The Hungarian M37 auto pistol.
Some offer supplementary information regarding an arm I've recently covered in the Classic Test Report series (and believe me, there's wealth of historical data out there that appears in no textbook anywhere). Once in a while, I'm asked to evaluate an arm sight unseen (I can't, of course, and hence can speak only in the most general, "iffy" terms). And sometimes, a reader just writes to tell me he likes my stuff--which helps to compensate for any readers who write to tell me they don't care for it.
Every so often a letter arrives which suggests a new writing topic, usually a classic firearm in which the correspondent has particular interest. These suggestions are, of course, invaluable to me, and if they have any potential at all for general reader interest, I'm always eager to sound them out on G&A's editor, Howard E. French. From which process comes this month's "Classic Test Report," the Hungarian 37M auto pistol, suggested by reader Charles H. Quinn of Tucson, Arizona.
How can I dare consider the Hungarian 37 to be of "general reader interest" when some readers, I'm sure, have never even heard of the gun? I can justify my position by simply mentioning a few significant facts regarding this piece. The 'om was, for one thing, a major type as over a quarter-million were made.
For another thing, it saw wartime service--and in the hands of the Luftwaffe, no less (everything that served in the Luftwaffe, from teapots to rocket fighters, seems to be of interest to arms enthusiasts). What's more, it's still around today in considerable numbers and, as a design, it's really not bad at all though its early models lack any safe readiness mode. Let's examine, chronologically, the tale of this really quite interesting pistol.
Pisztoly 37 Menta (simply "Pitsol Model 37" in Hungarian)--also known as the Fegyvergyar 37 or Femaru 37--was a progressive development of a very similar arm, the Piztoly 29 Menta, introduced in the year of the Great Depression. The M29 was Hungary's first simple Browning-style blowback service design; its chief claim to uniqueness lay in its unusual method of retaining a separate "bolt unit" inside the slide by means of a slide closure collar mounted on the aft end of the slide.
This collar was serrated and was what one grasped in order to manually cycle the action (in most guns, gripping serrations are cut into the slide itself). In any event, Pisztoly 29 was almost immediately declared Hungarian service issue--its .380 chambering represented a caliber change (from .32 auto in the Frommer) for the Hungarians--and some 50,000 were crafted before it finally occurred to someone in authority that the "separate bolt unit" notion was little more than a costly affectation.
Thus was the Model 37 created, through elimination of this needless complexity (a unit construction slide was substituted) and through a few other minor alterations as well. What emerged was a .380 caliber, 27-ounce auto pistol with a 6-3/4-inch overall length and a 4-inch barrel. It had a seven-shot magazine capacity, and a grip-safety-only safety system, as well.
Acceptance by Hungary's armed forces was quickly forthcoming and production commenced at about serial number 50,000, where M29 numbering had ceased. The finish on production examples was a rich, commercial-type blue, even though virtually all guns were intended for military rather than civilian use, and fit was superb. Manufacture in the 9mm Kurtz chamberinb continued space until early 1941, at which point some 150,000 M37s, all bearing Hungarian commercial marks (Femaru-Fegyver-es Gepyar Rt. 37M, on the left of slide) had been completed and issued to the military.
But then came the first Luftwaffe contract for the '37 (Nazi Germany was an ally of Hungary) and work on guns for Hungarian forces took a back seat. Some 50,000 .32 ACP-chambered M37s were demanded in this 1941 Nazi order (the .380 was a nuisance to the Waffenamt, since it wasn't a standard German military cartridge) and these guns were forthcoming by early 1942. Early Nazi-contract Femarus were, incidentally, little more than 9mm Kurtzs rebarreled to 7.65, but by mid-1941, a standard "German pattern" '37 had been formulated. It included a new thumb safety, in "1911-position" (the Waffenamt insisted on thumb safeties wherever possible and would even re-engineer foreign pistols when required so as to provide such). Also included were new slide markings ("P. Mod. 37, KAL 7.65" and "jhv + year") The "jhv" being, of course, the German ordnance code designation for the Hungarian Femaru plant.
A second order, this one for 60,000 pistols, followed the first contract in 1943. It was at this point that M37 quality began to decline somewhat as quantity became all-important to the retreating Germans. A few more pistols weren't enough to save the shrinking Reich, however, and thus, as of November 1944, the game was over for Femaru; in the face of the advancing Rusians, the Budapest-based arms plant was abandoned.
At war's end, it was discovered--according to one source, anyway--that many of the 95,500 pistols actually rendered to the Germans had been stored rather than issued; to this day, we still don't know why this was so, if indeed it was. Disposal of the M37s followed the traditional "surplus-arms-dealer-to-the-U.S.-civilian-market" route; the luckless Hungarians, condemned to a Russian-dominated future, never took up production of the gun again.
All of which brings us to our test pieces--a pair of '37s loaned by collector/friend Larry Tieger. These arms pretty well represented the extremes of Pisztoly 37 reality, for one was an early-manufacture Hungarian Army-issue .380, while the other was a Nazi-pattern .32 ACP which had been built pursuant to the second (1943) Luftwaffe contact.
As might be expected, the early gun was indeed a work of art, everything fit perfectly, exterior finish was a mirror-polished carbon blue and internal structures were of polished white metal. But it was the construction of the later German-contract gun which truly surprised me. For here, once again, part fit was absolutely superb; there was nothing whatsoever suggestive of "junk," as there as often is with built-in-haste, mid-war pistols.
Accuracy testing of both pieces confirmed the impression of quality, I might add. For the '37s proved to be among the most accurate pocket autos the author had ever used; this despite unpleasant 10-pound triggers and miniscule "front-pyramid-in-rear-V-notch" sights in both examples. The .380, for instance, cut 2-1/2 inches with its first five shots from 25-meters (27.3-yards) utilizing Federal's 90-grain hollowpoint factory loading.
Two and one quarter inches for five shots was achieved on the third attempt. All of this represents near excellent-class accuracy from so tiny an arm. But it was the Nazi P-37 which turned in a performance I can only describe as "stellar." The 1943-issue Femaru--which had the creepier and gritter of the two 10-pound triggers, let me hasten to add--quickly revealed a desire to print all its .31-caliber, 71-grain Remington FMJ bullet into 1-1/4-incredible-inches from 81 feet. Or at least it would evidence this ambition any time my sights--and trigger-work would allow it to do so. (I never did succeed in getting five decent letoffs in a row, but I did get four.) I might add that functioning in both pistols was 100 percent with the single load tried in each caliber.
Controllability testing was undertaken with the .380--a more sensible defense caliber than the .32--and involved the usual six shots in three seconds at ten meters (10.9-yards) on a silhouette target. This time though, my silhouette was not the usual Option-style, but was rather a new Stine & Ressler model given to me by a friend. (The S&R is a bit more life-like than the Option). Five As and one B were scored here with the only six Federal rounds I had remaining, an "okay" performance but not an oustanding one for a .380 (you should always get six As with a 9mm Kurtz). Sights and trigger troubles were the cause of this.
Now as for positive M37 features. Apart from the accuracy and reliability, both of which were outstanding, I liked the magazine retention system. True, it involved a heel-clip, but said heel-clip was--in both guns-- the fastest and slickest I've ever used anywhere. Even the lanyard loop was properly engineered to get out of the way of the "extraction finger" during a swap. I liked the extension on the magazine floorplate too: it helps the shooter hang on to that short butt, just like the finger extension mag on a PPK does. The safety on the Nazi gun was perfectly placed; it does indeed make the Femaru a much safer arm, while impeding speed-into-action not one millisecond. I even liked the general "feel" of the gun; there's an impression of solidity, of ruggedness, that somehow inspires confidence.
Even fieldstripping is benignly simple. First, extract the magazine and then draw back the slide and check to ensure that the chamber is empty. Now lock the slide open by holding it back with one hand while pushing the slide-stop up with the other; you want to insert the slide-stop into the rear-most of the two notches on the slide. Rotate the barrel and draw if forward out of the slide. Now, using the hands so as to prevent the slide from springing forward forcefully off the frame, pull down on the slide-stop and ease the slide forward--against spring pressure--off the receiver. This concludes normal fieldstripping; reassembly is the reverse.
As for bad M37 features . . . well, apart from what we've already noted (bad sights and trigger) and what you can pretty well tell by looking at a picture (no mechanical safety on pre-Nazi guns), there really isn't very much at all to list. The finger extension on the magazine is, to be sure, something of a clothes and brush-grabber, but on a military pistol intended for portage in a full-flap holster, that's really not very important. Too, 27 ounces empty is excessive tonnage for a compact .380, but here again, one does get back in durability--at least to a degree--what he sacrifices in portability. It's not hard to conclude then that what "Pisztoly 37 Menta" constitutes is one nifty little design--a pistol which, with just a few minor changes--might even be able to "make it" in the present day.