by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Walther LP53

Walther’s LP53 was their first attempt at a target air pistol.

History of airguns

This report covers:

  • Blue Book coming!
  • James Bond
  • Two versions
  • Two frame finishes
  • Total manufactured
  • Breakbarrel
  • Cocking aid
  • Weights
  • Grips
  • Adjustable trigger!
  • Performance
  • The good news
  • Summary

Blue Book coming!

The Blue Book of Airguns will ship soon. The 13th edition is 1008 pages — up from 840 pages in the 12 edition. A lot has been added and a lot has been corrected. Watch for it!

Blue Book
The Blue Book of Airguns, 13th Edition, will ship soon.

Today we start looking at the Walther LP53 target pistol. The LP53 (LP stands for luft pistole – German for air pistol) was Walther’s early (1953-1983) attempt at making a .177 target pistol. It copied the lines of their famous .22 LR model 1936 Olympia II target pistol, and it used a spring piston to compress the air. When you look at the pistol, you wonder where the spring and the piston could be, but they are tucked away inside the pistol grip.

Walther Olympia
This Walther Olympia II is a bare-bones pistol with a straight backstrap.

Walther Olympia
Walther’s model 1936 Olympia II target pistol won gold in the 1936 Olympic Games. Shown here with all the added weights.

James Bond

The LP53 is all metal with beautifully formed plastic grip panels. The early pistols had a beavertail extension that curved down over the web of the hand; later guns also had an extension, but it was straight. The trigger blade is thin and elegant – looking exactly like a firearm trigger. In fact, there’s nothing about the LP53 that doesn’t look right, which is why the movie posters for early James Bond films show him holding an air pistol instead of his service PPK. The story is that the photographer used the air pistol instead of Bond’s service (at the time) Walther PPK because they were in England where the laws concerning firearms are more restrictive. That could be true, though the LP53 is much larger than a PPK and makes a bolder statement.

Walther PL53 James Bond
Sean Connery posed as James Bond with a Walther LP53 air pistol for publicity photos. Of course nobody caught that his finger is on the trigger in violation of one of the most important gun safety rules!

Two versions

There were two distinct versions of the LP53. The earlier version is the more common one and is characterized by a curved backstrap that hangs over the hand and brown plastic grips. The later version has a straight backstrap and black grips. The grips fit either model, so of course they aren’t a positive clue, but the backstraps are. I have seen several first version guns with black grips, so perhaps it isn’t the best way to differentiate.

Two frame finishes

The earlier version of the pistol started out with a frame finished in a flat blue. After around serial number 23,200 the frame was finished with a black crackle paint. The gun I am testing for you here has the earlier blued frame and a serial number of 014388. So it’s definitely an earlier gun from the mid to late 1950s.

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Total manufactured

The number of LP53s that were made has been stated in many places as around 125,000. I found a man who has seen three of them with serial numbers higher than that. Beyond that I have no other information.

Breakbarrel

The pistol is a breakbarrel that cocks in the traditional fashion. But instead of pushing a piston back to compress the mainspring, the cocking lever pushes the piston down towards the bottom of  the grip. When the gun fires the piston springs up and compresses the air in a tiny compression chamber in the grip. Some promotional literature claimed that this gave the pistol a realistic feel, like a .22 target pistol being fired, but that wasn’t true. The pistol jumps up in your hand and may also buzz if the powerplant is dry like mine is.

Cocking aid

The LP53 doesn’t cock easily, so Walther provided a cocking aid that fit over the muzzle of the gun to protect the hand from the sharp front sight. My pistol didn’t have the aid when I recently got it but John Groenewold sells a replacement. So I ordered one. It would be quite easy to make, but as I am not a competent wood butcher, I leave that to those who are!

The pistol also came with a cleaning rod and two sets of inserts for the front and rear sights. They are in addition to the inserts that come installed in the pistol. All these things came with the pistol in a brown cardboard Walther box. I used to own an LP53 in the box, but I got rid of it. My current pistol came from an estate sale and came in a commercial hard gun box with one front sight insert and a spare set of brown plastic grips.

Walther LP53 box
This LP53 in the box is an older one with the blued frame. It has all but one of the extra front sight inserts and it shows the wooden cocking aid over the muzzle.

LP53s also came in deluxe padded cases. The oldest ones were lined with a blue-gray material, while newer ones have a maroon fabric. These are fitted cases with slots for every additional piece of the set. They easily double the value of the pistol today.

Weights

Looking at the photo of the Olympia .22 rimfire target pistol above you see that Walther furnished weights for its target pistols. The LP53 was no different, and I have seen beautiful cased sets that had the weights with everything else. Add another multiple of the pistol’s value, or more, for a setup like that!

Walther LP53 weights
The air pistol came with weights, as well. They aren’t as fancy or heavy as the firearm weights, but they do exist!

Grips

The year 1952 wasn’t a high-water mark for ergonomics on this planet. The LP53 was created as a target pistol for the right hand so of course the thumbrest was on the left grip. As far as I can tell, Walther did not offer the pistol with left-hand grips.

Adjustable trigger!

Yes, some LP53s do have an adjustable two-stage trigger. Don’t get your hopes up, though. Walther did away with the adjustable trigger in this model around 1960. The one I’m testing was made earlier than that, so it has the adjustment.

Walther LP53 adjustable trigger
There’s the trigger adjustment.

Performance

I’m going to test both the velocity and the accuracy for you, but let me get you thinking in the right direction. The LP53 is not a powerful air pistol, despite a cocking effort that many will find difficult. And it also isn’t that accurate — or at least that hasn’t been my experience. Imagine pellets in the low to mid 300s and five-shot groups measuring 2-inches at 10 meters. I hope to do better, but that’s what I think it will be.

The mainspring is actually two coiled mainsprings — one inside the other. That sounds good, but in practice it doesn’t add that much.

There is a performance kit for this pistol. It has a single mainspring with thicker wire. I don’t know anything about it other than I would expect it to cock even harder, though in some reports I read that it’s lighter. The inner spring also functions as a spring guide and Walther has received a lot of criticism for that. It’s doesn’t add much power but it sure increases the cocking effort, as well as making the action buzzy. Oh, well — we shall see!

The good news

The good news is I have already stripped my pistol, so you are going to watch it come apart and go together again — I hope! I have ordered a new piston seal to replace the leather seal that’s in my gun now. It could be reused, but it’s looking tired and as long as I’m inside…

Summary

This series should be a lot of fun! Stay tuned!