The first Smith & Wesson 78G air pistol(s): Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

02-S&W 78G
A very early S&W 78G air pistol. Though the picture looks matte because of the cloud lighting, this one has glossy paint. It’s like new!

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Behind the curtain
  • This pistol
  • How early is it?
  • Refinished?
  • Let’s look
  • So what?
  • Trigger
  • Interests?
  • Summary

What? Another S&W 78G? BB — we know you love this air pistol but you just finished a 5-part blog on one last June! Enough already!

Behind the curtain

There is a good reason why I needed to write this blog. I spent 10 hours yesterday (all day Friday) and this morning (Saturday) trying to tune my Diana 27S air rifle so I can report on it. At this point I have one piece of advice to anyone trying to tune one of these rifles. DON’T REMOVE THE TRIGGER BLADE ASSEMBLY!!! Eight and one-half of those ten hours have been spent trying to reinstall the trigger assembly and it still isn’t in! I will get the rifle back together and give you a great report on the tune and troubles I had in good time, but if a blog was going to be published today it had to be something else that was quick and easy.

This pistol

At the 2019 Texas airgun show I made a tentative deal with a man to buy his S&W 78G that was in excellent condition in the box. The reason I wanted it is because it had an adjustable trigger. The early ones had that feature, but it went away shortly after production began — maybe in the first year, or so.

Well, that man went home to the east coast and I never heard from him again, so when another early 78G popped up several months ago, I was ready for it. I gave a lot for this pistol, but that didn’t matter because I got what I wanted and the other guy got what he both wanted and needed as well. So, it was a case of my $5,000 dog for his two $2,500 cats.

How early is it?

The title of this report says the first S&W air pistol, but I don’t want to deceive you. This one isn’t the very first. It’s the 3,248th one. And this one isn’t in excellent condition. This one is like new in the box!

S&W 78G end flap
There is the end flap of the box with the serial number.

S&W 78G serial number
And there is the serial number on the gun.

Refinished?

“Well, BB, maybe this pistol has just been refinished. Maybe you only think it’s new in the box because someone did a good job.”

Sorry, Mr. Killjoy, this one hasn’t been refinished. Want to know how I know? This is where 50 years of collecting and evaluating firearms comes into play. Any time a gun, be it a firearm or an airgun, is refinished, the surface has to be prepared first. That preparation always softens the original markings on the gun. I don’t care if it’s refinished by the best guy in the world, he always leaves the markings softer!

One of the reason a Turnbull refinish job on a Colt pistol costs $4,000 and up is because Doug Turnbull has had special punches made so he could refresh the markings on Colt pistols. A Turnbull job is the best there is, and even then an expert can tell that work has been done, most of the time.

Let’s look

So let’s now look at the markings on this air pistol. The best mark to look at is the most delicate one — the Smith & Wesson trademark. Because it is so large it had to be impressed with lower pressure to avoid damaging the part.

S&W 78G trademark
See how sharp and crisp the trademark is? No refinisher can equal this.

So what?

I knew, just from looking at the serial number that the gun was untouched. But so what? Who cares that this is a like-new S&W 78G?

Trigger

I care — that’s who. Because the adjustable trigger is rare on this particular air pistol and this one gives us the chance to evaluate a gun that’s just as it was 49 years ago when it was made. Yes, this is a 78G made in Tampa, Florida, before the airgun division moved to Springfield, Mass. to be with the rest of the company. Oh, the box says Springfield, because they didn’t want their customers to know where things were done, but from 1971 through ’73 they were made in Tampa. This pistol is a time capsule.

And the pristine-ness of the finish tells me that Bubba hasn’t had his hands on this one! However — this pistol was recently resealed. Yes, it was. The guy who did the work was extremely careful not to mess up the finish. In fact, just doing that job gave him the heebie-jeebies about owning and using a pistol this fine. He didn’t want to be the guy who….  You fill in the blank.

BB Pelletier also has those same heebie-jeebies. This one is not an air pistol to shoot and enjoy. This is one for a collector. But while I have it I am going to take advantage of the opportunity to see how well she works. My other 78G has been hot-rodded and bears very little resemblance to the airgun Smith and Wesson made. And my other gun doesn’t have an adjustable trigger.

Interests?

I want to know how fast. I want to know how accurate. And I want to know how nice that trigger can become. Reader Ian McKee, who goes by 45Bravo here on the blog, says the S&W adjustable triggers can never quite equal those found on the Crosman Mark pistols. We shall see!

Summary

Today you are reading about a failure that I have turned into a success. The Diana 27S is still in pieces on my kitchen table while I ponder how to grow the third hand I need to get the trigger assembly back in the gun. That’s going to be a great tale of its own!

And so is this one. I’ve had this air pistol for months, wondering how to work it into the blog. Today I figured it out and here we go!

30 thoughts on “The first Smith & Wesson 78G air pistol(s): Part 1

  1. Good morning boys and girls, can you say macro photography?

    That pistol is extremely nice, and having everything it came with makes it doubly so.

    DISCLAIMER:
    The statement I have made and You listed above, is my personal opinion, but it is based in having owned and repaired more of each of them than I can count on fingers and toes.
    I do not have a true trigger gauge, I put the pistol in a fixture and put a piece of heavy gauge wire on the trigger and start hanging steel nuts on the wire until it fires, then weigh everything that was hanging on the trigger on a digital scale.

    But I do want to see the actual numbers.

    The lowest number I have worked on was 107x it was in rough shape with very little finish left.
    It did not have a porous frame like we have heard about very early models.

    Ian



  2. B.B.,

    Would Tune In A Tube act as a third hand by being tacky enough to keep the parts in place to assemble?

    This kind of pistol would be a nightmare to disassemble and reseal without leaving any tool marks and leaving it looking New in Box status.

    Siraniko


  3. BB,

    I am glad you own that thing and not me. It would not be “like new in the box” around here very long. Of course I would not have bought it as a “collectable” anyway. I did that once and when I scratched it I was so upset.

    Now all of my new airguns acquire a ding of some sort pretty quick.

    I do like the looks of it though. The Alpha Proj has the same basic style. No, it would not do for me to own it.

    Nice. Enjoy.




  4. BB,
    Is the Anti Bear-trap device on the Diana 27S adding to the complications of getting the trigger back in the gun? I haven’t done a ball sear in a few years but I used twist ties to hold the loose spring in place. I would use two and remove them one at a time as that area moved into the receiver. The twist ties served as my third hand.

    I currently have a nice S&W78 with the adjustable trigger. I had one once before along with a non adjustable S&W79. I could never get that 78 trigger to be as nice and crisp as the 79 was. I eventually sold those first two but recently found the second adjustable trigger 78 and decided to try it again. I haven’t messed with this one yet.

    My favorite feature of the 78/79 is the grip. Being a lefty, I love the ambidextrous grip. I find it to be the most comfortable grip I use. I also like the two power levels of the Crosman Mk1 & 2, the S&W 78/79, and the Crosman 180. I shoot all three of these models on low power most of the time? I find low power is just as accurate power and I get a lot more shots and the guns are much quieter on low power.

    David Enoch


    • David,

      Yes, the trigger had to be modified to work with the anti-beartrap mechanism and will not function without it. The spring I’m fighting is extremely strong and resists me putting the trigger pivot pin back. A twist tie that could hold this spring would be a steel cable thicker than the ID of the spring! I will try them, but all attempts to compress the spring outside the trigger assembly have failed so far.

      The ball bearing part of the trigger is a breeze. It’s this one stout spring that’s foiling me.

      B.B.


  5. BB,

    hobby wire is very thin guage wire and can be picked up in hardware stores and perhaps big box stores. Two pieces inserted in the spring and tightened when the spring is compressed, perhaps with pliers or vice grips, might do the trick?

    Fred formerly of the DPRoNJ now happily in GA


  6. B.B.,

    We must have been very good little boys and girls to get a Monday morning present of a Friday topic!

    I have three vintage S&W air pistols, one 79g and two 78gs. One has the glossy finish and the other two the matte. One also has the adjustable trigger. None of them are anywhere near pristine in condition, however. These are too much fun to shoot to leave enough alone for that. I imagine in such condition they are extremely rare, even without the adjustable trigger.

    Excellent find.

    Michael


  7. B.B.,

    What a superb collector’s gun!
    Perfect for a cover photoshoot for the 13th Edition Bluebook of Airguns…
    How about an update on the expected publication date.

    shootski


  8. To everyone here that gave me suggestions to correct the issue with my old Crosman 147 muti-pump where it would not build pressure after 3-4 pump strokes…IT IS FIXED 🙂
    The prize goes to [email protected] with his suggestion to press the brass collar down tighter against the base of the cup seal. I pressed it down about .030″ I would estimate and then reassembled the pump lever. It now builds pressure with each pump stroke, and I no longer hear air escaping from the pump tube. The power is back where it should be now. I shot about 100 pellets it through it this afternoon and it performs like new again. 🙂
    The only problem I have now is that I am not very accurate with the open sights anymore. The rifle is probably as accurate as it ever was…but I’m certainly not. I shot several 10-shot groups at 10 yards. The best I can do is about 1 1/4″. Maybe that’s not bad for an old codger. 😉 In any case, I am happy that she’s shooting well again. Thanks again to everyone who helped me figure this problem out.
    Geo


    • Geo791,

      Great! Glad you got the advice you needed to get shooting at full power once again!

      Your probably still breathing too hard from the excitement of having her shooting good again!

      Now just CONCENTRATE on that front sight and those groups will tighten up!

      shootski



  9. Geo,

    Every once in awhile all the planets align!

    The Royal Shootski doth not blow dark smoke in your direction! Use a black magic marker or soot off of a small kerosene flame, “oil lamp” and blacken up that front sight blade. 90% of my own shooting malfunctions come from not focusing on the sight blade. The biggest favor you can do for yourself is to bite the bullet and figure out how to mount a peep sight as far back on that action as you can. I’m no spring chicken anymore and it is almost impossible for me to line up and focus on three things at once . Rear sight – front sight blade – target
    With a peep you just look through the rear, basically just ignoring it, sharp focus on sight blade, target is visible but slightly out of focus, pull trigger.

    Glad I was able to help and your 147 is purring again.

    BobF


  10. BobF,

    “The Royal Shootski doth…” Huh?

    Yes I shoot and ski; but Royalty is not something I aspire to be…the Gilotine is to good a Mistress for those with Blue Blood! We The People… is what my family believe in and why we came to join this United States of America! Liberty is hard to find and hard to keep no matter how benevolent the Political, Hereditary, Dictatorial, Leadership claims to be!

    A drill to increase front sight focus is to hold a pen or similar in front of a proper target posted on a light colored wall and do 30 second (timed) stares without breaking the fixed gaze on the pen tip. If you break the focus the countdown starts again. Minimum of 40 repetions in under 4 days will result in better iron/open sight skill!

    shootski/
    Red Blooded: USA! USA! USA!

    PS: Sight Black is also available in a tube from fine target shooting suppliers. PA doesn’t currently carry it.


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