A Legend Returns: Springfield Armory's NEW SA-35 9mm Semi-Automatic Pistol

by Boge Quinn

December 10th, 2021

Full30 Video Link

lick pictures for a larger version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extended thumb safety lever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Springfield Armory redesigned the FN Hi Power's 13-round magazine to hold 15 rounds. Magazines are interchangeable between the Hi Power and the SA-35.

 

 

Author experienced two catastrophic case failures using commercial remanufactured ammunition - the second of the two is shown above (top and center). No damage resulted to the pistol or the shooter, but the gases did blow the undamaged grip panels away from the front of the grip frame (bottom). The SA-35 proved to be tough enough to take it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the French military decided in 1923 to adopt a new sidearm, Fabrique Nationale (FN) decided to pursue the contract. In turn, FN turned to an American gun designer with whom they had already enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship: John Moses Browning. By this time, Browning had already established himself as the greatest firearms designer who ever lived, having spawned a staggering number and variety of advanced sporting and military arms which are still unparalleled over a century after their introductions. Many of these famous designs had been sold outright to Colt and Winchester, but Browning's relationships with those companies had soured by the turn of the 20th century due to the companies' refusal to assign royalties to Browning rather than pay a flat fee for the designs. FN was more than willing to pay Browning's desired royalties, and had eagerly sought to produce the Utah genius' designs.

Development of the FN pistol was no easy task, as the French had high expectations for their new sidearm: it had to be compact, rugged, dependable, powerful, safe, possessed of a high magazine capacity, and simple enough for the average soldier to service in the field. Further complicating the pistol's development, Browning had sold the rights to his landmark 1911 pistol design to Colt, so an entirely new pistol had to be designed from the ground up in order to avoid violating the earlier patents. Browning got to work on the new design, and filed the U.S. patent for his new pistol in 1923 (the patent was approved in 1927, after Browning's death). 

Browning died in 1926, before completing the pistol's final design, and FN designer Dieudonné Saive completed the design, making significant changes to it. Browning's new design included an all-new locking mechanism, and Saive contributed a revolutionary staggered-feed "double stack" magazine that allowed for greater magazine capacity than earlier designs; these innovations remain the standard in today's modern pistol designs, almost a century later. Among Browning's innovations which did not find their way into the final version of the pistol was a striker firing mechanism, which would finally become popular over 50 years after Browning's death.

France did not adopt the final version of the pistol (which they called the "Grand Puissance", which translates to "Great Power" or "High Power"), leaving Belgium as the first to adopt the P-35, better known as the High Power, in 1935. Germany overran Belgium in 1940, taking over FN's Herstal plant, but both design and designer were smuggled out in time, and the pistol resumed Free-World production at the John Inglis Co. in Toronto, Canada, where it became known as the "Hi Power".

After the War, the Hi Power resumed production at FN's Herstal plant (among other locations) and was commercially introduced to the U.S. market in 1954 under the Browning Arms Co. name, which was owned by FN's parent company. FN Hi Power production continued until 2018, when the Hi Power was finally dropped by FN / Browning, much to the disappointment of those of us who love the Hi Power design.

Since that time there have been a few cheap imported Hi Power knock-offs available, but these often failed to hit the mark in many ways.  One could still get FN Hi Powers on the used market, but collector value on these has skyrocketed, beginning even before their discontinuation. Other than that, the only way to get a nice Hi Power has been to have one custom-made by one of a very few shops offering the model (such as Nighthawk Custom, who recently ceased production of their exquisite Hi Power), but these best-quality custom Hi Power pistols are beyond the financial reach of the vast majority of shooters. There has just been absolutely no way for the ordinary shooter to get a really nice quality, American made Hi Power pistol.

Until now.

Springfield Armory recently released their SA-35 9mm pistol, and it is a DANDY. One Hundred Percent made in the U.S.A., the SA-35 is a Hi Power through and through, with significant improvements that number it among the finest production Hi Power pistols ever made, and at a very affordable price.

Since I mentioned price, let's get that out of the way right now: the Springfield SA-35 9mm pistol's MSRP is only $699 US, which is an amazing value for an American-made Hi Power. 

The SA-35's slide and receiver are crafted from forged steel, lending great strength to the pistol - more on this later. The pistol is finished in a very attractive matte blue, resulting in a very beautiful, traditionally understated appearance. The SA-35 is not as shiny as my early-1980s FN Browning Hi Power, but its more restrained matte blue yields a very tough and elegant beauty. Adding to the SA-35's traditional beauty is a quality set of top-bordered fully-checkered walnut grips. While the SA-35 looks very traditionally Hi-Power, Springfield Armory has made some significant changes that make the SA-35 an even better pistol than its Belgian parent. I will discuss some of these improvements:

When the Hi Power was developed, the only type of ammunition available used round-nose solid bullets, which functioned just fine with the Hi Power's innovative integral feed ramp. The SA-35's cold hammer-forged barrel features an improved integral feed ramp design, making the SA-35 much more reliable using the wide variety of bullet profiles seen in modern ammunition. I have experienced absolutely no function problems in my SA-35, using a variety of ammunition types...except two, which were obviously no fault of the pistol...

Early on in my preliminary shooting tests, I experienced a case blowout using remanufactured 115-grain JHP ammo. Once I ascertained that there was no injury to the gun or the shooter, I was quite impressed with the SA-35's ability to absorb such a catastrophic failure and still keep running. It should be mentioned that I have used this particular brand of remanufactured ammo (Stryker 115-grain JHP from The American Marksman) for many years, and have never encountered any problem with it. Later on, while I was shooting on video using the same box of ammo, I again experienced an identical case blowout (this can be seen in my video at the 4:17 mark). Again, the SA-35 was strong enough to  absorb the failure, with no injury to the shooter or the pistol; the front edges of the grips were blown-out, but there was no damage done to the grips or the grip screws, so all I had to do was clean the powder residue from the inside of the pistol and re-install the grips, and I was back in business. Inspection of the retrieved case revealed that one whole side of the case head had separated, the side of the case was blown out, and the primer was heavily cratered, possibly indicating a double powder charge, but I had perceived no difference in felt recoil upon firing the offending rounds. Regardless, I will not be using any more of that lot of ammo (although I will continue to confidently enjoy Stryker ammo from different lots), and the SA-35 proved more than a match for such failures, continuing to perform flawlessly with +P and +P+ loads from other makers.

The magazine design of the Hi Power allowed for a thirteen-round capacity, and was revolutionary for its time as the first "high-capacity" pistol magazine. Springfield Armory's engineers redesigned the magazine's internals to allow their magazine, of the same size as the originals, to hold two extra rounds, bringing magazine capacity up to fifteen rounds. As nice as the original thirteen-round design was, "the more the merrier"; the SA's fifteen-round capacity is a welcome improvement. As an added bonus, the Hi Power's thirteen-round magazines function perfectly in the SA-35, and vice versa; so if you have a bunch of thirteen-round Hi Power magazines lying about, you can use them in the SA-35, and fifteen-round SA-35 magazines (which are available online at the Springfield Armory Store) can be used to update your Hi Power pistol's capacity. The SA-35's purchase price includes one magazine, but again, extras can be purchased reasonably from Springfield Armory.

Another nice touch relating to the magazine is that the SA-35 features a beveled magazine well. Beveled mag wells are often seen as a custom feature of high-end 1911 pistols, and really help with quick magazine changes. The Hi Power magazine design already tapers at the top, so finding the mag well is easier than on a 1911, but the SA-35's beveled mag well really helps guide the magazine home.

One of the truly great improvements that Springfield Armory made to the Hi Power design is that the Hi Power's magazine disconnect has thankfully been jettisoned. The magazine disconnect was a requirement of the French military for the original Hi Power: a magazine disconnect is a "feature" that prevents the pistol from firing when the magazine is removed, effectively disabling the pistol if there is no magazine present. Deletion of the magazine disconnect also allows the SA-35's magazine to drop free of the pistol when the magazine release is depressed. The Hi Power design drops the magazine only a fraction of an inch, and retains it in the pistol to be snatched free by the shooter for magazine changes; this may be arguably desirable in a military setting, where cost and availability of magazines in the field might be problematic, but it costs a couple of precious seconds to accomplish in many civilian self-defense situations, when those couple of seconds are all that matter.

Another great virtue of Springfield Armory's deletion of the magazine disconnect is that the disconnect interfered with achieving a good trigger pull. The Hi Power design is a Single-Action trigger, meaning that the hammer must first be cocked before the trigger can release the hammer, rather than a Double-Action design where the trigger performs the dual purpose of cocking and releasing the hammer. The Hi Power's magazine disconnect drags on the trigger, resulting in a rough and heavy trigger; many custom gunsmiths through the decades have deleted the magazine disconnect for that reason, and it is not hard to do, but with the SA-35 there is no need. Because of this, the SA-35 has a much better trigger pull than any factory Hi Power trigger. While my unaltered FN Browning Hi Power has a gritty trigger pull of over six pounds, this SA-35 has a smooth and crisp trigger pull that measures just 2 pounds, 12.7 ounces on my Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge. Springfield Armory claims that the SA-35 triggers are tuned at the factory, and I believe them; this trigger is nothing short of superb.

The sights on the SA-35 are a significant improvement over those of the basic Hi Power. While the FN version typically sported GI-style sights consisting of a dovetailed notch rear sight with a rounded post front sight that is notoriously hard to acquire in all but ideal lighting conditions, the SA-35 features a much more modern sighting system. The SA-35's front sight is a clearly-defined drift-adjustable post with an almost vertical rear face and a white dot in the center; this makes the all-important front sight much easier to acquire. The white dot is very quick in lower lighting conditions, while the rear face of the sight radically reduces glare from bright sunlight. The rear sight on the SA-35 is also drift-adjustable, is deeply serrated to eliminate glare, and has a U-shaped notch that perfectly nestles the front dot. The rear sight is also a "Tactical Rack" design, which allows the slide to be manipulated with one hand against a wall corner or table should the shooter's support hand become disabled.

The Hi Power's thumb safety operates in a manner which will be familiar to those who are accustomed to the 1911's operation: the safety flips up for SAFE and down for FIRE, and is well located to fall under a right-handed shooter's thumb. The only problem with the standard Hi Power's safety lever is that it is small and hard to engage, especially when flipping it to the SAFE position. Springfield Armory fixed this problem on the SA-35 by simply contouring and extending the safety lever as is often seen on 1911 pistols, just enough so that the safety is easy and quick to operate, without being so large as to get in the way. The safety positively clicks into the SAFE and FIRE positions, and is set-up at this time for right-handed shooters only.

Another problem commonly encountered with the Hi Power, especially by large-handed shooters such as myself, is that the web of the hand can very easily be pinched between the frame beavertail and the hammer spur upon firing, which can be quite painful. The SA-35 features a rounded rowel-type hammer, which is easy to operate but does not extend far enough rearward to cause this problem; again, this is an issue commonly addressed by custom gunsmiths that Springfield Armory has taken care of right out of the box.

As can be plainly seen, the Springfield Armory SA-35 packs a lot of value into its $699.00 suggested retail price tag.

Specifications - Springfield Armory SA-35™ 9mm Semi-Automatic Pistol

Model # HP9201
Caliber 9mm (Luger, Parabellum)
Action Semi-Automatic, Single-Action
Slide Forged Carbon Steel, Matte Blue Finish
Frame Forged Carbon Steel, Matte Blue Finish
Barrel 4.7 Inch, Cold Hammer Forged, 1:10 Twist, Redesigned Feed Ramp
Recoil System SA-35™ Recoil Spring & Guide Rod
Hammer Recontoured, Rowel-Type
Thumb Safety Right-Hand, Extended
Magazine Well Beveled
Overall Height 4.8 Inches
Overall Length 7.8 Inches
Weight, Unloaded 31.5 Ounces
Trigger Factory Tuned, Average Pull Weight 2 Pounds, 12.7 Ounces
Front Sight White Dot, Drift-Adjustable for Windage
Rear Sight Serrated Tactical Rack, Drift-Adjustable for Windage
Grips Checkered Walnut
Magazine Capacity 15 Rounds
Magazines Included 1
MSRP as of December 2021 $699.00 US

As befits any fine pistol, a fine holster system is in order. There are a great many holster options already available for the Hi Power pistol, and of course any of these would be perfect for the SA-35. Hi Power holsters can be had from pretty much any holster maker, and Springfield Armory currently offers both leather and Kydex holsters, as well as the aforementioned magazines and Crimson Trace Lasergrips for the SA-35, in their online store. Also, if one does not have a holster made for the Hi Power, most of us have at least one holster rig made for a 1911 pistol, and these can be pressed into service for the SA-35. I have tried a variety of leather holsters for fit, including holsters that are closely molded to the 1911, and they all work just fine; I am not sure whether Kydex 1911 holsters will work for the SA-35, as I don't own any, my preference being for leather. 

One of my favorite 1911 rigs is the "Tanker" holster made by my good friend Rob Leahy at Simply Rugged Holsters in Prescott, AZ. This holster is Rob's version of the venerable WWII-era Tanker chest rig, as worn by some armored crewmen. The Tanker rig can be anchored to a belt or worn without a belt, and offers quick and easy access to the pistol while keeping the hands free for other work. My Simply Rugged Tanker is beautifully hand-carved by Richard Gittlein, and is a practical work of art. The Tanker rig is not listed on Simply Rugged's web site, but if you ask Rob nicely and tell him I sent you, I imagine he would make one for you.

With their superb SA-35, Springfield Armory offers a legendary pistol design, updated for the 21st Century, at a price any shooter can afford. The SA-35 is rugged, reliable, powerful, practical, accurate, beautiful, and made in the U.S.A. I cannot recommend it emphatically enough.

Springfield Armory: www.springfield-armory.com.
www.springfield-armory.com/sa-35-series-handguns/sa-35-handguns/

To Find a Springfield Armory Dealer Near You, Click on the DEALER FINDER at Lipsey's: www.lipseys.com.

To Order Springfield Armory Products Online, Click on the GUN GENIE at Davidson's Gallery of Guns: www.galleryofguns.com.

Order Ammo Online at Lucky Gunner: www.luckygunner.com.

Buffalo Bore Ammo: www.buffalobore.com.

Double Tap Ammo: www.doubletapammo.com.

Simply Rugged Holsters: www.simplyrugged.com.

Crimson Trace: www.crimsontrace.com.

Lyman Products: www.lymanproducts.com.

Boge Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

 

 

 

Springfield Armory SA-35 comes with box, manual (this one cvame with a 1911 manual), cable lock, and one 15-round magazine.

 

 

Original 1980s-vintage FN Browning Hi Power.

 

 

FN Browning Hi Power (top), Springfield Armory SA-35 (bottom).

 

 

Comparison of thumb safeties: FN Browning Hi Power (top), Springfield Armory SA-35 (bottom).

 

 

Comparison of feed ramps: FN Browning Hi Power (top), Springfield Armory SA-35 (bottom).

 

 

Comparison of feed ramps: Springfield Armory SA-35 (left), FN Browning Hi Power (right).

 

 

Comparison of sights: Springfield Armory SA-35 (left), FN Browning Hi Power (right).

 

 

Comparison of magazine wells: Springfield Armory SA-35 (left), FN Browning Hi Power (right).

 

 

Buffalo Bore Standard Pressure 115-grain JHP is now available in bulk packs for increased savings.

 

 

Buffalo Bore +P+ Penetrator 124-grain FMJ Flat Nose.

 

 

Double Tap 124-grain +P Bonded Defense® JHP.

 

 

Simply Rugged Holsters 1911 Tanker rig.