In 1886 Carl Walther decided he wanted to build handguns and was enamored with the idea of an "automatic" pistol. That first pistol, the Walther Model 1, finally saw the light of day in 1908 and rode in the holsters of virtually every German officer in the first "big" war. Walther's reputation began to grow and by the time Fritz Walther (Carl's son) developed the famous PP/PPK series in 1929, Walther was the premier handgun builder in Germany.

With the advent of the P-38, the world's first full-sized, practical double/single action auto pistol chambered in a "serious" caliber (9mm), Walther raised the bar on handgun design.

At over 100 years old these days, Walther continues to innovate in the world of handgun design. In 1994 the German police went looking for a replacement for the Walther P88 pistol. The P88 was a beautifully engineered machine that functioned flawlessly. But in typical German fashion, it was all steel and a machinist's dream (nightmare). Cost, weight, and magazine capacity forced the polizei to make some changes.

A Clean Slate

After carefully examining virtually every model of potential police pistol out there, Walther made some decisions. The new design would need to be light, so a polymer frame was decided upon. Magazine capacity needed to be 16 rounds, so a "high-cap" body was designed. Walther was also smart enough to hire famous Olympic handgun grip designer Morini to design the ergonomically pleasing P99 grip.

Using four inserts in the backstrap, the P99 grip can be "customized" to fit virtually anyone's hand. Things were looking good.

One of the most important issues was the action of the design. Not wanting to simply copy the Glock or SiG designs, Walther cleaned off the table, burned some midnight black-forest oil and drafted a new concept in semi-auto actions.

Although the P99 functions like a typical Browning-inspired dropping barrel design, the trigger group has some surprises. The fairly standard double- to single-action striker-fired basic design doesn't rely on any levers or buttons to function. There is no side-mounted decocking lever but a slick hidden "button" installed neatly in the top of the slide on the port side, just in front of the rear sight. It sounds funny but it works as slick as fresh axle grease. You just reach up and push it with either your shooting hand thumb or the off-hand thumb. It's sort of one of those "Why haven't I thought of that before" things.

Now is where it gets really interesting. A shooter has a choice of a double-action first shot, a "single-action" first shot with a long trigger pull or a short-throw, single-action first shot (by starting the trigger back slightly to a locking position). Confused? It sounds way more confusing than it is in the real world. It just takes a few minutes and then you'll have it clicking and clacking with the best of 'em.

Frankly, the standard double-action pull is light and smooth with the corresponding "single-action" pull offering a clean-breaking "4.496 pounds" (gotta' love those precise Germans). If you want to "decock" from the single-action "Glock-like" mode, just punch that magic button on the port side and you're in business, back in double-action. Clever, those Walther people.

Features and More Features

Since the P99 is striker-fired, there is a handy striker nose poking out from the rear if the gun is cocked. You can see and feel it easily. Additionally, the extractor is pushed out slightly if the chamber is loaded so with a quick glance or an equally quick tap of a nervous finger tip, you can check to see if you're cocked and loaded as it were.

When it comes to safeties, the P99 has them in spades. Look for a striker safety (like a firing pin block) that will only allow the striker forward if the trigger is fully to the rear. There is also an "out of battery" safety to prevent firing if the slide is out of battery (actually, most autos won't fire in this mode, so maybe Walther is cheating a bit on this one?). There is a trigger-based safety and the decocker.

But, with the long double-action trigger pull, the safest mode is to leave it just like that. The only way the P99 can go off then is to pick it up and pull the trigger on purpose. All the other goodies are icing on the cake and help to prevent those "Ah, 'er, 'um, here's what happened, Sarge" conversations that can sometimes occur at the most inopportune moments in one's career.

The magazine release is set up for ambidextrous use and is a clever lever system, like the ones on H&Ks, but smaller and more sculptured. Located at the rear of the trigger guard, a quick press "down" and the mags pop right out. MegGar makes the 16 round 9mm cop magazines and the 12 round .40 cop magazines for Walther. They appear to be top quality, and that's not surprising since Walther does a first-class job on everything else. Non-law enforcement models come with 10 round mags.

The mag well isn't beveled and in all honesty, it wouldn't hurt to see it done. If the factory doesn't see fit to do it, a few minutes with a sharp knife (thanks to that polymer frame) would take care of the problem. Did it slow us down on reloads? Not that we could notice, but every little bit may help when the chips are dropping lower and lower.

Sights are a pretty standard three-dot set-up, with the rear adjustable for windage. The cool part is Walther sends extra front sight blades of differing heights to adjust for elevation, depending upon your particular duty load. That's awfully handy. Don't forget those grip profile inserts too. Sometimes it's the little things that count.[PAGEBREAK]

The finish is Tenifer but unlike some makers, is not Parkerized afterward. Tenifer is a "wunder-koating" and it's said that you can make a file skip right over anything coated with it. Plus, it is at the top of the heap in corrosion resistance. So if you leave your P99 out in the snow, it won't be mad at you when you find it the next day.

Our test gun was the "Military Model" and the only difference between it and the "Police Model" is the dandy O/D green of the frame on the military version. With all the tactical black dye being sold these days we found it refreshing to see something other than "tactical black" in our hands. The green sorta' grew on us and might look nice coupled with a cordovan leather set-up. If only those police chiefs had some sense of style, eh?

Going To Pieces

Take down is-dare we say it-quick and easy. First, unload the thing. You know the drill. Magazine out, lock the slide back, look into the black hole, look into the now empty grip frame, look at the loaded magazine on the table, look at the lonely round you took out of the chamber, look into the gun again, etc., etc., until you're sure.

Now, lower the slide and decock the gun. Pull the slide to the rear about an eighth of an inch and while holding it there, pull down on those two little buttons on either side of the frame, just above and in front of the trigger. Now nurse the slide off the front of the frame and feel smug. The captive recoil spring comes out, the barrel follows and you're finished.

Notice the flawless machine work. We were not able to detect a single tool mark anywhere on our test P99. Not a mark, not one, anywhere. The major metal parts appear to be simply "created" somehow and mysteriously made to appear in the shape of a P99. It's wonderful to behold in this day of semi-crude stampings, plastic parts with the flashing still left on, and gritty, spongy trigger pulls. Our collective Smokey hats are off to Walther in the workmanship department.

Reassembly is kinda' tough and requires some finesse. Take the slide in one hand and the frame in the other. Put the slide on the frame and push it on. You're done. We lied about it being tough or needing finesse. Actually, we weren't sure what finesse exactly was, but we thought we might need some when we first did it. We were wrong.

Tight Groupings

Did it shoot? In a word, yes. Just for grins we shot it at 25 yards and got tired of measuring 1.95, 2.15, 2.25 inch groups. Need to take a head shot at 25 yards? Go ahead. The P99 can do it.

The double- to single-action transition was smooth and easy to get used to. All the usual drills were accomplished effortlessly from a Lou Alessi belt holster. This pistol makes you want to shoot it and in about 250 rounds didn't bobble once. We're thinking it could run for thousands of rounds with nary a whimper.

All in all this was an exceptionally impressive duty gun. At about 24 ounces (the weight of an all-steel Walther PPKS) the P99 is light and handy and would work well for concealed carry or off-duty use. There is serious talk about a .45 ACP version soon and with the built-in sight rails on the dust cover and well-thought-out features, this would be a no-brainer as a duty gun for any agency.

The P99 is entirely built in Germany and like a Mercedes Benz, delivers the goods in a quietly authorative manner that instills a calming sense of confidence. We wanted to keep this one. Badly.

Walther P99 pistol

CALIBER: 9mm, .40 S&W
ACTION TYPE: Browning style, dropping barrel design, striker-fired.
SIGHTS: Abbreviated ramped rear sight, adjustable for windage. Three extra front sight blades for height adjustment. Optional tritium sights
TOTAL LENGTH: 7.08 inches.
BARREL LENGTH: 4.015 inches.
HEIGHT: 5.31 inches.
WEIGHT W/O MAGAZINE: 21.51 ounces
SINGLE-ACTION TRIGGER PULL: 4.496 pounds.
Magazine Capacity: 16 9mm, 12 .40 S&W
Cost: Approximately $600 retail

Roy Huntington is the former executive editor of POLICE and now finds himself in the hot seat once again as the new editor of American Handgunner magazine. He was last heard muttering "But wait, let me explain ..."

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