Battle between two of the ’90s classic Wonder-Nines


By Luis Valdes

The early 1990s were an amazing era in handgun development. You had the Wonder-Nine revolution sweeping the nation when it was really starting in the early 1980s with the adoption of the Beretta 92FS by the U.S. Military and the explosion in popularity of GLOCK, Sig Sauer, Ruger, HK, and Smith & Wesson with their products for the law enforcement market. By the 1990s, you had such a variety of choices and today we’re going to look at two choices offered by the Italian Stallion and Big Blue. 
S&W and Beretta offered a number of variations of their guns, both are the shorter slide, full size frame variants of their traditional aluminum framed 9mm duty guns. First up is Big Blue’s gun, the Model 5903 SSV.

S&W took their traditional four-inch service model 5903 and did a few tweaks. But only 1,500 of ‘em were made and released in 1991 by Lew Horton. So, what did Big Blue do? 
They slapped on a 6904 slide and barrel, cutting the length down to three and a half inches. Also, the 6904 was their blued carbon steel slide. So, the gun got a nice proper two-tone look.

They finished it off with a bobbed hammer and a shaved slide stop lever to give the gun a slicked up concealed carry appearance.

The sights are a nice slick three-dot set from Novak.

Taking the gun apart is like every other S&W 3rd Generation Automatic. Pull the slide back, align the takedown notch and push out the slide stop pin, slip the slide off and take out the parts. But be careful though, the recoil spring isn’t captured and it likes to eject the guide rod into Mar’s orbit.

All in all, it is a sweet little package made by S&W. It was Big Blue’s way of getting rid of their older designed 5903 frames with the hooked combat trigger guard. It carries nice and is lightweight. I swapped out the original grips for a set from Hogue and the magazine is the high-quality aftermarket 17rder from Mec-Gar.

What about Beretta’s entry you ask? Hold your horses, we’re getting to what the Italian Stallion introduced.

Beretta made the 92FS Centurion, a four inch version of the standard 92FS. Beretta went so far as to actually shorten the dust cover of the frame, so it isn’t just a normal frame like what S&W did with the 5903 SSV. 
The gun is just like what S&W offered; a traditional double/single action hammer fired design. Chambered in 9mm too of course. It was simply a compact version of the then new 9mm blaster in Uncle Sam’s service. The main difference is that this wasn’t a one-off production run. It was a standard production line made gun.

The controls of the Centurion are exactly the same as a regular full size 92FS. No fancy bobbed hammer here or shaved slide stop lever.

The sights aren’t a slicked-up set from Novak either. It is your bog standard 92FS three-dot front and rear. They’re not bad and actually are capable of allowing you to charge the gun one handed. But the front sight isn’t replaceable like it is on the S&W. The front sight is machined as part the slide.

Field stripping the Centurion is like any other. Do a John Woo from Lethal Weapons 4, except do it in a safe manner. Unload the gun of course. Anyways, flick down the takedown lever on the left side of the receiver, slip the slide off, and remove the recoil spring and guide rod along with the barrel. Same deal like the S&W too, non-captured recoil spring, so it likes to launch the guide rod into low Earth orbit.

The Centurion is a bit bigger length wise than the 5903 SSV, but it handles much better than the full size 92FS. The action is roller bearing smooth and it has a light DA pull since I installed a “D” spring. I swapped out the factory grip panels with a Hogue wrap-around too. Also, I use the Mec-Gar 18rders instead of the factory 15rders that came with the gun. I have no problem carrying the Centurion concealed. 

So which one would I choose? That’s a hard question for. Both are well made pieces of the 1990s. Long before the industry switched to striker fired polymer framed guns with light rails. So siree Bob, these guns are from an era when only GLOCK was the striker fired king and HK was that high priced European plastic that was still hammer fired. These guns are basic competitors of each other. GLOCK was in a whole another social circle. Now, with Mec-Gar, even today you get good capacity.

The Beretta is slightly bigger and longer than the S&W. But both have some great DA and SA triggers. The S&W beats the Beretta in the SA reset while the Beretta has a smoother DA pull. The S&W is much easier to swap sights on and since it is a slightly overall small gun, it is easier to carry. So for me, the S&W has a slight win on the Beretta. 
But which one would you choose?


  1. I carried both…kind of. S&W 5906 while on a full time SWAT team and the M9/92FS in the military.

    Which would I choose? Depends. For CCW or standard LE purposes, the S&W. For military or full time SWAT, the Beretta.

    I found both to be reliable and ergonomic high quality weapons, but the shorter draw to clear the holster for the S&W is why I prefer it for CCW or standard LE when wearing a hip holster.

    I found the Beretta to be more accurate than the S&W, in fact OB witnessed me panging silhouette targets freehand at 100 meters, but the longer draw to clear the holster if wearing a hip holster is a negative. For military and full time SWAT, some of this is negated by the fact we can use drop leg holsters and also we are normally running our rifles, carbines or subguns as primary.

    If you’ve never done it before, I encourage you to pair up with a buddy with a shot timer, a hip holster and both a Glock 19 and a Glock 17. Do several timed one shot engagements on a E-type silhouette at 5 meters. For most (there are a few exceptions) the Glock 19 wins by a tiny fraction of a second on speed. I attribute it to the shorter draw for the muzzle to clear the holster. Does such a tiny fraction of a second matter? It’s your decision, nobody can make it for you. Fractions of a second can feel long in a gun fight. Especially when your handgun is your primary weapon like in ccw or standard LE use.

  2. Beretta all day long, I shoot it consistently well and still carry it from time to time if I want to feel fancy or its 80s night.

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