SMITH & WESSON'S 625-2 .45 AUTO RIM
In 1916 it was obvious to all but the most naive that the United States would soon be at war. Smith & Wesson, in conjunction with Springfield Armory, began working on a .45 caliber revolver that would fire the government handgun cartridge, the rimless .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol). Once the United States entered World War I, the doughboys would need sidearms and it would be impossible to provide enough Government Model Colt 1911 semi-automatics to supply the demand.
Smith & Wesson was able to adapt their Second Model Hand Ejector, normally chambered in .44 Special, .45 Colt, .38-40, and .44-40, to fire the rimless .45 ACP by the ingenious use of half-moon clips that each held three rounds. This not only allowed the revolver designed for rimmed cartridges to fire rimless cartridges, it also allowed for much faster reloading provided, of course, that the clips were loaded beforehand.
More than 150,000 S&W .45 ACP revolvers were issued to the troops during the War To End All Wars. As the war ended and Smith & Wesson went back into peacetime production, the 1917 .45 donned civvies in the form of a bright blue finish and checkered grips and was offered to the shooting public as a commercial model.
With both military surplus and commercial revolvers, it was only natural that the next step be a cartridge that could be used in these fine old sixguns without the use of clips that could be lost or misplaced. The result was the Remington .45 Auto Rim cartridge, a .45 ACP with a fat rim that supplied the headspace normally provided by the .45 ACP clip.
Many career soldiers, with a fondness in their heart for a good sixgun, held onto their .45 revolvers even after the production of the .45 Colt Government Model allowed supply to fall in line with demand. General Mark Clark was one who carried the .45 Smith & Wesson revolver in two world wars plus numerous other altercations.
After World War II, the design of Smith & Wesson revolvers were modernized to the present short action replacing the older, some would say smoother, pre-war "long" action. In 1950, the old 1917 .45 received a ribbed six and one-half inch barrel, a micrometer rear sight, a post front sight, and began winning matches as the 1950 Target Model .45.
Within a very few years, the 1950 Target Model received a heavy bull barrel and became the 1955 Target Model, to become known as the Model 25 in 1957. Until recently, this version was still available as the Model 25-2.
The 1917, the 1950, and the 1955 .45 sixguns are now gone from the Smith & Wesson lineup, but the .45 ACP/.45 AR revolver is a concept that will not die, and in 1988 it came back to life as the "45 Cal. Model 1988". Credit Bill Jensen of Smith & Wesson with the rebirth of the .45 Auto Rim/.45 ACP sixgun. In talking with both Sherry Collins and Tom Campbell of Smith & Wesson, I was informed that the new .45 is just one more variation on the basic theme at the Smith & Wesson factory, which is give the shooting public the guns that it demands.
The 1988 .45 Auto Rim, or Model 625-2, came about as Jensen's idea to provide revolver shooters in both IPSC and Pin Shooting with the best possible revolver for the job. In carrying this out, Smith & Wesson may have also provided what may possibly be the best defensive sixgun to come around in a long time.
There are many things right about this revolver showing obvious careful thought before it was built. The caliber is right for its designed purpose as the .45 ACP is the cartridge for all types of action shooting and defensive purposes. No other big bore cartridge is available in so many different loadings, nor so widely accepted and respected.
No falderal on this sixgun. Both hammer and trigger are standard style, not the cumbersome wide "target" type, and the trigger is smooth finished to allow the finger to slide over the face of it in fast double action shooting. The sights are plain black, no white outline rear, nor red insert in the front ramp to cause the gun to shoot to different points of aim according to the available light.
Now it really gets radical. For the first time, an N-frame revolver is available with a five-inch heavy L-frame style barrel with a full underlug plus the added bonus of a rounded K-frame style butt. Both of these factors combine to provide even less felt recoil than is normally experienced by the mild shooting .45 ACP or .45 AR loadings. With these two factors, the 625-2 becomes more than a competition sixgun; it in fact becomes a revolver that comes as close to perfection as this writer has ever experienced in a defensive sixgun.
The heavy barrel, the mild recoil combined with the fight stopping capabilities of the long proven .45 ACP, the round butt which allows those with small hands, both male and female, to handle the large N-frame Smith & Wesson big bore revolver, and the satin stainless finish, all add up to a first class fighting handgun.
Now add in the capability to use full moon clips with six rounds of .45 ACP ammunition making the fastest possible speed loading, and it is easy to see how popular this sixgun is going to be in law enforcement circles. That is the good news. The bad news is that Smith & Wesson originally announced that only 5000 of these revolvers will be made. That would be a major mistake from a company that has not been making mistakes lately. Rumor already has it that more will be produced. Let's hope that is true.
One does not have to be much of a prognosticator to see the 625-2 being modified to make it an even slicker defensive sixgun. The rear sight can easily be rounded to prevent it snagging on clothing or jacket linings. The barrel just begs to be cut to three or four inches or somewhere in between for those who want the fastest possible draw out of a high-riding hip holster, and combining this with a top quality action job with the emphasis on a smooth double action pull, would provide a nearly perfect fighting handgun for those who still prefer sixguns over those "upstart" semi-autos.
I said there are many things right about this revolver. Not supplying it with the normal factory, overly large, blocky N-frame grips is a major step forward. This .45 sixgun is fitted with Pachmayr round butt finger groove grips, The Gripper. A vast improvement over the standard factory stocks. BUT, I do not believe that finger groove grips belong on a sixgun designed for fast work. When my hand hits the grip, I want whatever position I get to be right. This is not possible with finger groove grips. Grippers are perfect, in some calibers actually mandatory for this shooter, for the hard-kickin' HandCannon Contenders from SSK. They also are great for deliberate shooting with long barreled revolvers be it in silhouette competition or hunting, neither of which calls for fast shots from the leather.
A better choice would have been the Packmayr round butt K-frame standard grip. I have such a pair of Pachmayrs on my Mag-Na-Port round-butted Model 29 and trying to install them on the 625-2 proved they were slightly too small. It is my understanding that this will soon be remedied and Pachmayr will be providing round butt grips to fit the N-frame. Since my round butt Pachmayrs would not fit the 625-2, I picked up a pair of Pachmayr Compacs and again found the same problem. They were too small for the round-butted N-frame, their installation leaving about one-fourth inch of the backstrap exposed for its entire length.
Now what? I sent out a call for help to BearHug Grips. Knowing how quickly I both wanted and needed the grips, BearHug supplied them in a few days, then called me with instructions on how to apply the finish which was sent in a small bottle, saving me about a week's waiting time.
The grips supplied by BearHug are smooth walnut with an open backstrap, filled in behind the trigger guard and front strap, and at my request, not cut for a speedloader but simply thinned down on the left grip to allow the fast use of full moon clips. These grips feel good, help me to get the big .45 sixgun on target fast without searching for unnecessary finger grooves, and the plain walnut simply looks good on the satin stainless finish of the 625-2.
Now that I had the .45 sixgun properly rigged for fast shooting, good leather was needed. Not such an easy task as holsters for five-inch heavy barrel revolvers are not standard fare. I called Wilson's Gun Shop and Bill directed me to the Prezine Mfg. Co. and in a little over a week I had a competition holster much like the Safariland Final Option but designed for a revolver. This is a suede leather lined, fully molded holster, designed with optimum speed in mind. The 625-2 comes out of the Prezine holster quickly, but is also secure and stays in until the shooter wants it to come out. Fast.
Since the 625-2 is also excellent as a duty/defensive sixgun, a call went out to El Paso Saddlery for a belt holster for the 625-2. "Are you familiar with the new 625-2?" was the question I posed to El Paso's genial owner Bob McNelis. "Familiar? I'm shooting one in IPSC. Do you know where I can get another one?" There's a man after my own heart! Within a few minutes, I had ordered a Basket Weave Tortilla, El Paso's answer to the pancake, as my packin' rig for the 625-2.
El Paso did it right on this holster. The Basket Stamped pattern is finished in a rich chocolate color and furnished with a full suede lining. The Tortilla rides high and tight to the body providing both comfort and security for the relatively heavy Smith & Wesson .45 (42 ounces with BearHug grip installed; 45.5 ounces with Pachmayr Gripper in place). A quick move of the hand and a snap of the thumb-break security strap and the 625-2 comes into action fast. I like the Tortilla so much that I have already ordered more El Paso leather.
O.K., the Smith & Wesson 625-2 feels good, looks good, mates up fabulously with custom grips and custom holsters. It is fast out of a competition holster and carries quite well in a packin' holster. All this adds up to exactly nothing if it doesn't shoot. Rest assured, it does shoot, and shoot very well indeed.
The first shots through the 625-2 were with iron sights and .45ACP factory ammunition from Federal, CCI , Winchester, and Hornady. Most groups were in the two and one-half to three-inch range. Just barely acceptable, certainly nothing great. To remove the variable of aging eyes plus a short barrel, an Aimpoint 1000 scope was mounted using a B-Square No-gunsmithing mount. This mount requires removal of the Smith & Wesson rear sight, addition of an adapter that taps into the recess at the rear of the top strap when the sight is removed, the tightening of two screws, and the mounting of the AimPoint. It sounds simple, and it is, the whole thing being accomplished in about two minutes by someone even as naturally fumble-fingered as I am.
The addition of the AimPoint red dot scope made things a little more interesting with groups coming down to the two-inch neighborhood, and I really got excited when Federal 185 grain Match .45 ACP ammunition placed six shots into one-inch at 25 yards. Now we were really getting somewhere.
How often have you read that the .45 Auto Rim revolvers could be used with .45 ACP ammunition without the use of the half-moon, or the newer full moon clips? When .45 ACP ammunition is used in the .45 Auto Rim revolvers, the mouth of the case theoretically butts up against the shoulder in the cylinder. Don't believe it. At least not for anything more serious than shooting tin cans. Without the clips, I experienced one or two misfires in each cylinder full using the softer Blazer aluminum ammunition and I am assuming either that it simply slide forward over the shelf in the cylinder as the firing pin hit the primer, or the Blazer aluminum case is a mite short for the chamber of the Smith & Wesson .45 also allowing the case to move forward as the firing pin hits the primer.
With other brands of ammunition, accuracy without the clips was good, but not really outstanding except for the Federal Match ammo. Then full moon clips were pressed into service. Viva la difference! Every group shrunk in size, some to one half the size of groups without the clips, except for the Federal .45 Match ammunition. It shot groups that were one-fourth inch larger with the clips! Interesting, what?
These tests convinced me that any serious use of the 625-2 and .45 ACP ammunition requires the use of half- or full-moon clips. It is a nuisance to pick the fired ACP brass out of the cylinder anyhow as the extractor does not pick up the empties as there is no rim to catch. As an extra added bonus with the use of clips, it is impossible for one fired case to slip under the extractor star as often happens with rimmed cartridges. A full-moon clip of .45 ACP's loads fast and unloads fast and positively. For defensive use, it would be foolish at the least, and dangerous at the most, to use the 625-2 with .45 ACP ammunition without clips.
Here are the results obtained firing .45 ACP ammunition in the 625-2 three different ways. That is using iron sights without clips, then an AimPoint without the use of clips, and finally using an AimPoint and full moon clips:
FIREARM: SMITH & WESSON 625-2
FACTORY .45 ACP
The next step in the testing process was to try some favorite .45 ACP handloads using jacketed bullets but with .45 AR brass. The 625-2 is going to be used a great deal by competition shooters, many of which will use speed loaders and .45 AR brass. Some of these loads went down pretty close to the tack-drivin' one-inch group size and even the heavy weight Sierra and Speer bullets, designed for the .45 Colt at 240 grains and 260 grains respectively, shot well. The Hornady 250 grain jacketed hollow point .45, another excellent bullet for the .45 Colt, could not be used as it would not chamber in the tight cylinder of the Smith & Wesson when the crimp groove was utilized. More on this a little later.
Results with jacketed bullet handloads in the .45 Smith & Wesson sixgun are as follows:
JACKETED BULLET LOADS
Now it was time for the real test of the Smith & Wesson 625-2. Any handgun that is going to be shot a lot, and this big-bore sixgun is going to be shot a lot, must be capable of handling cast bullets unless the shooter has either an unlimited supply of jacketed bullets or an unlimited supply of cash to purchase said bullets. Yes, it is the cast bullet that is still king when it comes to doing a lot of sixgun shooting.
Favorite cast bullet/load combinations were assembled for use in the 625-2 and I ran into my first problem with the Smith .45. Over the years I have learned, and it has sometimes been a hard lesson to learn with much time spent pulling loads, that one does not load a whole batch of ammunition without trying loads to see if the intended handgun will actually accept them. Nothing can be taken for granted when assembling ammunition even though one would expect loads that have been used for years in the Model 25 Smith & Wesson would also work in the 625. Not so!
Plans were made on paper to load Keith bullets crimped in the crimping groove and using .45 Auto Rim brass. These had worked well in the past and my plans called for the use of the Lyman #452423, a 240 grain semi-wadcutter and #454424, a 260 grain semi-wadcutter. The .45 semi-wadcutters were run through the lubri-sizer and as I got ready to load them, a little voice very strongly urged: "Better try 'em!" I loaded the first round with the #454424, and the loaded round which dropped into my Model 25-2 and seemed to rattle around a bit, would not chamber in the 625-2. Switching to the #452423, which was specifically designed for the .45 Auto Rim, gave the same results. The loaded round would not chamber.
My last hope for a heavy SWC bullet would be the Lyman-Thompson #452490GC. The first round was loaded with the gas-checked 250 grain semi-wadcutter, and voila, success. This excellent bullet has a front band that is small enough to allow it to fit the chambers of the 625-2, albeit quite snugly. And it proved to be a good choice for the 625-2 with 7.0 grains of Herco giving a muzzle velocity of 929 fps and putting six shots into a three-fourth inch group at 25 yards. That is great shooting for a big bore sixgun with cast bullets. Both 8.0 grains of Herco, at an even 1000 fps, and 13.0 grains of #2400, at a very slightly faster 1017 fps, shot into one and one-fourth inches, six shots at 25 yards.
The Keith .45 Colt 260 grain bullet #454424 could be used by crimping over the front band in AR brass and 7.0 grains of Unique gave a satisfying 900 + feet per second with six shots going into one and three-eighths inches. Note that all of these loads eclipse the long standard factory loading of the .45 Colt/255 grain bullet by 50-150 feet per second. That makes the 625-2 .45 AR into a viable close range hunting handgun for deer and black bear, as well as an action shooting/defensive sixgun.
Also quite satisfying were the results obtained with Speer's 250 grain swaged semi-wadcutter. This bullet is very soft and just does not work with every load/powder/gun combination. Happily, this bullet loaded over 6.0 grains of Unique and crimped in the crimping groove, for slightly over 750 feet per second, results in an accurate, mild shooting, easily assembled defense and small game load. Loads assembled with the swaged Speer .45 having muzzle velocities above 800 fps caused excessive leading.
Long-time favorite cast bullets for use in the .45 ACP have been Lyman's #452460, Hensley & Gibb's #68, and RCBS's #45-201KT. All three of these semi-wadcutters weigh at the 200 grain mark and usually are excellent performers in .45 ACP semi-automatics and proved to do the same in the .45 AR revolver. In fact, of fourteen loads tried, thirteen went into one and one-half inches or less, six shot into one-inch or less, and one load, using Lyman's #452460 and 6.0 grains of WW231, made a six-shot group of one-half inch center to center. Astounding accuracy for a big bore sixgun especially when one considers how far the bullet has to jump in the cylinder before it ever reaches the forcing cone and the rifling.
Accuracy with cast bullets was so good, so far above my Model 25-2, that I called Smith & Wesson to ask Tom Campbell whether or not the barrel specifications had been changed. His reply was that the barrel was cut the same as those supplied on the Model 25-2 but there was a reason for the accuracy. The chamber throats of the 625-2 are held to .453". What this means is simply that the cast bullet does not have to swell up in the cylinder and then be swaged down again when it hits the rifling. The result? Much better cast bullet accuracy.
Results of cast bullet loads used in the 625-2 are as follows:
CAST BULLET LOADS
The 625-2 is one of the best ideas to come out of the Smith & Wesson factory in many a moon. The only problem that I experienced with the firing of somewhere between 1500 and 2000 rounds was the tendency of the ejector rod to back out making it difficult to release the cylinder and swing it out for unloading and loading. A little Loc-tite judiciously applied should solve this problem.
After nearly 2000 rounds, the single action trigger pull continues to be very good and the double action pull, though smoother than it was at the start of the testing, still needs the benefit of an action job to smooth it out a bit more for fast, accurate double action shooting. Backing out the mainspring screw results in a much lighter DA pull but at the expense of removing tension on the mainspring, a trade-off which can lead to misfires.
My unsolicited advice to Smith & Wesson is "Don't stop". The 625-2 should remain a production gun in both blue and stainless options. And why just in .45 AR chambering? Bring out models in .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .45 Colt. A lot of sixgunners are going to appreciate the concept of the 625-2 and perhaps even more so if it is available in their particular favorite caliber. One Smith & Wesson distributor has already caught the fever and is offering stainless .44 Magnum Classic Hunters with five-inch barrels.
A sixgun that does one job well is a success. The 625-2 is a triple threat with the ability to perform well as an action shooting revolver, a defensive sixgun, and a hunting handgun.