The "classic" Ruger P-85 9mm.
The 1911 is not the only pistol the moniker "Old Slab Sides" can be applied to...
Ruger has made a mark for itself over the past few years as a producer of some quality polymer framed pistols. The company is still maligned for some of the politics of its founder, Bill Ruger, and his backing of a 10 round magazine capacity limit that eventually went into the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban bill that the country suffered under for 10 years, but the company is working to correct that image. I have reviewed the SR9 polymer pistol on this blog and found it to be as good of an offering in a striker fired design as anything else out there, and the LC9 and LCP have found there way onto my hip and into my pocket too. Even their new SR1911 is endearing itself to the gun rag crowd and general public as well as the polymer revolver concept it brought to market with the LCR. Along with its pistols the company still makes the best selling 10/22 rifle and its new Gunsite branded scout rifle is a hit. They have set a goal to sell 1 MILLION guns this year..and they might just do that! All in all things are going pretty well for this Arizona based company.
With all of this going on you think that they would concentrate on the future. Not totally quite right. While you can look on their website (which is the best of any gun manufacturer out there IMHO) and their product listings and animations will emphasize their "newest" (newest quoted becasue, well, come on some of their products of late have been copies or modification of existing designs...still like them though) guns, you can still find a throwback design in the mix...sure its been updated now to include a polymer frame, buts its still an "old school wonder 9" design still being produced...the Ruger P series.
www.ruger.com still the best gun manufacturer site out there...check out their vids...
The Ruger P series was designed from the ground up aimed at military, police and security use. It is based on the Browning short recoil action utilizing both design features from the 1911 and other pistols (locking is accomplished via a design from the SIG P220). The first model, the P85, was a 15 shot, 9mm SA/DA action pistol made specifically to enter the US Army pistol trials to replace the 1911. It utilizes a carbon steel slide with a ambi safety/decocker (I am not a fan of slide mounted safeties) on an aluminum alloy frame. Total weight is 33 ounces empty and, as you can tell by the pictures, it looks like it! This is not a dainty pistol! It looks and feels like it was made larger than life..and it was. Ruger used casting and MIM processes in the manufacture of the pistol to reduce costs and purposely built in over tolerances to the parts to belay any worries about durability due to these processes. Now 25+ years later Ruger is known for its quality casting (even owning its own casting company in New Hampshire) and the use of MIM parts for internal components is routine across the industry. The over sizing works and the pistol is known for its ruggedness and durability.
The pistol may not of won over the military, but thousands of the pistols have found their way into both Police duty holsters and the homes of many gun owners. The P85, and its decedents, have created a niche market for themselves as a reliable and affordable option in the industry. No the pistol isn't sexy...no its not concealable really...no, it won't make the other guys and gals at the range drool...but it will work, even after being beaten.
Earlier this summer I got to take a look at one of these all metal pistols. The pistol I examined was a P-85 from the late 80's owned by a friend. It was all original and has seen little use over the years...so basically I got to open a "firearm time capsule" of sorts with it. The pistol comes in a hard, injection molded plastic case..something I wish Ruger would go back to...saving money with a cardboard box and rug is nice...but a case is more practical to somebody who only owns one pistol..and besides a case only costs a few bucks to make...where is the savings going?
The pistol, as I have pointed out above, has some heft to it when you take it out of the box. The weight is good as the pistol does not bounce around with 9mm trying to push that brick back towards the shooter. The double stack magazine makes the grip somewhat large in the hand for some shooters, but I had no problems with it, no more so than say the grip of a Beretta M9, which won that competition the P-85 was built for. The grip panels are a solid, black plastic with groves that work well enough. At the bottom of the pistol grip there is a lanyard loop cast onto the frame behind the magazine well. A remnant of its roots as a military design, shooters should use caution when forcefully seating (slamming) a magazine in there during a reload with the palm of their hand.
View of the grip panels and lanyard loop on this particular pistol.
The double action trigger is long, as is expected, but breaks cleanly at the end of travel and again is no more so of an issue than anything associated with the M9 that it competed against. Once fired, the pistol goes to single action with a bit of creep before the sear breaks. Overall, not bad for a "service" trigger on a pistol like this. The slide mounted safety works just like the F series safety found on the M9, pushing forward disengages the safety to fire the weapon and pushing down lowers the hammer and places the weapon on safe. Again, not a fan of slide mounted safeties, although I have owned pistols with them before. In my book, they are too difficult to use compared to frame mounted safeties, if you must have one at all. As another point of note, when performing a tap-rack-bang drill you may inadvertently place the safety in the down (on) position without noticing.
Speaking of safeties, the pistol does have a firing pin block safety as would be expected on many pistols made during the period of its design and after. The first pistols had a design flaw in the firing pin safety that was corrected in later models that only resulted in one mechanical failure and discharge of a round. Ruger has had issues in other safety designs in recent years, but always seems to confess to the issues and repair te issues fairly quickly for the consumer.
Firing pin block plunger
Another safety is when disassembling the pistol. As opposed to the much maligned Glock design that requries you to pull the trigger to remove the slide, the P-85 offers a manual sear disconnet in the magazine well much like the systems used on the SR9 and S&W M&P model pistols. As innovative as I thought the S&W series was with it, this design predates the M&P by over two decades! Unlike the single Sheppard's hook to disengage the sear and remove the slide, the P-85 uses a rather large "flap" of metal that is easy to engage with a tool (safety warnings tell you not to use your finger). This disconnect is automatically reset upon insertion of a magazine.
Another neat thing about disassembly with the pistol is the fact that the take down lever does not come off of the frame. A good design feature for a pistol envisioned to be issued to soldiers and marines in the field. One less small piece to become separated and lost is a good thing...take it from someone who has spent hours looking for a lost firing pin retaining pin for a M16 in a pile of leaves!! The pistol does take down easy enough for almost anyone to grasp instantly.
Notice the barrel link a la 1911, disassembly with the P-85 is a breeze.
Shooting the P-85 was quite comfortable. Again, its size made taming the 9mm a simple task, especially with my beefy frame holding it. The 3 dot sights were more than adequate and I had no trouble keeping rounds on center of mass on any target I shot at. This was not designed as a competition level target gun and I did not shoot it as much. With aimed shots I was able to get decent 4" - 6" groups consistently from anywhere from 10 - 20 yards, more than adequate for combat use. That's also including that first double action shot, which tends to go low for me. I shot about 125 rounds of FMJ through it without issue, as generously cut as the throat of the chamber is I would think HP rounds would not be a problem for this gun to feed. Again this is a big pistol to hold in the hand..I almost expected to hear somebody say "up!" before pulling the trigger and "on the way!" after I fired it. Not the most comfortable pistol to shoot, but not nearly the worst I have ever pulled a trigger on.
Modern versions of the P series (P345 in .45 ACP and P89 in 9mm) feature polymer frames lacking the lanyard and steel slides. Both retain the size and appearance of their all metal ancestor, abet a bit lighter due to frame materials of course. The MSRP and actual retail prices for these are quite affordable (check with your local dealer for pricing). Used guns are even cheaper, and unless severely beat on, the bulky nature of these pistol generally mean used guns are a safe bet for being reliable.
All in all, a good pistol if you are looking for something solid and durable that you can afford. Not sexy like some more modern designs, but that doesn't really matter at 2am when somebody breaks into your house now does it?
Links of interest.
Need more? Carteach0 did another fine review on the P-85. Read here...