Among handguns, Hi-Power pistol models have that ‘it’ quality

The great John Moses Browning was the firearms genius of all time.

It is pretty surprising that the most famous firearm that actually bears his name is one he had the least to do with, from an engineering standpoint.

Fabrique Nationale (FN) of Belgium was working on a new service pistol for worldwide sales and designer Dieodonne Saive was put in charge of finishing Browning’s work since he had died in 1926 before coming close to finishing the pistol as we know it today.

The handgun went through many iterations before becoming the Gran Puissance (High Power) of 1935.

The arm was very advanced and introduced many features to the masses that have been much copied since. The first is one started surprisingly enough by Savage Arms with their 1907 pistol: the double stack/double column magazine’s use in a conventional pistol.

While the Savage only held 10 or 11 rounds and was in a much less effective caliber, the P-35 held 13 to 14 rounds and was chambered in the 9mm Luger, a virtual magnum by European standards.

The “Wonder Nines” of the 80s have their genesis in this old girl. The barrel was also unlocked by a cam slot instead of the more common, and weaker, link system of pistols like the U.S. 1911.

Decades before the term “ergonomics” was ever coined, the Hi-Power “had it.” Very few people handle a Hi-Power and don’t comment on how good it feels and points. The exterior is so thin and tapered towards the front that it just invites being slid into an inside-the-waistband holster and carried. The relatively short grip frame is about the length of the compacted, abbreviated versions of the service pistols today. Elegance comes to mind whenever I think of the GP.

There are, however, a multitude of downsides to the Browning. First is its notoriously poor/hard trigger pull. This can be mostly remedied with careful gunsmithing and parts from firms such as Cylinder and Slide, but it will never have the quality of the earlier 1911.

There are a couple of reasons for this, the first being that the trigger actually acts on a lever in the slide that transfers the energy to the seat behind the magazine well. This is an integral part of the design and cannot be changed or re-engineered as it would be such a major departure it would change the whole packaging and character of the pistol, the most important being how low it sits in the shooter’s hand.

This makes instinctual handling and sighting of the pistol almost unmatched. The lower bore axis afforded by the design also gives less leverage to the recoil against the hand and wrist making muzzle flip very controllable.

The worst aspect of the trigger and its trigger pull is that a magazine disconnect safety was incorporated into the gun to satisfy the French government, Go figure! This safety will not permit firing of the pistol if a magazine is not inserted.

I hate these things! They make manipulating the pistol more complicated, there are more parts to “go bad,” and it makes the trigger pull feel even worse. I can’t recommend it but I’ll bet at least half of the Hi-Powers in the U.S. have had this safety removed and their owners are likely much happier.

Until the introduction of the Mark III version in 1988, the safety on the P-35 was a tiny little lever with a mushy detent. As the Hi-Power is a single-action pistol, it is intended to be carried cocked-and-locked which means with the hammer back/cocked and the safety on.

The tiny safety makes this all but impractical, since it cannot be wiped off in a hurry. There have almost always been aftermarket parts to remedy this problem, however. As with most early pistols, the original sights left much to be desired, but like most other pistols this can also be rectified and has been by Browning for a few decades on newly produced Hi-Powers.

The earliest pistols had an internal extractor that was much like the 1911’s. The problem was it was less substantial than the former and didn’t hold up to abuse as well and it was eventually changed to the modern exterior style used by virtually all pistols today.

Since the pistol was never intended to feed anything but round- nose, full-metal-jacket rounds, there is a little “bump” at the bottom of the feed ramp. This bump will stop most hollow-point bullets in their tracks and jam up the gun. Of course this can also be gunsmithed away. Most Hi-Powers were also not made out of the hardest steels available. They aren’t really soft but definitely would have benefitted from the use of a harder alloy.

Getting back to the positives, the Hi-Power does not incorporate a grip safety. Many have said that John Browning only put one on the 1911 because the government required it; but I’m not so sure. Others will say he only had the grip safety and no thumb safety and the government actually required him to incorporate it.

I don’t know what the truth is but I am glad it was left off of the Pistole Model of 1935, regardless. There is also basically no way to install a full-length guide rod in the pistol.

Hallelujah! These things are useless, unless you are using a buffer spring system on a really heavy- caliber 1911 or have some reason to add weight to the pistol.

There must be something widely attractive to this pistol as, until the Glock arrived, it was by far the most prolific pistol in the world. It was manufactured in dozens of countries and used by hundreds of nations by their respective militaries and police. The variations are almost endless.

There were target versions and a shorter detective model made by FM in Argentina. One of those is shown at the bottom of the photo accompanying this article.

The Austrian Border Police commissioned 2,000 aluminum alloy framed versions. I am lucky enough to own three of them and they are pictured in the photo as well, along with a commercial model with round hammer.

The other is a custom pistol I built on a Canadian manufactured Inglis model. These were manufactured by FN engineers that escaped from Belgium during World War II and set up shop in Canada to manufacture P-35s for the good guys to fight Hitler with.

Probably the three most high- profile users of the  Hi-Power have been the British Special Air Service, the Israelis and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. The SAS, who called the pistol the BAP for Browning Automatic Pistol, have since gone to the Sig Sauer P-226 and the FBI HRT now uses a custom built 1911A1.

The Israelis most likely still use the Hi-Power to some degree but they have fallen in love with their home-grown version of the CZ-75 which is itself kind of a double action Hi-Power.

The Israelis also have an affinity for the Glocks. As an aside, it was very common for these professional users to only load 12 rounds in the magazine instead of the full 13. They believed this would aid reliability, much like only loading 28 rounds into a 30-round M-16 magazine, which many soldiers do today.

The further variations of the pistol could easily fill a book: short slide, long slide, target grade, service grade, commercial grade, Mark I, II and III. Practical, Silver Chrome, GP Competition ad nauseum.

The Hi-Power was made by the Nazis, Canadians, Hungarians, Argentineans, Israelis, Americans and probably many others I have forgotten about. The pistol was also chambered for 30 Luger and 9x21mm as well and conversion kits to fire .22 long rifle have also been offered.

That’s what happens when you have a pistol as long lasting and as popular as the Browning/FN Grande Puissance Pistole 1935, or, as it’s been known to American shooters for 78 years, the P-35 Hi-Power. It’s telling that, though Browning has discontinued the pistol a few times … it always comes back!