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Historical Handguns Semi Auto

SIG Sauer’s Smart Gun Records Your Every Move

by S.P. Fjestad   |  July 22nd, 2013 12
SIG-Sauer-P229-EPLS_001

SIG Sauer’s “smart” gun, the P229 EPLS in .40 S&W developed in the late 1990s, is activated by the user punching in his/her pin number and then defining the gun’s operational hours via keypad.

For decades, Swiss handguns have been considered the “best of the best.” Small Arms of the World by Ezell, a frequently consulted and updated reference book, cites, “For over three decades, the SIG P210 pistol has been considered the finest machined handgun in the world … made (as) precisely as a Swiss watch.” As criticism, “If anything, (SIG) products have tended to be of too high a quality and too expensive.”

He hit the nail on the head. Swiss watches are expensive. Too expensive.

So, in the early 1970s, SIG developed the P220 an updated handgun that was less costly to manufacture. The new gun bore little resemblance to its predecessor.

Still a high-quality weapon, the slide was made as a heavy-gauge sheet metal stamping with a welded-on nose section that incorporated an internal barrel bushing. The gun had a removable pinned-in breech block and a forged aluminum-alloy frame made for a nine-shot 9mmP magazine released at the butt.

Virtually all the small parts were steel stampings. It functioned as a double action/single action and had the most modern safety features including a firing pin block safety and a hammer drop/decocking lever.

To circumvent Switzerland’s export restrictions concerning military weapons, production was licensed to J.P. Sauer in Germany, hence the SIG Sauer nomenclature.

Though its appearance was then unusual—described on Wikipedia as “space age”—performance was exemplary. In 1975, the P220 was adopted by the Swiss military as the P.75. A slightly smaller version with a push-button magazine release was adopted by the West German Police as the P.6. The full-size gun was marketed under the Browning Arms Co. label as the BDA from 1977-1980 and copied by Astra-Unceta y Cia. as the M-80/M-90/M-100.

A SIG Sauer P226 even won—at least on paper—the U.S. XM9 test trial of 1984. So why isn’t the P226 our current issue handgun instead of the Beretta M92? Well, the P226 and its spare parts were too expensive!

That said, the gun has since evolved though many iterations of manufacturing and nomenclature.

Most guns in 9mmP and .38 Super were fitted with high capacity magazines. SIG introduced sport and tactical versions, target versions, engraved guns and even commemoratives. Guns were offered as blued or nickeled, in stainless steel, and with a black nitron or dark earth finish. A Model 226 Jubilee (circa 1985) had gold plated small parts and carved grips. The M226 NRALE (2002-2003) featured an NRA Law Enforcement logo and legend and cocobolo grips with NRA medallions. Clearly, if SIG Sauer perceived a sales niche, it made an M220 derivative to fill the void!

In the late 1990s, SIG engineers were told to develop a “safe” gun for security and police personnel. Though the term “safe” is almost an oxymoron with respect to weapons, the idea was to limit the firearm’s use to the issued person while on duty. And, of course, it had to be economical.

In early 2000, SIG unveiled the P229 EPLS in .40 S&W. Based on an M229, the prototype pistols came with a completely redesigned frame whose forward extension housed a battery-powered electronic keypad. Though the shipping box had an English language label, the gun was accompanied by a four-page instruction booklet in German. A separate sheet specified the weapon-specific master code and PIN.

To activate, the user had to punch in his/her PIN and then indicate the operational time slot. Standard settings were reflected by button A (123) .5 hour, button B (456) 2 hours, or button C (789) 8 hours. Button D (0SR) was used for the number “zero,” “Save,” or “Reset.” If the PIN number was entered incorrectly three times, as might easily happen in a stressful, off-duty situation, the gun would lock up, pending the input of a master code. Changing the program allowed the active period options to be changed to 1 hour or indefinitely, circumventing the entire concept.

As the keypad was battery driven, there had to be warning lights. So as the code and hour preferences were entered, a light would blink. A green light reflected battery function. Yellow reflected that the gun was on safe or that the code had been entered incorrectly. A red light meant that the pistol was operational or that there was a malfunction. Removing the battery—or a dead battery—kept the gun in its last operational state.

SIG-Sauer-P229-EPLS_002

Integrated electronics module in front of trigger guard is very well designed and unobtrusive for this application. Only approximately 15-20 of these “smart” P229s were manufactured by J.P. Sauer in Neuhausen, Switzerland, for security and police personnel, and are seldom encountered in America as most were tested in Europe. This model was never mass-produced or exported.

As far as these prototypes are concerned, suffice to say the engineers who had previously developed the “best of the best” were long retired. It must have taken very little time to determine that the P229 EPLS was a totally impractical answer to the original question. Too bulky, too complicated and likely needing too many batteries or replacement keypads, the EPLS project was quietly shelved. Only now, many years later, have a handful of examples come to light.

So what’s this rare smart gun worth? One-of-kind firearms and prototypes are always hard to accurately ascertain a reasonable value. Let’s start out with the value of an unmodified SIG P229—around $900 if NIB. How much do you add for the rarity factor of this rare factory produced pistol? That question has to be answered by the people who are willing and able to add such a gun to their collections. In the current marketplace however, think in terms of $3,500-$4,000, maybe more if the potential owner thinks another one won’t come up for sale for a long time.

Information and images courtesy of Leonardo M. Antaris, MD. For more historical firearms curiosities, check out Fjestad’s Gun of the Week blog at Blue Book of Gun Values.

  • Cantbelieveyouthinkthis

    Yet another reason to own a Glock.

  • JimMT

    If this technology catches on, watch for ObamaDOJ – or its successer – to employ it in fast and furious attempt to hood-wink us into believing they care about our rights or any laws.

  • JimMT

    “successor”. sorry.

  • David Lef

    I prefer the Beretta 92F, it doesn’t spy on me. I will NEVER buy from Sig now.

    • Joe Sobotka

      I agree. I carry my 92FS, or my Springfield XD. Both very reliable and accurate.

  • JiminGA

    One’s collection must be awfully complete before adding this “fool’s errand” model.

  • petru sova

    There are a lot of stories why the Beretta was picked including a Nato missile blackmail by Italy, or the excessive cost per gun etc., but the one that is probably true was the story that when the trials were going on a miscellaneous group of recruits were simply asked which gun they liked the best after they shot a clip out of all of the various models. This is about how the military mind works and I have no doubt this is why the Beretta was picked, simply on a whim by green recruits.
    The Remington sniper rifle was picked for the Viet-Nam war because supply clerks had heard rumors the new Model 70 Winchester had design defects which was not true as history later proved it was far more reliable in combat than the Remington Model 700.
    And a little know fact is that the 1911 .45acp was not the first choice for the new U.S. Military side arm. The 9mm Luger was and the Military actually placed an order with Germany for 200 of the pistols which the clerk in New York lost and when the pistols never arrived the Army then lost interest in the 9mm Luger and later in time conducted tests with .45 caliber pistols from Colt, Savage and George Luger.

  • petru sova

    The German made guns had outstanding workmanship but where known for slide failures, as the slide was made of stamped sheet metal. On the other hand the American made guns are made of bar stock and are more rugged but they do suffer from good old American sloppy workmanship and they do not equal the accuracy or workmanship of the German made guns. Pick your poison.

  • Joe Sobotka

    This firearm is useless in my opinion.

  • jeff

    A look at Colts’ flirtation with smart gun technology in the 90′s is instructive. It involved a magnetic ring specific to the owner that would allow the gun to be fired only when wearing the ring was on the trigger. This also involved batteries and other electronics. It was a failure. Cops wanted nothing to do with the darn thing. Colt’s got significant blowback from firearms owners as it was seen as pandering to the Clintonistas. I for one am never going to trust a firearm 100% that requires a battery, magnet and electronics. No way. No how.

  • chopr147

    I have used a Sig 9mm P226 and now a Sig .40 P229 for 24 years with thousands of rounds thru it . I am trained to deal with mis feeds, stovepipes etc… But can not remember personally ever having a jam at the range. (or anywhere else) So yes I am a Sig fan! But I would NEVER own this smart-gun and it was scrapped with good reason
    Joe

  • chopr147

    That said I did like the James Bond pistol set up so only he could fire it.(reads palm print)……Not so far from a reality these days

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