The lure and mystery of the .45 ACP continues unabated. Nonsensical hype the likes of "It will knock someone down, even if it just hits his arm" runs rampant in locker rooms. The San Diego Police Department has made it official: Uniform patrol officers are now authorized to carry .45 caliber handguns, from Glocks and Springfield XDs to 1911 series pistols. And, of course, these legends are flitting their various ways around on the agency.
This self-replicating hype is why makers build more and more .45 caliber handguns. In actuality, when there is a barrier to punch a hole through, a heavier bullet is better, but with modern ammo even that can usually be overcome. A quick look at history shows us that when the .45 ACP was invented there were essentially no expanding or high-performance bullets. In those days, larger calibers worked better because they started life a bit bigger. Also, the 1911 platform was a dandy fighting pistol and that, perhaps more than the caliber, has kept the .45 king.
So, with legend and practicality as part and parcel of its history, the .45 caliber mystique continues today. Glock, no upstart in the innovation arena, brought out its own .45 ACP years ago and has enjoyed significant market share since. But, there are traditionally two problems with .45s: weight and size. The art of cutting and chopping 1911s down to manageable size has created an industry, and these days, most big makers offer factory versions that can fit into a largish pocket. But the Glock .45s (until the advent of the Model 36 single stack) were still big.
In order to fit a .45 into a 9mm frame, Glock simply made the .45 fit the frame, rather than the other way around. Cutting down the length of the standard .45 ACP by an eighth of an inch, Glock was eventually able to make a workable .45 that fit into what is essentially a 9mm frame. It's important to note here you cannot simply cut down .45 ACP brass and get a .45 GAP (Glock Automatic Pistol) case. The GAP case is engineered completely differently with different case-wall thicknesses and tapers.
The slide on the new Glock 37 is beefier than a Model 17, but, overall, the size is very manageable. The new cartridge has quickly become the darling of the big ammo makers and various versions are now offered. The guns themselves are making their way onto dealer shelves and as they get put to use we'll learn more about the long-term situation with this cartridge.
The performance window is such that it duplicates .45 ACP performance in many cases and is slightly less in others. Think of it as a .40 S&W on steroids to some degree. I confess to having some qualms about pushing the 230-grain bullets to .45 ACP high-performance levels, but again, we'll see over time if it all holds together. One big ammo maker insists it can't be done safely, while another says it's already doing it.
One thing about the folks at Glock they are masters at creating customer demand, so much so that the Glock aficionados out there "need" one of every new model that comes out.
When introduced in the '80s, Glock took the police industry by storm, waging an advertising war, offering to trade new Glocks for aging and worn duty pistols and, through other innovative marketing ideas, eventually accumulated about 40 percent of the law enforcement market.
But there were some good reasons for it. The "Safe Action" is an improved striker-fired system, which requires a deliberate trigger pull to finish the travel of the striker, thus delivering a sort of double-action feel. There is a trigger safety (the little lever thingy on the trigger face) and a firing pin and "drop" safety. But with no external "snick on and off" safety to go with that short and light trigger pull, the Glock was still shunned by many agencies.
Glocks (including the newest 37) are indeed simple pistols. Most have around 50 percent or so fewer parts than others of their ilk and no screws involved at all. You can take one apart and reassemble it with one simple tool. That's awfully handy, and makes it easy on range staff. Also, most parts are "drop in" so if something does bugger up, almost any klutz can fix a Glock if he's been to the armorer's school.
The polymer frame got everyone's attention in the beginning. At about 85-percent lighter than steel, the polymer frame was probably one of the biggest reasons the Glock got so much hype. Also, the plastic frame lessens perceived recoil, or at least that's what I've convinced myself. The Tenifer surface treatment on the metal bits is ultra-hard and more corrosion resistant than stainless steel, which is also a good thing. And, the Glock 37 .45 GAP features all this whiz-bang technology.[PAGEBREAK]Some Specifics
Glock sent us a Model 37 test gun in a nice plastic box with two extra mags (ten rounds), a padlock, a fired case, mag loader, and a polymer cleaning rod and bore brush. Gone is the flimsy plastic case of yore and good riddance to it.
Picture a Glock 17 with a slightly fatter slide and you'll get the idea of what the 37 is. It feels like, well, a Glock. I've never personally cared for that hump in the backstrap (and Robar and others can trim it nicely for you) but many with bigger hands love it dearly. The sights are plastic (polymer) and a notorious weak point, but you can get steel factory sights, or if you're smart, replace the whole shebang with XS "Big Dot" tritium sights and go to work. The 37 has a light rail and a Streamlight/Insight Technology M-3 Tactical Illuminator (complete with red LED for low-light poking around) fit nicely.
The 37 has a new "enhanced" extractor with a raised hump offering a visual and tactile (you can feel it) indication of whether there is a case in the chamber. Remember, this doesn't tell you whether it's loaded, simply that there is a case in the chamber. People forget that part. Frankly, the only way to know for sure if there is a loaded round in the chamber is to push the slide back far enough so you can see the bullet itself resting comfortably in the case.
The slide release is also of the newer version, with a raised bumpy thingy on it so your slippery, sweaty thumb can find it and release the slide. I think the best way to release a slide is to simply pull it back and then let it go. That gives you an even better chance at a successful chambering since the slide gets to travel its whole length, like it was designed to do. I look upon a slide release as simply a way to lock a slide back to render a pistol safe. But that's just my opinion.
Takedown is straight Glock. Empty it, point it in a safe direction (in case you didn't empty it), pull the trigger, move the slide back around a tenth of an inch, pull the little takedown buttons "down" with the other hand, and then take the slide off. It goes back together the same way, oddly enough, but in reverse.
We scammed some ammo from Speer and Winchester and shot the new 37. I was fortunate to shoot the very first 37 out of the factory a while ago and thought "Hmmm... feels like a .40 and shoots like a .40." So, I was wondering if the new 230-grain stuff from Winchester would make much difference. It did.
Recoil was very much .45-ish but still controllable, and the smaller grip profile made it all much easier to manage. Accuracy was on the money with around three-inch groups at 20 yards. We could probably have done better but the trigger pull was a measured five-to-seven pounds and varied a bit from let-off to let-off.
Overall ergonomics were straight Glock and the Glock carriers in our test group were right at home. A new Bianchi Model 82 Carry Lok concealment rig worked just fine and holster work showed the Model 37 to behave itself nicely. It ran just fine during the exactly 250 rounds we fired through it. That's not an extensive ordeal, but at the time of our test ammo was still a bit on the scarce side.
At about 25 ounces by our cheap kitchen scale (our test gun was so new factory specs weren't out yet) the 37 is lightweight and feels pretty good. It's much handier than the full-sized Glock 21 .45 ACP model and a bit bigger than the svelte Glock 17 and 19 9mm versions. A good compromise, we'd say. Recoil felt very .40 S&W with the 200-grain loads and a bit more with the 230s, but nothing was untoward.
IMPORTANT NOTE HERE: Do not shoot the .45 GAP in .45 ACP chambered pistols. It's not intended to be a "light" load for a .45 ACP. While it will chamber and indeed may fire (the case rim might be held by the extractor). It is a very, very bad idea. Just say no.
The 37 is typical Glock in every respect, so other than caliber, there should be no surprises to anyone who knows Glock. As far as caliber goes, it seems to run fine and offers .45 ACP-like performance in a slightly smaller package.
Perhaps the biggest "what-if" involved here, is if any other makers will embrace the new caliber. If so, we'll see medium-framed .45 GAP pistols (think Kahr and the like) and that might be interesting news. Still, we're not sure this is as big news as the .40 S&W and it will be a long haul before agencies make the commitment to adopt the .45 GAP in quantity. Not because it's not a good idea, but simply because it is a "new" idea.
Caliber: Proprietary .45 GAP
Barrel Length: 3.25 inches (from end of chamber)
Overall Length: 7.3 inches
Weight: Around 25 ounces
Height: 5.2 inches
Width: 1.13 inches (same as Model 36)
Capacity: 10 rounds
Trigger Pull: 5 to 7 pounds as tested
Sights: Fixed, polymer
Safety: Three, internal
Price: $569 MSRP
Roy Huntington is the editor of American Handgunner magazine and a
long-time member of the Police Advisory Board.