Relax and Love the Reboot

Sometimes, a revision actually improves on the original.

by
posted on May 17, 2023
Colt Python

Colt recently reintroduced the Python. The classic lines are there, but some longed for the honed actions of the originals.

There are some cinema fans who are, for some inexplicable reason, implacably opposed to reboots of beloved movies. The quality of the reboot doesn’t seem to matter, they’re just really mad that someone dared to reboot their favorite movie in the first place. 

Consider, for instance, the folks who were upset about the legitimately fantastic Coen Brothers 2010 treatment of “True Grit.” It was an amazingly good movie with multiple well-deserved Oscar nominations, but it was a remake of a beloved property and so these traditionalists cordially hated it.

The first time I encountered this in the handgun community was in the early 2000s. If you were a traditional, Smith & Wesson revolver fan, it was a dark time. Smith had been savagely rationalizing its SKU bloat in the revolver department, to the point of temporarily eliminating such catalog stalwarts as square butts and K-frames. Almost nothing was still being done in traditional blue-carbon steel. There was mourning in Smith Fan Land.

Right about that time, legendary firearms trainer Clint Smith started pestering the powers that be in Springfield, MA, to do a re-release of a classic big-bore fighting revolver, the Model 21, aka the “Model of 1950 .44 Military.” These were continuations of the pre-war .44 Hand Ejector Third Models. Being .44 Spl. N-frames with fixed sights and a classic tapered barrel, combined with a shrouded ejector rod, they checked pretty much every box on the “desirable features on a big-bore carry revolver,” but they were super scarce and prices were getting nosebleed-high even 20 years ago.

So, Clint Smith got Smith & Wesson to reintroduce the gun as the Model 21-4 “Thunder Ranch Special” (the latter being Smith & Wesson’s Marketing Department’s idea, complete with the gold-leaf inlay of the Thunder Ranch logo and a glass-front display case, but whatever.

When the revolver shipped, the traditionalists howled. You’d have thought Clint kicked a puppy instead of bringing back a classic from the dead. “It has MIM parts! It has the zit lock!” Yeah, well, those are just the facts of life for a Smith revolver here in the current century. 

Most inexplicably, people complained about the round-butt frame and the Ahrends stocks. The originals had checkered Magna stocks and a square butt, you see. 

These latter complaints made little sense to me, since before the 21-4 was released, I’d been looking for a ratty Model of 1950 that I could get the frame ground to a round-butt profile without being chased down the street by Smith & Wesson collectors with pitchforks and torches. 

The reason is the round butt is much better for concealed carry, and I’d probably have put Ahrends or Eagle Secret Service stocks on it, too. Thanks to the 21-4 Thunder Ranch, now I could buy a new gun that already had these features and not have to maul a collectible. That gold logo on the sideplate has never stopped me from carrying it, either.

The next reboot to stir up a firestorm among the fans was SIG Sauer’s decision to manufacture a version of the classic, discontinued P210 right here in the U.S. There were some simplifications in the lockwork, like the elimination of the Tokarev-like removable “chassis,” and MIM parts were used in place of some parts that were machined in the older version and, of course, CNC machining in New Hampshire replaced handwork by magic Swiss gun gnomes in their alpine fastness of Neuhausen, but it was still recognizably a P210. Same great ergonomics, superb accuracy—it was the return of a classic.

Were the existing fans happy? Well, some were, but to hear the beefing from others, you’d think that someone had committed sacrilege. It’s almost as if the point wasn’t to see more people get to experience the high points of the P210 design, but to guard the integrity of their classic (and appreciating) originals. I shudder to think what’ll happen should someone decide there’s money in CNC’ing an updated Luger or C96 Mauser.

Most recently on my radar has been the foot-stomping over FN America’s reboot of a Browning/Saive classic with its new, reimagined High Power. Believe it or not, we’ve had a few new ideas in firearms design since 1935, and the High Power incorporates them.

It comes from the factory with the frame pre-textured, so there’s no need to spend money getting it stippled or checkered. The carnivorous hammer of the original Browning piece, known for subsisting on blood from the web of the shooter’s firing hand, is vegetarian now and couldn’t bite you even if you tried to provoke it. No need to throw down big bucks to have a beavertail welded up if you want to use a good high grip. It has ambidextrous controls, a simplified and modernized takedown setup, and a more robust and repeatable barrel lockup. Finally, the magazine capacity has been bumped to a more modern 17 rounds and the factory trigger pull has been cleaned up and lightened by pitching the magazine disconnector safety, which is something a sizable percentage of original Hi Power owners did anyway.

You’d think this would be greeted as unalloyed good news—and you’d be mistaken. What was the biggest complaint? “It doesn’t use the same magazines!” Well, no kidding. It’s a new gun, after all. Besides, moving past the old 13-round capacity was a major part of the whole exercise. 

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Shooters are an innately conservative lot, and I’m not talking politics. Look how long it took for semi-auto pistols to achieve widespread acceptance and overcome the “jam-o-matic” stigma. 

There’s also a tendency for shooters to get attached to a favorite piece and view changes to it with a jaundiced eye, regardless of whether those changes are improvements or not. When you’re used to seeing The Duke as Marshal “Rooster” Cogburn, it can give you a bit of a bias against someone else in the role. I think if you approach the remake with an open mind, though, you’ll find that just because it’s a little different doesn’t mean it’s not an Oscar winner in its own right.

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