Review: Walther PPK .380 ACP
Major Pandemic 12.10.14
There is one and only reason that I own a Walther PPK: because of the Bond films. Every boy eventually wants to just like Bond. The Walther PPK is a cool and sexy pistol, but it’s hardly a modern defensive firearm. The allegedly underpowered and supposedly unreliable PPK, with its goofy operational requirements, is still the embodiment of of a “10” on the hotness scale.
Icons are like that; sometimes they’re infallibly awesome and other times they are just fun to look at. The PPK for better or worse has that reputation of a fun gun because of Bond. Part of that reputation has been the constant churn of manufacturers carrying the PPK manufacturing flag. Almost everyone agrees that the old German made Walther PPKs were the best and most reliable. Both Interarms and S&W were well meaning, but did the PPK moniker no favors with reliability problems. The PPK requires a certain attention to detail to make reliable, but a high production paired with cost sensitive street pricing made for a gun that was less than reliable. Today, Walther is again attempting to return the PPK’s reputation as a solid and reliable handgun that still delivers the sex appeal we all know as the “Bond Gun.”
Fit, finish, feel, and features
The Walther produced PPK is far better than any of the Interarms or S&W samples I have seen. I will be the first to say that the I would like to see even more refinement of the venerable PPK.
The fit is excellent and very tight on the Walther, the finish is very nice, but the feel is where I think five extra minutes during production could have made a really beautiful gun even better. My complaint is that there are a lot of sharp edges on the Walther PPK, some of which are pretty darn sharp. One extra finishing step to work around all those edges with a polishing bit would do wonders for the final feel of the PPK and greatly improve carry comfort or at least avoid scarring up a lady’s beautiful purse. I have spent a few minutes with a Dremel to soften all the edges and also add some contour to the beaver tail for added carry comfort, and it made a world of difference.
From a features perspective, the PPK is either the most confounding design or elegantly simple depending on who you are talking to.
The PPK has a unique safety, the magazine release in an odd place, and the gun charges in a unique way thanks to the absence of a magazine release. Dropping the safety decocks the hammer and locks the firing pin, and offers a totally safe carry option, but I only use the feature to decock the gun.
The PPK does lock back on the last round, but you need to train a bit to have your thumb remember the high placement of the magazine release on the grip and then remember the overhand slide charge move to release the slide after a new mag is inserted. If I am carrying the PPK, I am doing so due to a need for a very compact concealable gun and pretty much consider it a disposable 6+1 round gun. If I am that worried that I may need another magazine, I will carry a higher capacity gun. The PPK for me is more of a mindset of “I have a gun” vs “I have the ultimate gun” as I run down the street to the grocery store.
For the record, I carry my PPK regularly when I need a small concealment pistol, which means that I consider my stainless PPK reliable, but to get it there took some work and some precautions. The Walther produced PPK is very tight, especially the stainless model, and really starts to shine after running a hundred or so rounds through the gun. The PPK needs to be broken in to really run well, and some cheap .380 practice ammo will have you grinning like Bond after each range session. I have also worked the gun over internally and externally with a polishing Dremel bit and hard red polishing compound to slick up all the surfaces and improve reliability.
Despite what I am about to note as a serious reliability issue I have experienced with the wrong ammo, the Walther PPK has been highly reliable for me both as a defensive and fun plinking gun. The pistol has digested hundreds of rounds of ammo from inexpensive to expensive without an issue or bobble with the exception of two specific brands.
That noted, there are some precautions from an ammo perspective. Like so many of the older pre-hollow point semi-auto designs, the PPK was historically designed to function and operate best with round nose FMJ rounds, and it does. Start stuffing hot loaded max sized SAMMI spec hollow point rounds and feeding problems can occur if you have not done your testing.
As long as the rounds feed from the magazine, I have not have any reliability problems. The one problem I have experienced has been some .380 hollow point rounds jamming in the magazine. I was testing some potential replacements to my Hornady 90gr cone shaped HP defensive rounds. The proposed replacements were the DPX and Sig Sauer .380 round nose HP ammo. Both brands generated the first, second, third, and fourth Type 3 jams (gun is operable) I have ever experienced with a handgun or rifle, and it shocked me that this occurred on a fairly high end defensive pistol with high dollar defensive ammo.
The jam was actually caused by the ammo jamming in the magazine, so standard “Type 1 – tap and rack” and “Type 2 Jam – full clearing and mag swap” maneuvers did nothing to resolve the issue. A mag swap was done, and I had the same problem with the other magazine. This is a really bad jam that should cause you to reach for your pocket knife. To resolve the issues, I had to bang the magazine on the tailgate to dislodge the stock rounds in the magazine while poking them with my knife blade. I had the same problem with the DPX ammo, so I had the privilege to experience one of the single worse firearm jams four times in a row.
This is not necessarily the PPK’s fault, as I have worked at least 400 rounds through the PPK and never had this issue with my defensive Hornady rounds. What I did find was that the shape of the Sig and DPX rounds did not fit with the front of the magazine contour, so the rounds would hang and tilt in the magazine and then jam. Always run at least a box of your new favorite untested ammo through your gun before you bet your life on an untested ammo and gun combo.
From an accuracy perspective, I have been extremely impressed with the Walther PPK. The gun naturally shoots better than pretty much any small compact pistol I own. 25-yard shots on my Action Target steel silhouette are easy, and in fact hitting the 6” steel swinger is pretty easy, too.
The PPK has been around for quite a while, with a few refinements, including chamber loaded indicators and stainless options. In some cases the versions we have seen from manufacturers other than Walther have delivered the novelty, but not guns that offer the reliability of the original German versions. I think the new Walther produced PPK version puts a lot of quality back into the design. Shooters just need to spend a little time breaking in the pistol and assuring the ammo they want to stake their life on works in the pistol. I have no reservations about my PPK’s reliability when fed with Hornady 90gr FTX Critical Defense.
The PPK is an icon, and I feel like I am carrying a legend when I carry it. I can hear you screaming at your screen right now saying “Hey stupid, carry a real gun with more reliability and get over your Bond issues!” Well, usually I am carrying some other full capacity firearm or even Walther’s own single stack 9mm PPS, but on occasion the romance of this gun grabs me and I end up stuffing it in my waistband and walking out the door to save the world.
- Caliber: .380 ACP
- Finish: Stainless
- Trigger Pull: DA: 13.4 lbs / SA: 6.1 lbs
- Barrel Length: 3.3″
- Capacity: 6 rnds +1
- Overall Length: 6.1″
- Height w/Magazine: 3.8″
- Width: 1″
- Sight Radius: 4.2″
- Weight (empty mag): 1.4 lbs