front
- Trigger: 4.75-lb. pull (as tested)
- Safety: Manual thumb safety
- MSRP: $699