Why manufacturers upgrade guns

Why manufacturers upgrade guns

Change is always questioned

By Dennis Adler

“Why did they do that?” How many times have you said it in your life? And it’s not just firearms, it’s Oreos, it’s Coke, it’s your favorite brand of shoes, and it’s Colt, or Smith & Wesson, and the list goes on ad infinitum, just choose what item you want to debate. Change is always questioned and sometimes the answers are just not acceptable. Other times the answers are understandable, even if you don’t agree, and when it comes to firearms you need to have an open mind because change is inevitable. It is usually the result of improvements, something gunmakers have been doing since the beginning of gun making. Other times, change is to meet the demands of consumers, but that generally only satisfies a portion of customers, the other portion would have preferred things left as they were. (My personal one is Walther doing away with the ambidextrous triggerguard magazine release on the P99 in favor of a typical magazine release button on the frame. Why did they do that?)

Change is inevitable in gun making. Manufacturers come up with improvements, some suggested by consumers, other created by factory designers. In CO2 pistols the best example of this is the Umarex Walther PPS and PPS M2, the same fundamental gun and firing system (blowback action, CO2 in the grip frame and stick magazine with a full size base pad), but otherwise an almost entirely new gun with improved sights, different triggerguard, slide and frame contours, grip design, and magazine release mechanism (the old PPS used the P99 based ambidextrous release from the P99, the M2 uses the frame mounted release, which is not ambidextrous, from the PPQ M2. The same has transpired with the 9mm centerfire guns with Umarex following suit, which makes sense since Umarex and Walther are the same company. Despite the use of a stick magazine, the PPS and now PPS M2 remains one of the very best blowback CO2 action pistols for shooting fun and fundamental CCW training. Change can be good.
It’s like this, you either like ambidextrous thumb safeties on a 1911 or you don’t. The design was conceived in 1965 by legendary custom gunsmith Armand Swenson for combat and competition shooting. Swenson’s ambidextrous thumb safeties and other alterations to the 1911 established a design paradigm that has been copied ever since. Swenson also developed the squared triggerguard for two-handed shooting to provide solid purchase for the index finger of the support hand.

Let’s take something more basic like ambidextrous thumb safeties on the Colt Model 1911. Most 1911 owners have come to accept, or even expect them as a standard feature on more modern examples of the 1911 (Colt CQBP, Kimber, Springfield Armory, Sig Sauer etc.), while other traditional 1911 owners dislike them altogether, or don’t see the point (especially if you are right-handed). Others see the bigger picture that benefits not only left-handed users, but law enforcement and military, and those whose job it is to look at multiple combat situation scenarios where having a safety on both sides of the gun can be beneficial, like if your dominant hand is injured and you have to shoot with your non-dominant hand. Same reason for ambidextrous magazine releases. Traditionalists like things the way they were. And that brings us to the Glock Safe Action Trigger solution which flies in the face of all theories by having no safety other than the trigger safety device, and that debate, along with “like or don’t like” striker-fired guns will probably go on as long as handguns are built. But there are smaller changes, some subtle, some not so, that manufacturers make over time to any given model, or all models if it is something sweeping, like Smith & Wesson adding a safety locking mechanism with a keyhole in the left side of the frame just above the cylinder release. That was almost 20 years ago, and I think everyone unanimously dislikes the look of that on otherwise classic S&W revolvers, but it is one of those things that will probably be around for the foreseeable future and continue to have a negative impact on S&W revolver sales within a segment of the market that looks at the lock as aesthetically displeasing (and if you look at the history behind it, fundamentally unpopular with many gun owners as well).

In CO2 pistols, the 1911 is the most varied in possible designs beginning with the first blowback action 1911, the Umarex Colt Commander, and then later Rail Guns (Combat pistols) like the Swiss Arms TRS with Swenson safeties, extended beavertail grip safety, and Picatinny rail.
Beretta’s use of ambidextrous thumb safeties takes a different turn on the 92A1 which has the safeties riding high on the slide. This CO2 model, is also one of the best choices in an air pistol for training use as well as accurate sport shooting with a blowback action BB pistol.

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Not much of this really has an affect on the air pistol market because the requirements for a manual safety are different and far more offensive to some than the lock on an S&W revolver. Ah, but we live with them because some manufacturers are trying to find ways to cleverly conceal them; Umarex Glock and Air Venturi Springfield Armory XDM models being the most successful, and for the love of Colt, all 1911 models with working manual thumb safeties not needing them! Same for most semi-auto designs with thumb safeties like the CZ 75 series, Tanfoglio CZ-design guns, Beretta 92-Series based guns, and others with manual thumb safeties. But even that gets messed with sometimes by adding a secondary thumb safety release, as if the S F and arrow weren’t enough on some 1911s! But revolvers really get the worst of it all because as air pistols they are required to have a manual safety where none was ever originally conceived. It makes an ambidextrous safety on a 1911 seem like a blessing!

A squared front off triggerguard was one of the features of the Walther P99 (early 9mm model shown) along with ambidextrous magazine releases built into the back of the triggerguard. Like ambidextrous thumb safeties on a 1911, one either liked or disliked the triggerguard-mounted mag releases. Walther eventually went to a frame mounted release while other armsmakers like H&K still use this design on some of their guns.

So what is an upgrade?

It does begin with ambidextrous safeties, but significant changes in grip designs, triggerguard shapes and sizes, hammer shapes, magazine releases (among Walther fans, that is a really big one!), frame and barrel contours, and different sights are all part of manufacturer upgrades that are either optional or are foisted upon us with running changes that replace earlier designs. And that does occasionally affect the CO2 air pistol market when airgun makers follow the same pattern and either phase in a newer model or replace an earlier model altogether. The latest example of this is the Umarex Walther PPS and PPS M2, the M2 being an almost completely different interpretation of the original design. At first both guns were being sold, now you can only get the M2 version. Another example is the CZ 75 and CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow, similar designs but different enough to be distinct versions, and here both guns are still offered.  

Another great example of change in design, though without one model replacing the other is the ASG CZ 75 and newer CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow. Both guns have manual thumb safeties to no added safety is required for the air pistols. The SP-01 exhibits all the dramatic changes I have noted in the article; a re-contoured frame and slide, different sights, grip contour and profile, triggerguard shape and the SP-01 has ambidextrous safeties and a Picatinny rail.

One of the great recent disappointments over change came with the addition of a frame-mounted manual safety on the otherwise very authentic looking Gletcher Russian Legends Nagant revolver. It is one of the most accurate pellet cartridge-firing CO2 wheelguns, though also one of the more obscure outside of hard core military airgun enthusiasts, which makes the added manual safety all the more offensive. It’s also a hit and miss thing as some guns have them and some don’t, so you’re not sure until it arrives. Razocharovyvayushchiy! Roughly translated, that’s Russian for frustrating! (An old writing partner of mine once told me that in Russian and German you just keep adding letters until you get the word you want).

The ASG CZ 75 models rank among my favorite blowback action CO2 models for their exceptional attention to detail, firing system, accuracy, and overall excellent fit and finish. The guns are also fully field-strippable. In the centerfire world, the CZ 75 and CZ 75-based guns (there are many) still rank among the best made in the world.

As airgun enthusiasts we learn to live with some design compromises and once in awhile a gun comes along that checks all the boxes (you can name your favorites), otherwise we accept that which we cannot change and hope that once we accept it, the manufacturer doesn’t change it, unless of course, it is something we wanted them to do!

The Airgun Experience will be back in one week and as summer begins there’s a hint of history in the air!

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