Happy 20th Anniversary Umarex Walther CP88!
What were you doing twenty years ago? Perhaps you were watching Scream, Independence Day, Trainspotting or any of the other big movies of 1996? Maybe you were wrestling with the mysteries of Windows 95 on your new-fangled personal computer? Or possibly you were dipping a toe for the first time into this thing called the Internet that everyone seemed to be talking about? Then again, perhaps you were happily shooting your new Umarex Walther CP88?
That’s right, 2016 is the 20th anniversary of the launch of the Umarex Walther CP88. It’s hard to believe, but it’s now twenty years since Umarex produced their very first replica air pistol, a pellet shooting replica of the Walther P88C. So this feels like a good time for a retrospective review of this venerable replica. Was it any good in 1996? And after twenty years, is it still any good now? Do you want one of these in your collection? Let’s have a look…
Real steel background
Introduced in January 1987, the Walther P88 was an evolutionary development of the earlier P38 and P5 pistols. Designed initially to meet the requirements of the US Joint Services Small Arms Program (JSSAP) it was a full-size military and law enforcement sidearm featuring conventional Browning-cam style locking, with a single massive lug on the barrel locking into the ejection port on the slide. The P88 was unusual at the time in providing an ambidextrous slide release/decocker to appeal to left handed shooters.
The P88 featured a milled steel slide and internal parts and was a large, relatively heavy weapon (187mm long, 900g in weight) and it had the misfortune to be launched at a time when the market was starting to look towards smaller, lighter pistols. This, combined with a high unit cost, meant that sales were never particularly strong. It also quickly became clear that the P88 was unlikely to be selected for the JSSAP and all production of the P88 ended in 1992.
However, in 1992, Walther introduced the P88C (Compact). Although visually similar to the P88, the P88C had almost nothing in common with the earlier pistol. The ambidextrous slide catch/decocker was not included (the P88C featured a slide mounted, ambidextrous safety/de-cocker) and the P88C was smaller, lighter (181mm long, 822g in weight) and less bulky. The P88C immediately proved very popular with people looking for a self defence and target shooting pistol though it was never widely adopted as a law enforcement or military sidearm. In 1993 the P88 Champion was introduced, a target shooting variant featuring an extended barrel and a compensator. All Walther P88 production ended in 2000.
The Umarex Walther CP88
Back in the early nineties, Umarex did not produce any air pistols of their own, though they were successfully selling branded versions of several US made air pistols. What the company wanted was to begin manufacturing their own replica pistols and they wanted these to be something different and something that hadn’t been seen in the market before. The resulting design brief for the Umarex Design and Development department was simple if rather daunting: They were to produce a design for a high quality, powerful, accurate and reliable multi shot air pistol that was a precise visual replica of an existing firearm.
The choice of which firearm to replicate was fairly easy. In 1993 Umarex had purchased a 90% interest in firearms manufacturer Walther. Choosing a Walther firearm to replicate allowed the Umarex engineers easy access to original drawings and specifications and there wouldn’t be any issue with licensing. By the mid-nineties the P88C was one of Walther’s best-selling products which made it the logical choice as the basis for a replica.
So, the engineers knew what the outside of the new air pistol would look like, but what was more challenging was the internal design. There had been multi-shot air pistols before which were replicas of semi-auto firearms but many of these had function or reliability issues. The outcome of the Umarex design study was an elegantly simple design – a pistol which used a low temperature, cast alloy body to conceal a revolving, eight-shot rotary pellet carrier die-cast in zinc. Effectively, this was a revolver design dressed up in alloy castings to look like a semi-automatic. Which meant that it benefitted from the reliability and simplicity of revolver functionality while managing to look and handle very like the original P88C.
An early CP88 in black finish
In March 2016 at the IWA trade show in Nuremberg Umarex launched the Walther CP88. They were understandably nervous – not only was this their first replica air pistol, it was a completely new design which was significantly more expensive than many other replica air pistols then on the market. This was a bold move which went against the general trend in replica air guns at the time. All of the very high-quality replicas first produced during the “Golden Era” of the 1950s and 1960s were out of production by 1996. One of the first attempts to produce a CO2 powered semi-auto replica using a revolving pellet carrier (the Crosman Model 451) had been a commercial disaster and by the mid-nineties most manufacturers were concentrating on relatively simple, lower cost replicas using plastic in their construction. Was there still a market for something as high quality and comparatively expensive as the CP88?
In the event, the CP88 received a rapturous welcome both from the trade press and from the public and turned out to be a game changer for replicas. Up to the release of the CP88, replicas were widely viewed as toys suitable only for back garden plinking. With the CP88, Umarex demonstrated that a multi- shot replica could also be a “serious” air pistol – powerful, accurate and well made. In its first year of production, more than 25,000 CP88s were sold and by 2006 more than one million had been sold. It’s a tribute to its original good design that the Walther CP88 is still part of the Umarex range. And the CP88 is still manufactured, finished and assembled within the Umarex plant in Arnsberg, Germany, unlike some other more recent replicas which carry Umarex branding.
The CP88 was originally provided in either a glossy black polished finish or in nickel finish with contrasting black controls. Black versions later changed to a semi-matt, beadblasted finish. Relatively small numbers of CP88s were also produced in a steel finish including the limited edition PPC 1500. The standard version was provided with a 3.6” rifled barrel and this was quickly followed by the CP88 Competition (a replica of the Walther P88 Champion), which featured a mock compensator concealing a longer 5.6” rifled barrel. There was also a Trophy version (a CP88 Competition with the addition of a Walther Red Dot sight) and a short lived Tactical version (a standard CP88 with a mock suppressor and an adaptor which allowed the fitting of an optical sight).
My CP88 Competition was provided with Walnut grips, a fully adjustable rear sight and an RWS red-dot sight. And very nice it was too.
Packaging and presentation 4/5
The early blue case features foam which is cut away to accommodate the CP88 and accessories. This type of case also has a removable piece of foam which allows storage of the larger Competition version.
The CP88 is supplied with a user manual, an allen key for rear sight adjustment and two rotary pellet carriers. Early models were shipped in a blue, hard plastic case with foam which was cut-away to accept the pistol, a CO2 cartridge, the allen key, spare rotary pellet holders and a tin of pellets. At around the same time that the black finish was changed to semi-matt, the hard case changed to a black version with simple eggshell foam. Some people might argue that the latest version of the hard case isn’t as high quality as the original. That may possibly be true, but it’s still much better than the card box that most replicas arrive in.
The later black case still has plenty of room for the CP88 and accessories, but it uses simpler eggshell foam.
Visual accuracy 9/10
The CP88 looks totally convincing. Place one next to a P88C and you will be hard pressed to tell the difference. Dimensionally it’s perfect, as you’d expect, and the Walther markings are very nicely done. The join between the front and rear parts of the slide is well concealed and not obvious until you look closely. The use of the slide and magazine release catches as operating controls and the inclusion of a working safety also help to replicate the look of the original. Moulded-in controls tend to look as if they’re moulded in and generally fail to look like working components – the controls on the CP88 are obviously working parts, even if they don’t all fulfil the same purpose as on the original.
Functional accuracy 7/15
OK, this is where the CP88 compares badly to some other replicas. The CP88 may look and handle like a semi-auto pistol, but it doesn’t function like one. Which is unsurprising when you consider that this is really a revolver dressed up to look like a semi-auto pistol. It’s designed to be a reliable and powerful air pistol which looks like a Walther P88C, not a functional replica. The rear part of the slide doesn’t move at all, there is of course no blowback and controls like the magazine release and takedown lever have a different function here. It also does not have a drop-out magazine and it cannot be stripped or disassembled without tools.
It all depends on what you are looking for. If you want a powerful, accurate and reliable air pistol which looks and handles like a semi auto firearm, this will hit the spot. If you want something that replicates the function of a semi-auto pistol you may want to look elsewhere.
CO2 is retained in a compartment within the grip in the CP88 and this is opened by pressing what looks like a magazine release on the left side. This releases the left grip and gives access to the CO2 chamber. What looks like the base of the magazine is actually a hinged panel which is opened downwards to move the CO2 retaining seat down. A CO2 cartridge is then placed inside and a thumbwheel is used for initial tightening. When the CO2 is snugly seated, the base of the magazine is closed upwards to complete piercing and sealing. It’s an exceptionally neat system which loads CO2 without drama or leaks, though it works best if the hinged panel is closed firmly and sharply rather than tentatively.
The standard Umarex eight shot rotary pellet carrier was initially designed specifically for the CP88, though it went on to be used in a whole range of other Umarex replicas.
What looks like a takedown lever on the left side of the frame is actually a catch which releases the front part of the slide to give access to the chamber in which the rotary pellet carrier is placed. Pushing the lever down causes the front part of the slide to spring forward. It isn’t necessary to carefully position the rotary pellet carrier – it is placed in approximately the correct position and an indexing pawl on the rear of the carrier engages as the front of the slide closes, ensuring that the carrier is positioned correctly (though do be careful to keep your hand away from the muzzle as you close the slide!). The slide-mounted ambidextrous manual safety of the original also accurately replicated, though it doesn’t incorporate a de-cocker on the CP88.
The CP88 can be shot in double or single action. The first part of the pull in double action also indexes the rotary pellet carrier, which leads to a long and moderately heavy pull of around 7.5lbs, though it is generally consistent and with a clean and crisp break. Manually cocking the hammer for single action shooting also indexes the pellet carrier, so the single action pull is shorter and lighter at around 5lbs.
Six shots, six metres, freestanding using the standard CP88. Not bad for a twenty year old design combined with sixty year old eyes.
Overall, the CP88 is a very satisfying shooter. As with any CO2 powered replica, power is dependent on ambient temperature, but a good CP88 will shoot at around 400 fps and will be capable of placing all eight shots within a 1″ group at six yards. Which is more than accurate enough for satisfying action shooting. At 10m and more the CP88 is still capable of providing sufficient accuracy for target shooting, especially if your are using the Competition version with its longer sight radius. The standard rear sight is adjustable for windage only but there is no adjustment for elevation unless you buy the optional fully adjustable rear sight. This replica also shoots with a loud bang and is reasonably frugal with CO2 – more than 70 full power shots per CO2 are possible, though this is also dependent on temperature.
Quality and reliability 14/15
Overall, the CP88 exudes quality in every respect. Even after twenty years the quality of the castings used on the CP88 is simply outstanding. Edges and corners are sharply defined and closely resemble milled steel and the join between the front and rear parts of the slide is barely perceptible and further concealed by the slide serrations. Early versions were provided in a very attractive glossy black polished finish which was extremely durable in addition to closely resembling blued steel. Later, the black finish was changed to semi-matt, bead blasted. This appears to be just as hard-wearing as the original glossy finish, but to me at least, the later finish just doesn’t have the same visual appeal.
I am not generally a huge fan of the nickel finish as used on the CP88, but as seen here with walnut grips, I have to admit that it does look good.
There are very few known faults with the CP88. Pellets need to be carefully tamped down into the rotary pellet carrier to avoid jamming and pellet selection is important – longer, pointed pellets can project beyond the face of the pellet carrier and cause jamming. On older versions, the screw which retains the front part of the slide can become worn and the thread can strip, allowing the front part of the slide to catapult off the frame when the slide release is operated. Wear to this screw can be avoided by using a hand to gently cushion the forward movement of the front part of the slide when operating the release (while being extremely careful to keep your hand safely away from the muzzle!). It’s also easy to inadvertently push the slide release catch too far down, so that it ends up pointing straight down. If this happens, it necessary to juggle with the front part of slide until the notch lines up with the catch, so that the catch can be rotated 90° anti-clockwise back to the lock position. This problem can be avoided by pressing the release catch only lightly.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I have never liked the later semi-matt finish as much as the early glossy finish on black versions.
Some people will tell you that the current CP88 is not manufactured to the same high standards as the first version, but I don’t believe this to be true. The current semi-matt black finish may not look as good as the early glossy finish, but it appears to be just as durable and there is no evidence that the internal components of the CP88 have changed at all in twenty years. Whichever model or version of the CP88 you choose, you’ll end up with something that is of notably higher quality than most other replicas on the market. “They don’t make ‘em like that any more” is something that us grumpy old men like to say, but I don’t believe it applies to the CP88. I have probably put many hundreds, or perhaps thousands of rounds through my CP88s and I don’t believe I have ever suffered from a single misfeed or failure to fire or from any other functional problem. I can’t say that about many of my replicas.
Overall Impression 14/15
The CP88 is hefty, chunky and solid. Just like the firearm it replicates (the CP88 is actually slightly heavier than the P88C). Very few replicas feel as much like a cartridge firing weapon when you pick them up. In fact, some modern replicas feel undeniably toy like. In contrast, the CP88 feels like a “real” gun.
My CP88 Competition was extremely accurate, but I actually preferred the balance of the standard version.
I have owned two CP88s; one older Competition Model with the extended barrel and a more recent standard version. I liked the glossy finish of the older version far more than the semi-matt finish of the more recent model and if I was looking to add another CP88 to my collection, I think I’d be looking for one of the older, black, glossy finish versions. But while I appreciated the extreme accuracy provided by the extended barrel on the Competition model, I actually preferred the balance of the standard version and that was the one that I most often chose to shoot. I also had the optional walnut grips on my Competition Model, and these greatly improved both the look and the feel of this replica. My ideal CP88 would probably be an early glossy black standard version with wood grips.
Standard version, check. Glossy black finish, check. Walnut grips, check. This would probably be my ideal CP88.
Overall, the Umarex Walther CP88 is still a very fine replica even twenty years after it was first released. The only potential issue which might discourage people from buying one of these is the firearm on which it is based. Many people buy replica air pistols because of an interest in the firearms they replicate. When the CP88 was released in 1996, the Walther P88C was selling well, but that didn’t continue and within four years the P88C had disappeared completely from the Walther range. It’s more than a little ironic that the firearm on which this replica is based ceased production after just eight years and without selling in particularly large numbers. The replica is still around after twenty years, has sold more than a million examples and shows no signs of slowing down. The CP88 is probably better known and is certainly much more popular than the P88C ever was. But there is no doubt that the CP88 lacks the cachet of other Umarex pellet shooters based on more popular firearms such as the Colt 1911 or Beretta 92.
Despite this, the Walther CP88 continues to be popular. Why is that? The simple answer is that what you got in 1996 was a powerful, accurate and very well made replica air gun which looked and handled like a firearm. And that’s what you still get if you buy a CP88 today. Backed up of course by the great ergonomics of the original P88C and the reliability that comes from being manufactured, assembled, finished and tested in Germany. Umarex has changed out of all recognition in the twenty years since 1996 to become one of the dominant players in the worldwide replica air gun market. The Umarex Walther CP88 in standard and Competition form remains part of the Umarex range and is just the same as it ever was. It’s still more expensive than most replicas, but then it’s still better made and finished and a more accurate shooter than most other replicas too. As ever, you get what you pay for. It may not be perfect, but I think that the CP88 deserves to have a place in the collection of anyone interested in replica air pistols.
Total score: 85/100
Walther CP88 on the Umarex web site