In the first installment of this saga I hinted that earlier incarnations of the S&W Airweights are better simply because they are older. Everybody knows older is better when it comes to revolvers (and knives, cars, airplanes, cameras, cowboy westerns and women, especially women).
A couple of days ago Bill and I went to the range to compare his venerable old Model 37 Airweight against my current production 642. I stepped up to the firing line absolutely convinced that Bill's Airweight would prove to be the much better shooter. After all, it was made back in the 70's when S&W still lavished lots of attention on these fine little revolvers.
|A pair of Airweights: S&W Model 37 on the left, S&W Model 642 on the right|
Boy was I wrong.
The 642 Airweight was a much better shooter. There really was no comparison. While both revolvers exhibited the same accuracy the 642 was much easier to manage and much more pleasant to shoot. This is only partly due to the trigger job I did on the 642. What surprised me was that the trigger on the much older Model 37 was just as heavy and stiff as the original trigger on my 642. But two other factors combine to make the Model 37 unpleasant to shoot. First is the trigger itself. The Model 37 sports a wide, serrated trigger. Combined with the stiff, heavy trigger pull this serrated trigger digs painfully into the trigger finger. By comparison the 642 trigger is narrower and has a smooth, rounded face that is much easier on the finger.
The next issue are the grips. I admit, the classic old checkered wooden grips on the Model 37 just look better. They look the way revolver grips should look. But while this style works well on larger (and heavier) revolvers, under the sharp recoil of this light little snubbie the checkering digs painfully into the palm of the hand. Combine the grips and the wide, serrated trigger and the overall shooting experience is one of pain. The Model 37 is simply too uncomfortable to shoot beyond one or two cylinders full of weak range loads. By comparison the 642's fat rubber grips provide a better purchase on the revolver, making it much more comfortable to hold on to under recoil. Weak range ammo is fun to shoot and stout self defense loads, while not exactly pleasurable, are manageable and don't tear up your shooting hand.
|S&W's Airweights have only gotten better with age. My favorite snubbie with my favorite coffee mug!|
But the news is not all bad. Many of the Model 37's issues are easily addressed. Bill already has some Uncle Mike's boot grips on the way to replace the factory wooden stocks. The obscenely heavy trigger pull can be easily overcome with a simple trigger job. The trigger itself can be switched out, but the additional cost may not be worth it; with the new grips and trigger job Bill's little revolver should be much better behaved.
There's a lot of pontificating on the internet about how the earlier Airweights were much better pistols than the ones currently being manufactured. In particular, a lot of folks sing the praises of the 'pre-lock' models (the revolvers made before S&W incorporated the silly safety lock into the side of the frame) over the current series. Well, based on my limited sample set I have to say that the pontificators are full of bull. In my opinion the current production Airweights are better pistols. They have stronger +P-rated frames, they come with a better trigger and grips and the fit and finish is outstanding. Yes the trigger pull on the current Airweights is unacceptably heavy, but so are the trigger pulls on the vintage Airweights.
You gain no real advantage buying an older Airweight; the current production models are simply better.