1980s Classic: The West German Sig Sauer P226
With a distinctive profile, early style grips, and smooth, rail-less dust cover, West German P226s are old-school cool.
Hailing from a time in the Cold War where the Berlin Wall was still a very real thing, West German Sigs are increasingly collectible.
While today’s modern New Hampshire-based Sig Sauer was formed in 2007, the German arm sprang forth during the frostiest days of the Cold War in 1976 when SIG of Switzerland formed a partnership with J.P. Sauer & Sohn of West Germany. That Sig Sauer concentrated on the manufacture of SIG’s firearm line for sales outside of very strict Swiss export controls. Among their first exports to the U.S. were the Sig Sauer P220, which had been adopted by the Swiss Army as the P75 pistol. These early West German-marked single-stacks were typically shipped over with European-style heel release magazine latches, a feature that wasn’t changed on American-bound Sigs until later.
Speaking of later, in 1977 the U.S. Air Force began a series of tests for a new handgun to replace the myriad of revolvers and M1911 .45ACP pistols in their armories. The contract, for a modern 9mm combat handgun, saw companies such as Beretta, FN, S&W, and Colt submit contenders. Testing at Eglin Air Force left the Beretta entry, the Model 92, at the head of the pack. However, the U.S. Army weighed in and eventually took over the joint service handgun replacement program, which would field the XM9 pistol, and in 1983 a new battery of tests started.
A beautiful West German P226. In the 1980s, the model bested all of the other competitors for the Army pistol trials but Beretta, whose bid came in lower
It was to this second, Army-run, competition that Sig Sauer submitted a new double-stack pistol that otherwise had much the same layout as the P220– the 15+1 round capacity P226. By 1985, the competition had come down to the Beretta and the Sig and the Italian company’s bid came in $3 million less for 300,000 pistols over a five-year period. The new XM9 would be a version of the Beretta 92.
Nonetheless, the Navy went on to adopt a railed version of the P226 as the MK25 pistol for use by SEAL units starting in 1989. A more compact version, the P228, was adopted by the Army in 1993 as the M11 for use by military police and specialized units.
In the meantime, the P226 was released on the U.S. commercial market in 1983 and soon became a hit with both consumers and law enforcement customers. With its 4.4-inch barrel and choice of DA/SA or DAO actions, later augmented by the DAK trigger system, the 9mm was also marketed in .357 SIG and .40S&W. Today, dozens of variants of the P226 are in circulation and the gun is still very much in production– now in the U.S.
Vintage “West German” marked P226s, besides their stampings, have several differences from today’s more current offerings. This includes almost pebble-style plastic grips, reminiscent to those found on 20th Century Walther P-1s, and a distinctive pinned-in breechblock assembly. Further, the slide of those early guns has a different profile from today’s P226 offerings.
The slide construction on these early P-series guns is different from what is seen on current models
While Germany was reunified in 1990 after the Berlin Wall came down and the “West” was officially dropped moving forward, some guns continued to come into the U.S. with the legacy markings for a few years.
Sig, of course, would eventually get the last laugh when it came to supplying Uncle Sam with 9mm pistols, as the XM9/M9 is currently being replaced by the company’s U.S.-made P320, which was adopted a couple of years ago as the M17/M18 after winning the Army’s Modular Handgun System competition.
Still, there is just something rad about those old West German P226s, an elegant weapon for a more civilized age, you might even say.
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