The Electric Walther FP
Last week when writing about the match grade target pistols, I came across one that absolutely fascinated me. While still maintaining the quintessential qualities of nearly every handgun every created, there are enough foreign characteristics about it to pique the curiosity of any firearms enthusiast while maintaining more than ample practicality to earn their admiration. As promised in last week’s article, this week we will delve into the Walther FP pistol.
Looking at the pistol from the left side, there are a few small cues to indicate this isn’t an ordinary pistol, but nothing that would earn your attention from across the room. However, upon a closer look, things become unique pretty quickly.
Electrical components? What is this a phased-plasma rifle in the 40-watt range? Perhaps not that far in the future, but the Walther FP is certainly a modern firearm with its roots deeply bedded in the 19th century during the heyday of precision target shooting. Like several firearms designed in the 1970s, such as the Steyr AUG or the SPAS-12, it is an unabashed departure from traditional firearms design, while still incorporating several fundamental features. Let’s take a look.
Of course, it still maintains the basic shape of a pistol and the basic components: grip, barrel, sights, etc, but that is where the similarities end. The wooden grip of the Walther FP is nearly sculpture-like in form and is combined with an action that smartly clicks to its necessary positions. Said action also appears to be the only thing joining the grip to the barrel, which otherwise hovers roughly an eighth of an inch above the stock.
Normally, beginning with a description of how the gun operates would be customary, but in this case displaying how one even grips the firearm would be helpful. If one were to simply try and grip the Walther FP like any other pistol, they may or may not be successful depending on the size of their mitts. There is an opening in the back that a shooter, if they’ve held any kind of handgun before, instinctively tries to wrap their hand around. However, there is an adjustable wedge on the grip and is one of the key features of the pistol. Using a large plastic knob on the left side of the grip, one can tighten or loosen the tension so that the wedge on the right side of the grip may be raised or lowered. Order of operation is: loosen, place hand inside, slide up the wedge, and tighten into place. Once on the hand, a shooter is essentially wearing a wooden glove with a gun mounted on it. Such a mechanical reinforcement of proper grip not only feels surprisingly comfortable but also increases the likelihood of an accurate shot. The hand is no longer tasked with gripping the gun so it may now focus on other things such as stability, coordinating with the eye, and the minutia of the trigger pull. While discussing the grips, it should also be mentioned that the index finger is isolated from the others by use of a partition that flows in line with the bottom of the trigger guard, and the thumb is given a nice thumbhole on the left side in which to rest. Less observable is a pleasing palm swell which makes this Walther feel like it was custom made for your hand regardless of the user’s size.
Controls on the pistol are relatively simple. There is the grip adjustment knob that has already been discussed, but all other controls are located on top of the pistol. The rear sight is perhaps the easiest to spot and is a pair of easily manipulated micrometer knobs. The rear knob adjusts the windage, while the front one changes the elevation. On this particular model, they have been labeled by the previous owner since the factory markings are in German. The sights are wide and short, which makes finding the tall front sight a remarkably easy task.
Moving muzzleward there is a long lever laying alongside the right of the barrel. Lifting it up and rearward with the tab that extends over the top of the barrel drops the action’s falling block. With the block lowered the breech is accessible and the gun may be loaded. However, this lever is performing much more than just lowering the “block.” When in the closed position, lifting it ever so slightly elicits a small electric click. Under the lever is a small electronic switch, which shall be discussed later. Also, once the lever is lifted to the 90-degree mark there is a tactile and audible *chunk* that feels like a solid ball-and-detent has given way, at which point the falling block jumps a bit before beginning to sync its movement with that of the lever. At the lever’s fullest extension, it also catches a small tab that is flush with the breech serving as the pistol’s ejector.
Most notable of all these controls is the electronic toggle switch on the top of the stock, to the left of the barrel. It also has a series of LED lights behind a small window. These are all controls that relate directly to the Walther FP’s unique firing system.
To prevent this sounding like an “Electronics 101” class, I’ll keep this as brief and specific as possible. It bears mentioning that because the firing system on this Walther is electronic, it possesses the most unimaginable hair trigger. It is so sensitive, that it’s not hard to imagine an actual hair setting it off. That said, all necessary precautions must be taken to manipulate the gun as little as possible after it has been loaded, and the firing system activated. An accidental or negligent discharge is far too easy to imagine.
As mentioned, the trigger is electronic and micro-adjustable for length and weight of pull via two tiny screws located at each end of the trigger guard. The trigger itself is also little more than a screw which can be angled in any direction of the shooter’s preference.
Instead of depending on a sear to activate a firing pin, and the physical movement required by that system, the electronic activation of this trigger is less than a mouse click. Powered by a 9-volt battery housed in front of the trigger guard, the solenoid activated firing pin moves instantaneously once the trigger is glanced. The lever that opens the breech must be completely shut for the circuit to be closed, allowing the gun to fire. That breech-lowering lever and the on-off toggle switch on the stock are the only two “safeties” preventing the hair trigger from activating. Once they are activated, very little prevents this performance pistol from completing its task.
To fire the pistol, first ensure the power switch is set to “off.” Then, raise the lever which disconnects the circuit via a small red contact point, as well as lowers the breech for loading. Before loading, and while facing downrange, use the small peephole located inside the grip to peer all the way down the barrel ensuring no obstructions are present or any type of fouling that could potentially throw off the shot. Once complete, and still pointing the gun downrange, place your hand into the grip and tighten it. Load a round into the breech and close it. Activate the power switch and wait for the red flashing “Ready” light to come on, and the gun is ready to fire. If no round is loaded in the chamber, the flashing red LED will not light. Upon touching the trigger, the red LED will deactivate and the green light will light as long as the trigger has been activated.
Walther received two U.S. patents regarding this firing system: one for the electronic switch under the loading lever that connects the circuit, and the other for the actual electronically activated firing pin.
In what type of competition is this used? 50m Free Pistol. As the name suggests, there are very few rules around the pistol itself, but there are several for the shooter.
1. Competitors must use .22 caliber rimfire pistols
2. Open sights. No optics.
3. Shooters must be standing with no supports.
4. One-handed shots only.
5. The grip can only extend to the wrist. Nothing beyond that.
6. The trigger must be set off by trigger finger of the shooting hand.
7. Non-single shot pistols may be used, but only one round may be loaded at a time.
8. Matches last two hours for 60 shots to take place.
9. Unlimited practice shots may be taken before you begin.
10. 60 shots for a max score of 600 (world class shooters shoot 560 or better).
Oh, did I mention that the “9-ring” on the target is only 4-inches in diameter? The 10-point ring is barely over 2-inches (50mm), the bullseye is around 3/4 of an inch, and shooters are expected to place shots in those circles at 50 yards. They do this for up to two hours! This is a marathon of a sport requiring an incredible mental fortitude and likely a vigorous rub-down of the shoulder and neck muscles afterward.
Despite the rather glowing review of the gun thus far, it is far from without its detractors. After all, the FP was only produced from 1977-1991. Some folks complain of the weight of the gun, but the FP tips the Toledos at 49.4 oz (1400.46 g). By comparison, the popular Morini CM 84E weighs a similar 43.73 oz (1240 g), and the 2016 Gold Medal winner in the 50 m Free Pistol, a CM 162El Titanium wielded by South Korea’s Jin Jong-oh, weighs a scant 35.97 oz (1020 g). In other words, it’s heavier, but a six-ounce difference would only matter to high levels of competition. Unfortunately, that’s exactly who Walther was counting on to snatch up these pistols.
Then there comes the issue of the electronics. The boards on many of these guns have stopped working for a number of proposed-yet-unconfirmed reasons. Here are some of them in brief:
- The screw that secures the battery compartment door is able to be tightened too far, putting harmful pressure on the board
- The power required to avoid light primer strikes was too much for the board’s components.
- The boards were contracted out to a third party causing a number of technical issues.
- This theory is somewhat supported by others who claim that Walther once stated that a “supplier” owned the rights to the board, and that supplier had gone out of business.
- One of the board’s wires is rubbed by part of the frame, remove the insulation of even breaking the wire. An engineering mismatch such as that, while seemingly unlikely, is certainly more likely when a third-party component comes into play.
It bears mentioning that all of these potential reasons are ONLY THEORIES. There is yet to emerge a verified, solitary cause for the mishaps.
One thing seems to be unanimous: Walther left its customers and dealers high and dry. Claims abound of Walther refusing to acknowledge the problem, provide support, or even make the schematics of the board available to hobbyists who wished to produce one themselves. For a while, it appears that Walther was replacing boards with newer designs, but this had little effect on the outcome and ultimately, the gun was quietly pulled from production while existing models were left to fend for themselves. Understandably, this left a sour taste in the mouth of many, who will often begrudgingly nod to the gun’s otherwise high quality.
The Walther FP being offered in Rock Island Auction Company’s 2017 February Regional Auction has been painstakingly well kept. The wood is excellent, the bluing is nearly brand new, and as of this writing, the board appears to function flawlessly, though the gun has not been fired to test this. Ultimately, it is a remarkably well-built and high-quality target pistol with an Achilles heel that not only shortened its life on the market but also gave it a unsettlingly quiet good-bye. The “official” information on this pistol is remarkably sparse considering how recently it was manufactured, so hopefully, this article and its accompanying video (coming soon) document some valuable information on this fascinating but ultimately doomed Walther pistol.
-Written by Joel R. Kolander