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.
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.