When the .357 Magnum cartridge was introduced in 1935, Smith and Wesson chambered the cartridge in a deluxe, large-frame revolver. The new handgun was in some ways a development of the .38-44—a heavy frame .38 Special. However, in other ways, the target-sighted magnum was unique. Either way, the revolver cost more than $65 at a time when a new Ford V 8 cost $810. The .38-44 cost about $35 dollars. Useful handguns were available for $20. The fit, finish, and accuracy of the new revolver was exceptional by any standard. The .357 Magnum was the first of many expensive, but custom grade, factory handguns.
The heat-treating and finish were excellent. The revolver featured a shrouded ejector rod and Magna-type grips. By the way, On Smith & Wesson revolvers, Magna grips are wooden grips that extend upward to the top of the frame. They do not include the filler block behind the trigger guard, which is often hard for small hands to manage. The top strap is checkered. The revolver was intended for outdoors use with its 8 3/8-inch barrel. Shorter barrel versions were soon introduced. These included a 3.5-inch and 5-inch version. These proved popular with law enforcement officers that could afford and master the piece.
Many of the original .357s were delivered in a presentation case. The original magnums were shipped with a certificate of registration. The Registered Magnum is a desirable collectors item. The Model 27 is the classic magnum to many of us. After the introduction of more affordable magnums, such as the Highway Patrolman and the medium-frame Combat Magnum, the Model 27 (as it was known after 1957) lost ground.
Eventually, the revolver was practically out of production. Today, Smith and Wesson offers a modern heavy frame magnum in the Classic line. It isn’t quite the same as the original, but in some ways it is better. The revolver illustrated is a blue finish .357 Magnum with a four-inch barrel. The four-inch tapered barrel features a changeable front sight and the rear sight is fully adjustable. The top strap is nicely checkered.
The shrouded ejector rod and cylinder release are standard Model 27. The Model 27 features a lockable action. The locking component above the cylinder release isn’t obtrusive. This revolver has something not seen since the 1950s. The side plate is a four-screw type. I like this touch.
The firing pin is a frame-mounted design as opposed to the original hammer-mounted firing pin. There is no separate recoil plate on the frame. This makes for a much stronger frame. The action is both tight and smooth. The double action trigger is smooth at just over 12 pounds.
The crisp, single-action trigger press is just less than four pounds. The wide serrated trigger makes for excellent control. The target-style hammer offers a nicely checkered spur. The original Smith and Wesson Model 27 featured countersunk cylinders. This was a safety measure to contain the cartridge head in case of a blown case. With modern cartridges, this seems unlikely and this is a reasonable deletion.
The sights are a bold front post and a rear notch. This combination offers excellent hit probability and a fast line-up on target. My only concern was the checkered grips. They may be ideal for concealed carry, but they are thin. I felt that they might give the shooter a solid rap on firing. I wasn’t wrong.
On another subject, the modern Smith and Wesson has the advantage of precise fit and tolerances as a result of CNC machinery and modern production techniques. The cylinder, throats, and rifling are a better fit than anything Smith and Wesson has previously manufactured. Accuracy should be excellent.
I began with a mix of handloads and factory loads in .38 Special. Most loads fired in magnums are .38 Specials, which are a bit shorter than the Magnum. The magnum cartridge case is lengthened to preclude chambering in .38 Special revolvers. There is no problem using .38 Special ammunition in a magnum cylinder.
I used a good supply of Winchester USA White Box loads. This jacketed 130-grain bullet is a clean burning load that leaves little powder residue and no leading. At .38 Special velocity, copper wash in the barrel is limited.
In offhand fire, I addressed man-sized targets at 7, 10, and 15 yards. The balance of the revolver was good. The heavy cylinder and relatively short barrel made for a good balance point. The piece came on target smoothly, and I was rewarded with center hits for each shot. Press the double-action trigger straight to the rear, keep the sight on target, allow the trigger to reset during recoil, then control the trigger again, and you will do well with the Smith and Wesson revolver.
I fired 100 rounds in this manner. Moving to magnum loads, I had on hand Winchester 125-grain JHP, 158-grain JHP, and the Winchester 145-grain Silvertip. Firing the 1,420 fps 125-grain load, things got interesting. Recoil was there and the grip frame stung a bit in the hand. Due to the revolver’s weight control remained good. The 158-grain load and the Silvertip were more pleasant.
This revolver demands practice, but it is among the most controllable magnum revolvers. Moving to benchrest fire, I fired the three magnum loads from the Bullshooters rest at a long 25 yards, taking care that each shot was delivered as accurately as possible. The results follow.
Five-shot group, 25 yards
|Winchester 125-grain JHP||1,420 fps||2.25 inches|
|Winchester 145-grain Silvertip||1,294 fps||1.7 inches|
|Winchester 158-grain JHP||1,258 fps||1.5 inches|
The Model 27 Classic is a worthy descendant of the original magnum and a fine personal defense and outdoors revolver, just as originally intended.
Are you a magnum revolver fan? Which model and caliber tops your list of favorites? Share your answers in the comment section.
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Had a 6.5 inch mdl 28 with target hammer/trigger[was legal minimum length to hunt deer in NY in 1977].Twas the”Highway Parolman” i.e.cheaper version of the mdl 27.Soon went to Pachmayr Signature grips-better for my large hands
Switched to Rugers afterwards-sturdier.Mixed reusults with S&Ws over the last 43 years.
For hunting and heavy loads,go with a Ruger,just check smoothness of individual chambers.
Ken Phillips says
As a Florida State Trooper, I carried and shot my nickel plated 5 inch .357 model 27 for five years. It had a smooth action and nice grips. I always fired double action. It was a reliable, trusty weapon. I shot completely through a Chevy Monza 6 times back to fron one when a drunk tried to back his car over me.
Les Wallace says
I was an Austin PD Patrolman in early ’70 and got hit in the leg with one round from your nickel 27 that had been taken from another Officer. Our Dept issue ammo was Super Vel “high velocity” semi-wadcutters. I’m curious to know what you carried to defend yourself from the Monza attack. Very glad you made it home that day.
My vote is for the Model 19 “Combat Magnum”. I believe this model was carried by many police officers in the 70″s. This 4″ revolver shoots and handles like a dream. Mine has some holster wear at the muzzle, but is otherwise in perfect condition. My sons are already getting in position for a ownership battle at my demise.
John – I’ll ‘one-up’ ya – the early Model 66 – same gun as the Model 19 except in stainless steel – better weather resistance, especially in areas with major climate conditions (what they call global warming these days). Carried one for a duty weapon for more than a few years.
Vaughn Winslett says
Not with the Clinton Commie lock!
This one is definitely on my list. The older model with the pinned barrel and countersunk chambers is appealing, but I will take the superior fit of CNC machining any day. The frame lock does not bother me. I just remove it and get a little plug from Brownells to fill the hole. There is nothing like the feel of an N-Frame Smith!
My favorites were the k frame for target and model 15 and my very favorite was my 3 1/2 inch model 27. and then went all out and sent S&W a 6 inch model 27 to have it nickel plated . I carried it for 3 yrs on the job and like a dumb ass sold it at a gun show for $150.00,
Dex Taylor says
I was fortunate enough to purchase a Smith 357 on a “Pre-27″ frame with a 3.5″ barrel. According to the paperwork in the original gold box with blue print, it was one of the early post war magnums made. The best that I can tell, this 1951 collecter piece has never been fired or holstered. This is according to the many gunsmiths I have shown it to. The high polish blue finish has been well preserved. I have later found a used 4” model 27 from 1981 that I use for shooting. The finish on this shooter is also good. No holster wear at all. But still the luster finish on the older Pre-27 far exceeds. I called Smith & Wesson and asked them how the bluing was so much darker and richer looking on the older model. They told me that the older registered magnums and pre-27s from the past had their steel high polished to a bright mirror finish prior to the bluing process. He also said that the EPA later made them change something in the bluing process. This environmental safety change resulted in a lesser quality finish on future made Smith firearms.