The SIG P210 pistol was created in 1947 by Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft, also known by the acronym SIG. Founded in 1853 as a train car manufacturing plant in Neuhausen am Rheinfall by Friedrich Peyer, Conrad Neher, and Heinrich Moser, SIG started making small arms in 1860. Three years later, master locksmith Johann Ulrich Hämmerli established his company in Lenzburg to fulfill the Swiss army order for rifle barrel manufacture. Serving the Swiss passion for bullseye shooting, Hämmerli became a world-class maker of target firearms for 50-meter pistol and 300-meter rifle competition. In 1921 Ulrich’s son Rudolf took over the family business. After Rudolf’s death in 1947, Hämmerli was sold and converted into a joint stock company. Meanwhile, SIG fulfilled numerous Swiss government and private orders for military small arms and their commercial counterparts. Its designs for the delayed blowback Sturmgewehre 57 and gas-operated Sturmgewehre 90 were adopted as Swiss military rifles. Their commercial derivatives in the SIG 510 and 550 series are regarded as the finest weapons of their type ever made.
As its firearms business expanded, SIG took over Hämmerli in 1973. Between 1973 and 1979, they jointly developed various products. Their flagship model was the service-grade SIG P210, a locked-breech single action semiautomatic pistol that refined the classic Browning pattern in its successive embodiments in the U.S. M1911, Soviet TT-1930, Belgian GP35, and French 1935 pistol designs. The P240, a version the P210 adapted to formal target shooting disciplines, was issued in three user-interchangeable calibers, .38 S&W wadcutter, .32 S&W Long, and .22 Long Rifle. The SIG-Hämmerli product line also included a family of rimfire target handguns such as semiautomatic 208, 211, 212, 214, and 215 pistols developed on the basis of the Walter Olympia design, along with single shot Free Pistol 150, 160, and 162.
In the early Seventies, SIG designed and developed a pistol that could be easily and cheaply mass produced with modern technology. In order to save on the production costs, they entered into collaboration with the German firm of J.P. Sauer & Son. Reestablished in Eckernfoerde in the state of Schleswig-Holstein near the Danish border, from its original location in Suhl in Thuringia, and specializing in sporting rifles and shotguns, Sauer made no sidearms since the end of World War II until the first of the SIG-Sauer pistols, the P220. Developed for the armed forces and adopted in 1975 by the Swiss army and the Japanese self defense forces, the P220 was made to measure up against the SIG P210 at 25 meters. It was not meant to do so at the longer ranges, where the P210 excels. The P220 and its Sauer-made successors have been deemed good enough for government work by numerous agencies around the world, while the P210 persisted as a civilian luxury.
In 1997, the firearms division of SIG was restructured and renamed SIG Arms Hämmerli AG. It was downsized in 2000, upon the expiration of government contracts for the manufacture of the Swiss assault rifle, when SIG transformed its firearm production facilities into a distribution center. On 30 November 2000 the corporate parent SIG divested itself of SIG Arms. Since then, SIG has rebranded itself as an industrial holding company best known for its beverage packaging products.
Two German investors, Michael Lüke and Thomas Ortmeier, purchased the arms section of SIG Neuhausen. This sale did not include the trademark thitherto applied to the SIG firearms. In its wake, Hämmerli reacquired a measure of independence, reverting to their original name, Hämmerli AG. In July of 2003 it relocated to Neuhausen and merged with the arms manufacture operated by Lüke and Ortmeier, then known as SAN Swiss Arms AG. Both companies now have the same owners and managing director, but claim to operate autonomously. Hämmerli continues to collaborate with Sauer, e.g. by supplying its aluminum stock supporting the Sauer barreled action of the 205 System.
SIGARMS, Inc. began in 1985 in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, as the U.S importer of SIG and SIG-Sauer handguns, including the SIG P210, the SIG-Sauer P220, and the pocket pistol, the SIG-Sauer P230. Two years later, SIGARMS moved to Herndon, Virginia, and introduced the SIG-Sauer P225 in 9mm, followed by the P226 and P228 in 9mm. By 1990, SIGARMS began stateside manufacture of handgun components, In 1992 it moved to its present location in Exeter, New Hampshire, and began the production of the P229 in .40 S&W in 1992. Since 2000, none of the firearms it imports or manufactures bears the distinctive oval trademark of SIG. Their connection with Schweizerische Industrie-Gesellschaft is by now merely historical.
Excellence in mechanical engineering often comes through the tedium of refining an invention of a great pioneer. As proven by their divestment from gunmaking, SIG never made a lasting commitment to the art. Their products responded to the profit motive in the service of military procurement. But their accomplishment speaks for itself.
John Moses Browning is credited with some of the most significant inventions in small arms. Prominent among them is the tilting barrel short recoil breech lock of the M1911, arguably the best means of retarding the cycling of a self-loading action of sidearms chambered for high pressure ammunition. The P210 is built around the same action. It differs from the M1911 in details that take its design to a logical conclusion.
Browning was born on January 23, 1855. He began his career as a gunmaker in 1879 by designing and manufacturing a breech loading single shot rifle in a company started jointly with his brothers in their native Ogden, Utah shortly after the death of their father. In 1883, Winchester Repeating Arms Company purchased the rights for its production. Browning’s subsequent collaborations with Winchester included the first successful repeating shotgun, the lever actionModel 1887; the .22 caliber pump action rifle, Model 1890; the exposed hammer pump action shotgun, Model 1897, equally capable of harvesting game birds in the field and sweeping up the battlefield as the “trench broom”; the first repeater rifle to accommodate smokeless powder cartridges fed from a tubular magazine, the lever action Model 1894; and Teddy Roosevelt’s “big medicine”, and another lever action rifle equipped with a box magazine designed for the .405 Winchester Center Fire (WCF) cartridge loaded with jacketed spitzer bullets, the Model 1895. These manually operated actions defined the benchmarks for lever and pump operated long guns, much as the contemporaneous designs produced between 1884 and 1898 in Germany by Peter Paul Mauser continue to define the state of the art for the manual turnbolt rifle action.
Whereas metallic centerfire cartridges had been introduced in 1873 with the 44-40 Winchester, their original loadings were ill suited for repeating firearms because of fouling produced by black powder. This changed in 1886, when French chemical engineer Paul Vieille invented smokeless powder that was safer, as well as faster- and cleaner-burning. Responding to this innovation, Browning sought to perfect the self-loading action in small arms. His association with Winchester’s competitor Colt Firearms led to the production of low-powered semiautomatic pistols of his design, chambered mainly in the modestly powered caliber .32 ACP, an abbreviation standing for Automatic Colt Pistol, and operating on the blowback principle. Browning’s collaboration with Colt also gave rise to the Model 1895 machine gun nicknamed the “potato digger” for its action lever kicking up ground dirt in operation, the remarkably successful gas-operated Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) of 1917, and a number of semiautomatic pistols.
On April 20, 1897 Browning received a patent for a self-loading short recoil-operated automatic pistol with a locked breech. Colt and Browning used this patent as the basis for the 1900 series pistols, chambered in the new caliber .38 ACP. Their design incorporated the breech block of the pistol into a slide that contained its barrel. The pistol’s barrel was locked to the slide in battery, by means of ribs cut in the barrel and fitting into the matching grooves cut into the slide. Two swinging toggle links attached to the front and rear of the barrel and pinned to the frame caused the barrel to drop free of the slide, as they moved rearwards under recoil. This initial motion disengaged the action lock, freeing the breech to open for ejecting the spent casing of the fired round. The next round would then be pushed upwards out of the detachable box magazine by the spring acting on the magazine follower, to slip under the spring tensioned extractor hook on its way to ride the loading ramp into the chamber of the barrel, propelled by the combustion energy stored in the recoil spring. Given a proper recoil spring weight, this cycle replicated in a semi-automatic sidearm the controlled feed principle embodied in the finest military turnbolt designs of the day.
This dropping barrel arrangement was greatly simplified in the M1911 Colt semiautomatic pistol, initially chambered for the .45 ACP round, developed in 1905 in a collaboration between Colt and Winchester. Browning improved his brainchild by eliminating the front link, and locating the barrel’s muzzle end in the front of the slide with a removable barrel bushing. Instead of dropping in the self-loading cycle, the barrel would swing its breech end downwards, pulled by the rear link.
The Colt .45 was purchased in large quantity by the Department of the Army. As the Model 1911A1, it was adopted as the standard-issue U.S. sidearm during both World War I and World War II. In addition to delivering about 2.5 million of its .45 pistols to the U.S. government, Colt was very successful in selling the same pistol commercially. Its design was enormously influential, the original Colt eventually inspiring copies or derivatives in the Soviet Union by Tokarev; in Czechoslovakia by Česká Zbrojovka (CZ); in Switzerland by SIG and Sphinx Arms; in Austria by Glock; in Italy by Tanfoglio and Pardini; in Spain by Astra Unceta, Llama Gabilondo, and Star Bonifacio Echeverria; in Germany by Sauer and Walther; and in America by Ruger and Smith & Wesson, along with hundreds of custom gunmakers. Even its simplified configuration, however, left a lot to be desired. Since the M1911 slide requires a removable bushing, its muzzle end barrel play can be readily controlled by hand fitting this part to minimal tolerances. But the extra clearance between the slide and the bushing adversely affects the consistency of barrel alignment to the slide, the single most crucial factor in determining practical handgun accuracy. These considerations motivated the development of the Colt Series 70 collet bushing design, which controlled the muzzle end of the barrel with self-sprung fingers. Unfortunately, it was plagued by breakage issues. Today, a similar effect might be achieved with spherical barrel bushings pioneered by Briley and popularized by Smith and Wesson, or flared bull barrels fitted directly to bushingless slides. This problem was solved more definitively in the final pistol design to incorporate Browning’s contribution, the Hi-Power or Grand Puissance (GP), left unfinished at the time of Browning’s death on 26 November, 1926, of heart failure in Liege, Belgium. Bequeathed to Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre (FN), the GP35 was completed by the FN engineer Dieudonné Saive, later renowned for work on the FN FAL. Saive superseded the M1911 removable spare part with a bushing permanently pinned into the slide. The GP35 also dispensed with the pivoting barrel link used to tilt the barrel in the recoil stroke of the M1911 in favor of a camlock ramp bearing against a steel lug staked into the frame. Most subsequent Browning pattern pistol designs incorporated both of these features.
Svizzeri sono armatissimi e liberissimi, gushed Niccolò Machiavelli in 1513. Whereas in testifying before the U.S. Congress against a 1935 handgun-registration bill, the pioneer of firearm forensics, Calvin H. Goddard, epitomized his ideas of connections between guns and crime with a reference to the permissive tranquility of Switzerland: “Any Swiss citizen may carry a pistol, his pockets may bulge with pistols, without a permit, but if he kills somebody he is out of luck.” At the time, these receptacles were likely to bulge with antiquated hardware. The officially issued Model 1929 Revolver, chambering the 7.5 Ordnance round ballistically similar to .32 ACP, had remained essentially unchanged since 1884, whereas the Model 1906/29 Parabellum, the direct descendant of the first semiautomatic pistol ever to be issued to a military force in 1900, was handicapped by chambering 7.65x21.5mm Parabellum, the bottlenecked round originally inherited from the Borchardt pistol by Georg Luger. This cartridge had been long since rendered obsolete in military service by its straight-walled counterpart, the 9x19mm Parabellum, by then well on the way to becoming the most popular pistol round of all time. In a tribute to the passion for target shooting complementing the neutrality of the Helvetic Federation, these arms combined moderate ballistic power with superb accuracy. But the approach of global warfare inspired a quest for a sidearm that delivered a stronger punch with equal precision.
In a rare concession to martial fashion, the next Swiss sidearm was to chamber the 9x19mm Parabellum instead of an indigenously developed cartridge. While some experimental variations of the Pistole 06/29 were produced in that chambering, the settings of trenches precluded reliance on the intricate toggle mechanism of the Luger pistol. Thus SIG turned to the next advance in refining the Browning tilting barrel action, made in 1934 by the Swiss designer Charles Petter, and embodied in the French military Modèle 1935 pistol. As manufactured by the French company Société Alsacienne des Constructions Mécaniques (SACM), this sidearm chambered the anemic 7.65 Long cartridge, but manifested advanced features in every other respect. Petter improved its construction by dispensing with a barrel bushing to machine the slide in a single piece with a differentially bored front opening. He also imitated the 1930 Soviet Tokarev innovation of containing the hammer and its lockwork in a single assembly removable by hand for cleaning and maintenance. Notwithstanding Tokarev’s prior art, Petter received patents in France (FR 782914), Switzerland (CH 185452), and the United States (U.S. Patent 2,139,203).
SIG licensed the Petter design in 1937. It served as the basis for a new service pistol that realized the culmination of Browning’s tilting barrel design. Max Müller, who headed SIG’s pistol design program, replaced the Browning-style swinging links used by Petter with a novel locking method using a patented kidney-shaped cutout in the lug under the chamber (CH 270873). Müller retained Petter’s spring-loaded extractor that proved to be far more durable and reliable than the self-sprung M1911 design. The M1911 action is designed to pick up rounds only from a loaded magazine, controlling their travel throughout the operating cycle. While closing the slide on an empty chamber does not stress the M1911 extractor, the most common cause of its breakage is snapping it over a round loaded in the chamber. The amount of pressure that a M1911 extractor places on the rim of a cartridge casing is regulated only by the curvature of its sprung body. Too much curvature results in excessive pressure, whereby the extractor prevents the cartridge from chambering, causing a failure to feed. Not enough curvature causes insufficient extractor tension, resulting in failures to extract or eject. Whereas the pivoting spring-loaded extractor of the Petter pistol follows the Tokarev pattern by relegating the control of extractor tension to a separate coil spring, resulting in a major improvement in reliability and serviceability, and enabling the extractor to snap over a cartridge dropped into the chamber without undue stress.
Müller modified Petter’s Tokarev-inspired unit construction hammer action by incorporating a two-stage trigger pull lever. He departed from Petter’s design by adding an integral feed ramp to the barrel. He also replaced Petter’s Browning style wide slide with rails facing inwards over the frame, with a narrow slide with rails facing outwards, running inside a Luger-style external rail housing built into the frame.
Several intermediate SIG pistol designs included 15 and 16 shot staggered column magazine variations. Their grip frames were judged too bulky by the Swiss testers, who favored the 8 shot single column magazine layout. The final version was designated SP 47/8, indicating the year of design completion and the magazine capacity. In most ways, it was a considerable refinement of the Browning design, as it had been further developed by Saive, Tokarev, and Petter. Whereas the bushing fixing the barrel at the muzzle end and the link controlling its travel through the recoil cycle enabled the M1911 to be tuned for maximum precision of barrel lockup to the slide, the integral slide and barrel cam on the SP 47/8 achieved better consistency in forgoing the flexibility by dispensing with these extra parts. Mechanical accuracy, as measured by groups shot out of a machine rest, was greatly improved by the inverted rail design of the SP 47/8 enabling more precise and durable slide to frame alignment. Assuming equal barrel to slide lockup, mechanical accuracy of a Browning design covaries with the arctangent of the ratio of the slide rails clearance to their length. While practical accuracy as guided by sight alignment may well exceed the parameters of mechanical accuracy through superior barrel lockup in battery, other factors being equal, longer slide rails go hand in hand with better accuracy for the same slide to frame clearances. Practical accuracy is aided by making the trigger action on the SP 47/8, as determined by the sear engagement within the field replaceable unit construction hammer unit, far easier to tune and maintain.
The SP 47/8 is a single action locked breech self-loading pistol with a detachable 8-round single stack magazine. While it is acclaimed for making a design contribution in its inverted slide rail arrangement, this ostensibly novel arrangement duplicates the receiver to frame interface of the previous Swiss service pistol, the Georg Luger-designed Parabellum, equally known for its superlative accuracy. The M1911 slide rails face outwards of the frame. The GP35 improves on this by having two sets of rails, the inner and the outer. Given equal clearances, the end-to-end length of slide rails is the most important factor in the alignment of the slide to the frame. In the final version of the GP35, Saive nearly doubled the slide-to-frame engagement of the M1911. The SP 47/8 design has nearly twice the rail engagement of the GP35. Thanks to this feature, the Swiss pistol combines superior slide alignment with sufficient working clearances.
The SP 47/8 became the first, and to date has remained the only sidearm to amalgamate the advantages of Luger precision with Browning practicality, even as it avoids the respective drawbacks of high maintenance and mediocre accuracy. It did so by combining tight manufacturing tolerances with narrow operating clearances. Tolerance is the amount by which the actual size of the part varies from its nominal size. This variation depends on the precision of the manufacturing process. Tight tolerances are advantageous in all applications. Clearance is the dimensional difference in size between the bearing surfaces of a moving part and the part that supports it. Positive manufacturing tolerances determine the maximum and minimum size for both parts, and thereby the range of clearances. Some clearance is required to avoid binding the moving part in operation through contamination by dirt or differential thermal expansion. Whereas an M1911 requires some looseness to operate reliably in the field, the SP 47/8 is in no way handicapped by its tight clearances. The Luger, the Colt, and the SIG are equally capable of fulfilling their combat mission in the hands of a skillful and conscientious operator. But the SIG stands alone in its unique blend of features responding to the demands of military service and civilian use.
Upon winning the Swiss military trials, the SP 47/8 pistol was adopted as the Pistole 49 in military nomenclature, and designated as the SIG P210 for the civilian market. All military pistols made by SIG were chambered in 9x19mm. The military issue P49 was serially numbered with the A prefix. The Swiss military production run of P49 pistols started with the serial number A100001 in September of 1949. It ended in the early Seventies with the serial number A213110. The decommissioned Swiss military pistols are usually stamped with a letter P, designating private ownership.
One of the Swiss military specifications was that the service pistol had to be equally usable unmodified for competitions at 50 meters as its predecessor, the Swiss Parabellum 06/29, chambered in 7.65x21.5mm. The Swiss pistol target, with its 10 ring a disk of 5 centimeters, just under 2" in diameter, was shot at a distance of 50m (54.68 yards). SIG zeroes the P210 with Swiss military issue ammunition with a point of impact placed 10cm above the point of aim in order to allow a six o’clock hold on the standard target. SIG zeroes the pistols individually and in most cases installs a front sight marked with the letter N. This sight has a post 5.9 mm tall. Each pistol had to produce groups under 5 centimeters with the standard Swiss military issue PP41 match quality 9mm Para pistol ammunition. Despite being handicapped by the tapered case 9x19mm Parabellum ammunition, inherently less accurate than the bottlenecked 7.65x21mm Parabellum, the P210 readily achieved its design brief. This is attested for every pistol by an enclosed test target fired at that distance with standard ordnance ammunition from a dated lot.
It bears notice that this performance is obtained from service grade sidearms, whose reliability and ruggedness in virtue of refinement of design and excellence of construction significantly exceed the qualities of a comparable military issue M1911 pistol. By contrast, even after the latter pistol has been accurized for bullseye competition by the United States Army Marksmanship Unit, its performance with caliber .45 Match hardball (full metal jacket) ammunition or wadcutter is expected to yield at 50 yards an average extreme spread for three consecutive groups of ten rounds each not exceeding 2.5 inches with no group larger than 3 inches for wadcutter pistols and 3 inches average for hardball, with no hardball group exceeding 3.5 inches. When the M1911 pistol is set up for service grade reliability, its average shot spread scores tend to double in size.
While the mechanical accuracy of the P210 is due to its superior consistency in aligning the bore axis of the barrel with the frame, its practical accuracy is owed additionally to its excellent trigger action. Proper trigger control is the essential first step in mastering a firearm, and the shooter who has achieved deliberate consistency in releasing its sear will approach the best results achievable from a mechanical rest, while shooting offhand. Mechanical accuracy plays a fundamental part in improving bullseye scores, once the visual and kinesthetic basics have been mastered. The excuse of not needing a gun that shoots better than oneself is unacceptable in the light of reason. The mechanical accuracy of a given firearm is characterized by the figure described in the target plane by bullets thrown by it downrange, with its frame fixed in a machine rest. Likewise, the shooter’s physiological capacity to hold and aim the firearm in question is characterized by the figure described in the target plane by his actual points of aim deviating from his intended point of aim. To the extent that deviation from the point of aim is as likely in any direction as in another, both of these figures approximate circles. It follows that the mechanical looseness compounds the human error regardless of their ratio, as the center of the circle defined by mechanical dispersion ranges inside the circle defined by the shooter’s capacity to hold and aim.
The P210 has a two stage trigger like the m/96 Mauser and the M1 Garand. It is characterized by two definite stages of travel, a relatively lengthy takeup followed by a crisp release. Most of the P210 hammer/sear engagement is released during the trigger takeup, as evidenced by the hammer retraction that takes place through the first stage of its trigger pull. The M1911 has a single stage trigger comparable to a single action revolver. In a single stage design the trigger is directly linked to the sear. As soon as the shooter’s trigger finger takes up the slack, the trigger starts moving the sear. Whereas in a two stage design the first stage completes the rearward movement of the hammer, whereupon the second stage of the trigger pull moves the sear to release the hammer. (The striker serves the same role in hammerless designs.) Additionally, the P210 differs from the M1911 in having its trigger pivot on a pin rather than slide in a channel. This method of operation reduces lateral play and results in a smoother sear engagement.
The springs used in the P210 trigger action differ between the military issue and the target model variations as regards the trigger spring (Abzugsfeder — part #31 in the above diagram). They are identical as regards the sear spring (Abzugsstangenfeder — part #24). In a standard military issue P210, the permissible first stage weight may range between 2000 and 2500 grams. Replacing the trigger spring by a sport trigger spring (Sportsabzugsfeder) would reduce the trigger pressure by about 500 grams. The trigger pull is somewhat adjustable on the P210 via mainspring preload (parts #18 and #19), with additional overtravel adjustment provided on the target models via a set screw (part #42) accessible through the rear of the grip frame after the stocks have been removed. Swiss pistol target shooting competitions require a trigger weight above 1500 grams.
Like all Swiss firearms, the P210 is designed and built to be cleaned and lubricated by Automatenfett gun grease. The current, graphite-based formulation was developed for the STGW57 battle rifle. Traditionalists will seek the old yellow Waffenfett, also suitable for treating wooden gun stocks.
The Swiss Army serial numbers range from 1949 at A100000 to A213110 in 1975, adding up to 113,111 pistols. The 4th KTA (die Kriegstechnische Abteilung des Eidgenössischen Militärdepartements) delivery began with A109711 in 1952. The range from A109711 through A120500 is transitional. The range from A120501 through A213110 comprises the most common final Swiss military variation.
The Swiss Army pistol ammunition is the Pistolen Patrone 41, made by RUAG. This 124gr. FMJ 9x19mm round comes in 24-round boxes, which suffice to load three magazines. Its headstamps are the same as for the RUAG GP90 rifle round, comprising a T for the factory location in Thun, placed above the last two digits of the year of manufacture. Like the RUAG rifle ammunition, in the course of production it replaced its original nickel alloy bullet jacket with a jacket made of copper. The PP41 was originally produced for the then newly introduced, toggle-operated W+F MP Model 41 (Furrer Model 1941) and the Solothurn MP 41 (Suomi Model 1931) submachine guns, at the time when the standard issue KTA pistol round was 7.65mm Para. It was loaded with WIMMIS, a slow burning pistol powder. According to the KTA Reglement 53.103 d, it develops 2600 bar chamber pressure. (The published maximum chamber pressure for 9mm Para per CIP is 2350 bar.) Available for purchase at pistol ranges throughout Switzerland, and distributed free of charge to Swiss citizens during Schützenfesten, unlike other RUAG ammunition, it is restricted from export, but may be found in small quantities on the collector market. It is a high-pressure combat round, accurate albeit not optimized for target shooting. The PP41 was adopted as the standard load for the P49, and in due course issued for the P75. The P210 loaded with PP41 remains a reference standard in Switzerland for use in centerfire pistol competitions. It is unmatched by any of its Browning pattern predecessors in strength, ruggedness, and durability. Its principal drawback is the cost of manufacture.
The post World War II era found the Danish military and police agencies searching for a new sidearm to replace a hodgepodge of issue weapons ranging from the Bergmann-Bayard to the Husqvarna m/40, the Swedish-made variant of the Finnish Lahti L35. To this end, SIG offered its SP 47/8 for testing and evaluation in 1948. It delivered the first shipment of the ensuing Danish contract m/49 later that year to the Danish Haerens Tekniske Korps (Army Technical Corps). The subsequent shipments were designated for the Danish Forsvarets Krigsmateriel Forvaltning (War Materials Administration). Each pistol carried a special marking comprising a Danish crown over the agency initials HTK or FKF. The first m/49 pistols featured walnut grips with horizontal grooves and block sights zeroed for 30 meters, as distinct from the more typical 50 meter zero found in other P210 variants. Later pistols utilized checkered grips of black plastic. Further m/49 variants omitted the lanyard ring or included a loaded chamber indicator. The least common variant, created for the Danish State Police, used an aluminum frame. Danish m/49 pistols have their own serial numbers ranging from 0001 to 16607 HTK, from 16608 to 25513 FKF, and from 35025 to 36441 HTK.
In 1995, nearly all of the pistols produced under the Danish contract were repurchased by Hämmerli and classified as follows:
Category A — Used, original polished finish, very good condition;
Category B — Used, original matte finish, very good condition;
Category C — Used, factory reconditioned in matte finish;
Category D — Used, original fair condition.
Category F — Used, upgraded by Hämmerli.
Packaged in new gold-printed blue cardboard boxes featuring the m/49 designation under a Danish Crown, the m/49 was released into civilian channels. Each box bears a small white label on the side of its top, identifying the pistol’s original arsenal grading, serial number, configuration, and chambering.
In 1998, DS Arms in Round Lake, IL, USA, began the importation of the m/49. Previously, the m/49 was seldom encountered in the United States, mostly as imported in small lots under the ATF Form 6. Some of the m/49 pistols arrived on the civilian market bearing the original finish, in anywhere from 40-80% condition, while others were sold as arsenal refinished, bearing a Category C designation. The arsenal refinishing took place in 1978, whereupon these pistols were returned to Danish service, causing wear typical of a service pistol, with small nicks and gouges, and finish thinned at the muzzle and at high points, particularly along the front of the frame.
A small number of m/49 pistols was chambered for 9x21mm ammunition, most likely so configured for sale in nations that forbid civilians to possess firearms chambered for military calibers.
The slides, frames, barrels, and hammer action assemblies of all military pistols bear matching serial numbers. Military magazines are seamless and unnumbered. The mechanical condition of military pistols indicates very little internal wear, with sharply rifled, corrosion-free barrels. Their mechanical operation is smooth and strong. The triggers break crisply. The magazine and manual safeties function reliably, as do the triggers and hammer action assemblies. The recoil spring units are resilient, implying proper maintenance habits.
The commercial SP 47/8 and the P210 were made in both Parabellum chamberings of 9x19mm and the 7.65x21mm. The SP 47/8 production run, originally bearing its own serial numbers without a letter prefix, beginning with 6001, continued into the Fifties, merging with the P210 civilian production numbered with the P prefix. Starting in 1965, from serial number P57001 onwards, the P210 frame was strengthened and its slide heat treatment was improved to resist cracking reported by Swedish shooters. The Swedish shooting community enjoys access to hot Bofors M39B 9x19mm ammunition, banned from import to the U.S. owing to its unmatched capacity for penetrating body armor.
The commercial manufacture of the P210 was paused for several years, starting in the late Seventies. Between 1983 and 1984, SIG introduced a new production series of the P210, switched over to Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) manufacture of major components, as illustrated in the 2003 Swiss Arms catalogue. Starting with the serial number P97601 and continuing with pistols serial numbered from P300001, frames milled out of bar stock replaced frames milled out of forgings. The CNC production run is distinguishable by an angled rather than a radiused transition from the frame dustcover to the frame rail housing, later on supplemented by a stepped reinforcement rib found under the frame rail housing aft of the slide stop hole. A matching relief cut machined in the slide stop pin prevents old style pins from seating all the way in the new style frames.
The latest production run of SIG P210 involved very little hand fitting. Their tight clearances were due to the high tolerances of CNC manufacture and superlative quality of raw materials. Subcaliber conversion kits, along with smaller spare parts, can generally be drop-fitted to the P210 pistols made prior to the mid-Eighties.
The P210-1 variation has a glossy polished finish and fixed low-profile sights. It is equipped with grips of chequered walnut. It bears the Swiss shield atop a slide hump in front of the rear sight dovetail. It was sold commercially and widely used by Swiss police units.
The P210-2 variation is the civilian counterpart to the military P49. It has a dull black bead blasted finish and standard fixed sights. It is equipped with black plastic grips with a chequered pattern molded in. It also bears the Swiss shield.
The P210-3 variation has a glossy polished finish and standard fixed sights. It bears the Swiss shield. It is fitted with a loaded chamber indicator behind the slide ejection port. Reportedly, the loaded chamber indicator was discontinued as likely to interfere with the self-loading operation of the pistol. These pistols were primarily sold to Swiss police agencies.
The P210-4 variation has a dull black bead blasted finish and standard fixed sights. It is equipped with a loaded chamber indicator, and typically lacks the standard lanyard loop in the grip frame. A special production run of 5,000 P210-4 was sold to the German Border Police (Bundesgrenzschutz or BGS) in the early Fifties, bearing a serial number ranging from D 0001 to D 5000 and German proof marks. A small commercial production run of P210-4 in the same serial number range lacks the serial number prefix and comes equipped with the lanyard loop.
The P210-5 variation was introduced in the late Fifties as the successor to the long barreled target version of the SP 47/8, typically equipped with adjustable sights. Its longer 150mm or 180mm barrel protrudes from the front opening of the slide, with the front sight mounted on a collar attached to it with threaded rings and fixed with a Woodruff key. The P210-5 usually has a standard slide, with its front sight channel typically filled up by a special blank plate. The P210-5 also has the target trigger, which includes an internal screw adjustment for trigger overtravel. It is normally recognizable from the outside by its parabolic front curve. Some examples are built on the thicker and stronger heavy frame made for Hofmann und Reinhard in Zürich in the mid Seventies, and so marked by a stamping on the right hand side of the frame. This modification was meant to stabilize the pistol for offhand aiming. An additional batch of heavy frame pistols bears serial number ranges indicating production in the Nineties. The SAN production is built entirely on the new streamlined style heavy frame replacing the original faceted variation.
The P210-6 variation was introduced in the early Fifties as the successor to the target version of the SP 47/8. It is equipped with the target trigger and a standard 120mm barrel fitting flush with the front opening of the slide. It has been made with the heavy frame and the standard frame wearing wood or plastic grip plates, equipped with the standard military pattern sights or the high profile front sight matched with the click-adjustable rear sight.
The P210-7 variation is a very rare .22l.r. rimfire, blowback-operated version of the P210, produced in a series of 480 pistols in the P40XXX serial number range. This chambering is more often encountered as a conversion kit comprising a lower-profile slide, non-reciprocating barrel, light recoil spring, and a .22 l.r. magazine of a complex folded and welded or pinned shape in at least two different patterns, designed to hold 8 rimfire cartridges inside the standard magazine well. It comes equipped with the standard military pattern sights or the high profile front sight and click-adjustable rear sight. In the latter configuration, it is equipped with a special hammer that has an abbreviated cocking tang and is cut down on top of the striking surface to clear the rear sight blade protruding beyond the edge of the rimfire slide.
The P210-8 was introduced in 2001. It differs substantially from the earlier models in having a lateral button-operated magazine release, omitting the magazine disconnect safety, and adding a wider safety lever and an extended tang. It is built on a heavy frame. Léon Crottet collaborated with the SIG factory in Neuhausen in the development of the P210-8 and its successors.
In 2003, the P210-6 and P210-5 families were extended with P210-6S and P210-5LS, which inherited the extended tang and the lateral magazine release of the P210-8. The 2003 SIGARMS brochure depicted four SIG P210 models: the old-style target pistols P210-6 and P210-5, the standard 120mm barrel and the extended 150mm barrel, with heavy frames and bottom magazine releases, and the new generation P210-6S (Sport) and P210-5LS (Long Sport), both with heavy frames, grooved front straps, extended frame tangs, side mounted magazine catches, and ergonomic magazine extensions. The interim P210-5S variation of the 210-5 boasted a standard slide extended with a lumpy barrel clamp-on instead of the integral piece of the P210-5LS fitting flush with the end of its long 150mm barrel. The ongoing availability of a 180mm barrel invited the aftermarket construction of the Wyatt Earp commemorative variation, combining the long slide of the P210-5LS with the barrel-mounted front sight of the original P210-5.
The SP47/8 magazine differs from the P210 magazine, lacking the crimp on the upper left hand side of its body and the matching relief cut in the magazine follower, as found in the latter. There exist three kinds of P210 magazines. Early magazine bodies, manufactured for SIG by Mec-Gar, are of seamless construction, whereas more recent ones, manufactured by Sauer, are folded in the back in a dovetail pattern. Lastly, the magazines retained by the lateral button latch of the P210-8, P210-6S, and P210-5LS can be recognized by the corresponding cutout in the magazine body. These magazines are also equipped with ergonomically extended floorplates.
All P210 pistols come with a numbered test target indicating the number of shots fired, the range, and the date of the ammunition lot. The factory box also includes an instruction manual, and a plastic magazine loader.
Choosing a P210 is a matter of deciding between rugged simplicity and sporting refinement. While the factory micrometer sight presents an excellent sight picture, it is ill suited for holster carry. A standard issue pattern pistol is better suited for defensive application than the target pistols, in virtue of lacking the trigger stop screw, which might back out under recoil. Shopping for an older pistol purchased second-hand is mostly a matter of watching out for the evidence of wear and damage by botched gunsmithing. Each pistol should be evaluated for the quality of its fit, the wear of its finish, and the state of its preservation. Pistols bearing the original finish often have frames faded to a straw color, while the slide remains faded blue. Such discoloration is normal, attributable to the aging of oxidized blue finish on steel that has been heat treated to different degrees. Every P210 should have a tight slide to frame fit with negligible lateral play at any point in the recoil cycle. Its barrel lockup should be tight in battery. The slide should retract smoothly, with no discernible pause or hesitation. The trigger action should be slick in both stages of the trigger pull, with a palpable transition point between them. A positive reset in the first stage must take place upon releasing the finger pressure short of pulling the trigger all the way through the sear release. There should be no lash after the sear has been released. A proper trigger disconnector activation takes place after about 1/8" of slide retraction. Very little hammer movement may take place when pulling the trigger while the safety is on. The principal signs of wear can be found in dings on the breech face, the firing pin stop plate, and the recoil shoulder located inside the frame dustcover. The wear of the finish from the frame rails and slide tracks is usually proportional to the count of rounds fired through the pistol. A common sign of ham-fisted abuse is an arc traced on the left hand side of the frame by the latch tongue of the slide stop lever accidentally pivoted downwards after missing its proper position during reassembly.
A significant flaw of the P210 design is that its safety locks only the trigger, leaving the firing pin free to move around. By contrast, the frame-mounted thumb safety lever on the M1911 and the GP35 blocks the sear. Additionally, the grip safety on the former pistol blocks the trigger until depressed. The Petter slide-mounted safety lever improves on these arrangements by locking the firing pin upon engagement. Additionally, automatic firing pin locks that disengage at the end of the rearward motion are incorporated in the Series 80 M1911 design by Colt and recent Mk III variation of the GP35 by FN. In this aspect, the P210 is inferior in security all of these pistols. Unfortunately, the unit construction of its hammer action group discourages any locking connection between the sear incorporated therein and the frame-mounted safety lever. However, the P210 appears to leave room for an automatic plunger-style firing pin locking device. Since 1939 many M1911 pistols have been equipped with the firing pin safety mechanism invented by William M. Swartz. It is currently used in pistols made by Smith & Wesson and Kimber. The Swartz safety releases the firing pin lock whenever the grip safety is depressed by a normal firing grip. A relief cut on the right hand side behind the sear witness port of the P210 hammer housing could accommodate the plunger for connecting to the existing safety lever or a retrofitted grip safety device. In its present form, the P210 is liable to discharge accidentally if it falls from a sufficient height on a sufficiently hard surface while a round is chambered, even if the safety is set. In our litigious society, this amounts to a serious safety issue.
The P210 is equipped with a magazine safety device (Magazinsicherung, part #34 in the above diagram) that in no way interferes with the trigger pull. Unlike the GP35 plunger that impinges upon the magazine body and rubs against it throughout the trigger pull, the P210 configuration is a wedge at the end of a leaf spring, which springs the trigger rod (Abzugschiene, part #26) out of its engagement with the sear (Abzugshebel or Fangklinke, part #23) whenever the magazine is removed from the grip frame. Once the magazine has been inserted in its well, the top of its body springs aside the wedge of the magazine safety, enabling the trigger spring (part #31) to push the trigger rod upwards, connecting it with the sear. At this point, the magazine safety device does not make any contact with the firing mechanism. This fact can be readily ascertained by observing the operation of the hammer action after removing the grips. The magazine safety device may be dismantled by removing the grip plates (#36 and #37) and unscrewing its retaining screw (#35). It is reinstalled in the reverse order of the dismantling, ensuring that the screw is properly tightened and verifying the springing of the trigger rod (#26) by the magazine safety device.
Other features of the P210 have inspired grumbling amidst its owners. The short tang of the P210 exposes the web of the shooter’s hand to being pinched by the hammer under the cycling of the slide. There are four ways to deal with hammer bite, in an increasing order of manliness: (i) weld up, glue, or bolt on an aftermarket beavertail frame tang extension; (ii) stone down the hammer tang about 1/8", as done by many Swiss target shooters; (iii) wear a shooting glove or a Band-Aid; and (iv) treat it as a character building opportunity. Real men look forward to love bites.
The P210 heel magazine catch is cumbersome in operation, though far less prone to accidental release during carry than the side-mounted button of the M1911 and GP35. Many competitive shooters find it an impediment to using the P210 in timed events that require rapid reloads. But for defensive use, reliable and consistent magazine positioning and retention is by far the most significant parameter affecting semiauto pistol reliability. The heel latch system ensures it better than the vast majority of alternative designs. A brief look at the bearing surfaces suffices to show that the lateral release is inferior in this regard. Something along the lines of Don Giovanni machismo might account for a shooter being more concerned with dropping a magazine at will than keeping it in place. Men secure in their mindset may find that their priorities differ. But the manliest of them might find themselves stymied by the loop of the P210 magazine catch, liable to break off when the pistol is used for a buttstroke against a rocky noggin, or fired braced off a hard rest. The extended magazine floorplate, made and sold by Karl Nill, affords the preferred solution to this predicament.
A double column magazine of the SP 47/16 prototypes might have been an improvement not only on the account of the extra rounds, but in virtue of better accommodating the tapered 9x19mm case. On the other hand, in its present form the P210 makes an excellent concealed carry pistol for anyone concerned with hitting whatever he is aiming at. Owing to its slim profile, its rounded wraparound grip design, and the absence of sharp corners and edges on the butt, it is one of the best packing service sidearms. The adjustable micrometer sight is the only part likely to snag on clothing. The rounded corners on the factory contrast sights eliminate this concern.
Good holsters are hard to come by. Famous makers have been known to screw up. The author’s favorite rigs are made for him by Josh Bulman. Bulman’s cowhide holsters are very reasonably priced. Shooters who tend to be hard on leather would be well advised to pay extra to have them made out of shell cordovan. It is not a typical leather in the conventional sense of tanned skin, found within the epidermis and dermis. The cordovan shell is the vegetable tanned subcutaneous layer that covers the equine posterior. In this writer’s vocational capacity alternating between a gadfly and a horse’s arse, he counts it among his favorite substances. Any reader who hates getting his leather scuffed or soaked through, or just wants it to match his favorite pair of Alden wingtips would be best advised to follow suit.
Barrels with rifling specially designed for lead bullets are available as a drop-in option to fit any P210 irrespectively of its variation. The standard barrel twist rate of the P210 is too fast to stabilize lead bullets. Other available accessories for the P210 include blank or serially numbered 150mm and 180mm barrels chambered in 9x19mm or 7.65x21mm Parabellum or .22 Long Rifle. The latter chambering comes as part of the .22 Long Rifle conversion kit that comprises a specially lowered lightweight slide, a light recoil spring, and one or two magazines with corrugated bodies, designed to position 8 slim rimfire rounds in the centerfire magazine well. A special short hammer assembly is available for accommodating the use of a rimfire conversion kit with adjustable sights.
Standard and contrast front sights are made in eight heights ranging in from 5.1mm to 6.5mm in 0.2mm increments, with matching standard and contrast rear sights; click-adjustable rear sights and matching front sights exist in four heights ranging in from 7.5mm to 9.0mm in 0.5mm increments. Different front sight pushers are made for the standard pistol, the extended barrel, and the rimfire conversion kit. In servicing sights, the dovetailed parts must be pushed out from the left to the right and reinstalled from the right to the left. Fixed sights on the P210 can be regulated for windage or elevation with the front sight pusher, by moving the front sight blade sideways or replacing it with a blade of a different height. As illustrated in the factory parts diagram, the elevation screw (Höhenstellschraube, #8571) on the factory adjustable "micrometer" rear sight is turned down 4 full turns in a shooting setting zeroed for 25 yards. With a higher setting suitable for 50 meter ranges, the shooter may experience this screw backing out under recoil. Nonetheless, with a properly machined rear sight, the steel ball (Stahlkugel, #8563) and the elevation spring (Höhenfeder, #8577) should be held captive by the rear sight slide (Visierblatt, #8561). Unless the elevation screw pops out free of the threads in the sight base (Visierfuss, #8569), the micrometer rear sight assembly should stay in one piece, provided that the free length of the spring and its rate are in spec. Similarly, because it does not employ a lock washer, the stop screw for the action casing (Arretierschraube zu Schlossgehäuse hinten, #8546) can and will back out under recoil, unless it has been fixed in place with an adhesive such as blue Loctite.
There are several types of recoil springs fitted to the P210. All of them are fitted onto a two-piece, full-length guide rod held together with a solid transverse pin. The standard spring has a preload of 2.5kg and 4.8kg with the slide drawn to the far rear position. This spring has no special markings. Besides the standard spring there is also a special spring for use with the drop-in barrel chambered for the 7.65x21.5mm Parabellum cartridge, marked “7,65”. Another one goes with the .22 set, being so marked. A special strong spring was furnished for Scandinavian and Finnish orders. It is marked “9,0 S”. The preload of this spring is 3.4kg and 7.3kg with the slide drawn to the far rear position.
Special cleaning kits exist for the centerfire and rimfire calibers. Finally, French-fitted carrying cases accommodate solitary or kitted pistols.
A serviceable P210 will outlast its owner. The next generation will thank him for keeping his weapon original. Nevertheless, some P210 pistols can be seen more or less tastefully customized by their owners. It is unlikely that their collector value follows David Hume’s relativist precept by residing in the eye of the beholder. In the long run, there is not a lot of random fluctuation in the market for museum grade artefacts. Prices tend to rise and fall on objective information regarding their tradition and provenance. Custom gunsmiths seldom make the cut. The weapons that get collected rate on the integrity of their manufacture. Mauser bolt actions are always collectable; Holland & Holland M98-based bolt action hunting rifles may also qualify; but Griffin & Howe M98-based bolt actions are unlikely to make the cut. Factory engraving adds to collector value, whereas aftermarket engraving usually detracts from it.
In addition to beavertail and magazine floorplates, Karl Nill makes a range of excellent service- and target-style grips for the P210. The iron rear sight of the P210 can be replaced with a base for a Docter red dot sight by Evolution Gun Works. For shooters who wish to retain iron sights, there exists a quick detachable scope mount for the P210, made by RoCo.
Many of the innovative features of the P220 and its descendants contributed to their greater safety. Thus Sauer’s contribution to the SIG-Sauer collaboration included a decocking lever that lowered the hammer to a safety notch, which first appeared on the Sauer Model 38, produced during the latter years of the Third Reich. Other innovations were meant mainly to lower the production costs. Thus the SIG-Sauer P220 used the mass production expedients pioneered by Sauer and other German arms makers as a wartime time cost saving measures. The precisely made Browning breech locking arrangement mating the barrel lugs with recesses cut into a one-piece forged steel slide was replaced with fitting the squared rear shoulder of the barrel into the front of the ejection port cut out in the slide stamped out of sheet metal, with a separate breechblock pinned into it. Instead of machining the frame out of a tough steel forging, SIG-Sauer fitted a steel feed ramp and trigger housing into a frame made of a light aluminum alloy. Overall, the meticulous principles of Swiss precision gave way to the planned obsolescence of disposable hardware.
The slides and frames of the original P210 were machined from steel forgings. Owing to the additional expense of materials and production efforts, this technique cost much more than machining from roughly shaped castings. Other factors being equal, solid steel parts machined from forgings surpass cast parts in strength, durability, and reliability. The use of such parts is recognized as a premium firearms attribute. (Steel forgings, destruction tested by FN in their FAL receiver construction trials, yielded twice the service life of similar castings, at 80,000 vs. 40,000 rounds.) Contrariwise, the use of inexpensive stampings in the SIG-Sauer slides was reflected in their disparagement as Blechpistolen, sheet metal pistols. Nor was the real SIG pistol immune from cost-cutting measures. Starting sporadically in SN range from P97601 to P99999, and continuing with increasing consistency from SN P300001, the P210 manufacturing techniques substituted frames CNC-machined out of steel billet for frames milled out of steel forgings. A hammer housing cast by Grünig and Elmiger replaced the forged part around the SN range of P311000. The oval SIG brand disappeared around the SN range of P323000. Swiss Arms Neuhausen ceased its production of the final batch of P210 pistols in December of 2005. Thus ended the story of the only true SIG pistol.
— The author thanks Michael Christiansen, Will Durant, Paul Kümin, Tobias Lundgren, Daniel Ott, Chris Swimm, and Frank “Guisan” van Binnendijk for their generous contributions of information incorporated in this article.