SMITH & WESSON'S PERFORMANCE CENTER .357 MAGNUMS
With all the cartridge development for sixguns, single-shots, and semi-automatics during the past forty years it is easy to forget just how great a step forward the .357 Magnum was in 1935. This original magnum was the first handgun cartridge to best the ballistics of the .45 Colt. Make no mistake, blackpowder loads are not wimp loads to say the least. The original black powder loading of the .45 from 1873 called for 40 grains of black powder. My handloads, using the old style balloon head brass, a 255 grain bullet, and 40 grains of Goex black powder, achieve a muzzle velocity of 1,000+ fps. With the primers and powder that was available in the 1870's, this may not have been possible, but there is no doubt that this load exceeded 900 fps in a 7 1/2" Colt Cavalry Model. This is potent power in a defensive sixgun.
In 1907, the .44 Special arrived loaded to .44 Russian levels. Black powder levels. This was a 246 grain bullet at about 750 fps. It would be two decades before handloaders and experimenters discovered the true potential of the .44 Special and brought forth loads using 250 grain bullets at 1100-1200 fps.
Shortly after the .44 Special arrived, the .45 ACP and the 1911 Government Model Colt became the official military sidearm. The powder charge of the original .45 Colt had early been reduced in the 1870's due to complaints among the troopers of excess recoil. The modern .45 ACP simply duplicated the ballistics of the older black powder round.
Then in 1935, the .357 Magnum literally re-wrote the book on handgun cartridges with the first offering to achieve what was impossible with black powder. Those original loadings from Winchester powered by large rifle primers were in the 1500-1600 fps range from a long barreled sixgun such as the 8 3/4" Smith & Wesson. This length was later cut to 8 3/8" to meet NRA sight radius standards for target shooting. Strange, what? How many sixgunners used the long barreled .357 Magnum for target shooting? The load was potent to say the least but all was not perfect however, as the 158 grain soft bullets in factory loads leaded long barrels quickly. Handloaders learned to use hard cast bullets to avoid the problem.
The .357 Magnum became the cartridge of choice for peace officers and outdoorsman. The first .357 sixguns from Smith & Wesson were truly custom guns with special fitting and tuning and carrying a second factory registration number in addition to the regular serial number. Demand for the original .357 Magnum definitely exceeded the supply. The coming of World War II shut down production so it would be the 1950's before many sixgunners who wanted a .357 would be able to find one.
The first .357's were chambered in the largest Smith & Wesson, the N-frame, the same size used today for the .44 Magnum. In 1956, Smith & Wesson brought forth the Combat Magnum, a K-frame, or mid-sized .357 Magnum that carried much easier all day on a peace officer's belt. It became an instant success reigning as the number one choice either as the blued Model 19 or stainless Model 66 until the advent of high capacity semi-automatics and the demand for 9MM's that seemingly never ran dry. Sometimes progress actually takes a step backwards.
The N-frame has a large cylinder originally designed to house six .44-sized holes. When chambered in a .357 Magnum, there is a lot of metal remaining. Sixguns don't always have to carry six rounds as witness the five-shot Freedom Arms .454 Casull and custom sixguns in .45 Colt, .475 Linebaugh, and .500 Linebaugh. The latter chambering takes a standard sized cylinder to its maximum potential. Why not do the same with the .357 Magnum by seeing how many medium sized holes could be cut in a cylinder?
During the 1980's, before the semi-automatic fever hit, Smith & Wesson brought forth an improved version of the peace officers' .357 Magnum, the L-frame or Distinguished Combat Magnum. Using the grip frame of the Combat Magnum mated with a larger cylinder and barrel, the L- frame allowed the use of loads that literally ate the forcing cones of the smaller Combat Magnum.
The larger cylinder of the L-frame became a seven-shooter in 1996. The original Smith & Wesson offerings before the Civil War were seven- shot .22's, and the Model 17 became a ten shot .22 a few years ago. However, the L-frame became the first 'high capacity' cylinder offered by Smith & Wesson in a centerfire chambering.
Sixty years after the .357 Magnum, which became officially known as the Model 27 in the 1950's, was offered to sixgunners, it was quietly and unceremoniously dropped from the Smith catalog. In the 3 1/2" barrel length it is the most business-like looking sixgun ever conceived, the 5 1/2" length was very popular as a packin' pistol and the favorite of lawman and writer Skeeter Skelton, the 8 3/8" is an easy shooting, outdoorsman's sixgun. During its long reign, it was offered in both blue and nickeled finishes and always carried an exquisitely checkered top strap and barrel rib. In the early 1990's a very few 5" heavy underlugged barreled stainless steel Model 627's were offered.
If seven shots in an L-frame is good, then eight in an N-frame is even better. The Smith & Wesson eight-gun is now reality. Smith & Wesson's Custom Shop, the Performance Center, is now offering a large framed eight shot .357 known as the Model 627-PC. The above mentioned Model 627 with a 5" barrel was a heavy club like feeling sixgun to say the least. This is no longer true.
The original .357 Magnum was built on the .44 Hand Ejector platform that surfaced in 1907 as the .44 Special Triple Lock. As mentioned, when chambered in .357 Magnum, the big N-frame left a lot of solid steel in the cylinder. A few years back custom sixgunsmiths were offering conversions on the Model 27 with seven-shot cylinders. Now Smith & Wesson has gone them one better offering an-eight shot .357 Magnum dubbed the Model 627-PC for Performance Center. The club like feeling is gone and this 5" .357 Magnum weighs only one ounce more than a 1950's .357 Magnum Model 27 with a its slim 'Mountain Gun' style 5" barrel. That makes it very easy to pack in a properly designed holster.
The lack of heft in the Model 627-PC is accomplished by the eight shots drilled into the cylinder as well as a cleverly designed heavy underlug barrel. I normally do not care for the heavy barrels found on most large frame Smith & Wessons these days due to both the looks and the feel that they impart to a good sixgun. To remove weight from the heavy barrel as well as to make it more aesthetically pleasing, the Performance Center 'smiths have made judicious use of the milling machine to taper the underside of the barrel from about 2" behind the muzzle forward and also by slab siding the barrel.
On the slab-sided portion of the left side of the barrel one finds "PERFORMANCE CENTER" while the right side reads ".357 MAG-8 TIMES", a most clever inscription to say the least. The Performance Center seal is also found on the left side of the frame below the thumb latch release for the cylinder. Overall finish is a bead blasted stainless steel with both the cylinder and the slab sides of the barrel being highly polished.
Measuring the cylinder of the Model 627-PC with the Hornady Digital Caliper reveals the fact that the cylinder is slightly wider and slightly shorter than the original .357 Magnum. Diameter is 1.712" compared to the Model 27's 1.704"; length is 1.585" compared to 1.623". With the drilling of two extra holes in the cylinder both the distance between chambers and also the wall thickness is altered dramatically. On the original Model 27 these measure .165" and .125" respectively. They are reduced to .0645" and .0835" respectively on the Model 627-PC. For the curious among us these measurements on a Model 19 are .100 inches.
The exquisite checkering found on the top strap, rear sight leaf, and the ribbed barrel of the Model 27 is gone replaced by a grooved barrel rib and a grooved rear sight leaf with a smooth top strap. The rear sight is easily removable to reveal tapping and drilling for scope mounting. The rear sight is also the standard plain black outline mated with an interchangeable front sight system that accepts Patridge, Patridge with gold bead, red ramp, or black ramp front sight blades that are installed by pushing backwards against the spring loaded system.
Both the hammer and trigger are the best shape ever found on a double action sixgun. The trigger is rounded, polished smooth, and highly user friendly. The hammer is a tear dropped shape somewhere in between the shape of the standard Smith & Wesson hammer and the target style. Cocking the hammer reveals that this is the first .357 Magnum from Smith & Wesson with a frame mounted rather than a hammer mounted firing pin.
As with most large frame Smith & Wessons today the grip frame shape is round butted, also something I normally do not care for except on concealable sixguns which this big handgun definitely is not. This particular sixgun carries Hogue's finger groove grips of exotic wood that mates up very well with the frosted appearance of the Model 627-PC.
To put it simply, I like this sixgun. The .357 Magnum with factory 125 grain jacketed hollow points is considered the best stopping power combination, better than any .45 ACP, .40 S&W, or 9MM. With eight shots in the cylinder backed up by a full moon clip with eight more 125 grain jacketed hollow points, this could well be considered the ultimate high capacity handgun. A little practice with the full moon clips makes loading extremely quick. Three full moon clips are provided with each Model 627-PC.
As the chart of test firing shows at the end of this article, the Model 627-PC is one great shooting sixgun. With Black Hills 125 grain jacketed hollow points, six shots go into 1 1/4" at 25 yards. This is my load of choice for varmint hunting and such game as turkey when head or neck/body junction shots are taken.
Years before they offered traditionally jacketed bullets, Speer came forth with full copper cupped bullets with lead cores in .38, .41, and .44 calibers. The half and three-quarter jacketed swaged bullets offered at the time left a lot to be desired as they allowed lead to contact the barrel resulting in almost immediate leading. Speer solved this problem with full copper cups that eliminated the barrel to lead contact while still allowing the dramatic expansion afforded by pure lead cores. They are still cataloged by Speer in both hollow point and solid point persuasion in all three calibers. They should be brought forth in .45 Colt!
In .38 caliber these make perfect varmint medicine and in the bigger bores work very well for broadside shots on small deer-sized game resulting in an immediate stop. For the Model 627-PC the 160 grain solid point loaded over 14.0 grains of #2400 gave the type of tight shooting groups we often dream about but rarely achieve. At 25 yards, six shots from the Model 627-PC went into 5/8" with the full eight shots 'opening' the group to a similarly gratifying 1 3/8 inches. Using the Hornady 158 grain XTP over the same powder charge gives very nearly the same results with six shots going into 7/8 of an inch. This is astounding performance by anyone's standards especially when it is considered that these groups were shot not with a Ransom Rest but off sand bags with my aging eyes doing the sighting. Again, I say, I like this sixgun even if it is an eight-gun.
A second .357 Magnum sixgun provided for testing by The Performance Center would have been a star in its own right had it not been over- shadowed by the Model 627-PC. We have mentioned the fact that in 1956, Smith & Wesson brought forth the first medium-framed sized .357 Magnum at the urging of Inspector Bill Jordan of the Border Patrol. It became the .357 Magnum of choice by peace officers and even more so when it came forth in the 1960's as the stainless steel Model 66.
Now the Model 66 has been customized by the sixgunsmiths of the Performance Center to provide an easily concealable and easy shooting .357 Magnum. Starting as a round-butted Model 66, the .357 Magnum is fitted with a three-inch, actually 2 7/8", heavy underlugged barrel with a new twist. A difference in shape that is. To cut down on weight, the barrel is tapered on both sides from top to bottom resulting in a nearly round bottomed V-shape when viewed from the muzzle end. The entire sixgun, except for the hammer and trigger, is polished bright with the inscription "Performance Center" found on the right side and "SMITH & WESSON" above ".357 MAGNUM" being on the right side. The trigger is rounded and polished smooth while the hammer, as on the Model 627-PC, is also a tear drop shape. Kudos to the gunsmith at Smith & Wesson that discovered this shape.
Being fitted with ivory polymer stocks of the plainclothes style, the Model 66 Custom gave me visions of serious felt recoil however the Performance Center took care of this problem with porting. Slots cut in both sides of barrel below the front side combined with the semi-heavy barrel keep felt recoil with fullhouse loads to a minimum.
With its short barrel, plainclothes stocks, and K-frame size, the Custom Model 66 is easily concealable in holster or waistband and also makes a most comforting bedside sixgun. Recently the controversy over aimed versus point shooting has re-surfaced. I found the Model 66 easy to use both ways. Point shooting for close range and aimed fire for longer distances. What is 'longer distances' must be determined by each individual shooter.
With Black Hills' 125 grain jacketed hollow points, the Model 66 puts five out of six shots in 1 1/2" at 50', my normal distance for testing defensive sixguns with their short barrels or cowboy shooting sixguns with their 19th century sights. While testing sixguns during a day when hundreds of rounds are fired through several sixguns, I also prefer to give both myself and the sixgun the benefit of the doubt by allowing one throwaway shot.
The Model 627-PC and the Custom Model 66 are two variations on the same theme, the Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum. The original .357 Magnum, the Model 27 may be gone. It has been replaced by two of the best .357 Magnums ever to come forth from Springfield.
PERFORMANCE CENTER MODEL 627-PC .357 MAGNUM--5" BARREL
|Load||MV||Group (Best 6 of 8 Shots at 25 Yards)|
|CCI Blazer 158 JHP||1052||1 1/2"|
|Black Hills 125 JHP||1153||1 1/4"|
|Black Hills 158 JHP||1442||1 1/2"|
|Federal 125 Hi-Shok||1439||1 5/8"|
|Hornady 140 XTP-JHP||1332||1 1/8"|
|Speer 125 GD-JHP||1399||2"|
|Speer 158 GD-JHP||1187||1 1/2"|
|Winchester 145 SilverTip-HP||1315||1 1/2"|
|Hornady 158 XTP/14.9 gr. #2400||1217||7/8"|
|Speer 140 JHP/17.5 gr. WW 296||1215||1 3/8"|
|Speer 158 JHP/14.0 gr. #2400||1158||2 1/8"|
|Speer 158 GD/14.0 gr. #2400||1194||1 1/2"|
|Speer 160 FP/14.0 gr. #2400||1181||5/8|
|BRP 155 GC/15.0 gr. #2400||1406||1 1/4"|
|Lyman #358156GC/14.0 gr. #2400||1348||2 1/8"|
|Lyman #358156GC/15.0 gr. #2400||1444||1 3/4"|
|RCBS #38-150KT/15.0 gr. H4227||1257||1 5/8"|
|RCBS #38-150KT/15.5 gr. #2400||1449||1 3/4"|
PERFORMANCE CENTER MODEL 66 .357 MAGNUM--3" BARREL
|Load||MV||Group (Best 5 of 6 Shots at 50 Feet)|
|CCI Blazer 158 JHP||1006||2 1/4"|
|Black Hills 125 JHP||1064||1 1/2"|
|Black Hills 158 JHP||1275||3"|
|Federal 125 Hi-Shok||1296||2 3'4"|
|Speer 158 GD-JHP||1078||1 3/4"|
|Winchester 145 Silver Tip -H/P||1218||1 1/2"|
|Hornady 158 XTP/14.0 gr. #2400||1118||1 1/2"|
|Speer 140 JHP/17.5 gr. WW296||1117||3"|
|Speer 158 JFP/14.0 gr. #2400||1080||1 1/2"|
|Speer 158 GD/14.0 gr. #2400||1082||1 3/4"|
|Speer 158 FP/14.0 gr. #2400||1105||2 3/8"|
|BRP 155 GC/15.0 gr. #2400||1281||1 1/4"|
|Lyman #358156GC/14.0 gr. #2400||1205||2 1/4"|
|Lyman #358156GC/15.0 gr. #2400||1312||1 1/2"|
|RCBS #38-150KT/15.0 gr. H4227||1108||1 1/2"|
|RCBS #38-150KT/15.0 gr. #2400||1333||2 1/2"|