Resurrecting an iconic target pistol–Sig Sauer’s “New Improved” P210 Target

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2039

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Sig Sauer P210 is the most sought after 9mm target pistol in existence. It started its life, humbly enough, as the sidearm for the Swiss Army and police in 1949. Not exactly a Hollywood sendoff, but the Swiss are not generally flashy types. They are however, precision engineers who know a thing or two about metallurgy and design. (Ever heard of Swiss watches?)

This gun is so well engineered that to this day, it’s still considered the gold standard for accuracy and reliability in 9mm. It’s capable of getting two inch groups at 50 yards, which is no mean feat for any handgun, much less a 9mm semi-auto.

I was first introduced to the P210 a few years ago when I spent an afternoon shooting a Swiss-made model at Kokohead Range. I was immediately smitten by its balance and trigger.

The older models are not easy to find and you’ll spend a minimum of $3000 for the privilege of owning one. The good news is that the P210 is now being manufactured in this country with prices starting at around $1600. (More on that later).

History

Charles Gabriel Petter’s Modèle 1935 pistol–progenitor of the P210. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Development for the gun began before the Second World War with the idea of replacing the venerable Luger Parabellum 06/29, which had been in service since 1900. It was originally licensed from French-Swiss designer Charles Gabriel Petter’s Modèle 1935 pistol.

Fans of plastic guns will definitely find this gun alte Schule–old school. You won’t find any tritium or fiber optics on the P210, just a post and notch. The magazine catch on the original model is at the heel of the frame—which is where they put them in the good old days.

It’s a single-action pistol, with a magazine capacity of eight rounds of 9 mm, 7.65 mm, or .22 LR. (The new Target model has a capacity of 10 rounds). The slide and frame are machined from blocks of steel, which makes it heavy side but durable and of course, more expensive to produce than the modern “wonder nines”.

One of the P210’s unusual features is that the slide is seated inside the frame rails rather than on the outside as is generally found on pistols derived from John Browning’s design.

American Incarnation of the P210

Understanding the demand for this item, management at Sig Sauer decided in 2010 to produce a new version manufactured in Eckernförde, Germany instead of the SIG plant in Neuhausen am Rheinfall, Switzerland, where the gun was traditionally made.

The mag release button is one of the key improvements over the original model which had the mechanism on the heel of the frame. 

However, Swiss and German made goods tend to be quite expensive in this country. In January, 2016 SIG Sauer announced they would move production of the P210 to their Exeter, NH, factory. This is not one of these deals where the firearm is assembled from parts made overseas. All the parts, with the exception of the grips, will be made in the USA. (The German factory will continue to product P210s for the European market).

The P210 Target model is one of two versions released in this country. The other is the P210 Standard which has different grips and sights.

The company also plans to release a US-made Super Target, a 4″ Carry version and the Standard (5″ barrel with fixed sights) models all in 2018.

The trigger breaks at 3.5 lbs and is superb.

Although the latest incarnation of the P210 resembles its Swiss Army predecessor, the manufacturer made a few visible tweaks. Instead of the old fashioned magazine catch, the new version uses a button-style, frame magazine catch. There’s also an elongated ‘beavertail’ much like those found on 1911 and SIG Sauer Elite pistols. There’s also a modern looking slide catch and 1911-esque safety.

Tim Butler, Sig Sauer’s product manager, told me that while the U.S.-made models will share the same DNA as the European models, there are differences.

In the “same DNA department”, all U.S. models will use the controls designed after the German version of the Super Target pistol.

The rear sight adjustments are crisp and easily manageable. Just a screw diver will suffice.

Butler said the U.S. and German version differ with barrel lock up. The Swiss and German P210s use a traditional, multiplelug barrel design (as in the 1911 Browning Hi-Power). The U.S. barrel locks up in the ejection port the same as SIG Classic pistol, the P220, P225j, P226, etc.

The reason for the design change was because of a manufacturing process. In order to manufacture the 1911 lockup in a six inch slide you enter from the front with a very long tool to cut the lugs. The distance causes deflection with the cutting tool and could cause potential dimensional inaccuracy. Thus changing to the lock-up improved the manufacturer’s ability to hold the tight tolerances needed without extensive barrel fitting.

The slide on the P210 sits inside the frame. Slide to frame fit is phenomenal.  Amazing they can do this on a production gun.

One thing you notice straight away after field stripping the gun is how incredibly precise the slide to frame fit is. Just moving the slide along the rails you note there’s hardly any lateral movement. The tolerances are very tight yet the slide glides effortlessly. Same with the barrel to slide fit. Very little wiggle. There is no way you can achieve the same kind of fit on a 1911 with out the efforts of a gunsmith.

It amazes me that that Sig Sauer can do this is on a production gun and keep the costs reasonable.

The hammer box was also modified for the U.S. iteration. The hammer box is where the hammer and sear are housed alone with supporting parts for the function. Butler said that for the the U.S. version “we added adjustability that is set at the factory and non-user adjustable. This was done to eliminate hand fitting of components.”

Sig Sauer’s factory Elite V-Crown 124 gr. JHP ammo is extremely accurate. If you don’t handload, this is the ticket.

The Target version, which I tested, has a 5″ barrel, adjustable rear sight, magazine with a metal base plate and a target-style grip with a palm swell that is ergonimically correct. MSRP is $1600 for the 5″ barrel and $1800 for the 6″ model. Street price is in the $1500 range. (The European versions are $2100 and $3200 respectively). (The “Super Target” will have additional modifications including a 6 inch barrel, a 1911-style thumb safety and wood grips with integral magwell funneling).

Shooting the Sig P210

So why is this pistol, which began its life in the midst of the Second World War, so accurate and well balanced? (We know it wasn’t built with space age materials nor designed with Cad/Cam).

There are a couple of reasons but the first that jumps out at me is the very low bore axis which helps make it intrinsically easier to aim.

A short explanation. “Bore axis” refers to the relationship between the barrel of the handgun and the shooter’s hand. Thus a “high” bore axis means that the barrel is positioned high above the top of the hand and “low” bore axis means, that it’s closer.

I managed to get this group off the bench (at 25 yards) the first time out using the Sig Elite V-Crown ammo.  It illustrates the enormous potential of the P210.

So what’s the advantage?

First off is recoil management. The closer the slide is to your closed grip, the more energy you’re going to absorb and hence, and the less muzzle flip you’ll have.

Thus low bore axis means less movement and easier target recovery. If you’re shooting hot 9mm loads, exaggerated muzzle flip is especially noticeable. Therefore, the lower the bore axis the less perceived recoil and the less snap-back. In the case of the Sig P210 what also helps steady the gun even more is its old fashioned steel construction. The added mass makes it even less prone to flip than a plastic gun.

The other benefit to low bore axis with this gun, is superb balance. It doesn’t feel “top-heavy”. Aiming the gun feels quite natural.

My go-to load for the 115 gr Zero bullet is 5.4 gr of Silhouette powder. This was shot off the bench at 25 yards.

If you combine the low bore axis, “pointability”, a truly great trigger and some shooting chops, the equation equals great accuracy. I was able to pick up the P210 and begin shooting really good groups fairly soon. The key of course, was squeezing the trigger just so. There’s a bit of takeup follow by a crisp, dependable break at 3.5 lbs.

Feeding the Sig P210

Of course, you’re not going to shoot good groups without the right ammo. Since the P210 is one of the most accurate production handguns in the world, I though I would do it justice by testing both factory and hand loads. The 124 gr. factory rounds came from Sig Sauer, which several years ago branched into the ammo business to complement their “hardware”. We tested two varieties–of 124 gr. ammo: their full metal jacket, Elite Ball and their jacketed hollow point, V-Crown cartridges.

The applications? Elite Ball is more for practice. The V-Crown is listed as defensive ammo but it’s extremely accurate and makes a great target round. I’ve used it up to 100 yards, consistently whacking an 8 inch gong with my red-dot mounted 9mm 1911. Admittedly, it’s harder to do with the Sig P210 which of course only comes with iron sights.

The Elite Ball ammo is less expensive and also quite accurate, but not in the same league the hollow-point.

The 115 gr. JHP from Zero is bullet is nasty accurate.

Handloading–Beginning at Zero

For this exercise I started with Zero bullets, the brand name product from a company called Roze Distribution out of Cullman, Alabama. A family owned business, Roze has a well deserved reputation for manufacturing quality products at a very reasonable price. I’ve used their Zero bullets for years–158 gr hollow points for my 357, 148 gr wadcutters for my .38 and in this case, 115 gr and 124 gr jacketed hollow points for the Sig P210.

Zero bullets are not as expensive as other products but their quality is definitely commensurate with Nosler, Barnes and the other high-end competition.

If you want accuracy, use brass that will give you consistent quality. Starline is my favorite.

For the brass component, I use Starlinewhich I’ve load with great accuracy both for 9 mm and .45 loads.

A word to the wise, if you’re going to shoot a handgun as accurate as the P210, use a high end brand of brass. With scrounged range brass you’re using a jumble of headstamps, all with slightly different dimensions and varying quality. Buy definition, every round you crank out will be slightly different in size and it’s impossible to make uniformly consistent ammo.

That means your accuracy will suffer and there’s no reason to handicap yourself. Spend a few bucks and you’ll notice a world of difference. You’ll also thank yourself.

True Blue worked well with Zero’s 124 gr hollow point bullet. Meters great too. 

There are many great powders on the market that work well with the 9mm such as Titegroup, 231, HS-6 and the like. My go-to powders for 9mm are Silhouette (for 115 gr HP) and True Blue which works great for 124 gr HP. Both are from Western Powders.

Prior to this article I’d done a great deal of experimentation with both of the above products with a 9 mm 1911 and these particular powders proved to be just as effective with the P210–even at 50 yards.

The True Blue load I used for the 124 gr Zero bullet was 5.6 gr.  The Silhouette load for the 115 gr HP  Zero bullet was 5.4 gr.

After shooting hundreds of rounds of both 124 and 115 gr handloads I would have to say that the P210 “preferred” the 115 gr bullets over the 124 gr. It was consistently easier for me to get good groups with the former.

That said, the gun performed equally well with the 124 gr Elite factory ammo from Sig. I simply could not get the same performance out of my 124 gr handloads. (Back to the laboratory).

Silhouette used to be known as Winchester Action Powder (WAP) and works great with 115 gr Zero bullets.

Be mindful of pressure when loading 9mm

One or two words of caution when reloading for 9mm. The small case size, means even a minor increase in powder can cause a dangerous pressure spike. For example, if 5 grains of powder is the maximum load, and you increase it ½ grain, that’s a 10% increase. In a small case, this variance makes a significant difference. With a larger case or a milder load, this usually isn’t a problem.

Conclusion

The P210 is a perfect blend of old world design and new world manufacturing processes.

It’s incredibly accurate, cycles like a Swiss watch and is easy to shoot. At an MSRP of $1600 (and street price of just under $1500) it’s not for everyone. Nor will the old fashioned iron sights please some of the younger folks who are used to red dots or glass. They will really test your skills. It’s soft shooting and has all components of a hand-fitted target gun–precision barrel to frame lock up and that gorgeously smooth slide to frame fit. The gun can shoot a number of different loads–even light loads because it’s so buttery smooth.

The European-made wooden grips are flawless.

So how does it compare to the old version? My colleague in Hawaii, Brian Takaba the manager (and gunsmith) at X-Ring Security in Waipahu said the “new P210 has much smoother, flowing lines than the original. It also has all the things I wish the old one could have–mag release button, thumb safety and beaver tail.”

I believe the American-made version is commensurate in quality with the European model. What’s more, this new version provides an enthusiast the opportunity to buy a handgun of legendary prowess at a reasonable price. If you consider that a 9mm 1911 that may not shoot as well as this pistol will set you back $2000, the P210 is an American-made bargain.

A final note is a shout out to my friends at X-Ring Security in Waipahu for handling the FFL duties. X-Ring has a wonderful selection of items, a modern, indoor range and full complement of services including a gunsmith. They are easy to work with.

The author is not responsible for mishaps of any kind, which might occur from the use of this data in developing your handloads. It is the user’s responsibility to follow safe handloading guidelines to develop safe ammunition. You use this data at your own risk. No responsibility for the use or safety in use of this data is assumed or implied.

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