Why Gun Manufacturers Change Designs
By Dennis Adler
There is design development and then there is design evolution. The latter is often a change that comes over time to improve a pistol’s operation, such as a better safety mechanism, improved sights, or the famous change from the original Colt Model 1911 configuration to the 1911A1. This has always been controversial, since manufacturers, including Colt, often revert to the old design in order to appeal to consumers who prefer the flat mainspring housing. This is design change by consumer demand, and it doesn’t happen often, but it has happened to Walther, not once but twice in recent time with a change from what I personally regard as one of the truly innovative advancements in magazine release designs. It starts with the Walther P99 (developed in 1995) and later copied on the Walther PPS (in 2008). It is an ambidextrous magazine release incorporated into the back of the triggerguard. Heckler & Koch uses a variation of this design on their H&K pistols and it makes dropping an empty magazine a simple movement of the trigger finger, or support hand thumb, (with a two-handed hold). It is different, maybe even unconventional, but it’s easy to learn and easier to use than a traditional magazine release button on the frame. And the design was ambidextrous from the beginning.
When the P99 was being developed in the 1990s by noted Austrian arms designer Horst Wesp (formerly of Steyr-Mannlicher AG) and a long time friend of mine, German arms designer Peter Dallhammer, their approach to Walther’s first polymer framed, striker-fired DA/SA semi-auto (the P99), was to first address the needs of law enforcement and military. As much of the P99’s design as possible had to be ambidextrous, as well as adoptable to different hand sizes through the use of interchangeable backstrap panels. There was also a need for an integral dustcover accessory rail for tactical lights or light laser combinations (Walther developed their own at the same time), as well as multiple trigger systems, which began with the DA/SA, then a DAO, and another version with a partially pre-cocked system and lower SA trigger resistance. These were all Walther P99 features.
At this point in the history of handgun design there were only two practical ways to retain or remove the magazine from the grip. One way was with a hook like catch at the bottom of the frame popular on European handguns, or secondly, by using a spring-loaded button release utilized by the thumb on the frame.  Horst Wesp proposed another means; an elongated magazine release lever integrated into either side of the triggerguard, which could be operated by either hand and more specifically, by the trigger finger. This achieved two objectives, one was being able to keep the gun pointed toward the target while changing the magazine, and two, ensuring that the trigger finger was off the trigger (being otherwise engaged operating the magazine release). The P99 fulfilled every objective that Wesp and Dallhammer had established for the gun; it had a DA/SA trigger, a decocker, and was a striker-fired pistol. The word is groundbreaking.
I speak of all this mainly in the past tense because Walther changed the P99’s innovative magazine release design in 2013 when it introduced the PPQ M2, a second design update to the P99 platform using an SAO trigger with an integrated blade (Glock-type) safety, no manual decocker, and a conventional magazine release button on the frame. The first PPQ design introduced in 2011 had at least retained the P99 style magazine release. Of course, the PPQ/PPQM2 was not intended to replace the P99, which is still made today using the original triggerguard mounted ambidextrous paddle magazine releases. They were added to the Walther line to offer a more contemporary design and somewhat faster handling.
Interestingly, where the PPQ M2 had the most impact was with another Walther design, the PPS, originally introduced late in 2007 as a 9mm subcompact option to the legendary .32 and .380 ACP Walther PPK. Like the acronym PPK, which stands for Polizei-Pistole Kurz (Police-Pistol Short), PPS means Polizei-Pistole Schmal (Police-Pistol Slim or Slender). The PPS was not designed for police (though many policemen have carried the PP, PPK and PPK/S); the PPS was intended for a growing concealed carry market looking for a smaller yet high-quality, single-stack 9mm pistol. Why not the Polizei? By regulations, German police pistols need to have a manual safety, the PPS does not have one. It did come with Walter’s Quick Action trigger, based on the P99 QA, and this made the PPS desirable for use by German Special Forces, since they do not have the manual safety requirement for a handgun. For the general consumer, the PPS provided almost PPK/S sized carry in 9mm.
When the PPQ M2 was introduced, designers got the idea of modifying the PPS from its P99-based magazine release to the PPQ M2’s button magazine release. It took awhile but when the PPS was updated to the M2 design in 2016, the P99-style release was gone. What was the driving force behind Walther practically abandoning its innovative magazine release system for a design that was developed by Georg Luger and Hugo Borchardt in 1893?
When I visited the Walther and Umarex factories in Germany late in 2013 (as they were preparing for the 2014 Shot Show) I asked why they had changed the magazine release design on the PPQ. Peter Dallhammer explained that there was a strong demand from consumers for a more traditional magazine release; one like almost every other pistol uses, and that it prompted the company to make the change with the PPQ M2. Three years later they would do the same with the PPS. The change was a pure response by a manufacturer to consumers. Innovation had lost out to pre-conceived notions of what and where a magazine release should be. I for one think they took a step backwards with the PPQ M2 and PPS M2.
Tracking changes in CO2
No two companies are closer together than Walther and Umarex, they are one and the same, and at the time when Walther made changes to the 9mm PPS, Umarex was selling the PPS BB model as a lower-priced, but high-quality, and high-performing blowback action CO2 model. It also happened to double quite nicely as a training gun for folks who either carried or were considering the PPS as a carry gun. The popularity of the PPS had made the blowback action model a natural training gun, since it had almost equivalent weight, balance, and general handling characteristics. The PPS CO2 pistol was, by design, a gun that filled a lot of air pistol niches, despite having a stick magazine and separate CO2 loading chamber inside the grip frame. The PPS M2 has to deliver a lot to replace the original PPS.
In Part 2, we take a closer, one-on-one look at the PPS and PPS M2 CO2 models for significant changes, and then send some shots downrange from both guns.
 Walther A German Success Story Vol. 2 by Manfred Kersten, Dr. David Schiller and Ulrich Eichstadt