The Springfield Armory SA-35

Old School Cool, Improved And Updated!
13

Great “feel” and optimum trigger reach of a classic P-35 remain in this SA-35.

When I was a young gun guy, I admired the Browning P-35 Hi-Power. It was generally considered the highest quality of “high capacity” 9mm pistols by the standards of the time. And, like many, once I actually started shooting them, I was disappointed.

Most needed to be throated for hollow points before they’d feed reliably, and even then some found they didn’t feed 100% if loaded all the way to the nominal 13-round capacity and had to be downloaded by one cartridge. For most of the Hi-Power’s epoch, the sights were too small and the manual safety, too small and too mushy.

We learned not to load them heavy: My travels from England (Radway Green Arsenal ZZ ammo) to Venezuela (the CAVIM arsenal’s NATO loading) revealed baskets filled with broken P35 frames. This problem persisted until the guns were “ruggedized” for the introduction of the .40 S&W version. Moreover, they weren’t drop-safe with a round in the chamber until the Mark III was introduced with an internal firing-pin-safety circa 1988.

SA-35 takes your old Browning mags as well as the new
15-round Mec-Gars it comes with.

More Problems

To keep the pistol slim, a feature endearing it to generations of concealed carriers, the trigger linkage was complex with lots of friction points, made worse by the design of the magazine disconnector safety. This feature had been mandated in the original French military specification, which gave birth to the design and stayed with it thereafter, even though the French never did adopt it. This feature also retarded magazine drop, preventing the mag from ejecting completely. This feature actually made sense in a battlefield weapon: The 9mm ammo for submachine guns would usually be readily available, but spare pistol magazines not so much. The pistol retaining the magazine forced the soldier to take it in hand, making it more likely he’d pocket it for refill later. However, fast-shooting modern Yanks absolutely hated this element of the P-35.

Thus arose the trend to send one’s Browning to Bill Laughridge at Cylinder & Slide or to Wayne Novak who did the FBI HRT’s Brownings, or Jim Garthwaite or any of several other master pistolsmiths. It would come back with good sights, much better triggers, throated chambers, feed ramps for improved reliability and sans the detested mag disconnector.

Deactivating a safety device on a gun, of course, was a red flag for lawyers. Laughridge would have you send your magazines, polish all the interfaces and return a Browning with a sweet trigger and quick-dropping magazines with the disconnector still in place.

Low worldwide demand in the time of striker-fired polymer pistols, coupled with worn-out machinery, caused FN to discontinue the Hi-Power a few years ago. Prices of available specimens immediately shot upward. Enter the SA-35 from Springfield Armory.

Classic burr hammer, large and positive thumb safety and rear sight
serving as a cocking shelf are all present on the SA-35.

First Glance

About the time of the discontinuance, the 2018 Gun Digest listed the basic 9mm Hi-Power at a $1,110 starting price. In late 2021, Springfield Armory introduced the SA-35 at an amazing $699 MSRP. Yes, you read the price tag right and it is the SA-35’s first “attention-getter.”

The big eye-opener is Springfield Armory assembles them with virtually all the old “custom only” features already in place. The ammo ante is upped with a pair of 15-round Mec-Gar magazines, which work perfectly, and are easy to fill, empty and snap into place when full. The sights are big and easy to see: a humongous U-notch rear reminiscent of the Wilson Combat BattleSight and a good square front post with a white dot and no glare. The rear sight is “shelfed” to allow working the slide off the edge of the belt in a one-hand-only wounded defender situation.

The right-hand-only thumb safety is the right size and very positive on and off. The feed ramp and chamber are ramped and polished for hollow points.

This pistol’s checkered walnut grips are reminiscent of custom Browning stocks by Craig Spegel and felt wonderful to every single person, male and female, on our test crew. Much better than the flat walnut of early Brownings and the plastic ones of the late breed.

The hated magazine disconnector safety is not present. This allows clean mag drops and, probably more important, improves trigger pull. All of us on the test team found this gun to have a better trigger pull out of the box than any non-customized Browning we had ever shot — short take-up to clean break, with a long but palpable and very controllable reset. Alan Davis, manager of the Pro-Arms Gun Shop, weighed the trigger of SA-35 serial number HP566 and found it to be 5 lbs. even.

The fragility issue seems off the table: With modern metallurgy, Springfield rates the SA-35 as approved for +P. Until the Mark III version of 1988, the Browning was not drop-safe with a round in the chamber; Springfield Armory assures me the SA-35 is drop-safe. It seems “all the improvement boxes have been checked” on this classy interpretation of a classic design.

With new Mec-Gar mags, the SA-35 is a 15+1 9mm.

“Sharps”

From 1935 on, shooters found the Browning Hi-Power tended to bite the hand that fed and fired it, the burr hammer often striking the web of the hand. Browning reshaped the hammer to remedy this in the late 20th Century but some purists felt “losing the burr” ruined the iconic shape of the pistol. Springfield came up with a burr hammer “true to the classic look” but didn’t bite the hands of any of our testers, who ranged in size from petite female to Mongo male. Only one other gun reviewer — Justin Dyal, writing for American Rifleman magazine — found after a couple of hundred rounds it had drawn blood from his extra-large hand. A couple of our testers thought the rear edges of the grip tang might be sharp enough to cause discomfort and discovered that for them, they weren’t.

Personally, the only uncomfortable edge I found on this gun was the front part of the long slide-stop lever, which caused discomfort to the support hand thumb when firing right-handed in a two-hand/straight-thumbs grasp. Firing with thumbs lower instantly cured the problem.

The SA-35 gave Mas this 60-shot qual target in a demo run for students in Delaware.

American Eagle 124-grain, 25 yards.

Accuracy

From 25 yards on a Matrix bench, this SA-35 was tested with exemplars of the 9mm’s three most popular bullet weights. Each group was measured overall to get an idea how it would perform from experienced hands under ideal conditions and again for the best three hits, which experience has shown me is an excellent predictor of what the same gun and round is likely to do with all five from a machine rest. Measurements were center to center of the farthest-flung holes being measured, to the nearest 0.05″.

The 115-grain SIG SAUER V-Crown JHP grouped a little left, 4.30″ for all five with four of those in 2.85″, and the tightest trio in 2.05″. It was a good example of how the “best three” measurement factors out unnoticed human error.

American Eagle 124-grain FMJ shot a little more left, but drilled the tightest overall group, all fire in 2.30″ and the best three in 1.30″. Finally, subsonic 147-grain Speer Gold Dot bonded jacketed hollow point, a popular police load, delivered all five into 4.80″. All but one of those were in 2.10″ and the best three, in 1.85″. This told me the test pistol is about a 2″ gun at 25 yards in terms of inherent mechanical accuracy.

Brass flies as Mas enjoys the controllability of the SA-35 in rapid fire.

SA-35 X 3

We normally only get one gun to test; for this article, I was able to run three SA-35s. First was the one tested above. The second was in Delaware while I was teaching a MAG-40 (MassadAyoobGroup.com) class at the Bridgeville Rifle and Pistol Club. Hosting us was “Justin Opinion” whose YouTube videos under this name are excellent. I borrowed his sample, with a trigger weighing just a little over 5 lbs., as a teaching and demo gun. When shooting the pace-setter for their 15-yard final qualification, Justin’s SA-35 delivered for me dominant-hand-only, non-dominant-hand-only and two-handed in every position, yielding a 300 out of 300-point score and about a 4-1/2″ group for the 60 shots. I can’t ask for more.

The third SA-35 was the one I tested for another outfit. Accuracy parallel to the sample tested above, 5.485-lb. trigger … the quality of all three was both excellent and consistent.

Bottom line? This improved Old School pistol is a classy classic, more functional than ever in its 86-year battle-proven history. I frankly think it’s the best new firearm buy of the year at the $699 MSRP. This is why I’m sending a check to Springfield Armory to keep the test sample.

MSRP: $699

Springfield-Armory.com

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