WCW | S&W Model 64 – the Last Great Police 38

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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.

Smith and Wesson Model 64 Side Profile

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.

Model 64 by Smith and Wesson sexy profile

But they were strongly favored by the NYPD, and Smith & Wesson made five variants for the brave boys in blue.

NYPD Special OPS Patch

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”.

S&W Model 64

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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.

Model 64 by S&W fixed sites

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 that 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”.

.38 S&W SPL.

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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Mike Searson

Mike “the Mook” Searson is a veteran writer who began his career in firearms at the Camp Pendleton School for Destructive Boys at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire life, writing about guns and knives for numerous publications and consulting with the film industry on weapons while at the same time working as gunsmith and ballistician. Though seemingly a surly curmudgeon shy a few chromosomes at first meeting, Searson is actually far less of a dick and at least a little smarter than most of the Mad Duo’s minions. He is rightfully considered to be not just good company, but actually fit for polite company as well (though he has never forgotten his roots as a rifleman trained to kill people and break things, and if you look closely you’ll see his knuckles are still quite scabbed over from dragging the ground). You can learn more about him on his website or follow him on Twitter, @MikeSearson. [huge_it_gallery id="19"]


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2 thoughts on “WCW | S&W Model 64 – the Last Great Police 38

  • May 7, 2017 at 5:18 am
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    Carried a 64 2″ in a shoulder holster under my uniform coat while in uniform with the Chicago PD all through the 70’s and ’80s. I traded it off 10 years ago. 6 shot revolvers were boss then. Bought a 66 when they first came out.

    A lot of guys put there Pythons in storage and carried on of the stainless Smiths instead. Nice flashback!

    Reply
  • May 4, 2017 at 6:41 pm
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    I own revolvers precisely due to my deep-seated faith in mule-headed democrats. Once they’re done with DJT (and republicans have pissed away control of congress), you better believe ‘gun control’ will be at the top of their twisted agenda.

    This “golden age” of 18-round polymer wonders” won’t last forever.

    Reply

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