Jim Garthwaite Custom Browning Hi-Power


by Leroy Thompson

photography by Leroy Thompson

June 7th, 2010




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 spring. The 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 which.  I 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 sights.

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.

On the web site, Jim lists the various options available.  Just as an example, he offers the following Hi-Power finishes:

Hard Chrome complete pistol

Hard Chrome frame assembly and small parts

Strip nickel or chrome

Satin blue complete pistol, flats polished

Satin blue frame and small parts, flats polished

Satin blue slide and compensator, flats polished

Matte 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:

Heinie "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

Stippling and texturing

Slide rear checkered to 40 lpi and a flat and serrations added to the slide top at 40 lpi.

Bar-Sto barrel precision fitted

Wolff 17 lb standard recoil spring

Although 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.

Garthwaite straight trigger and tool steel sear

Trigger job

Undercut Commander ring hammer with oval slot

Bevel magazine well and softening, radiusing, deburring parts

KG 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 with it. 

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 it. I 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.

For more Information:

Jim Garthwaite - www.garthwaite.com

Rusty Sherrick - www.c-rusty.com

Leroy Thompson


Right side view of the Garthwaite Hi-Power.



Left side view of the custom Hi-Power; note Garthwaite's extended strong side safety and his straight trigger.

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Thompson firing the Garthwaite Hi-Power on double tap and zipper drills.  It handles very quickly.



A good view of the Garthwaite Hi-Power sights and the Black T finish.



Pakistani surplus ammo is smokey but the wide open rear sight and gold bead front sight  of Thompson's Hi-Power still allow fast acquisition.



The Hi-Power proved very accurate and fast for politically incorrect triple-taps at 10 and 15 yards.



Thompson 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!!!



The Bar-Sto barrel is a real aid to accuracy; note also the Commander-style hammer.



Good view of the Heinie rear sight which was opened up by Garthwaite, and of the checkering to the rear of the slide.



Spegel grips are handsome, comfortable, and offer a sure hold.



The 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!