The Colt M1911 is arguably the greatest handgun ever made. But what if I told you that its inventor, John Moses Browning, had another design that was more reliable, just as comfortable, and carried more ammunition? Most young guys (30 years old or less) would raise their eyebrow at me or call me nasty names but a small, generally older, group may get bug eyed, excited, and shout out, “THE BROWNING HI-POWER!”. They’d be right. The Browning Hi-Power (or just Hi-Power) also considered, ‘The King of the 9mm’s”, was the last great design of John Browning, and has been used in over 50 countries as their standard issue military sidearm starting in 1935 and continuing on through today... yet he never got to see it finished.
John Moses Browning (1855-1926) is arguably the greatest firearms inventor of all time. He has over 128 firearms patents in his name and has licensed them to various manufacturers such as Colt and Winchester just to name a few. He is the true Godfather of firearms and thanks to him, we have most of the designs for todays automatic and semi-automatic firearms. A lot of historians will credit his greatest invention to the great M1911 pistol, a pistol which is still used by active duty military and police to this day, 102 years later.
In the early 1900s, the French military was looking for a new military sidearm for its troops and had some pretty strict requirements. It had to hold at least 13 rounds, be effective out to 50m, be compact and lightweight, have an external hammer, external safety, and be easy to assemble and disassemble. The firearms manufacturer Fabrique Nationale (FN) of Belgium got a hold of John Browning and asked him to design them a firearm for such a task. Unfortunately for Browning, all the 1911 patents he held he sold to Colt so he was forbidden to use them in the design of his new pistol, so he went back to the drawing board. He designed and built two separate prototypes, one being a direct blowback design, the other a locking breach design. Unlike his 1911 design, both used a new double-stack magazine for the increased capacity that didn't make the grip a lot larger. Interestingly enough, the original design was striker fired, similar to a Glock operating system. In early 1928, a designer by the name of Dieudonné Saive took a lot of Colt’s patents and incorporated them into the gun such as the removable barrel bushing and take down sequence (the Colt patents had expired the the same year). Saive took over the design after Brownings death and finished it in 1934 to include a 13-round magazine instead of 16 and incorporated the barrel bushing into the slide and simplified the take down process. In 1935, the first P-35 pistols were off the assembly line, and ready for the French military. Unfortunately, the French military did not adopt the Hi-Power, but the Belgian military did.
To compare a 1911 to a Hi-Power is really comparing an apple to an orange. Are them similarities? Yes... they are both guns. The locking system, takedown, magazine, grip angle, firing mechanism, recoil spring, and chambering are all different, however. Both use a single action firing system in which the slide has to be manually operated to chamber the initial round and uses a manual thumb safety, similar to the 1911. Having the barrel bushing incorporated into the slide itself (essentially eliminating it) allowed for an easier take down and a redesign of the recoil spring and guide rod. This made it a much simpler design. Instead of having seven separate slide parts, (the slide, barrel, bushing, guide rod, recoil spring, and recoil spring plunger) it was simplified to four (barrel, slide, recoil spring, guide rod) making it MUCH easier for field striping. Utilizing the 9mm Parabellum cartridge helped as well, as it allowed for easier control and higher magazine capacity. One gripe a number of people have (myself included) was the addition of a magazine disconnect safety. This ‘safety’ disconnected the trigger from the rest of the fire controls with a plunger than came into contact with the magazine in order for it to fire. Besides being annoying, it made the trigger pull on the Hi-Power much heavier. Luckily, this can be fixed by either removing the safety, which is not recommended if you intend to use a Hi-Power for CCW or even home defense, or having a gunsmith polish all the internal surfaces and switch out springs.
Since the Hi-Powers introduction in 1935, FN has made some design changes (see, improvements) to the gun. The firearms were originally sold with either adjustable or fixed sights which are still available today. In 1962 the internal extractor (shared with the 1911) was changed to an external version to aid in reliability and has stayed that way since. There have been other additions to the gun such as ambidextrous thumb safeties, throated barrels, and three dot sight systems which came in the 1980’s. Various other model changes have happened mostly in the American market like re-chambering’s to .40S&W and .357Sig which required a beefier slide and recoil spring to accommodate the increased pressures. A .30 Luger model was made, but that model was primarily for the European market. There was a model labeled the BDA, or Browning Double Action that added a Double Action/Single Action function to the firearm, it has since been discontinued. Today there are two base models available: The Classic Hi-Power with a hight gloss blued finish, walnut grips, and either adjustable or fixed sights, as well as the Mark III variant with a matte black finish, plastic grips, and fixed sights. All still remain incredibly popular to this day.
For this review we have both a Classic Hi-Power made by Browning Arms Co. with fixed sights and a Argentine Hi-Power made by FM (NOT FN or Fabrique Nationale) it resembles the Mark III. The FM version, M-95 Classic, carries a “Colt Style” slide that is more rounded and resembles a 1911 rather than a traditional Hi-Power. The model used was discontinued in 2002. Older models of the FM have the exact same fine lines of the original Belgian Hi-Power.
Both pistols are fantastic shooters. When you put one of these pistols in your hand, it just fits. Even with its double stack magazine, it really feels great. The sights on the FM version are nice 3-dot sights which I prefer in my pistols. The adjustable sights on the Browning are very nice and positive, holding their adjustments perfectly. We fed a variety of ammunition through theses guns including 115gr and 124gr handloads, Winchester 115gr White Box and Silver Tip JHP, Hornady Critical Defense 115gr, Ultramax 115gr, and Military Spec 9x19mm NATO 124gr. All rounds ran flawlessly out of each gun with the exception of the Ultramax. In the Browning model, there was a catastrophic case rupture that actually broke the grips and the rear sight. It was not a good day (this was done prior to filming the range review). The FM version was fortunate enough to not have this issue, but it did have some feeding problems with the Ultramax. All that aside, accuracy was stellar out past 25 yards. The NATO rounds were noticeably hotter than the rest of the ammo, including the Critical Defense.
One thing that stood out to me as a negative was the trigger pulls. The FM version pulled at a staggering 9.5lbs and the Browning came in a bit less at 8lbs. That’s just obscene for a self defense gun, ESPECIALLY for a single action. I expect that in a revolver, not an automatic. However, there are many examples of both models that have much better triggers breaking around 6lbs.
Take down of both was exactly the same and as smooth as could be. Considering the drastic price difference between the Browning-made and FM-made version, there were pretty much on par with accuracy and reliability.
When looking for a 9mm chambered self defense gun with a classic look and feel, look no further than the Browning Hi-Power. It has a natural feel, with a great fit and finish and accuracy to match. Sure, it is a lot more expensive than some alternatives like a Glock or an M&P. MSRP coming in at just under $1100 for the Mark III and just under $1200 for the Classic it is easy to see why someone would choose a Glock or an M&P. But to be honest, it’s about the history rather than the “tactical” look of the more modern polymer pistols. Luckily, secondhand Browning’s can be found for less than $700, and if you can find an FM made Argentine model they will come in well under $400 for just as nice of a gun. But for most purists, its all about the Browning made versions.
**Special Thanks to my brother, PJ, for allowing me to use, and review his two favorite (and very cherished) Hi-Power pistols.**