Springfield Armory’s new SA-35 is a high-honored nod to the Browning Hi-Power.
Springfield Armory’s rendition of the Browning Hi-Power has recently been the dominant topic on social media. It’s indeed big news, especially because a few years ago, Browning ceased distribution of the Belgium-made version of that same pistol. Ironically, that was not big news. It seemed most folks didn’t give a damn that an 82-year-old firearm design was being discontinued.
So, what’s the big deal with its reintroduction?
Word on the Street
Springfield Armory says they reimagined the Hi-Power and to not call it a “classic.” I assume they’re afraid “classic” will be misconstrued to mean antiquated. But whether they’ll admit it or not, they’ve revived a classic.
They also say it’s made in the USA from a forged steel slide and frame. That’s true. What they don’t tell you is the frame and slide come—80 percent—from Tisas in Turkey (Springfield Armory wouldn’t confirm this but I have it on good authority). However, that’s not a bad thing, and given Springfield Armory sources other handguns and parts from outside the U.S., it shouldn’t be a surprise. Tisas is a very capable manufacture that turns out high-quality products, and this is one way Springfield Armory managed to keep the cost of the SA-35 manageable … and I applaud them for it.
Roy Huntington with American Handgunner compared the introduction of this new pistol to an earthquake, claiming, “Right now, John Browning is smiling.” Browning died in 1926. He might be metaphorically smiling, but the Hi-Power as we know it was introduced nine years later. Browning’s original design looked like something other than a Hi-Power; it was striker-fired and the patent wasn’t approved until after his death.
Dieudonné Saive of Fabrique Nationale deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the Hi-Power. Most importantly, featuring a pivoting trigger, double-stack magazine, and link-less barrel, it was the foundation for almost every modern semi-automatic handgun since. Had Saive incorporated Browning’s striker design, we would’ve had a steel-framed Glock more than 80 years ago.
Jeremy Stafford of Guns & Ammo offered the opinion that the SA-35 would reignite the old battle between Hi-Power and 1911 shooters. I thought this was settled in 1977 when Dave Westerhout and Peter Maunder took first and second in the IPSC World Shoot using Hi-Powers, allowing Rhodesia to edge out the United States and their 1911s for the top spot. That was a tremendous accomplishment considering they were shooting with the minor power factor handicap.
Funny thing: Since 1977, the 1911 design has undergone substantial revision, but the Hi-Power—even the new SA-35—is pretty much the same as it was then. Maybe those in the know knew it didn’t need much work, and all the efforts were directed at tweaking a major power 1911 to outperform it.
James Reeves with The Firearms Blog begins his SA-35 review commenting that, unlike the 1911, the Hi-Power remains relevant today. This should place everything else he says as suspect, such as his remark that original Hi-Powers could give some shooters “slide bite.” Slide bite has never been a problem with the Hi-Power. What has been, is the tendency for the hammer—when pushed to the rear by the recoiling slide—to pinch the web of the hand between the hammer and the tang of the frame. That’s hammer bite, not slide bite.
Springfield Armory addressed this by installing a 1911 Commander-style hammer. It’s not a new approach, but it is one that does work for most shooters. If you have large hands and shoot with a very high grip (as you should), you might still get a little pinching with the SA-35. I did.
The best fix for this an extension to the tang of the grip frame. This is a custom and expensive solution. It’s exactly how Nighthawk crafts their Hi-Powers. However, a much less expensive alteration is the installment of a no-bite hammer from pistol guru Wayne Novak. It will eliminate hammer bite at much less expense. Maybe we’ll see either a tang extension or a no-bite hammer on later iterations of the SA-35. I’m sure Springfield Armory has other versions of this pistol on the drawing board.
If not, someone there needs firing.
Almost every review of the SA-35 highlights the pistol’s beveled magazine well. Generally, beveled magazine wells are always a good thing. However, I’ve been carrying and shooting Hi-Powers for half my life. Shoving a drastically truncated double-stack magazine into a large hole has never been a problem. Those reviewing the SA-35 treat this “modification” as monumental. Does it make the pistol easier to load? Yes, but maybe only immeasurably.
By Which All Others Are Measured
All of this might come across as me dissing on the new SA-35. That is far from the point I’m trying to make. Before we get into more detail on the pistol, let me say I believe this to be maybe the most important handgun introduction since 1982.
Why? Because I also believe the Browning Hi-Power was and remains one of the top three fighting pistols ever created. Present any argument you like, but it’s still in military use all over the world and has been used by more militaries than any other handgun. In fact, the Hi-Power has likely killed more people than any other handgun; during World War II, it had the distinction of being used by opposing forces.
Additionally, with its double-stack magazine, pivoting trigger and link-less barrel, the Hi-Power laid the blueprint for all modern semi-automatic handguns. Hi-Powers are reliable, accurate, slim and not too heavy, easy to carry, and arguably have the most ergonomic grip of any duty-style pistol ever engineered.
I have three Hi-Powers and I liked the SA-35 enough to buy it. Hell, I might even buy two of them. Thousands of other Hi-Power aficionados will do the same. But, maybe more importantly, what Springfield Armory has really done is open the eyes of Gen X, Y and Z, as to what a truly proven and rock-solid fighting pistol really is. Now all of us can get one for less than $700.
Under The Hood
Enough pontificating; let’s look in detail at the SA-35.
The slide and frame are machined from forged carbon steel. The steel has a matte blued finish and is very well executed. The gun does have a few sharp edges, such as the forward edge of the dust cover, around the slide stop latch, at the end of the slide stop pin, and along the corners of the tang. Beyond that, I rate the look and feel of the gun as nearly exquisite.
The fully checkered walnut grips are much more handsome than any of the grips ever offered by Browning when the pistols were made by FN. In fact, being somewhat of a Hi-Power snob who has looked long and hard for good aftermarket grips, they’re as tasteful and well executed as any I’ve seen.
The sights are possibly the best upgrade Springfield Armory applied to this pistol. The front sight is a 0.125-inch blade that stands just shy of 0.20-inch above the slide. It has a single white dot positioned at the top center. The rear sight is a ledge-type sight with a 0.14-inch U-notch. I would’ve liked a slightly wider notch, but those with good eyes should find this front and rear sight combination agreeable and very fast. The rear of the rear sight is serrated and is devoid of any of the ridiculous dots so common on modern defensive handguns. If you don’t like these sights, both the rear and front are dovetailed for easy replacement.
Other features include the already mentioned beveled magazine well and a single 15-round magazine. Original Hi-Power magazines held 13 rounds, and while many are giving Springfield Armory credit for the increasing capacity, 15-round Hi-Power magazines have been available from Mec-Gar for some time. And Mec-Gar appears to be the manufacturer of the magazine included with this pistol. The SA-35 also features an extended and comfortable to operate thumb safety, and as also discussed, the Commander-style hammer.
As for the trigger, Hi-Powers have always had a magazine disconnect that would not allow the gun to fire if the magazine was removed. This system connected to the trigger and was the primary cause for bad triggers on Hi-Powers. Hi-Power owners have removed this linkage for years, and it’s not that hard to do. The SA-35 comes without the magazine disconnect and this makes the pull of the SA-35 trigger very nice, with just a bit of take-up and very minimal overtravel. My trigger scale said it broke at 4.75 pounds, but it felt more like 3 pounds. But, good Hi-Powers triggers always tend to feel like they break at less pressure than is measured.
Beyond all that, the SA-35 is just a Browning Hi-Power. I would not say the SA-35 is a reimagined Hi-Power, but I would say it is a damned fine example of one. I fired almost 800 rounds of mixed FMJ and hollow-point ammunition through the test pistol and it functioned flawlessly, just like you’d expect a Hi-Power to.
Slow-fire, off-hand groups at 10 yards were in the 1.25-inch range, and from the holster I could put five shots into a 5-inch circle, at 5 yards, in less than 4 seconds, consistently. Failure drills at 5 yards were easily completed in three seconds or less. For me, hammer-bite was still present, but it was diminished from previous factory Hi-Powers.
Where Ya Been?
The Springfield Armory SA-35 should get the gun of the year award for 2022, and I’ll offer it as Springfield Armory’s best-ever contribution to the world of firearms.
My question to all the other firearms journalists who’ve been fawning over this new pistol like nude images of Salma Hayek is, “Where were the hell were you just a half-decade ago when you could buy one, though maybe not quite as nice as the SA-35, from Browning?”
The same folks who are now telling you what a wonderful and magnificent pistol the Hi-Power has always been, ignored it until Springfield Armory put their name on it. Had those journalists been doing their job, the SA-35 you should now most certainly be buying, would most likely not be your first Grande Puissance.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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