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Smith & wesson model compact: Good looking and great shooting, petty finds that there is a lot to like about this new offering from the S&W; performance center

A couple of years ago the Smith & Wesson Performance Center introduced the Mode l945. Simply described, it had a top half that was typical S&W.; but the frame distinctly resembled the 1911 Government Model. Rumor had it that this was to be Smith & Wesson's on entry into the competition for a new FBI pistol. but that Was routinely denied.

I had the opportunity to test the 945 and became more than a little enamored with it. The pistol looked great. felt good. and was joyously accurate. So instead of sending it back to S&W; as is usually my custom. I sent a check. When I learned that there was going to be a 945 chambered for the .40 S&W; cartridge. I made every effort some might say it was more like sniveled and whined) to obtain in an early sample. Either way... the gun is here.

One of the reasons for my begging is that I am a very staunch supporter of the cartridge. In just over 10 years. it has become the number one choice of law enforcement at every level. Why? Because it makes sense. It is small enough to be used in 9mmsized pistols and has enough oomph to be an effective defense cartridge. I never pass up the chance to say "I told you so" to t hose who dubbed it the Forty Short and Weak.

Now the power gurus still don't like it. but it's been so thoroughly embraced by the amino companies that you can have pretty much any load you want. from mild to wild. It hasn't been +P'd yet, but since it's already pretty far up the pressure curve there's not much room. And we already know that it works on the street, so there s nothing to fix anyhow.


Compact And Capable

But the gun that arrived from S&W; was not exactly what I was expecting. The first 945 is a full size .45 with a stainless, steel frame. The 945-40 is a compact -- really compact -- single-action pistol with an aluminum alloy frame. In fact, if you put it on top of one of the Current crop of compact 1911 clones, you'll see that they're very close to the same size. For another perspective, the 945-.40 compares closely in size to the very popular 9mm S&W; Model 3913. So while the first 945 is a wonderfully accurate target pistol, the new one is a wonderfully accurate carry gun.

When we discussed the 945, it made sense to talk separately about the top and bottom halves, and the same applies here. The frame looks very much like a government model on the outside, but internally there is also a generous S&W; influence. The trigger mechanism is very 1911-ish, with a beavertail and mainspring housing that could probably be interchanged. The firing-pin safety is cleverly keyed to the grip safety just as it was with the original Swartz safety on early Colts or the present-day Kimber Series 2 pistols. When the grip safety is depressed, the firing-pin is unlocked. The ejector is--just as it is on all S&W; autopistols -- a pivoting lever that sticks up on the left side of the frame. The barrel seat is totally S&W.; There is no link between barrel and frame, but the barrel rides within matching cam grooves cut in the frame. This arrangement has been designed to ensure adequate dwell time arid prevent the barrel from unlocking before the bullet leaves the barrel. This was alleged to be a fault in e arly .40 S&W; designs, although high speed photography showed that to be untrue.

One very notable aspect of the frame is in the grip area. The mainspring housing is retained by a pin, just as it is on the 1911. But just forward of it, the frame is cut away by a little over 0.2 inch. So even though the magazine holds seven rounds, it doesn't stick out to impair concealability.

In terms of both mechanics and appearance, the slide is typical of Third Generation S&W; pistols. There is a blued filler where the normal double-action pistol's safety and decocker would be. Most striking are the "dragon scale" slide serrations that were seen on the first 945. The remainder of the stainless steel slide has a fine matte finish. Sights are Novak with the typical three-dot markings.

The 3.8-inch barrel is supported in the front by a Briley spherical bushing that is common to many Performance Center autos. It is both a blessing and a curse. The design contributes significantly to the pistol's accuracy but also complicates reassembly after field stripping. The brass element within the bushing must be aligned just so to permit reassembly. With the bushing correctly aligned, the barrel drops right in; if it isn't, reassembly is a challenge. Patience, not force, is the only answer. There is a small U-shaped cut on top of the barrel's headspace extension that permits visual inspection for a round in the chamber.

Off To The Range

The whole package is a 28-ounce defensive handgun with impeccable credentials. As is my custom, it was tested in a three-part routine. First is just a short function test that also serves to help break in the gun. This varies but normally involves 50 to 100 rounds of assorted ammo. Afterward the pistol is cleaned and inspected to see if anything is out of whack in the fitting. This will usually be revealed in the form of abnormal wear marks.

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