By Mark Keefe IV, American Rifleman
Bond. James Bond. If a fictional character has more brand awareness in firearms than James Bond and his Walther, I am unaware of it. Dirty Harry and his Model 29 have long since retired, but Ian Fleming’s 007 turns 60 this year and shows no signs of slowing down. Bond has starred in 23 movies and now even has his own “James Bond 007 Fragrance.” And he still has his Walther. The relationship between Bond and Walther dates to Ian Fleming’s 1958 novel Dr. No in which 007 relinquishes his Beretta “ladies gun” and starts carrying a Walther PPK in .32 ACP. In more recent years, Bond has appeared on screen with the Walther P99.
It is odd to me that the company founded in Zella-Mehlis in 1886 by Carl Walther and his son Fritz and that introduced the first successful double-action, semi-automatic pistol, the Polizie Pistole or PP and the subsequent 5/8-inch shorter Polizie Pistole Kriminal or PPK, is perhaps best known for its role in pop culture. This is the company that made the first double-action 9 mm Luger pistol with a decocker, the P.38 (replacing the vaunted Luger as the sidearm of the Wehrmacht in 1935), the company that developed the G41 rifle, the TT Olympia pistol and countless other designs, and still it is best known for its use by a secret agent that never lived. But part of Walther’s parent company’s early success had to do with another fictional character: Sherlock Holmes. We’ll get to that in a minute.
When it comes to Walther in the United States, the firm that handled it for most of the post-World War II era was Interarms starting in the early 1960s. Remember, the factory was destroyed during the war, and Zella-Mehlis was on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. Walther resumed operation in Ulm in West Germany in 1953. But after the death of Interarms’ founder Sam Cummings, the company became a shell of itself, and Walther importation ceased by the Alexandria, Va., firm in 1999. Smith & Wesson partnered with Walther starting in 2002, and it was a relationship that included not only importation, distribution and marketing of Walther guns made in Ulm, but American production of the PPK and PPK/S, which was shifted to S&W’s Houghton, Maine, plant. Smith and Walther even collaborated on a variant of the Walther P99 pistol designed to compete in the United States, the SW99. Aspects of the Smith/Walther partnership ranged from extremely successful to struggling at best.
The Walther Line
There are really three distinct and different areas of focus for Walther. The first is on the competitive shooting circuit—airguns and competition-specific rimfires previously brought in by Champion’s Choice or Earl’s Repair Service and now imported by Walther Arms—then the police and personal-protection market and, finally, the fun or recreational side of shooting. The latter two areas are our focus here. Those guns are handled by a new company, Walther Arms, set up in Fort Smith, Ark., in January, which was already home to Umarex USA. The $7 million expansion will bring up to 120 new jobs to the area. Umarex, together with Walther, is owned by the PW Group in Arnsberg, Germany. Here is a brief run-down of the guns imported or sold by Walther Arms.
P22—Walther’s .22 Long Rifle plinking or training rimfire made in Ulm with either a 3.42 inch or 4.5-inch barrel and 10-round magazine. It is scaled to be a three-quarter-size, blowback-operated version of its big brother, the P99. The magazine release and takedown are similar to those of the P99. There are six models—including some with threaded barrels (many Walthers have that feature) and laser sights—ranging in price from $379 to $579.
PPK/S—This is the PP slide mated to a PPK frame and is offered only in .380 ACP. Available in blue or stainless steel, the guns are made by S&W for Walther in Houghton, Maine. This is the classic, blowback-operated gun with a slide-mounted decocker and is priced at $629.
PPK/S .22—Made by Umarex for Walther in Arnsberg, this is a 10-round-capacity .22 Long Rifle version of the PPK/S offered in blue or nickel that has the same size, controls and weight as the center-fire PPK/S. Priced from $399 to $429, there is more on this gun below.
PK380—This recoil-operated, hammer-fired .380 ACP has double-action/single-action lockwork and shares the polymer grip frame design of the PK22. The frame is easy for those with small hands to grip securely, and the slide is one of the easiest for those without a lot of upper body strength to manipulate. PK380s are offered in black or two-tone, and there is a laser-equipped variant. They run from $389 to $489.
P99AS—The P99 was likely the most fully featured polymer-frame pistol of its day, and it has been updated with an integral accessory rail. Made in Ulm, it is a recoil-operated, striker-fired design with flush-fitting decocker. In 9 mm Luger, it has a 15-round magazine capacity and in .40 S&W it holds 11 rounds in the full-size 4-inch barreled versions. It is also offered as the P99AS Compact with a grip frame shortened by a full inch and with a 3.5-inch barrel. Magazines are available with up to 20-round capacity in the 9 mm, as well as with collars for the extended magazines. Ergonomically, the pistol is excellent, and it is priced at $599.
PPS—The Polizie Pistole Schmal (small) is polymer-frame, dedicated carry gun with a single-stack magazine and an articulated blade safety in its trigger. The recoil-operated, striker-fired PPS isn’t quite an inch wide, has a 3.2-inch barrel and is only 4.4-inches high. With its single-stack magazine, it holds 10 rounds of 9 mm or eight of .40 S&W. It, too, is priced at $599.
PPQ—Introduced in 2011, this pistol is the most modern iteration of the Walther personal-protection or duty pistol. A full-size, Ulm-made gun, the polymer-frame, striker-fired PPQ M2 has the take-down system and bilateral slide lock of the P99 combined with an articulated blade safety in the trigger and a new grip design with the magazine release behind the trigger guard on the frame. Offered in 9 mm or .40 S&W, there is more below on this gun. It is priced from $599 to $699.
PPX—A new design from Ulm intended specifically for Walther Arms and the United States, the PPX is a polymer frame, double-action-only hammer-fired pistol with the hammer partially pre-cocked by slide movement. It is a tall gun, but one with a grip frame that small hands can wrap around easily, as much of the frame bulk for the operating parts is above the grip. Offered in 9 mm (16 rounds) or .40 S&W (14 rounds), it is priced aggressively from $449 to $499. There is not enough room here to adequately describe the PPX, so look for a “Dope Bag” review soon.
Next, what is Umarex?