In mid-1970s USA, a revolution was brewing, but not one of disenfranchised peasants or minorities. Instead, the time-tested and classic pistols of American gunmakers were about to be upset by European invaders. The Wondernine was coming, and on its heels the Aglockalypse. By the end of the second decade of the new millenium, no challengers would be left standing, and the high capacity Europellet 9mm would reign supreme.
The very first harbinger of this coming tidal wave of change was a design initiated by the great American gun inventor John Browning – but finished by his European protégé Dieudonné Saive in a fitting metaphor for the coming European invasion. This design was the Browning Hi Power, a 13 shot 9mm Luger pistol with classically Browning lines and signs of the able hands of Saive present throughout its mechanism. Today, the Hi Power remains a B-list star in America, when compared to its older brother the 1911, but abroad it is one of the most successful and well-recognized pistol designs of all time.
In 1948, the Canadians took a shot at improving the Hi Power by lightening it with an aluminum – instead of steel – frame and cuts to the slide. We turn to the blog Historical Firearms, whose author Matthew Moss recently got a chance to examine some original source documents regarding these interesting experimental pistols:
In 1947 engineers at John Inglis and Company began work on developing a lightweight Browning Hi-Power. The first pistol had a lightened slide and a steel frame. However, by 1948 Inglis were experimenting with aluminium alloy frames.
Inglis assembled six prototype pistols, chambered in 9x19mm, with steel slides scalloped with lightening cuts on the top and sides and alloy frames. Mechanically the experimental pistols were identical to the standard Hi-Power using a short-recoil action and feeding from a 13-round double stack magazine. Unloaded the experimental pistols weighed 25.5 ounces, a reduction of 8.5 ounces or 25% of the standard Hi-Power’s weight. Externally the alloy frame had a black enamel finish while the slide was parkerised.
A standard Inglis Mark I* Hi-Power (source)
Two of the pistols remained in Canada for testing, Britain received two and two were sent to the US for testing and evaluation. Canadian testing of what was officially designated the ‘Pistol, Browning FN 9mm, HP No. 2 MK.1/1 Canadian Lightweight Pattern’ took place in June – July 1948. Their report concluded that “the performance of the Lightweight Pistols during the trial was of the same order as that of the Standard and is acceptable for service use.“ In December 1948, Testing Section staff at the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield evaluated the performance of the Inglis prototypes sent to Britain in what became known as ‘The Lightened Browning Trials.’
Be sure to click through and read the whole thing.
The lightweight Hi Power unfortunately never went anywhere, which is a shame because in many ways it predicated the trends of the 1970s and ’80s all the way back in 1948. The high performance aluminum frame wondernine would have to wait, though, for guns like the Beretta 92 and S&W Model 59 to take the market by storm and pave the way for that evilest of absolute tyrants, the Glock.