WTW: S&W Model 61 Escort, “You Talkin’ Ta Me?!”
Mike the Mook
When most people are asked if they’ve heard of the S&W Model 61 or “Escort,” they usually draw a blank. However, anyone who has seen the 1976 film Taxi Driver will certainly remember this little gem. It’s the drawer slide gun that Travis Bickle buys from Easy Andy in his hotel room. We’d love to make something like this, but with our luck it would shoot the gun across the room and into the bad guy’s hand.
The Smith & Wesson Model 61 is a subcompact, recoil-operated, semi-automatic pistol chambered in .22 long rifle and designed for self-defense. It was made from 1970 to 1973, and is sometimes referred to as “the Escort” or “Pocket Escort”. Although development began in the early 1960s and languished for some years, the Model 61 was marketed for self-defense to fill a void in the pocket auto market after the Gun Control Act of 1968, which banned the importation of small concealable handguns.
Model 61s were available in blued or nickel-plated finishes with black or white plastic grip panels.
The first generation pistols (serial numbers B1,001–B7,800) had numerous reliability problems, and according to Smith & Wesson historian Jim Supics, many were returned to the factory for repair. Many of these returned pistols were not actually repaired, however, as employees at Smith & Wesson simply took a new pistol off the line, restamped the serial number and shipped the pistol to the customer in place of the old one because repair time would have been too costly.
The next generation (Model 61-1, with serial number range B7,801 through B9,850) incorporated a magazine safety. The follow-up version (Model 61-2 with serial number range B9,851–B40,000) incorporated a barrel nut in the design to alleviate certain problems with reliability and lock-up. The final run (61-3 with serial number range B40,001–B65,438) made use of an aluminum frame.
One of the attributes of these little handguns is the placement of the barrel below the recoil system. This eats the recoil – what little there is – and makes for a more accurate pistol due to the lower bore axis.
Surprisingly, these pistols seem to have little appeal to collectors or shooters. Most have either never heard of them or lump them into the Saturday Night Special category with the Lorcins, Phoenixes, Davis, and Jennings types as well as the thousands of junkers banned from importation in 1968.
That’s unfortunate because with modern ammunition, they are much more reliable than when they were first released.
Learn more about this little handgun on its IMFDB page, or in this entry on The Arms Room (by our very own Tamara Keel!). There area also still entries for them in several collector- and sales-groups (at least as of this writing), including Armslist and Gunbroker. You can find additional imagery there, though we can’t vouch for the quality (or lack thereof) of any weapons displayed. Check out the original instructions for use and maintenance guide here in the Smith & Wesson .22 Escort Model No 61 Parts List and Guide.
Have any of you reading this ever carried one of these Escorts?
Do any of you reading this have an unusual or little-known weapon you’d like us to look at? If so, sound off in the comments!
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About the Author: 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.