Springfield Armory SA-35 Pistol, by Pat Cascio

Springfield Armory says we shouldn’t call their new SA-35 a “Classic” but I disagree with them. If ever a handgun was a classic, it is their SA-35. This is an updated version of the famous Browning Hi-Power 9mm handgun. As many may be aware, Browning discontinued their Hi-Power pistols – all versions – a few years ago. I don’t know the thinking behind their decision, but it was a mistake.

John Browning, passed before he completed the design on the Hi-Power, and his French assistant actually completed the design. It was the first double-stack 9mm handgun in the world, and it held a whopping 13-rounds of ammo. If memory serves me correctly, Hi-Powers was used by about 90 different military organizations all over the world. It was even used during WWII by the Germans as well as allies like Canada.  To explain this: The Germans took over the FN  factory when they invaded Belgium, and forced continued production. Meanwhile, a group of Belgian engineers escaped and eventually settled in Canada and oversaw the production of “inch” Canadian Inglis Hi-Powers. Both the Waffenampt-marked Hi-Powers and Inglis Hi-Powers are quite sought-after, by collectors. The British SAS also used the Hi-Power for a lot of years, before switching over to something “newer” and that doesn’t always mean better.

Over the years, I’ve probably owned at least a half dozen Hi-Powers. This included some clones and licensed versions and never had any problems with them – no matter what country they came from. The last Hi-Power I owned came from Argentina. It wasn’t the best-looking version, and it had a painted-on black finish, that in short order chipped off. However, the gun never missed a beat when it came to functioning. This was back in 1989, and if I recall, I purchased this gun for the sum of $199. That was well worth it.

The small gun shop I haunt in Lebanon, Oregon rarely sees any Hi-Powers come in the door. The last one was about four years back, and it was a limited edition from the SHOT Show that year. This gun was as-new with a digital US Army camo coating on it. I thought long and hard about purchasing it. When I had decided to buy the gun, I learned that it had sold the day before. The gun store owner wasn’t happy either – he had decided to purchase it as well, but it sold. We both still talk about the one that got away.

The original Hi-Power did have some shortcomings, one was the tiny sights – really tiny. Secondly, the thumb safety – it took two men and a boy to apply and disengage it – talk about stiff! Lastly, I didn’t care for the magazine disconnect – you couldn’t fire the gun without a magazine in it, and it also made for a pretty rough trigger pull. The first thing I used to do whenever I got a Hi-Power, was to use a pin punch to remove this little “shoe” so the guns had a better trigger pull. My dear friend, and fellow gun writer, now long gone, Chuck Karwan, also loved the Hi-Power. However the hammer always bit into the meat of his chunky hands – drawing blood – and it didn’t matter it if had the rounded hammer or an extended longer hammer, it drew blood.

An Updated Version

In 2021, Springfield Armory introduced their rendition of the Hi-Power, that they simply call the SA-35. To say that Springfield improved on the Hi-Power, is putting it lightly. They started out with a forged slide, frame, and barrel, so this gun can handle any ammo you feed it. Secondly, they improved on the barrel’s feed ramp, so it will now feed any type of 9mm bullet configuration you might stoke through the gun. The dreaded magazine disconnect is gone, and this gun has a great trigger pull – right around five pounds – and it is crisp, too.

The hammer is rounded. However it won’t bite into the web of your hand at all. The thumb safety is easy to snick on/off without any effort, too. The sights are larger and very useable – something Browning never thought much about. I like the matte black finish on the gun, too – very business-like. Plus, this version of the Hi-Power comes with a 15-round magazine instead of the old 13-round. These are made by Mec-Gar in Italy, and they produce magazines for a lot of the big name gun makers, so you know they are good magazines. Sadly, the gun only comes with one magazine. However, you can find spare mags at Springfield or check on-line for them. The good news is that the SA-35 accept original 13-round Hi-Power magazines.

The finely checkered walnut wood grips are expertly made, giving you a great grip on the gun as well – no matter the weather. The SA-35 has a 4.7-inch barrel, and weighs in at 31.5 ounces. The gun will fit in many of the same holsters (but not all) that can carry a 1911 handgun in. If the holster is a polymer version, the gun may fit too loosely. However, it will fit in a lot of leather holsters that are made for a 1911.

The Hi-Power and the SA-35 have always fit my hands perfectly – compared to a lot of other double-stack 9mm handguns, I’ve always thought the Hi-Power was the best feeling pistol out of all of them. And, I’ve never run across anyone who didn’t like the way the gun felt in their hands.

Springfield Armory told me that they sold out of their very first run, on the day the SA-35 was released – nothing like this ever happened before so I’m told. It was close to two months before their second run was available The guns are still hard to find – some dealers on the Internet, were seen selling this gun for over a thousand dollars. Full-retail is only $699 and this is a great bargain for this gun. My local FFL has 50 of them on back-order and they are adding names to the waiting list all the time. The gun is “that” popular.

As a rule, I don’t read any gun articles by other writers, who are covering the same gun – I don’t want to be influenced by what anyone else has to say about a gun – so I passed on the several articles I’ve seen on the SA-35. Now, with that said, I haven’t heard anything negative about the SA-35, either – that’s a good thing.

My Shooting Tests

From Black Hills Ammunition I had a good selection of 9mm ammo for testing. Right off the bat, I’m happy to report to problems with this SA-35. It never missed a beat, no matter what I fed it. I had the 115-gr FMJ from Black Hills, as well as their 124-gr JHP, 115-gr JHP, and their 115-gr JHP+P. And my favorite load: their HoneyBadger 100-gr all copper fluted bullet +P load. I fired close to 200-rounds through this SA-35 – more than I planned on burning up, and my wife also loved the way the gun felt in her hand.

The SA-35 is both a full-sized 9mm handgun as well as one that is fairly easy to conceal – with the right holster and clothing. During my accuracy testing, I placed a target out at 25-yards, and using a rolled-up sleeping bag, over the hood of my truck, I got the best group of the day – 2.5-inches with the 115-gr FMJ load, and right on its heels was the 124-gr load. Everything else was within 3-inches and that’s great accuracy for a “service” handgun.

I did manage to hit a number of large fallen trees and rocks out to 100-yards and if I was on my game, I hit them on a regular basis – I didn’t always hit them, but most of the time they were “dead” meat to me and the SA-35.

I wouldn’t have any problems carrying the SA-35 on duty, if I were a police officer once again. Then again, we have police chiefs these days, who quiver at the sight of a gun that is cocked ‘n locked. We are so used to seeing polymer handguns, that don’t have a hammer – they are striker-fired – that we don’t know what to think of a person carrying a gun with the hammer cocked (and locked). When I was the police chief (City Marshal) of a small town in Oregon, I could carry anything I wanted. So could my officers, so long as they could qualify with the gun. However, our county sheriff sure did frown on seeing a cocked ‘n locked handgun. He “spoke” to me several times when I carried a Colt 1911 Commander on my hip. I took note of his concerns and explained my take on things – and that was the end of that. Of course, he had no jurisdiction over my department and what we carried.

I have no complaints at all about the SA-35, it is a much better gun than the original Hi-Power if you ask me. And, if you shop around, looking for an original Hi-Power from Browning, you’ll find the prices are insanely high. I know there are a lot of Hi-Power collectors out there, and I suspect a lot of these guns are going into their collections. I’ve heard that there is also a Turkish-made Hi-Power out there right now, but I haven’t seen one. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with Turkish-made handguns – there isn’t…but for my money, the SA-35 is the way to go!