If you were born before 1990, chances are that you remember seeing police officers wearing a holstered revolver. If you were born before 1975 and served as a police officer, it is highly likely that it was your first handgun out of the academy. For nearly 100 years the .38 Special was the “go-to” cartridge for law enforcement officers.
In this modern era of polymer-framed, striker fired semiautomatic pistols, revolvers seem a bit dated. However, the Model 64 by Smith & Wesson may be the greatest incarnation of the .38 caliber police revolver.
Basically, the Model 64 is a stainless steel Model 10, a design with roots at the turn of the 20th century and fourteen or fifteen versions produced until 2012 or so. The Model 64 hit the market in 1970 as a no-frills stainless steel double-action revolver chambered in .38 Special.
It was the first stainless steel revolver approved for NYPD, and the last authorized service revolver as the department transitioned to semiautomatic pistols in the 1990s.
Built on the K-Frame, Model 64s can safely handle +P ammunition and are marked to reflect this (since at least the 64-4). Originally offered with a 4″ taper barrelled square butt or a 2″ round butt, a 4″ heavy barelled version followed in 1974 and became a favorite with many police agencies.
But they were strongly favored by the NYPD, and Smith & Wesson made five variants for the brave boys in blue.
Unlike other department-issued pistols or revolvers, NYPD Model 64s are marked “NY1” inside the yoke or on the side plate as opposed to the more common “NYCPD” marking. These were intended to be purchased by individual officers as opposed to department issue wheelguns.
Recently a slew of firearms wholesalers has been offering police trade-ins for sale, making the Model 64 a common sight at many shooting ranges. When the price dropped below $300, we picked one up. Although it was not an NYPD gun (ours was marked INOP, which we think means Indiana Office of Probation, in reference to Indiana County, PA as opposed to the state), it was definitely issued to some department and the condition was more “like new” than the advertised “Very Good”.
This was not one of the more common DAO (Double Action Only) guns as it had a full checkered hammer. It was outfitted with factory rubber grips and has the infamous “Hillary hole” (a keyhole for a cylinder lock). The 4″ barrel was not tapered and is of Smith & Wesson’s latest design involving two-piece construction. Sights are fixed and the SA trigger pull comes in at 4.5 lbs with a crisp DA pull of 11.75 pounds.
Some of you may be thinking, “How is this great? Fixed sights, two-piece barrel, Hillary hole, no rails and less than .357 Magnum in power?”
Note, we did not call it a target revolver, hunting revolver, or, heaven forbid, a tactical revolver. In this day and age, most .38s are snubbies that hold five shots and ride in a pocket holster as a backup gun. However, when your local flatfoot walked the beat with a revolver, this was the best of its kind.
As for the two-piece barrel, it starts out relatively thin and threads into the frame for ease in manufacturing and assembly. It lacks the flat spot at the bottom of the forcing cone, which eliminates a weak point in the K and L frame designs (more so with the .357 Magnum caliber revolvers like the Model 66, but in this case it ensures a good service life for a steady diet of +P ammunition). The thin barrel is then encapsulated by a shroud that covers it from the outside. This method of construction is used on the powerful X-Frames such as the S&W 460 and S&W 500. The only downside to this barrel other than eliminating the classic lines of a pinned and recessed barrel is that they are not user-serviceable. Again, this was intended as a police revolver and not a target piece or a revolver that could be easily “bubba’d”.
The factory rubber grips and the relatively heavy stainless steel frame soak up much of the recoil in +P loads, but when you load it up with light target loads, you will find these to be some of the most accurate revolvers Smith & Wesson has turned out as a service weapon.
We find just about everything in the Model 64 makes a winning combination as far as a .38 Special revolver. If you look at its lineage to the first DA swing-out wheelguns S&W produced in 1899, you could say it only took them 90+ years to finally get it right. Unfortunately, by that time the world had moved on.
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