Cylinder & Slide SA-35s

Making The Hi-Power Sublime!
6

Sometime in 2017 Browning posted a message on their website causing the blood in the veins of shooters everywhere to chill a few degrees: “… the Hi-Power is technically out of production. Current dealer inventories will be the last available from Browning for the foreseeable future.”

Aside from the collective “Huh?” and “What?” mutterings, most everyone either thanked their lucky stars they had a Hi-Power already, or gnashed their frustrated teeth for dawdling about and never “quite getting around” to buying one.

“But they can’t be serious … can they?” lit up the forums.

They were indeed, and the much-vaunted and beloved P35, the great Grande Puissance — literally meaning “high power” — never rematerialized on the Browning books. Cue more teeth gnashing and add in hair rending, whatever that is.

Those “Browning” Hi-Powers were actually made by Fabrique Nationale in Belgium and anyone who has ever done business with a European gun company knows how they can be petulant, unpredictable and not always savvy about the American market. Fortunately, however, Springfield Armory is an American gun company and knows precisely what American shooters are looking for — usually hitting the bullseye exactly in the center.

When SA announced their version of the beloved Hi-Power in October 2021, it pretty much caught everyone by surprise. The surprise had most assuming it would be some sort of import with “SA” stamped on the side. Nope — wrongo. Springfield’s aptly named SA-35 is American made, with machined forgings done right here in the U.S.A. The rest of the gun is superbly constructed, presenting a high level of attention to engineering and details — like their 1911 line-up — and immediately captured the shooting public’s attention.

Indeed, many of those who were gnashing teeth before, swooped into the nearest gun store and snapped them up, often driving the $699 MSRP up into the $1,000 to $2,000 range. But at least they “got theirs” assuring Springfield they had a homerun winner on their hands.

The Improvements

Springfield’s thinkers took the opportunity to make some small but fundamental changes to the design. Prior Hi-Powers had a silly magazine safety thanks to military wishes. Their single-action trigger pull was often gritty and rough and most added the unevenness of a firing pin safety to the mix. Thanks to updated engineering and careful manufacturing, the magazine safety is gone, along with the firing pin safety, helping to contribute to a much better trigger pull.

Other changes include an updated hammer design, beveled mag well, redesigned and improved safety levers and bold sights. All of which neatly add up to the nicest “factory” Hi-Power I’ve handled. So why change things? That’s easy — just look at the SA-35 as the perfect base gun to customize. It’s already good, so now you can nudge things toward great.

C&S

Bill Laughridge, the irascible ne’er-do-well owner and founder of the Cylinder & Slide Shop in Fremont, Neb. is a card-carrying old school gunsmith of the sort you read stories about. Bill started in business in nineteen hundred and seventy eight, as they say, and I think photos were still all black and white then. Bill learned the business from the ground up, first as a gun-crazy kid like most of us, then, as the years passed, a genuine multi-talented and innovative gunsmith. Bill can fix anything — I know because I’ve seen him do it — and built the C&S shop from a dream into one of the leading custom shops in the world.

Bill’s retro-1911 work recreating original first-production 1911 pistols is legendary, and what he knows about Hi-Powers could fill a big book. After working on them for so long, it’s why Bill started to make C&S branded Hi-Power parts and today, the C&S shop is the go-to place to get what you need to keep your Hi-Power running. They’re also celebrated for their no-holds-barred custom work on the platform.

I’ve hosted Bill at my house while he’s taught 1911 build classes (and taken a few of them too) and we’ve spent the past 25 or more years talking guns into the wee hours too many times to remember. When he called me asking about Springfield’s new SA-35, I challenged him to be the first to customize one.

“Hell,” he said, “ask ’em to send me two and we’ll do a short one and a full length one!” he said laughing. So I did, and he did — and here they are. But let’s be upfront and explain Bill didn’t do the work himself (he’s much too important these days). His ace gunsmith, Ralph Gutekunst conducted the magic on these two SA-35s and after working with Bill for 25 years, Ralph knows a thing or three about the Hi-Power. I think it shows.

Aside from looking like a million bucks, the inside of the gun gets the treatment too.
A detailed de-burr and polish inside cleans things up and the extractor is radiused
and the tension verified.

The Basic Builds

Essentially, I’d call these builds “identical” but with a few small differences. Both have a long list of customized features and parts, yielding all sorts of real-world benefits. Let’s go over the goods, keeping in mind this applies to the “long” standard length SA-35, and the shorter version.
The match-grade barrel with hood and throated feed ramp helps make the guns shoot like gang-busters. Each gets a detailed de-burr and polish inside, the extractor is radiused and tension verified, the front and back straps are stippled and the mag well touched up. I want to talk about the stippling because it’s got a unique feel to it. It sort of flows into your skin but isn’t too aggressive, so it doesn’t cause discomfort if you shoot it a lot. It makes the guns sort of just “stick” to your palm when you shoot and it’s just great.

A highlight is installing the C&S beavertail to the frames. While SA modified the hammer to help negate hammer bite, the change in grip profile with the impeccably silver-brazed and blended beavertail is significant. It allows a high and tight grip and really locks the gun into your hand.

Ralph installed and fitted Heinie Ledge rear sights and C&S dovetailed fronts (with 14 kt. gold beads installed) on the guns, really changing things but in good ways. I particularly like the smooth, wide “combat” triggers they installed too. A wider trigger helps to make the SA trigger pull feel lighter than it really is. Although this action is crisp and smooth at about 4.5 lbs., the wide trigger is particularly enjoyable to use and enhances things.

Wanna little more compact action? C&S also offers a ½" shorter bobbed
version (left, bottom barrel) of the standard SA-35.

Even More Fun

An interesting modification is adjusting the re-set to be shorter and in my opinion, more “feel-able” and “clickier” if that makes sense. There’s no mistake when re-set occurs. There’s also a trigger over-travel stop added. If you don’t think this is important, wait until you try it. There’s the break of the sear then essentially — no movement. In the hands of someone who knows how to control a trigger, it adds a layer of magic you simply need to experience to appreciate.

Forward serrations are added if you like that sort of thing, a complete carry bevel is done breaking any sharp edges, and the famous C&S combat safety is fitted. This one isn’t ambi and frankly, I’ve never liked ambi safeties on my autos as the off-side one seems to get in the way and threatens to brush off in the holster. If you’re a lefty, go for it though.

There’s a Browning Hi-Power firing-pin retaining-plate (forged steel, made by C&S), which C&S replaces just to make sure things are perfect. A C&S BHP extractor and chamfered hammer (edges are broken) and sear set are also fitted. The result of the trigger/hammer and sear and action work is the nicest trigger I’ve ever felt on any Hi-Power, period. I’m impressed by Ralph’s work.

The C&S Rollmark graces the rear of the SA-35. Yep, a ’stache graces the
middle of the logo since C&S Owner Bill Laughridge is known for his signature cookie duster.

The upgraded sights include Heinie Ledge rear sights and C&S
dovetailed fronts with 14 kt. gold beads installed.

The impeccable C&S beavertail allows a high and tight grip and really locks the gun into your hand.

Model Specifics

One of the significant mods is shortening the slide on one gun. It’s done seamlessly and if you didn’t know it was a custom job, you’d never know. It’s about 0.5″ or a bit less and the result is like the C&S “Pathfinder” model they do, based on a shortened Hi-Power. It turns the gun into a handy, lighter and more compact carry gun and I recommend it heartily. The same short gun comes with the C&S hammer strut with a nut securing the spring (handy!) and a 20-lb. recoil spring to handle the shorter slide assembly. The full-sized gun comes with a C&S 18.5-lb. recoil spring due to the weight of the stock slide. Both guns are matte-blued and look serious and authoritative.

If you’re wondering, wonder no more. The cost of the shorter gun is precisely $4,707.68 — on a C&S supplied gun. The full-sized gun runs $3,842.70, also on a C&S supplied gun. But being true customs, this can change if you want other things done or if you supply your own base gun. Be creative.

The match-grade barrel, with throated feed ramp to ensure a reliably omnivorous diet,
“shoots like gang-busters” and usually dishes out 1.25" to 2" groups at 25 yards.

The front and back straps are stippled with a unique pattern Roy says
“sort of flows into your skin but isn’t too aggressive.” It looks good too!

But Why?

I have quite a bit of experience with the base SA-35 so I sort of put my own gun against these customs. The winner? Well, it was sort of a tie in an odd way. The C&S guns ran beautifully, had terrific triggers, were beautiful to behold and shot like lasers. Groups at 25 hovered in the 1.25″ to 2″ range if I behaved — and those triggers were sheer delight to use! The grip treatment made them easy to hold onto and the bold sights a joy to use. In short, peerless fun at every level. So why was it sort of a tie too?

The stock Springfield SA-35 also does its job well. It shoots a tad bigger groups, has a trigger not quite as sweet, begs me to put some skateboard tape on the grip straps and now I keep noticing how the re-set and over-travel wants attention too. But — it runs 100%, is a pleasure to use and own and is, in a word, great fun. So now what? I think the lesson is don’t doubt your stock SA-35 as it’ll take good care of you.

But if you want a treat, want to ramp up the game, want something to get some attention at the range or when your guncrank friends visit, don’t be shy about calling the C&S Shop. Owning a true custom gun built to your wishes and dreams is great fun. It enhances a base gun, generating big numbers in the fun scale when you shoot it, show it off or just gaze at it.

There’s a reason people buy a Mercedes — while still having a Ford truck in the carport too.

Cylinder-Slide.com

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