The deadliest handgun ever made?
The early 1900s was an important time in the development of the modern handgun. New design features and ideas which would shape pistol design for more than 100 years were being tried for the first time. One of the most influential designers of this period was American gunsmith John Moses Browning. By 1908, he had completed the design of the 1908 Vest Pocket Pistol and was working on an improved version of the Colt 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol. Many of the ideas which went in to the design of this new gun would be used in Browning’s next design, the seminal Colt 1911.
The result was a handy pocket pistol which would inadvertently come to have a profound influence on the history of the 20th Century. Before I stumbled across this spring powered, 6mm, metal replica, I wasn’t even aware that there was such a thing as a replica of the FN 1910. So, I was delighted to find this one because it rounds out perfectly a small replica collection of J. M. Browning’s designs from the early 20th Century. It isn’t a perfect replica of the FN 1910 by any means, but given that the alternative is no replica at all, I was happy to give it a try.
Real steel background
The FN 1910 is much less well known than what would be John Moses Browning’s next pistol, the Colt 1911, but it is still an important handgun in its own right. The 1910 was also the pistol where many of the features found in the 1911 were brought together for the first time – the 1910 was one of the first production self-loading pistols to feature a recoil spring round the barrel and it also featured a grip safety and a thumb operated manual safety (though the 1910 also included a magazine safety – with the magazine removed, the grip safety is locked and the pistol cannot be fired).
Early FN 1910
When Colt were offered the design for what would become the 1910, they turned it down (presumably because it was felt to be too similar to the existing Colt 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol)and Browning took the concept to Fabrique Nationale (FN) in Belgium who patented and sold this pistol in Europe only. Unlike the 1903, which has a conventional hammer concealed within the slide, the 1910 incorporates an internal striker, similar to the design used in the Colt 1908 Vest Pocket Pistol. When it was first offered for sale, this model was described as the New Model Browning Automatic Pistol (to distinguish it from the existing Old Model FN 1900), and the designation Model 1910 wasn’t introduced until the 1920s. The 1910 was initially offered in .32ACP (7.65mm) caliber though a .380ACP (9mm Short) version was added soon after. Both versions are externally identical. Several versions of the 1910 were produced. Most lacked conventional sights, being provided only with a wide groove milled in to the top of the slide, though some models produced after 1922 had small, fixed sights similar to the sights on the Colt 1903.
Later FN 1910 with sights
Its small size and the lack of a hammer or sharp edges made the 1910 a popular concealed carry weapon, and it was used by a number of European police forces in the period up to the beginning of World War Two. During the war, the FN factory was occupied by Germany and large numbers of 1910s were produced and used to equip German armed forces. Production of the 1910 continued after the war up to 1975 and around 750,000 were produced in total. The popularity of the FN 1910 led to the production of a number of copies, including the Bufalo and Danton pistols in Spain, the German DWM, the Bayard and Melior in Belgium and the Praga in Czechoslovakia.
Spanish Danton pistol, a copy of the FN 1910
So, the FN 1910 was a fairly popular and modestly successful gun, but you might wonder why this pistol has been called “The Deadliest Handgun Ever Made”? The answer is that the light weight and easy concealability which that made the 1910 popular with police users also appealed to those with less law-abiding motives. On 28th June 1914 one of these people, a young Bosnian Serb called Gavrilo Princip, used a .380ACP FN 1910 to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro Hungarian Empire and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo. One month later, this event led directly to the outbreak of World War One. You might also argue that World War One led to the rise of Nazism in Germany and Communism in Russia, and thus ultimately to World War Two and the subsequent Cold War. If you go along with that, then just six shots from an FN 1910 certainly had a profound and devastating effect on the history of the 20th Century.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on the morning of 28th June, 1914. Within a few hours both would be shot dead by an assassin using an FN 1910 and Europe was on a path which would lead inexorably to the horror and carnage of World War One.
The FN 1910 continued to be popular with assassins after World War One, though with less catastrophic results for everyone else – this pistol was also used in the fatal shooting of French President Paul Doumer in 1932 and in the killing of US Presidential hopeful and Governor of Louisiana Huey Long in 1935.
The Smart K-17
You’re probably bored hearing about manufacturers who don’t want to say who they are and about how little I pay for replicas here in SE Asia, so I won’t repeat myself here. This is most likely made in China and it’s identified only as a K-17; nothing on the packaging or the replica references the FN 1910. It actually took a bit of research to find out what it is supposed to be a replica of! Construction is very similar to the Colt 1903 and 1908 replicas reviewed previously. The slide and frame are both two-piece, alloy castings which are screwed together. The grips, magazine and inner barrel are plastic, there is no manual safety and the grip and thumb safety are moulded in place and have no function as is the magazine release on the base of the grip. The actual magazine release is a button on the left side of the frame.
This replica is cocked for a single shot by racking the slide, exposing the chromed metal front section of the outer barrel. The hidden plastic inner barrel is much shorter than you might guess but it does incorporate a fixed hop-up rubber.
Packaging and presentation (2/5)
The K-17 is supplied in a simple but sturdy card box featuring a picture of the pistol on the front and simple instructions in poorly translated English on the back. Inside is the pistol in a plastic insert, and that’s it. No BBs and no manual.
Visual accuracy 5/10
This isn’t as good a visual replica as the Colt 1903 and 1908 replicas reviewed previously. The overall dimensions are very close to the original, but the shape of the front of the slide is incorrect and this replica has a pivoting trigger rather than a sliding trigger as seen on the original. There are no markings other than “K-17” cast in to the right side of the slide. The ejection port is deeply recessed into the slide but is not open. The left hand grip is a good reproduction of an FN 1910 item, but oddly the FN logo on the right grip is mirrored.
If you screw your eyes up a bit, this just about looks like an FN 1910, but it isn’t a visually accurate replica. One of the main issues is the pivoting trigger, and I wonder why a mock sliding trigger wasn’t used here?
Functional accuracy 7/15
Functional realism isn’t particularly good on this replica. The manual safety, the grip safety and the magazine release in the base of the grip are all moulded in place and have no function. There is a working magazine release, but it’s a button on the left side of the frame. The slide can be retracted, but there is no way of locking it open. The magazine is full-size, plastic and drop-out.
Preparing the K-17 for shooting is simple. Load up to ten, 6mm BBs in the magazine. The follower doesn’t lock, so you have to hold it down while loading. Then, insert the magazine which locks positively and then rack and release the slide to cock the pistol. Racking does not require undue effort, and it is fairly easy to get a good grip on the slide. It’s notable that the magazine is sprung on this replica – press the release button without covering the magazine base with your hand and you’ll find yourself scrabbling on the floor to retrieve the mag.
The sights are fairly small and non-adjustable though they still manage to provide an adequate sight picture. The trigger has short travel and releases cleanly and consistently and with a very light pull. Given the lack of blowback, there’s virtually no felt recoil. I don’t currently have access to a chronograph, but I’d assume that power is close to or a little less than 200fps. At 6m, there is almost no gap between the sound of the pistol firing and the BB hitting the target. BBs generally hit the target with enough force to punch cleanly through a paper target and leave a respectable dent in a heavy card backstop.
Six shots, six yards, GoldenBall 0.2g BBs.
Accuracy isn’t bad considering the tiny barrel. Typically at 6m I’m seeing a vertical spread of around 1” and a horizontal spread of 1½”. Overall, this is fun to shoot. And given that it’s a springer, it costs next to nothing to shoot, which has to be good.
Quality and reliability 10/15
Quality of the K-17 is reasonable. Castings are fairly sharp and though there is a lot of plastic inside the gun, nothing has broken or is showing signs of wear so far. The magazine is also plastic, though it’s fairly robust. I have had a few jams with this replica. Occasionally, racking the slide results in a BB being released into the slide rather than being pushed into the barrel. When this happens, the slide won’t fully return to battery for the next shot. The only solution is to disassemble the slide to remove the offending BB. It’s not a huge issue and it doesn’t happen that often, but it’s notable that all the other springers I have tested haven’t suffered from this problem. So far, the finish on my K-17 is showing no signs of wear or deterioration, though it’s notable that the painted finish isn’t perfect – there are areas where the colour of the finish varies slightly, though you do have to look pretty closely to find these.
Overall impression 11/15
The K-17 has reasonable weight, which helps to make it feel convincing. There is no side-to-side play or wobble in the slide and the magazine inserts and releases cleanly and without any movement. When you rack the slide to cock the pistol the action feels precise. The trigger releases cleanly, smoothly and with very little effort. Overall, this feels as if it’s of reasonable quality and is fun to handle and shoot.
Eight years worth of John Moses Browning handgun design in replica. Top, Colt Model 1903, second, Colt Model 1908, third, FN 1910, bottom, Colt 1911.
The K-17 is another cheap and cheerful Chinese spring powered replica. It costs next to nothing to buy and to shoot and it is at least an attempt at replicating the FN1910. I do wish it had a sliding trigger (in fact, I might attempt a conversion…) and that the shape of the front of the slide was more accurate, but at the moment it’s all there is. I’m still completely baffled as to why a Chinese manufacturer would focus on replicas of relatively unknown pistols from the early 20th Century, but I am delighted they have. I don’t know about you, but I get bored with a seemingly endless series of replicas based on derivatives of the Colt 1911, Beretta 92, etc. It’s great to see replicas of historic handguns, and for that reason alone, I’m happy to have found the Smart K-17.
Total score 64/100
Not a great visual replica
It’s a single shot springer
It’s an FN 1910 replica
Reasonable finish and weight
Handles and shoots better than you’d guess