The Bullshooter

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

An Embarrassing Bulge

Before I get started on this, I'd like to make it clear that I love the SIG-Hammerli P240. To those not familiar with this model of target pistol, it was made in the 1970s in 22LR, 32 S&W Long Wadcutter and 38 Special Wadcutter. It's a semi auto made with all the Swiss precision you'd expect, and was very popular as a UIT Center Fire gun. The 22LR version was pretty rare, I only ever saw some conversions kicking around in that caliber. But as far as balance, trigger and feel were concerned, this was a peach.

By far the most common caliber for this pistol was the 32. I had seen a few 38s on the line around Australian clubs, but they had this reputation that they were not suited to your average Joe shooter, they needed the guiding hand of an experienced shooter. Then there was the other thing about the 38 - the first thing a dealer would do when checking it out would be to look down the barrel for a bulge.

This never really stuck in my mind too much, until a couple of years back I chanced on a letter sent to all owners of the 38 P240s by SIG. Dated August 1979, it announced the cessation of the production of P240s in that caliber. The full text content follows:

Important Communication

On purchasing the SIG-Hammerli P240 pistol you have received a perfect firearm with regard to technical characteristics and quality, for which we guarantee as such.
Unfortunately it has been pointed out to us for some time already that the ammunition .38 Special Wadcutter, as well as hand-loaded ammunition, which is available for this firearm, can lead to damage of the pistol in rare cases. We are in no way responsible for these disadvantages which are in the form of retained shots (approx 1 case per 100 000 shots) or even of causing cracks in the barrel (approx 1 case in 1 000 000 shots) and thus cannot accept any liability for them.
Numerous tests and expertises which we had carried out immediately, clearly indicated that the firearm operates perfectly with regard to its design, material and manufacture and that the damages mentioned were only due to the use of faulty ammunition.
We have seen to it that the firm, Dynamit Nobel Ltd (Geco), assumes the responsibility for such ammunition produced and that this company also accepts the full liability. Our attempts in this direction with other ammunition producers have been unsuccessful up to the present.
Although we are convinced of the quality of the P240 pistol, we cannot however have an influence on the ammunition used by the marksman. It is with great regret that we have thus decided to discontinue the manufacture of this excellent and very popular pistol.
We hope to have made the situation clear with this communication. We would like to emphasize and draw your attention to the fact that, should you have sold or lent your pistol to anyone in the meantime, it is your responsibility to inform the present owner of this communication, since you are fully liable for any damage which may be incurred. It need hardly be said that we deeply regret such a development, especially as we have no influence on it. We feel obliged, however, to provide you with this information.
This communication only applies to .38 calibre Special Wadcutter and not to the .32 calibre Smith & Wesson Long and .22 calibre long rifle.

I guess this only goes to prove that nobody's perfect.

When you build a precision target pistol with an undersize bore and not much room for anything but a very thin walled barrel (the 32 had thicker walls because of the smaller hole), you're asking for trouble. Throw into the mix some home reloads; heck, even throw in factory loads in the heat of an Australian summer, and you have the makings of a problem child.

The letter proves that there were "issues" - enough of them to halt production. One "retained shot" (a.k.a. stuck skirt) in 100,000 may be the case under perfect conditions, but those perfect conditions just don't exist in the real world. I'm very surprised that even one ammunition company would admit to any sort of liability, when they have no way of knowing that Young Norman of Birdsville, Queensland wouldn't plink at tin cans somewhere on the outskirts of the Simpson Desert in mid summer. I do applaud the imagination of whoever came up with the concept of blaming everything on poor quality control of the ammo factories. A master stroke.

Enough of the Swiss-bashing, that was never my intention. The P240, even in 38, is a marvelous machine, a pleasure to shoot. Nothing I have outlined here is any excuse not to own or shoot one with full confidence. However, a little common sense must be used.

If reloading using hollow based wadcutters, you should stick with a mild load, and a very light crimp. Remember, a heavy crimp will build pressure. Use a brand of bullet that does not have a reputation for having easily detached skirts - and I mention no names here, but ask around and you will make a safe decision.

Keep your ammo cool, or at least out of the sun.

Never, ever, shoot when there is oil in the barrel.

Final Note

The P240 in 38 was also a joy to shoot because it plonked its empties right at your feet. It was civilized in every way, not making the shooter poke about like a barnyard hen looking for cases. It's also interesting to note that its magazines were interchangeable with the S&W Model 52.


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