Umarex Walther CP 88 Part 2
Where it all began 22 years ago
By Dennis Adler
There’s an Old West story I like, and I have probably told it before, but it seems appropriate for the Walther CP 88. It is about a young cowboy who rides into town after getting paid for a cattle drive and decides that in addition to a hot bath, a shave and haircut, he wants to buy himself a new handgun. He goes into the local gun shop, asks the proprietor what he has, and is shown the latest .45 caliber Colt revolver, a Model 1878. “How do you like this? Newest thing out; a double action forty-five” he tells the young man. The cowboy handles the gun, looks at the trigger and turns up his nose. “Ain’t worth a row of beans,” he says, “no man ‘cept a tenderfoot wants that kind of thing? Ye see, a man that’s used to the old style is apt to get fooled, not pull her off in time, and then he’ll be laid out colder’n a wedge.” He hands it back and tells the shop owner, “Give me an old reliable all the time.” A lot of airgun owners can relate to that, “…Ye see these new fangled blowback action pistols don’t always work right, shoot slower, ain’t as accurate and might even wear out. Give me an old reliable all the time.” In the world of CO2 powered, pellet-firing, multi-shot semiautomatic pistols, an “old reliable” happens to be the Walther CP 88.
What makes an Old Reliable?
Back in the days when the Colt Peacemaker had only been in production for five years, it was regarded as a new design, but it was firmly grounded in Colt single action pistols dating back to the late 1840’s; Colt single action percussion (loose powder, ball and cap) revolvers. The operative word with any Colt revolver up until 1877 was, “single” as in Single Action, and early Double Action revolvers (by other manufacturers) as far back as the 1850s, had been met with the same skepticism as that cowboy had for a new Colt double action .45 in 1878. “Reliable” meant familiar and dependable. And that was, and remains at the core of the 1996 Walther CP 88 CO2 models. They are familiar and dependable, just like the original 9x19mm Walther P 88 model.
In Germany, during the late 1980s, the Walther P 88 was customarily carried by police officers. It was unique in that (for the time) it was a completely ambidextrous pistol with left and right side slide releases, thumb safeties and magazine releases. It had replaced the popular P.38, which had been in use since WWII, basically because of the P 88’s faster handling and higher capacity 15-round magazine. And like the P.38, it was a masterfully crafted 9mm semi-auto with exceptional handling, accuracy and durability. The P 88 was also expensive, and between 1988 and 1996 it became too expensive for general law enforcement carry. In 1996 the original P 88 was replaced by the slightly smaller and less expensive to manufacture P 88 Compact. The Compact remained in use until it was discontinued in 2003, by which time the new polymer-framed, striker-fired Walther P99 had replaced the majority of P 88s in the holsters of most German law enforcement officers. The P 88 was the last of its kind, an all metal gun as elegantly designed and accurate as its high capacity rival, the legendary Browning Hi-Power. It was “an old reliable.”
A Best in Class Handgun
For the consumer market of the 1980s the P 88 was too good of a handgun (and still too expensive) offering a precision-built frame, 15+1 capacity, fully ambidextrous operation, a double action/single action trigger design, a decocker, and adjustable sights. It was nearly a target pistol, and Walther had that covered as well, developing two dedicated target variations, the P 88 Competition, with the standard length 4-inch barrel, and special SAO (single action only) target model P 88 Champion, which was fitted with a 6-inch competition barrel and compensator. For serious competitive shooters, the P 88 was an expensive but worthwhile choice. But for the general consumer, the P 88 had a lot of lower-priced competition by 1996.
The P 88 competition models were only manufactured until 1992, and today can command upwards of $3,000 for a mint condition P 88 Champion. Even after 26 years a P 88 Champion is still suitable for competitive shooting. That same kind of quality was part of the CO2 model’s development in 1996, coinciding with the introduction of the P 88 Compact 9x19mm model. Thus the Compact version of the CP 88 was Walther’s first pellet-firing model based on an existing centerfire product. It was also the first actual trainer. The CP 88 was at the forefront of a new generation of recreational pistols.
Fast forward 22 years and CP 88s are as well built and dependable today as they were in 1996 (though the nickel model is no longer offered). There remains a level of quality to the CP 88 (also shared with the Umarex Beretta 92FS pellet model introduced in 2000), that was detailed in Walther – A German Success Story. The authors pointed out that the CO2 valve system alone for the CP 88 was “…a technical wonder: it consisted of 16 individual parts to supply shot by shot, the correct minimal amount of gas from the [CO2] cartridge.” In a way, the CP 88 (and similarly designed models that followed) presented themselves in a slick camouflage because in actual operation one could argue that they were not semi-autos but revolvers. The pellet-firing system developed by Umarex used a rotary magazine, like the cylinder on a revolver, and the alignment of the pellet with the barrel relied upon pulling the trigger, or cocking the hammer just like a revolver rotating the cylinder. In reviewing the history of the CP 88, the author’s concluded that “…the consumer did not care about these details. Whether a pistol, or not, two deciding factors played a huge part in the enormous success [between 1996 when the model was introduced and 2012 when the book was published] of the new Umarex-Walther model in the CO2 class.
“On the one hand, there was the loyalty to the original CP 88. The precision manufacturing and quality of materials and performance placed it far above the value found in most compressed air leisure weapons…” They concluded that even though the cost of the CP 88 was considerably higher than other air pistols at the time (and still is), “…buyers did not complain because the quality of the CP 88 made it worth the price.”
Sure, other airguns have come and gone, and newer more “interesting” air pistols have been introduced in the past few years, but when you get down to the fundamental reason Umarex and Walther built the CP 88 in the first place, to be a CO2 equal of the centerfire model, the airgun has actually exceeded the expectations Walther had for the 9x19mm pistol. The CP 88 has now surpassed the original centerfire pistol’s production life!
The CP 88 models remain the same handcrafted, all metal pistols with precision rifled steel barrels, and they bear a maker’s mark that few other CO2 models have today (even the majority of other Walther CO2 models), a stamping on the slide that reads Made in Germany; another form of being an “Old Reliable.”
In the Part 3 conclusion the CP 88 models get loaded up with the latest 4.5mm pellets and head to the 10 meter target range.