These two revolvers from the S&W Performance Center were built to push the .357 to the limit.
With all the handgun cartridges developed during the past 40 years, it is easy to forget just how great a step forward the .357 Mag. Was in 1935. This original magnum was the first handgun cartridge to best the ballistics of the .45 Colt.
Make no mistake, blackpowder loads are not wimp loads. The original blackpowder loading of the .45 Colt, from 1873 called for 40 grains of blackpowder. My hand-loads - using the old style balloon head brass, a 255 grain bullet and 40 grains of Goex blackpowder - achieve a muzzle velocity of 1,000+ fps.
With the primers and powder available in the 1870s, this may not have been possible, but there is no doubt that this load exceeded 900 fps in a 71/2" Colt Cavalry Model. This is potent power in a defensive sixgun.
Then in 1935, the .357 Mag. Literally rewrote the book on handgun cartridges with the first offering to achieve what was impossible with blackpowder. Those original loadings from Winchester powered by large rifle primers were in the 1,500 to 1,600 fps range from a long-barreled sixgun such as the 83/4" Smith & Wesson.
The .357 Mag. Became the cartridge of choice for peace officers and outdoorsmen. The first .357 sixguns from Smith & Wesson were truly custom guns with special fitting and tuning, and carrying a second factory registration number in addition to the regular serial number.
Sixty years after the .357 Mag. (which became officially known as the Model 27 in the 1950s) was offered to sixgunners, it was quietly and unceremoniously dropped from the Smith catalog. In the 3 1/2" barrel length it is the most business-like looking sixgun ever conceived; the 5" length was very popular as a packin' pistol and the favorite of lawman and writer Skeeter Skelton, the was an easy shooting; outdoorsman s sixgun. During its long reign, it was offered in both blue and nickel finishes and always carried an exquisitely checkered top strap and barrel rib.
Improving The Legend
Smith & Wesson's custom shop -- the Performance Center -- now offers a large framed eight-shot .357 known as the Model 627-PC. The original Model 627 with a 5" barrel was a heavy club of a sixgun. This is no longer true.
When chambered in .357 Mag., the big N-frame left a lot of solid steel in the cylinder. A few years back, custom sixgunsmiths were offering conversions on the Model 27 with seven-shot cylinders. Now Smith & Wesson has gone them...