Return Of A Classic

Recognizing Some Prefer Blue Steel And Walnut, S&W Brings Back The L-From 586 .357.

Thirty-some years ago, stung by complaints from law enforcement that their K-frame service revolvers weren’t holding up to steady training diets of the ferocious 125-grain .357 Magnum load rated for 1,450 fps muzzle velocity, Smith & Wesson introduced their L-frame revolvers. The K-series had basically been “.38-frame” guns, and the big N-size models, “.44-45 frame.” The L models were in essence “.41-frame” guns, and their resemblance to the Colt Python was inescapably stark: all they failed to copy was the ventilation cuts in the barrel rib. No matter: the L-frame was an instant hit.

The Model 686 in stainless came first, in 1980, augmented the following year by the Model 586, made of carbon steel and offered with traditional blue or nickel finish. Stainless was still “The New Thing,” and a very practical thing at that, and from the beginning the 686 far outstripped the 586 in sales. Both revolvers came with S&W’s Micro adjustable rear sight, and except for special order, a ramp front with a colored insert. Catching some demand for a fixed sight variant, they introduced the stainless 681 and the chrome-moly 581, but the 686 remained the clear-cut star of the L-frame show.

Within a few years, double-action autoloaders including S&W’s own would swamp the revolver in police sales (followed by a tsunami of polymer-frame pistols, but that’s a tale for another day). The fixed sight L-frames faded first. The 681, except for special orders from distributors and some Performance Center variations, was discontinued in 1992. The 581 lasted but 7 years, from ’81 to ’88. The handsome, sweet-shooting target/service grade 586, introduced in 1981, was discontinued in 1999.

The 686 lived on, remaining one of the most popular revolvers in the S&W line. Outdoorsmen, like cops, appreciated its rust-resistant stainless construction. The introduction of a 7-shot variation helped it greatly. A short run of 2,000 blued 586s were produced on special order for the Dick’s Sporting Goods chain midway through the first decade of the 21st century, and were quickly snapped up. These, to my knowledge, were the only 586s produced with 7-shot cylinders.
By Massad Ayoob

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