Saturday, January 15, 2011

Savage Tendencies

What if I were to tell you that there was a new pocket pistol on the market that featured a loaded chamber indicator built to run your hand over in low light, marketed for self defense, had a partially hidden hammer, ambidextrous mag release, ten round double stack magazine, and was built for easy take down? You probably would assume that its a Kahr or something modern, right? I'm actually talking about a 1905 design, from Savage. This is a remarkable pistol in regards to its intent, marketing, and design. It's basically just a pocket pistol, but its place in the market and its intended use was far, far ahead of its time.

The 1907 actually began mostly as a response to the overwhelming popularity of the Colt 1903, Colt's famous hammerless pocket pistol. This would foreshadow a long competitive relationship between Savage and Colt that would eventually play out in very high circles. In fact it's very design, which is billed as "Delayed Blowback" is actually nothing of the sort: they merely rifled the barrel, and claimed that the bullet engaging the rifling delayed the blowback function. Of course this is a ridiculous claim right now, but it most be noted that someone had already came along and patented the notion of a blowback action with a slide and breechblock made in one piece; a Mister John Browning. This is a large reason why many of these early Remington, S&W, and H&R automatics use such clumsy recoil control systems. Unfortunately for the actual internal design, this kind of leads most modern gun collectors and enthusiasts with the idea that this early into the lifetime of semi automatic pistols was only resulting in archaic and half formed designs. I'll contest this; most of these designs HAD to adhere to simple blowback procedures in order to avoid lawsuits. People were not stupid, they saw that Browning tended to create the most useful designs and anything approaching his works would be shot down in court.

Double Stack Magazine

The Savage 1907, "Delayed Blowback" and caliber aside, is a thoroughly modern handgun. It was also one of the very first firearms that was touted for the early pistol tests when the US Army announced its desire for a 45 caliber Semi-Auto handgun. Luger, Bergmann, White-Merrill, Knoble, Colt, Savage, and others entered the race. There were many entries to the tests, just like later military tests, many companies dropped out suddenly, were disqualified, failed, or their companies simply didn't want to keep sending free pistols for an unknown result. In any case, the race narrowed out and left two standing contestants and already very familiar rivals: Savage, with their 1907, and Colt, with what would become the Model 1911 pistol. The Savage entry was a simpler and bigger version of their popular 1907: it featured no flat springs or screws whatsoever. The rear sight doubled as the extractor. The hammer was connected directly to the firing pin, itself housed within the mainspring. Interestingly, this one actually featured a true delayed blowback: a rotating barrel with a lug at the top engaged a channel cut into the slide. This really only helped a little: it was still a violent and fast action, with Browning's design being much gentler.

The Savage actually passed all tests, and went into field testing with Cavalary units. It was not a perfect pistol, and the Army realized it, but still made the claim that it "Warranted additional testing". Unfortunately Savage suffered a string of production issues and further defect issues that served to sour the Army on the firm and the pistol. The newer pistols were ordered with wood grips and a grip safety. Savage never bothered to mark "Safe" and "Fire" on the safety; another complaint. Captain James A. Cole of the 6th Cavalry stated that the Savage pistol "has a splendid grip, is easily and rapidly pointed, has tremendous powers and is very accurate." However he also included that he was "convinced that this Savage model is unsuited for issue in the military service." Savage was persistent: they kept resubmitting designs and eventually in 1910 gave over their finalized, complete model. It suffered from numerous jams, failure to feeds, failure to ejects, and broken components. The Colt offering performed without any failures. It was a clear choice (and a correct one).

Savage's pistol, it should be noted, actually became a military pistol eventually. France had bought 20,000 examples for officer issue purposes, these models only real difference being a kind of awkward lanyard loop addition. These were bought for WW1 service, between 1914 and 1917. It became a sort of triumphal exit for Savage, however. It never really became an outdated and doting pistol, it simply marked Savage's bold entry, and wartime exit, of a pistol ahead of it's time. In particular it's large advertising campaign, with the pistol being squarely aimed at Police and Home defense concerns. These ads are really interesting to compare to many current self defense firearm ads: the vernacular may be different, but the theme is pretty much the same.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a quick, condensed writeup on this neat little gun. It's actually used by Jude Law in Road To Perdition, which is where I first saw it and wondered what it was. I hope to do more of these write ups in the future.

French Contract 1907

NRA Museum: The Savage 1907

The Vintage Pistol: Savage 1907


  1. Hah. I inherited one of these from my grandfather. It came with a note saying not to fire it since it had a tendency to go full auto unexpectedly. Still haven't bothered to find out exactly what's wrong with it.

  2. Huh, maybe a sear issue. You should get it looked it, might be a nice plinker when you get it sorted out