By Luis Valdes
Smith & Wesson went through a turbulent time in the 90s. They started and ended the decade with losses. The overtaking of the police market by GLOCK in such a rapid manner and the Assault Weapon Ban scared the bejeezus out of them and worse, led them to do some bad things like sign the HUD Agreement with the Clinton Administration.
Their rising star, the Third Generation of DA/SA Automatics was suddenly kicked off stage due to the plastic fantastic from Austria. The aggressive marketing, cheaper prices, and lighter weight really made what was cutting edge in 1989 seem outdated like your Great Grandpa trying to work a new fangled CD on the record player in 1992. It was just wrong on so many levels. And that led Big Blue to make the Sigma series. A direct GLOCK clone. But we’re not talking about that gun. No dear readers. Today we’re talking about S&W other Striker Fired pistol. A gun born of the dark arts and alchemy you can only find in Teutonic Engineering Land….
Yup, we’re talking about the SW99!
A gun made in collaboration between S&W and Walther.
The Walther P99 was the Plucky German Company’s attempt to enter the burgeoning polymer frame striker fire market. They rode a good record with the P38/P1, the P4 update, and later the P5 with various police and military forces in Germany and across the world. But by the 1980s, the writing was on the wall. Walther needed to make a double stack higher capacity Wonder Nine to get new contracts. So they made their magnum opus, the P88.
A marvelous piece of German craftsmanship that utterly failed because it was ungodly expensive. So they went back to the drawing board and came up with the P99.
A quasi DA/SA striker fired pistol. A good overall design for the era. It had a decocker button on the top of the slide that allo the shooter to “decock” the pistol. In reality all it did was make the gun have a longer trigger pull. But the idea was that you load the gun, decock it, and the longer trigger pull would be safer for carry than the striker being ready.
So how the hell does S&W get involved in all of this? Walther at the time didn’t have their own US Importer. They always worked with others and in the 90s, they agreed to let Big Blue be their importer for the US market. The quid pro quo was that Walther would import some S&W guns into the European market. This was a good partnership and eventually a deal was struck up to sell the P99 under the S&W label.
Big Blue would make the slides and barrels while Walther would make the frames.
The gun had some marginal success in the LE market. The NJSP was one of their biggest buyers. But more on that later. Anyways, the gun was made and sold for a number of years in 9mm and .40 S&W. Some police departments bought it and it was average at best on the civilian market too.
It was seen as a poor man’s P99 since the P99 was actually sold too in the US market. Why get the imitation when you can get the original and be James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies.
That was the first time the P99 was theatrically introduced to the US since it was how Bond got issued a P99.
I had a SW99 in .40 S&W. It was okay. I paid $99 for it at Lou’s Police Supply in Hialeah, FL. It was a police surplus gun and just sat on the counter FOREVER. I figured for a Benjamin, I can risk it.
The trigger was meh. It just didn’t feel right to me and the little ski jump in the trigger gaurd rubbed my finger the wrong way during extended periods on the range. It carried well and was fairly accurate. But the gun just didn’t sing to me. It did nothing better than my GLOCKs. In fact, it was worse than my GLOCKs. So I got rid of it for $250 back during the Great Obama Panic of 2013.
And that’s when I thought I was done with the gun. But then I learned that for a period of time. Other than GLOCK and Springfield Armory. S&W was the only other player in .45 ACP striker fired guns and Walther fans couldn’t get theirs in .45 ACP.
Yup, part of the agreement with S&W and Walther was a SW99 in .45 ACP. It wouldn’t be until the second half of the 2010s that Walther made a variation of their PPQ (an updated P99) in such a chambering. So for a while, if someone really like the P99 but wanted it .45 ACP, they had to settle on the SW99.
It was interesting that S&W and Walther went through such an effort. But it makes sense too. The gun was designed back during the tail end of the Clinton AWB. No one knew if it was going to be renewed or not. S&W, GLOCK, and others were hedging their bets that it was. The SW99 in .45 ACP was a 10+1 capacity gun. Making it AWB safe. But by the time the gun came out. The AWB was over and that’s all she wrote. Plus the NJSP made the gun seem even worse.
They ordered the gun with an odd request. The decocker mechanism was to be removed but the gun was to still have the internals of the original design. This led to all levels of screw ups. And it simply tarnished the reputation of the gun even more.
In the end, the gun never became popular and its removal from the standard catalog and production line happened with no ceremonial fanfare of retirement. It simply faded away into the ether and forgotten.