Savage Pocket Pistols; Curious Indeed

By BarryinIN

There are a few reasons I like messing around with guns. One is that I like mechanical objects and knowing how they work. I know a Wal-Mart digital watch will tell me the time, but I like an automatic (auto-wind or self-winding) watch because there is stuff going on in there. If it has a clear back case so I can see this stuff going on, all the better.

So sometimes, I get interested in a gun that I would otherwise ignore and do it just because of how they work.

The Savage Model 1907 “pocket pistol” is one of these. I generally don’t have much interest in .380s or .32s, and really don’t like those that are rather large in size. But these are different. Different in a few ways.

If I were to ask:

What production gun had the first double stack magazine?
My guess is most people would think of the Browning HiPower (1935) was first or close to it.

What about a .32 or .380 that fired from a locked breech instead of being blowback?
The KelTec P32 and others that followed used a locking breech to get the gun smaller, so it gets the attention. There were others from long ago, but most were so obscure that few can name them.

How about a pistol whose slide rails were reversed, so the slide ran inside the frame?
The CZ75 is known for this and many are aware of that (1975). The Sig P210 was like that too (1947-48).

Now name a handgun with no screws in it.
OK, that takes some thinking.

Believe it or not, you might be able to answer all of these questions by saying the Savage 1907. I’m not so sure that it was the first in any of these things, but when compared to the guns most people would think of when asked the above questions, it beat most of them…often by decades.
Whenever who did what, the Savage 1907 did them all at once. It’s unique combination of design features has always kept me at least a little bit curious about them for the mechanical aspect.
And I think they look kinda cool, with an Art Deco or Art Nouveau styling.

The Savage Model 1907 came out somewhere in the 1905 to 1907 area, depending on what source you read. They were chambered in .32 ACP at first, and later .380 ACP. It was a “pocket pistol” in its day, and is a little smaller than the Colt 1903 .32/.380 that was popular then, but is probably just a little wider (I don’t have a Colt 1903 here to check).

The Savage had a double stack magazine that held 10 rounds in .32, and nine in .380.

It had an odd locking system based on a rotating barrel.

The slide runs on rails cut inside the frame.

There isn’t a single screw in the gun. Not even holding the grip panels on.

An Army Major named Elbert H. Searle designed the gun. Arthur Savage bought and produced it by his company. They would do this again with a .45 auto design. They submitted the .45 auto in the early Army pistol trials that resulted in the adoption of the Colt/Browning 1911. The Searle/Savage was the closest competitor to the Colt/Browning, and the only other gun really in the running. A lot of the mechanics of that gun are similar to the .32/.380 M1907.

It seems like most Savage 1907s were made in .32 ACP, but they did make quite a few in .380 ACP. Savage often called these rounds the .32 ASP and .380 ASP- Automatic Savage Pistol- even though they were just the standard .32 and .380.

A large order of guns were sold to France early in WWI, when they were screaming for pistols of any kind. I saw a lot of “French” Savages with documentation for sale when I was looking for mine.

There are a couple of other variations. The Model 1915 had no external “hammer”, and the Model 1917 had a reshaped grip backstrap.
That grip change must have been done begrudgingly, because one of the big advertising claims of the 1907 and 1915 was how well the grip was designed and how well the gun pointed. I see the same picture over and over in advertising. It shows a hand holding a Savage pistol superimposed over a hand with outstretched finger.

From what I’ve read in old advertising, Arthur Savage was never shy about any of his guns. If there was some feature in the design, no matter how large or small, real or imagined, it got pushed and pushed hard.
The pistol features Savage advertising centered on were the locked breech, the 10-shot magazine and the grip shape that caused it to “Aim as easily as pointing your finger”.
The Savage advertising campaign featured Buffalo Bill Cody, Bat Masterson, and others claiming how nice the 1907 would have been to have in the good old days. I notice none said they would have traded their Colt Peacemakers for it.
To Savage’s credit, it probably did take some selling to get people to accept a semiauto pistol in 1907. Remember, this was four years before the 1911 was even adopted, and a year before the German Army adopted the Luger. Autos had to be a tough sell.

One of the things Savage pushed was the locked breech, which the most popular “pocket autos” of the time- the Colts and FNs- did not have. They made all sorts of claims regarding it. The two that come up most are:
-It sealed the barrel keeping unburned powder from falling into the action causing malfunctions.
-It allowed more velocity and power “…the striking energy…is considerably higher and much more uniform…” than other pistols in the same caliber because the breech was locked.

The method used to lock the bolt upon firing was unusual. The barrel was able to rotate, and did not move fore and aft. It had a lug on the bottom and one at the top, both at the breech end. The bottom lug fit into a rectangular cutout in the frame and just kept it tracking straight during in it’s rotation in the frame. The top lug fit into a track milled into the slide. This track was angled for a short section, causing the barrel to rotate as the slide passed over it.

But that’s only half of it. Another design component that made this system work (they claimed) was that the barrel rotated in same direction as the rifling. You have to follow close here.
They claimed that when the bullet entered the rifling, it held the barrel against unlocking. This is because when the rifling tries to rotate the bullet one direction, the bullet tries without success to turn the barrel in the opposite direction. Since the rifling turns the same direction the barrel does to unlock, the bullet is helping to hold the barrel from turning this way. So the bullet holds the barrel locked for a microsecond longer.

Sounds good, but I have to wonder if it really did much.
In a 1980s Gun Digest article, the author Donald Simmons ground the lug off a 1907 barrel and shot it. The velocity dropped, which he concluded meant the early unlocking of the barrel allowed powder gasses to escape. This supported Savage and Searle’s claims to him.
I don’t know about that, but I do know that Searle used the same basic system in the Savage 45ACP pistol that competed against the Colt/Browning in the Army trials, and it seems to have worked. It almost had to. While you can get away without a locked breech in a .32, you might not in a .45 unless the slide is really heavy, and the slide doesn’t look too heavy on the Savage .45.

I know it accomplished something, but more on that soon.

It also had a hammer that wasn’t a hammer.
The hammer isn’t a hammer at all. It’s a “cocking lever”. The “hammer” doesn’t touch the firing pin. The gun is striker fired, and the cocking lever/”hammer” is only a thumbpiece connected to the striker by a link so you can cock and decock it. If you can picture a bolt action rifle and it’s firing pin, but with a hammer-like piece hooked onto the end by a link so you can cock and decock it, you have the general idea.
The model 1915 deleted this “hammer”, but it was back on the 1917.

The slide is open at the rear, and it’s breechblock is installed and removed in the this opening. This block looks like a bolt from a miniature bolt action rifle. Instead of one set of opposed lugs like most rifles, it has two sets. With the slide locked back, you squeeze the cocking piece and give the breechblock a quarter turn to the right and it will come out.
It’s quite a part, with a lot of machining. I bet some of today’s .32 pistols cost less to make than it would to duplicate that bolt.

The trigger and firing control mechanism is goofy too. Part of it is above the trigger, and part of it is back in the breechblock.
The sear is above the trigger. It has an arm that reaches back along the side of the frame and contacts the sear trip, which releases the striker. It’s an interesting ballet of motion to study, but as triggers go- it’s a mess.
You can probably trace it’s path back in this picture:

 

The result is one of the heaviest triggers I’ve ever felt. That includes pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns, single shot clunker shotguns with no name, machineguns, and submachineguns. The rest of the gun is so nicely made that this comes as a surprise. I thought maybe someone had assembled mine wrong and bent something in the past, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. It’s not rough or anything. In fact, it’s quite crisp. You just have to pull and pull before it lets go.
I’m not sure what was gained by doing it this way, but the barrel does sit extremely low. It’s almost right on top of the hand. So if routing things out of the way to achieve that was the intent, they got it, but at a price.

Here is a shot showing the internal slide rails. The breechface location should show how low the barrel sits. Notice also that the slide rails don’t run straight across, but angle downward. I don’t know what the point was there, but I’m sure there was one. I wonder if that could be done on other guns to give more rail surface in less space???

Shooting:
After looking at them several times, I got a Savage 1907 of my own a couple of years ago. It’s a .32 made in November of 1910.
It is in great shape, and from looking at the breechface I wondered if it had gone it’s 99 years (at that point) without being fired.
It didn’t make it to 100.

I have only shot it a little. I can’t say I dread shooting it, but it’s not one I dream about shooting.
First, that trigger is a handful. I shot it from the bench the first time, so mostly all I had to do was hold and squeeze. You squeeze a lot. And squeeze. And squeeze harder. Then you get a slight catch as it moved a little, and keep squeezing until it fires.

The first thing I shot was some Winchester USA 71 grain FMJ. Not knowing where it shot, I tried it at 50 feet. Ten shots went into 4″ at 50 feet and averaged 758 fps on the chronograph. Kinda slow, so it’s a good thing that locking system keeps it from losing velocity, huh?

Next, I shot some CorBon 60 grain JHP. It’s a bit faster. Ten shots averaged 1030 fps, and went into 3-1/8″. Not bad for what it is.

The sights aren’t the best, but are pretty good compared to most pocket pistols of the era. They reshaped the rear sight early in production, and that helps.

I know one thing the locking system does:
It makes it recoil hard.
I never knew an all-steel, 20 ounce, .32 auto could kick so hard. No, it was by no means brutal, but it was certainly stiffer than I expected.
From everything I’ve read about the Army’s .45 pistol tests, the Savage recoiled harder than the Colt. I now believe it had to.

It shoots well I guess, but it takes some concentration with that trigger. I have to really focus to shoot it well, so I don’t think it’s something I could do well with under pressure…which is exactly what it was meant for. Savage used to have an advertising slogan of “Ten Shots Quick”, but with that trigger I couldn’t squeeze them off that quick. While it still sounds strange to complain about the sharp recoil of a .32, I can tell it really slows me down.

I still think it’s a really interesting design, and far ahead of its time in some ways. I’m just not sure if all of them are for the better.
It looks neat, though.

 

 

 

 

 

Original forum post