Diana 35 - Always the contender
by B.B. Pelletier
Diana's model 35 was one of the most powerful spring guns in the 1950s. It was made until 1987.
Manish from Mumbai, India, requested this report, but Graham also wonders about his Winchester 435, which is another variation of the classic Diana 35. I did the first post on the Diana 35 back on December 8, 2005. In that post, I showed you the inside of the pre-unitized Diana trigger group with the ball-bearing sear, and I cautioned you not to take one of these rifles apart unless you're sure you can get it back together again.
Lots of parts for a simple job. Diana's ball bearing trigger was a real sales point when the gun was new. It releases about the same as a standard lever-type trigger.
Since that post, I've done more research on the Diana 35, along with four other powerful spring guns of the time, and I've discovered an interesting bit of information. The other four are the HW 35, Diana 45, BSF 55 and the FWB 124. I wrote a large article about them titled The Four Horsemen for the September 20 Shotgun News. The Diana 35 figured in the research because it was positioned against them as a powerful air rifle of the Diana line, but somehow it never quite measured up.
Back in the 1970s, velocity ruled the day. That's no surprise, is it? The magic number was 800 f.p.s., and for a while, only the FWB 124 was capable of shooting that fast, in .177 caliber of course. The other powerful rifles all reported velocities in the 700 f.p.s. range, with as little as 10 f.p.s. making a huge difference in sales. If left to their own devices, the manufacturers would have soon blasted past 800, but they were held in check, first by Air Rifle Headquarters and then by Beeman Precision Airguns. Both dealers did their own testing and reported the true numbers, regardless of the outcome.
The outcome was a disaster for Diana. The 35, which was their magnum hope, was rated at 725 f.p.s. in .177 with light pellets. ARH testing revealed only 685 f.p.s. The cheaper, lighter Diana model 27 shot 650 f.p.s., so sales of the Diana 35 languished because it wasn't that much faster.
Enter The Airgun Revue
Like many airgunners who had lived through the 1970s, I knew what the hot guns had been and had already owned many of them. For some reason, the Diana 35 had eluded me. Then at a Roanoke airgun show in the late 1990s I happened to score a 35 for myself, and resolved to set the record straight in the fifth edition of Airgun Revue. After all, I was tuning spring guns for a living (through my newsletter, that is). Certainly, I could employ "space-age" lubricants (to use Robert Law's term) to improve on what had been possible 20 years earlier. My .22-caliber rifle was made in November 1977 and was marked as a Hy Score model 809, one of many names by which the Diana 35 went.
To see how far I could take a 35 I tested mine as it was, which was factory-original. Then, I stripped the action and cleaned it. The inside of the gun was dry and caked with hard lubricant, plus the piston was somewhat rusty. Never a good thing. The cocking effort had been 24 lbs. before the tune. By cleaning and lubricating all the moving parts, that dropped down to 19 lbs. afterward. The gun also buzzed pretty bad before the tune. I used a thin coating of black tar on the mainspring, and I burnished moly grease into the compression chamber and the leather piston seal.
High hopes - dashed
After the tune, my rifle had almost exactly the same power as before (a couple f.p.s. less, to be honest). The cocking effort had dropped and the spring twang was reduced, but the power remained around 11 foot-pounds with RWS Meisterkugeln pellets. In .22 caliber, that works out to about 590 f.p.s. With Crosman Premiers, the gun averaged 542 f.p.s., which produces only 9.33 foot-pounds. At the time, I remember being disappointed that no more power had been found, but my recent research reveals why.
Hamstrung from the start
The Diana 35 had a short-stroke piston that limited the available power. When the design was new in 1953, the 11 foot-pounds it generated in .22 caliber was considered stupendous, but by 1977 it had become mediocre. Rifles like the BSF 55 and the Diana 45 had longer-stroke pistons that were capable of much higher velocities, and the long-stroke FWB 124 that started it all, of course, was one of the most potentially powerful spring guns of the era. Unfortunately for Diana, nothing could be done to remedy the situation, so in the late 1980s, it faded away - replaced by the models 34, 36 and 38 that came out in 1984. These long-stroke spring guns represented modern technology at its best, taking velocity in .177 caliber up to 1,000 f.p.s., where guns like the 35 could no longer compete.
Twenty years have passed since the Diana 35 left the world stage, and the airgun world is now in a renaissance period. Lower-powered spring guns are once again embraced. The Diana 35 is a larger, more adult version of the extremely popular Diana model 27, and many now find it to be an appealing spring rifle to add to their collections. If the spring twang is eliminated and the trigger is tuned to break crisply, the 35 becomes a classic airgun - the kind everyone wishes they still made. If you can ignore the chronograph, the Diana 35 can be a wonderful companion. Viewed that way, instead of as the powerful spring gun it tried to be, you can be very content with this fine old classic.