This is the final installment in the three-part series “A Trio of Smiths”
In the early 1950s, the U.S. was engaged in the height of the Korean Conflict. The Air Force was looking for an ideal emergency/survival sidearm to arm their pilots and aircrew with in case of being shot down behind enemy lines. They had a few eccentric survival rifle designs, but no dedicated sidearm for self defense. During WWII, most pilots were armed with either the Colt 1911 or the S&W Victory revolver, which was a war-time modification of the M&P. Both were fine for front line infantry use, but were less than suitable for the Air Force’s mission. For one, weight savings were paramount. The mighty Colt and Smith clock in at 38 and 34 ounces unloaded respectively, which may not seem like a lot, save for on a fighter jet or long range bomber where ounces count.
The new-at-the-time Smith and Wesson Chief’s Special seemed to fit the bill. It was a snub nosed five shot .38 Special built on S&Ws new J-frame that weighed a smidge less than 20 ounces. It seemed about perfect. Unfortunately, the Air Force wanted it more perfect. They requested that S&W use an aluminum frame and cylinder to cut on weight savings. As testing went on, it was apparent that the aluminum cylinder stretched too much under firing to be suitable for use and was replaced with a steel cylinder. The new pistol, designated the AirWeight, was introduced in 1951 and tipped the scales at a mere 13 ounces. It also found a new audience in plain clothes policemen and civilians looking for a light weight back-up weapon. In 1958 S&W changed the moniker to the Model 37.
Owning the Model 37
This example is a three-screw made some time in the 1970s. I must admit that this revolver is not mine, but my brother’s personal revolver. It was originally owned by an older gentleman who shot maybe a box of ammo through it over the course of thirty-five years. He decided that he wanted something else, and my brother was able to buy his nearly mint AirWeight for a fraction of its value. The anodizing and bluing is still intact. The lockup is extremely tight, and the hammer spur and trigger’s checkering are still very sharp. So sharp that I cut the tip of my first finger whilst shooting this diminutive revolver. Because of the light weight and aluminum frame, this revolver is not shot often. The trigger breaks crisply at 2 1/2lbs in single action and 10lbs in double action.
A note of caution, it is not advised to shoot +P defensive rounds through the Model 37 because of the aluminum frame. Some may disagree, but I will err on the side of caution, especially as this pistol is on loan.
On the Range
On the shooting range, the Model 37 is rather exciting to behold. Reliability is a non-issue with this high quality S&W revolver. At 7 yards, in double-action mode, 2″ groups are regularly produced. At 25 yards, this revolver produced a little better than 9″ groups with 158gr LRN Winchester white box. The short sight radius makes shooting tiny groups unrealistic, but this pistol is not designed for that. It is designed specifically for carrying comfortably and for combat at close range, both of which it performs admirable. The tiny 1 7/8″ barrel does little for ballistics either: the average velocity for all three brands of 158 gr LRN ammo I tried was a modest 698fps.
It is the actual shooting of this pistol that makes it memorable. The thin-wood stocks of the Smith provide a full grip, but they do little to absorb recoil. As a matter of fact, the only thing absorbing recoil is your wrist. During firing the revolver’s butt will climb up and out of your grip, no matter how firm you hold on. During rapid-fire DA firing, the bucking of an otherwise mild .38 Special round will make you rethink some life decisions. I have fired some rough .500 S&W and .44 Rem Mag loads in my day, but that little Model 37 is downright painful.
The Model 37 is a sleek and dandy little pocket pistol. It is 100% reliable, extremely light weight, and combat accurate. It’s ferocity and potency on both ends of the muzzle make for a excellent packing and self-defense option. I may not be able to wring out the best results from this pistol, but it doesn’t make it any less capable of a firearm choice. Plus, it is so darn good looking.