The handguns of Manurhin.
The story of Manurhin's involvement in handgan manufacture goes back to the days just after World War II. The Americans had overrun the German region of Thuringia, where Zella-Mehlis, the original site of the Carl Walther Waffenfabrik, located. However, in accordance with the Yalta agreements, they turned the area over to the Soviet froces. Carl Walther was forced to abandon his plant and flee to the Western zone, barely ahead of the advancing hordes of the East.
Walther's PP and PPK auto pistols were not only the first highly succeful double-action design, but they had also established themselves during the pre-war era and in the course of World War II as probably the premier pocket and police (by European standards) pistols available.
Germany was broken and forbidden by the victorious occupying powers from manufacturing firearms. Yet there was a demand worldwide for Walther DA pocket autos.
As a result, Walther entered into an agreement with the large French industrial firm of Manurhin to manufacture these pistols of his design under license, and production commenced in 1952.
Handguns are only a small part of this firm's total production. Located in Mulhouse in the province of Alsace, so often disputed between France and Germany, Manurhin is primarily a maker of machine tools. It is the world's largest manufacturer of loading machinery for small arms ammo and cannon shells, as well as bottling equipment.
Manurhin PPs and PPKs were imported to America under their own name for a few years in the mid-1950s. In 1955, West German sovereignty was restored, and Carl Walther resumed business operations in Ulm, West Germany. Walther, desiring to market these pistols under the famous Walther name, began purchasing guns from Manurhin. Initially these pistols were brought to the USA by Interarmco (the predecessor of today's Interarms) as the "Walther Mark II." A few years later the "Mark II" designation was dropped and "Made in Germany" was added.
According to Manurhin representatives, the situation concerning the European-made post-WWII Walther PPS, PPKs and PPK/Ses has been this: Virtually all the actual manufacturing operations have been performed by Manurhin. The pistols are then shipped with the slides in the white to Walther at Ulm. The guns are proofed in Germany and so stamped. Walther stamps its own name on the slides, blues them and fits grips of Walther make. These guns are then marked "Made in Germany." Let me stress, this is considered a legitimate business practice by European standards, and no subterfuge or deception is intended. However, the fact remains that the "German-made" Walther pistols of the PP series are in reality almost entirely made by Manurhin of France. (Other Walther pistols, e.g. P-1/P-38, P-5, etc., are manufactured by Walther's plant in Ulm.)
Although pistols bearing the Manurhin name have been marketed for years in France and elsewhere, they have only recently reappeared in this country, where Manurhin began distributing them in the fall of 1983--and at very attractive prices. Suggested retail for the PP or PPK/S in .380 or .32 ACP is $367, a few dollars more for the .22 LR versions. This is far less than the German-marked PP-series pistols have been selling for in recent years, and even substantially under the going rate for those made at Interarms' Walther-licensed facility in Alabama. So if you like to save money and can live without the Walther banner on your PP or PPK/S, these Manurhin pistols look like really great buys.
Trigger pull on our sample was typical of the PP design. The double action was a bit stiff and heavy, and the single action had a little take-up and over-travel, but it was reasonably light and quite serviceable.
The rear sight notch is wide and permits a quick pick-up. In fact, it may be a little too wide for the most precise shooting, but then, these pocket autos are not meant to be precision guns. The sights carry the Von Stavenhagen pattern inlays, i.e., a white dot on the front ramp and a white bar directly under the rear notch. These may be an aid to fast alignment and shooting under certain dim light conditions.
On centerfire versions there is a loaded chamber indicator in the form of a pin which protrudes from the back of the slide when there is a round in the chamber.
The pistol sent to us for evaluation purposes was so impressive that I purchased it for inclusion in my own battery of handguns. In firing some 500 rounds of Winchester and Federal "hardball," Federal JHPs and Winchester Silvertips, as well as some lead bullet commercial reloads, I have yet to experience a single stoppage, although a shooting partner did encounter one hang-up in the magazine and another on the feed ramp. Since he was relatively unfamiliar with this design, I was left uncertain whether the fault lay with the gun or the shooter. Suffice is to say that I was very pleased with this gun's performance and that I would have no hesitation about employing it for defensive duties.
In shooting for accuracy at Angeles Shooting Ranges' 25-yard line, most groups ran around 4 inches, irrespective of load--about par for most .380s. (One of these days I mean to sit down at the bench and see if I can come up with a really accurate load in this caliber!) The sights, fortunately, put the bullets at point of aim.
When all was said and done, there was nothing to distinguish this pistol from the familiar Walther guns, save for the stampings on the slide--and the substantially lower price tag!
Although most gun buffs are reasonably familiar with the Manurhin-made autos, at least under their Walther Guise, Manurhin's line of revolvers remains little known to most American shooters.
Since the French police agencies, in common with virtually all of Europe, had gone to auto pistols in the first two decades of this century, it is rather surprising to see a top-quality revolver coming from France.
It seems the moving force in the conversion of French law enforcement to the six-gun was one Raymond Sasia. This Gallic guru of gunfighting had studied with the FBI at their training facility in Quantico, Virginia, in the early 1960s and had returned to France imbued with the prevailing American police doctrine of the superiority of the revolver.
Monsieur Sasia later became "General Controller of National Police" and operated a national police combat training center in Paris. Largely as a result of his advocacy, there has been a wholesale conversion in French police thinking in favor of the revolver.
Thus it was in the early 1970s that Manurhin set out to build a state-of-the-art revolver. The proven Smith & Wesson design was used as the basis for the new revolver, with certain refinements in the lockwork design. Principal differences are the Manurhin's use of a roller-mounted rebound slide and a leaf-style trigger return spring that engages the slide roller and is adjustable for tension with a set screw. This patented system is meant to give an exceptionally smooth DA pull, and it works very well.
The basic Manurhin MR-73, then, is a medium-sized (a shade bigger than the S&W "K" series) revolver available in a variety of calibers and configurations. Fixed sight "police" models are available with 2-1/2, 3 and 4-inch barrels. Of more interest to most American civilians would be the target-sighted "Sport" models; these can be had with 5-1/4, 6 and 8-inch barrels. In addition, there are some highly specialized versions of this revolver available for ISU Centerfire matches with extended sights, orthopedic grips, single-action-only lockwork, etc. A 10.8-inch silhouette model in .357 Magnum is another option. I was surprised to learn IHMSA-style competition has a considerable following in France, and these Manurhins have been the winners of recent national matches.
Caliber options include .38 Special/.357 Magnum, .32 S&W Long, .22 WMR and .22 LR. Also offered is an interchangeable 9mm cylinder for the .357-bored guns. Forthcoming this year will be a .22 LR/.22 WMR dual-cylinder version of the Sport Model.
I chose to purchase the 6-inch target-sighted Sport mode in .32 S&W Long. At this point I can just hear many readers wondering why on earth I chose the caliber that would be least appealing to most American sportsmen.
Well, aside from the fact that I already own an exorbitant number of excellent .22, .38 and .357 double actions, I think the .32 S&W Long offers a lot of relatively unexplored potential--especially as an outdoorsman's caliber. With the small amount of powder and lead it uses, it can be handloaded at much less expense than even the cheapest "loss leader" .22 LRs can be purchased, and with light loads recoil and blast are no more noticeable than a .22's. Moreover, in strong revolvers like the Manurhin, this round can be loaded up to levels of performance quite comparable to the .32-20 or the new .32 H&R Magnum, and in a smaller, more efficient case.
The finish on the Manurhin was striking. The revolver had been polished to a very high lustre and finished in a bright blue-black which contrasted sharply with the golden-straw color of the heat-treated hammer and trigger. The pivot pins have also been so heat-treated, and when the gun is blued, they do not match the rest of the frame. This gives the left side of the frame a slightly peculiar polka dot look that some may not like. The overall appearance of the revolver is definitely eye-catching and showy, albeit perhaps a bit flashy for my admittedly stodgy taste.
The double-action pull was extremely slick and smooth--about comparable to a custom-tuned Smith & Wesson K. The single-action pull was as crisp and clean as any I've ever tried, but it seemed a bit heavy for a quality DA at 4 pounds. When I attempted to lighted it by adjusting tension on the trigger return spring screw, the trigger return action became too sluggish. I can certainly live with a 4-pound pull, but I find it just a trifle disappointing on such an otherwise excellent revolver.
The sights consist of a Patridge post front and a wide-bladed rear sight. The rear sight has positive click stops and offers a wide range of adjustment--which was needed, since the front sight was a little too high for best results with U.S. factory loads, which still demanded a center hold with the rear sight at maximum elevation.
The barrel has a full-length solid rib, and there is a squared underbarrel lug that reaches nearly to the muzzle. This revolver rides perfectly, I found, in a flap holster from Roy's Custom Leather made for the
The stocks are of the oversize type--filling the area behind the triggerguard, covering the front strap and extending the butt. They incorporate shallow finger grooves. These stocks are made of what appears to be oil-finished French walnut, and gold medallions are inlaid at the bottom rear of each panel. I found these stocks quite comfortable to use, and I have no plans to replace them.
In putting over 900 rounds through this revolver in various shooting sessions at Angeles Shooting Ranges and at the Target Range in Van Nuys, I Found it to be a delightful performer. HoweveR, it did display a marked preference for heavier bullets. Accuracy with both the Federal factory 98-grain LRN and wadcutter loads and a variety of handloads using the Saeco #323 95-grain cast wadcutter was no more than "usable"--groups hovered in the vicinity of two inches at 25 yards. Moreover, the Hornady 90-grain waged SWC--a bullet that had given excellent performance in other revolvers--evidently would not stabilize with the Manurhin's rate of twist, for I encountered keyholing with every load that I tried.
When I turned to heavy bullets, though, this revolver came into its own. With the Saeco #322, a 118-grain flat point designed for the .32-20, accuracy was superb. Using this bullet and three grains of W-231, I printed five shots into 1.2 inches right in the X-ring at 25 yards--offhand--and that's about as well as I can shoot any gun! Another fine performer was the NEI #115.313 PB, a semi-wadcutter that cast about 110 grains from my batch of alloy. With 2.5 grains of Red Dot it also printed groups approaching the one-inch mark.
WARNING: The above-mentioned handloads should be approached with caution. The author recommends them only for use in the Manurhin and revolvers of similar size like the S&W K-32 or the Colt Officer's Model. Using these loads in other guns may result in damage to the gun and possible personal injury.
In summation, I found the Manurhin to be an excellent revolver and one that any handgun enthusiast would be pround to own. Unfortunately, the Manurhin design requires a good deal of hand work, and this runs the price up to the point where only the dedicated (and well heeled!) connoisseur and enthusiast will be likely to purchase one. Suggested U.S. retail price for the Sport Model is $750. Importation of these revolvers is on a limited basis, and, unlike the auto pistols, they are likely to remain for the most part special order items. However, for the man who can aford one, a Manurhin revolver is certainly a worthwhile and rewarding acquisition.
Both Manurhin revolvers and autos display the highest standards of European craftsmanship, and the auto pistols are excellent values to boot. For further information on the Manurhin line of fine handguns, contact MATRA-Manurhin, Dept. GA, 631 South Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.