I got an e-mail from a Finnish friend who just
got back from a close protection job for a diplomat in Latin
America. Since he knows I like Browning Hi-Powers, he made it a
point to tell me he was surprised to see a lot of the bodyguards
where he was working carrying Hi-Powers. My friend is maybe half my age or a
little more and carries a Glock.
So I think he was telling me this to relate a strange
cultural phenomenon--like, Gauchos still use bolos!
Or, a few weeks ago I was at the main Class III dealers
here in St. Louis carrying a Browning Hi-Power. Most of the guys who come in there like black guns of all
sorts. One of the
regulars, who is an excellent guy, has the HK logo tattooed on
his leg. A
few noticed my Hi-Power and commented on it, but deep down I
think they were wondering if I were going to come in the next
week carrying a percussion revolver. Well, I have gone in carrying my S&W Model 58
revolver, but that is another tale.
I got my first Hi-Power well over 40 years ago at
a combination market and gun shop in Cairo, Illinois. It was one of the World War II Nazi ones and worth a lot
more today than I paid for it then. Iím not sure how many Iíve owned since but I would
guess a dozen would be close. Iíve carried another dozen or more when working on
security jobs where the Hi-Power was furnished. In the places I was working unless we were limited in
caliber as we were in Italy, Portugal, many Latin American
countries, and elsewhere, the Hi-Power was generally the gun of
choice for those working ďteams.Ē
If someone was carrying a 1911 or a CZ75 that wasnít
considered odd, but most carried Hi-Powers. And, the CZ75 is sort of a Hi-Power, anyway. The Hi-Power was reliable, offered 13+1 rounds ( or more
with a 20-round extension magazine or a 14 round Inglis
magazine), offered great instinctive pointing due
to the comfortable grip, was chambered for 9x19mm which made
ammo supply relatively easy, and was so ubiquitous around the
world that parts were usually available. It was, after all, the standard military pistol of at
least 75 countries--probably more.
Even though parts were available in many places,
I usually carried a basic parts kit with me. In 20 years or more of carrying a Hi-Power in some odd
places I really only had two times when it needed repair.
Once we were using some 9mm ammo with very hard primers--Sten
gun ammo, I believe--and I had to put in a heavier hammer
other time a parts kit didnít help. The other time I was working on a yacht security job in
the Med. For
anyone who knows me well, this always generated a guffaw since I
am a horrible swimmer.
Anyway, we were in port and I was securing the approach
to the yacht along the dock when I heard a scream and noticed
that one of the passengers was being attacked by a man as she
came back from shopping or a local club--I donít remember
hurried over and--not wanting to shoot the dock rat and spend
time in the local jail--pistol whipped him with my Hi-Power. I know, always a dumb move because the odds are the gun
will be damaged, but I was spoiled by my days carrying a Model
58 as a deputy! The
trigger guard on my Hi-Power proved less hard than the
attempted rapistís head and fractured.
I had it welded at the dock yard the next morning and
when I had a chance had the gun Armalloyed.
By the way, I am using the term Hi-Power, but
others call the pistol the P35, or my Belgian friends call it
the GP (for Grande Puissance). Whatever you call it, three-quarters of a century into
its existence, it is still an excellent fighting handgun.
Thatís why a year or so ago I decided I wanted to have
a custom Hi-Power built--nothing fancy--just enhancements to
make it a better fighting handgun that I could shoot, carry, and
hold while reminiscing about back in the day. I rarely use custom handguns, not because I have
anything against them but because I usually find what I want out
of the box. Traditionally,
though, Hi-Powers have had three negatives--bad sights, bad
safety, bad trigger pull. Later production Hi-Powers improved the safety and the
There arenít as many custom pistolmiths who
specialize in Hi-Powers as there are who do 1911s so I made a
short list of those who I knew did Hi-Powers. I consistently heard good things about Jim Garthwaite,
who had been the American Pistolsmiths Guildís 2004
Pistolsmith of the Year. After visiting his website and reading about his
services, I contacted Jim about building a Hi-Power for me.
the web site, Jim lists the various options available. Just as an example, he offers the following
Chrome complete pistol
Chrome frame assembly and small parts
nickel or chrome
blue complete pistol, flats polished
blue frame and small parts, flats polished
blue slide and compensator, flats polished
blue complete pistol
T Coat Teflon (Black)
There are options listed for various other parts
and services, but the best thing to do is visit Garthwaiteís
website and have a look.
In my case, I looked over the options and made a
list of what I wanted and e-mailed it to Jim Garthwaite.
He, then, offered his opinion based on the Hi-Powers he
has built. As
a result, I changed my mind on a few things and not on others. The basic modifications upon which we decided for
my Garthwaite Hi-Power were as follows:
"Slant Pro" rear sights with the notch opened up for my aging
eyes and a flat on the front for one hand clearance drills. Front sight is a .080 gold bead
rear checkered to 40 lpi and a flat and serrations added to the
slide top at 40 lpi.
barrel precision fitted
17 lb standard recoil spring
I had specified an ambidextrous safety, Jim convinced me to try
his custom extended strong side safety.
I'm glad he did as I am very happy with it and can work
it readily with my left thumb or forefinger if necessary.
straight trigger and tool steel sear
Commander ring hammer with oval slot
magazine well and softening, radiusing, deburring parts
Matte Black Teflon finish
Craig Spegel grips
I wanted an accurate, reliable, carry Hi-Power
and I felt the combination of features Garthwaite and I had
agreed upon would provide that. It definitely has.
When my Garthwaite Hi-Power came in I added three
Mec-Gar flush fit 15 round magazines (standard Hi-Power mags are
13 rounds) and one Mec-Gar 20 round extended magazine to the
package. I took it to the range the next weekend and put 200
rounds through it. Since then I have put another 1800 and reached 2,000
rounds the other day. I
decided it was time to write about the Garthwaite gun now that I've
been shooting it or a few months.
Let me digress for a moment first, though. When I had ordered the Garthwaite custom Hi-Power I had
also contacted Rusty Sherrick and asked him to build me one of
the holsters he makes for the LAPD SIS unit. This unit does a lot of stakeouts and
wanted a holster that would carry the gun comfortably while
seated in a vehicle for an
extended period, would offer good retention, but would still
allow quick access. I had been using one of these holsters with my Kimber
SIS .45 and wanted one for the Hi-Power. Rusty built me one which I mated with the Garthwaite
Hi-Power and have done range drills with it and also done
additional presentations standing and seated to get comfortable
When the Garthwaite Hi-Power first came in, I was
very impressed with the quality of the work. As Iíve used it more and more,
Iíve been even happier. The pistol is very accurate--a lot attributable to the
Bar-Sto barrel and trigger job. It is also reliable and lately
Iíve been shooting almost entirely Pakistani surplus ammo in
did find that the most accurate load and the one I use for carry
in the Garthwaite Hi-Power is Cor-Bonís 115 grain JHP, the
load designed to duplicate 9mm +P+. Of course, the features that made me choose the Hi-Power
years ago are still there, too, especially that very comfortable
grip, which is enhanced by the slim Spegel grips. I am very happy with the Sherrick SIS holster as well.
Whether Iím standing or sitting, it carries my Hi-Power
comfortably. Rusty Sherrick makes a matching mag pouch for those who
like them. I
picked up the habit decades ago when working on security details
of carrying spare magazines in my jacket pocket to keep it from
flipping open in the wind. This is not the fastest reload, probably one reason I
liked the high-cap Hi-Power. I do use Rustyís mag pouch sometimes with my Kimber SIS
.45 and it works great.
Since I rarely order a custom pistol I expect a
lot when I do. Jim
Garthwaite delivers a lot. Currently, the wait for a Garthwaite custom pistol will
be over six months, maybe nine or more. In this case, the wait is worthwhile. I highly recommend the Garthwaite custom Hi-Power.
side view of the Garthwaite Hi-Power.
side view of the custom Hi-Power; note Garthwaite's extended
strong side safety and his straight trigger.
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Click pictures for a larger version.
firing the Garthwaite Hi-Power on double tap and zipper
handles very quickly.
good view of the Garthwaite Hi-Power sights and the Black T
surplus ammo is smokey but the wide open rear sight and gold
bead front sight of
Thompson's Hi-Power still allow fast acquisition.
Hi-Power proved very accurate and fast for politically
incorrect triple-taps at 10 and 15 yards.
practicing drawing and engaging from the Rusty Sherrick SIS
holster while seated in a vehicle.
Note that the cutsey Band-Aid is designed to make
opponents underrate Thompson!!!
Bar-Sto barrel is a real aid to accuracy; note also the
view of the Heinie rear sight which was opened up by
Garthwaite, and of the checkering to the rear of the slide.
grips are handsome, comfortable, and offer a sure hold.
more he shoots with the gold bead front sight on his
Garthwaite Hi-Power, the more Thompson likes it.
7-yard hostage/hostage taker double taps with
Black Hills 115-grain JHP ammo. Thompson has to admit on the
previous run one of the ďhostageísĒ ears was pierced and
he now wears an earring!