Performance Center’s Model 627 8-shot .357-Magnum
By RONI TOLDANES
When people at cocktail parties discuss alcoholic beverages and mention the word Magnum, they mean a very large wine bottle. But when they talk about guns and drop the same word, they usually mean the big-bore wheelgun with a thundering blast.
That’s the stereotyped image of the .357-Magnum, a reputation that could have been brought about in recent years by the “Dirty Harry” go-ahead-make-my-day movies.
And this reputation isn’t entirely without basis.
Smith & Wesson developed the .357-Magnum in 1935. Its first production revolver for the cartridge was given to J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The manufacturer promoted the .357-Magnum then as “the most important handgun caliber developed in the 20th century … because it introduced the higher power that were unknown before in handguns.”
During the past 60 years, .357-Magnum revolvers ranked among the top choices for home defense and were mainly carried by law enforcement officers who disliked semi-autos. Since then, the gun’s design and features have virtually remained the same.
As the shooting circuit matured through the years, custom-made revolvers that looked like space guns began appearing at major tournaments. Custom gunsmiths took advantage of the absence of factory-produced competition revolvers and began crafting their own wheelgun designs based on stock revolvers.
This formed the groundwork for a new project by the Smith & Wesson Performance Center. They aimed to produce a modern version of the revolver that would finally quench the thirst of competition shooters. It needed to have more than six rounds in the cylinder.
The result is the Model 627, the hottest competition revolver to ever come out of the Smith & Wesson Performance Center.
The Model 627 is a .357-Magnum based on the venerable N-frame. It comes in two models: An “Open” version that includes a built-in compensator and red-dot optics and a “Limited” version for those who want to race without all the bells and whistles. In car racing they would be the Formula One and the Stock Car versions.
Competition shooters discovered many years ago that the .357-Magnum revolver, when loaded with .38 Special ammunition, was ideal for action shooting tournaments.
But why .38 Special? Well, because it offers the speed shooter the ability to perform a faster reload in the heat of competition. Other loads such as the .38-Super jiggle when mounted on moonclips, while .38 Special ammo fit rigidly. Without this undesirable jiggling, the shooter can line up his ammunition into the charge holes faster when he performs his speed reloads. And this is where the Model 627 becomes really handy.
The 627 accepts moonclips, an indispensable equipment for competitive shooters who appreciate the significance of saving precious microseconds during speed reloads.
Competition shooters also realize that while the .357 Magnum is a great load for self-defense, it is way too powerful for the ballistic requirements of sports shooting. The .38 Special’s case is more than adequate to handle the elevated pressure requirements necessary to drive the hottest revolver compensators in the shooting circuit today.
Since the Model 627 was built to withstand sizzling Magnum loads, it should have no problem firing even the hottest high-performance .38 Special reloads.
But it is the 627’s eight-shot configuration that makes many revolver action shooters salivate. Eight shots provide the extra firepower they need to be competitive in action shooting tournaments.
In matches organized by the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC), where courses of fire are traditionally designed with 8-round strings per shooting location, an eight-shot revolver sets the wheelgunner on almost equal footing with competitors who use semi-autos.
Gone are the days of time-consuming standing reloads. Just like his semi-auto competitors, the revolver shooter can now perform his reloads as he moves from one shooting box to another instead of performing it while in a fixed position.
In Steel Challenge competition, where revolver shooters shoot at five steel targets per run, the Model 627 allows the shooter to recover his misses with three extra rounds in the cylinder. This definitely levels the playing field between revolver and semi-auto steel shooters.
The Performance Center knows that the shooting sports arena is the racetrack of future street guns. This is where radical firearms concepts are designed and tested before they reach the blueprint stage of the manufacturing process. So when the Performance Center decided to build this gun, they consulted several people, including World Revolver Speed Shooting Champion Jerry Miculek and Ken Jorgensen, S & W’s public relations manager.
Jorgensen is an active revolver shooter and he hangs around with the world’s fastest wheelgunners. He understands the meaning of cutting-edge technology in the revolver world.
The three-man team involved in the Performance Center’s project to build the Model 627 were chief designer Paul Liebenberg, project coordinator Jimmy Ray and engineer Dick Mochak.
Liebenberg, an immigrant from South Africa, became one of the country’s most popular gunsmiths when he opened his Pistol Dynamics custom shop in Southern California in the late 1970s. is radical yet tasteful designs have been featured in various gun magazines around the world. He was the natural choice to head the design aspect when Smith & Wesson decided to open its Performance Center in 1990 to cater to custom needs of its distributors and select clientele.
When Liebenberg began working on this new project, he veered away from the traditional method of the manufacturing process. Usually, the blueprint is made before the gun parts are produced. This time, Liebenberg did the opposite.
“We started cutting metal even without the blueprint,” says Jimmy Ray, who has been with Smith & Wesson for 25 years. “We did it by feel.”
Ray said the most challenging part of the building process was the creation of the 8-shot cylinder. To design this cylinder they had to spread out the charge holes and make space for eight rounds of a big caliber. By spreading the charge holes, they had to change the cylinder-to-barrel alignment. No problem. The Performance Center team simply raised the barrel lineup by 0.035 of an inch compared to the standard configuration. The position of the firing pin was also adjusted to conform with the new centerline.
The charge holes in the cylinder were also chamfered and beveled to enhance the speed of loading and extracting spent shells. This cuts the reloading time, much like the function of an enlarged magwell in semi-auto pistols.
The cylinder latch thumb piece was ergonomically designed to give the shooter quick access, allowing him to open the cylinder faster. That design has recently been adopted by Smith & Wesson for all their revolvers.
The people at Smith & Wesson know that revolvers haven’t changed much over the last fifty years. The challenge was to produce a gun with a distinctive look while maintaining the traditional appeal.
It should have a perfect blend of the old world charm and the functional beauty of modern technology. And it should not have the appearance of a funny-looking space gun.
Liebenberg’s aesthetic influence is evident in the flowing lines and angles this model.
The team initially worked on the major parts, such as the barrel. For a faster draw from the holster, they lightened the barrel by flattening both sides, making it look like a slide for semi-autos. It was also swept up at the bottom to further reduce its weight, “without affecting the barrel’s overall strength,” Ray says.
The downside to a .357 magnum is that recoil can be pretty nasty.
This is not true if you have an effective compensator, like in the case of the Open category revolver: Two trapezoidal ports on each side of the 6-inch revolver are said to be much more effective at reducing recoil without sacrificing velocity. The Limited category gun doesn’t have the ports and features a shorter 5-inch barrel. The Open gun has been tapped and drilled to accept Weaver-type scope mounts. Besides these differences, the two stainless steel guns are identical.
A Tasco PDP3, one of the most popular red-dot scopes on the circuit today, crowns the Open revolver. With this optical set-up, the gun is ready to battle with the fastest blasters on the speed shooting circuit.
Hogue rubber grips were used for the Limited centerfold gun and wood grips for the Open, but Ray said the final productions guns for both models will come with exotic wood grips.
Both guns will leave the factory with 3.5 to 4 lbs. of trigger pull when in the single action mode and 9 lbs when used in double action. Does that ring a bell in your brain? It should, if you’re used to shooting custom semi-autos with very light triggers.
As a company policy, Smith & Wesson revolvers come with “generic” factory triggers.
If you live in the United States, you should understand why. Americans actively exercise their right to bear arms and their freedom to call their attorneys. For the Performance Center, the trigger pull is a delicate liability issue. So the standard factory triggers were meant to avoid accidental discharges – and lawsuits.
Lighter, custom trigger pulls, however, can be arranged from the S&W Performance Center as an after-market job. They know the needs of competition shooters and, Ray said, they would be more than happy to accommodate experienced action shooters who desire very light and crisp trigger pulls.
With almost a century and a half of experience making revolvers, the people at Smith & Wesson should know how to make a pretty good one by now. The Model 627 triggers no disappointment. Fitting and metalwork is very well executed.
Before each Model 627 leaves the factory, it will be manually polished by hand using Arkansas polishing stones to take out the machining marks and provide a smooth transition among metal parts, said Ray, the project coordinator.
Ray said Lew Horton Distributing Co., would market the Limited guns while the Open revolvers would be available through the Performance Center. The retail prices on these guns have not been set, but we hear it will be priced lower than the most popular custom revolvers in the circuit today. If you don’t have the budget to buy both versions, it’s going to be very difficult to decide which one to bring home.
Both guns are impeccably engineered to perform their required tasks. But if you decide to get the Limited gun, check the iron sights. It should have an adjustable black blade sight and a front sight which Smith & Wesson calls McGivern gold bead. It was named after Ed McGivern, who was considered the fastest shooter alive in 1955 after he put five shots into a half dollar-sized group in less than 9/20 of a second using a Smith & Wesson revolver. He did it without any help from the purveyors of race guns – the Smith & Wesson Performance Center.
Imagine how fast McGivern could have fired those five shots if he had the S&W Model 627.
He could have even fired eight shots.
(Roni Toldanes was managing editor of Gun World, the oldest firearms magazine in the United States; group managing editor of Knives Illustrated, and editor of Gun Games, America’s shooting sports magazine. He also worked as editor-in-chief of weekly newspapers; news editor, senior copy editor, assignment editor and editorial board member of major daily newspapers in California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. He covered southeast Asia as a foreign correspondent and chief editor of an international news agency.)