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Smith & Wesson Model 58 Review

by Payton Miller   |  June 15th, 2007 6

For those who have never seen a Smith & Wesson Model 58, try to imagine an older square-butt, four-inch, heavy-barreled K-frame Model 10 on steroids, featuring the same minimalist unshrouded ejector rod, matte blue finish, checkered walnut service grips, pinned barrel and counterbored cylinder.

Smith & Wesson’s N-frame .41 Magnum Model 58 Military & Police enjoyed a production life that lasted from 1964 to 1977. Something in excess of 20,000 units were produced. This represents a chronological span that began when the double-action .38 Special/.357 Magnum revolver ruled the law-enforcement market and ended when the double-action auto had begun its inevitable ascent.

Like the 34-ounce .38-caliber Model 10, the 42-ounce Model 58 was a no-frills service revolver from the ground up. The company–perhaps hedging its bets with the new revolver–also offered the sporting-oriented Model 57, a deluxe, adjustable-sighted number that was basically a .41 Magnum version of the legendary Model 29.

Since it’s impossible to discuss the history of the Model 58 without delving into the parallel story of the .41 Magnum cartridge, we’d better get that out of the way first.

The .41 Magnum was introduced by Remington back in 1964, ostensibly at the urging of Elmer Keith (in concert with, as the story goes, Bill Jordan). Keith’s disdain for the .357 bore size was well known.

The .41 was, in fact, a .40 caliber, neatly splitting the difference between the .357 and .44 magnums, neither of which, by Keith’s reckoning, was an optimum police service cartridge. The .38 Special was too wimpy. The .357 Magnum was overpenetrative and difficult to control in rapid double-action fire. And the .44 Magnum was, well, out of the question.

The choice for Keith was simple a big-bore lead semi-wadcutter at around 1,000 fps. In fact, he wanted to name it the .41 Police. Problem was, this was the 1960s and the marketing buzzword of the day was “magnum.”

In retrospect, that nomenclature might have alleviated some of the confusion that arose when Remington introduced two loads simultaneously for the new cartridge. The first was specifically tailored to the Model 58 and featured a 210-grain lead semi-wadcutter at around 1,000 fps. It was (and still is) an optimum service revolver load, boasting considerably more throw weight than today’s hugely popular 180-grain .40 S&W loading–at roughly the same velocity.

The lead loading was powerful, controllable and accurate. Not to say that a .44 Special couldn’t have done the same thing, but the .41 was shiny-new and cool. And it had been the beneficiary of some serious promotion by S&W and Remington, not to mention the awestruck gun press.

Even 1911 guru Jeff Cooper had nice things to say about the .41 Magnum Police Load (and the Model 58) in his seminal Jeff Cooper on Handguns.

“This is a very superior defensive round, and since an excellent utility revolver is made for it by Smith & Wesson, the combination is far and away the best choice for any law-enforcement agency that is limited to the revolver concept.”

The problem arose with the second load, which was a different creature altogether. It consisted of a 210-grain jacketed hollowpoint at a semi-scorching 1,300 fps (from a four-inch barrel). Now, obviously Remington had intended this load to be used in conjunction with the target-stocked, premium-grade, adjustable-sighted Model 57 as an outdoorsman’s tool. But from the Model 58, with its skimpy service stocks, the jacketed hollowpoint number would’ve been a handful for a seasoned big-bore handgunner, let alone a police recruit.

This ammo situation led to some interesting reactions on various police ranges, but once things got ironed out, the Model 58 was adopted by several agencies, most notably the police departments of San Antonio, Texas, and San Francisco, California, where, despite its size and weight, it performed admirably for several years.

Despite its eventual commercial failure, there are many handgun aficionados who happen to think the Model 58 was one of the coolest revolvers ever built. And I’m one of them.

After a couple of years’ worth of searching, I finally found one in reasonably good condition. There was a bit of holster wear and the grips were pretty trashed, but the action was decent, although the double-action trigger pull left a bit to be desired. After a bit of deliberation, I decided to send the gun back to the Smith & Wesson Performance Center for a reblueing, a tune-and-tighten and a new set of stocks. Basically, I wanted the gun to look like it stepped off the showroom floor back in ’64. And that’s exactly what I got. After getting over my initial “it’s too pretty to shoot” qualms, I took it out to the range with as many .41 Magnum loads as I could scrounge up.

Finding ammo for a caliber deemed moribund for the past several decades wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had imagined. There is a dedicated group of .41 Magnum fans out there who revere the cartridge. The end result has been a reasonably diverse assortment of ammo offerings from the major manufacturers. Such loads include 175-grain Super-X Silvertips and 240-grain Supreme Platinum Tips from Winchester; 180-grain Barnes Expander, 210-grain jacketed hollowpoints and 250-grain Cast Cores from Federal; and 210-grain jacketed softpoints from Remington. All pretty much classify as high-performance scorchers and are proof that the .41 Magnum has been relegated, if you will, to hunting status.

I wanted to test my Model 58 with something approximating the original lead semi-wadcutter police load. Fortunately, I found it. The Bore House  offers custom loads for hard-to-find calibers. Owner Bob Banks sent me a couple of boxes of his .41 Magnum Police Load, consisting of a 215-grain lead semi-wadcutter that clocked 1,025 fps from my Model 58.

At the range I shot several cylinders’ worth of the Bore House Police Load simply to get an idea of the Model 58’s controllability. It proved delightfully tractable with these mid-power offerings. A couple of five-shot groups at 25 yards showed me that the point of impact, while a hair low, was definitely in-spec for the fixed-sight Model 58.

The 210-grain Remingtons also shot a bit low but with respectable accuracy. The difference in recoil, however, made me appreciate the surprise many cops back in the early 1960s may have felt, as the gun squirmed vigorously at every shot. Just for fun I decided to try some Winchester Supreme 240-grain Platinum Tips through the gun, although I must confess to replacing the original service stocks with a set of hand-filling Goncalo Alves target stocks before doing so.

Although these high-performance big-game loads are not what I’d choose to feed the gun a steady diet of, accuracy was excellent. And, more important, point of impact coincided perfectly with point of aim.

By the time my range session ended, I was pretty impressed with the Model 58. I’d always been enamored of the way it looked; now I was equally impressed with the way it shot. You don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist to appreciate a big-frame M&P with a square butt. Smith has recently started rolling out classic reissues of the tapered-barrel .45 ACP 1917 and Model 22 as well as the .44 Special Model 21. Maybe someday they’ll resurrect the bull-barreled Model 58.

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