Steyr – The Other Austrian Handgun

Steyr AUG

Steyr AUG

Admit it: when you hear the name Steyr, you think of the AUG.

That’s only natural.  It is Steyr’s most memorable gun.  The AUG cuts an instantly-recognizable profile, and it screams “COOL” and “HIGH-TECH” at equal volume.

But Steyr’s history of military & civilian gunmaking goes back to the late 1800s, and they were a player in the handgun game until World War 1.

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The late 1800s were a fertile period for gun design.  The first self-loading pistols were invented, and a lot of radical concepts were explored.  Steyr was part of this revolution in gun technology, and they created many interesting handguns.

 

Steyr Pistols

Steyr Pistols

Those are some seriously Steampunky guns.  And they weren’t just radical in their looks.  The Steyr-Mannlicher M1894 used a unique blow-forward action.  The Steyr-Mannlicher M1901/M1905 was one of the simplest blowback-operated pistols ever designed, with lockwork that closely resembles that of a single-action revolver.  Steyr wasn’t just playing around with gun design, they were looking for military business, and they found it.  The Roth-Steyr M1907 was the first self-loading pistol to replace a revolver in military service, when it was adopted by the Austro-Hungarian army as a cavalry weapon.  The  Steyr M1911/M1912 (also called the Steyr-Hahn) was adopted as the official Austro-Hungarian sidearm in World War 1.  Neither was long in service, since they both shared an Achilles’ Heel with other European pistols of that era: they did not combine the storage of ammunition in the grip (rather than ahead of the grip like a Mauser Broomhandle) with a removable magazine to facilitate fast reloading:

 

Steyr Loading

Steyr Loading

Steyr also made some pocket pistols, including the post-WW2 Steyr SP (which looks very much like a Mauser HSc and Walther PPK).  But after WW1, Steyr was less prevalent in the handgun market.  And after the SP, Steyr handguns dropped off the radar.

Steyr was not out of the game, however.  Beginning in 1968 they started designing a 9mm pistol to enter into competition to become the Austrian military sidearm.  This design, which would eventually become the Steyr GB, took an interesting detour in the early 1970s when an American Steyr importer obtained the blueprints and began manufacturing their own version in Illinois.  This stainless-steel pistol was called the Rogak P-18, and it was haphazardly manufactured and unreliable.  Steyr took legal action to stop production of the Rogak, and in 1980 they released their own official version: the Steyr GB.

 

Steyr GB

Steyr GB

It was a pretty revolutionary design.  It used a gas-delayed blowback action which made it recoil less, with few moving parts (less than 50).  The frame was 2 halves that were welded together.  Its 18-shot capacity (without an extended magazine) ties with the H&K VP70 as the highest available in a pistol. Does the term “wondernine” come to mind?

But disappointment was delivered to Steyr with a devastating one-two combination.  In 1983 the Steyr GB lost the contract trials for the Austrian military to a then-newcomer: Glock.  And in 1984 the Steyr GB was eliminated from the U.S. military trials due to reliability issues.  Steyr tried to market the GB to civilian shooters, but it was priced higher than many competing guns and the 9mm cartridge was not yet popular enough to ensure an adequate audience.  Steyr stopped making the GB after 15,000 – 20,000 guns were made.

Steyr tried some other concepts as well.  They designed a large select-fire pistol called the TMP (Tactical Machine Pistol) and a semi-auto version called the SPP (Special Purpose Pistol).  They might look familiar to you:

 

Steyr SPP and TMP

Steyr SPP and TMP

Steyr did not have much success with the design, and in 2001 they sold the rights to Swiss manufacturer Brugger & Thomet, who manufacture a modified version called the MP9.

To go after the civilian & police market, Steyr created the Model M (full-size) and Model S (compact) pistols in 9mm, .40S&W and .357SiG (M only).  These were polymer-framed pistols with good ergonomics and low bore axis, which debuted in 1999 and 2000:

 

Steyr M and S

Steyr M and S

Gun Tests magazine reviewed an M9 and an M40 and, with the exception of 2 light primer strikes with 1 brand of ammunition, the guns ran well.   They were accurate, despite a sighting system that some users had a hard time adjusting to.  Unlike the typical sighing system on a handgun (a square front post viewed through a rectangular rear notch), the Steyrs used a triangle+trapezoid sighting configuration:

 

Steyr Sights

The testers felt that this sighting arrangement worked OK out to 50 feet or so, but farther distances made achieving the gun’s inherent accuracy difficult with the sight picture.  (The importer swapped out the Steyr sights on some guns to a more traditional post & notch arrangement).

Steyr has since updated the grip design & ergonomics and added a front rail, and the new models are the M-A1 (full-size) and S-A1 (compact).

 

Steyr M-A1 and S-A1

Steyr M-A1 and S-A1

They can be hard to find.  Due to currency exchange rate fluctuations, the flow of Steyr handguns into the U.S.A. has never been steady.  And with so many brands competing for space in gun store display cases, most dealers go with the more common brands like Glock, Springfield, Kahr and S&W because they have better name recognition.

But these Steyr models appear to be worthy alternatives to their most direct competitor: Glock.  That isn’t a surprise, given Steyr’s long history and track record of innovation.

Here is a video of the M9-A1, illustrating the ergonomics and the unique trigger action.

And, after hearing all of the flak that Ruger is taking for pirating Kel-Tec designs, I wondered what would happen if I put a Steyr M-A1 next to a S&W Sigma SW9VE pistol:

 

Comparison

Comparison

Glock sued S&W over their Sigma design in the past.  Maybe the wrong Austrian gun company sued S&W…

Update: there was talk a few years back about Steyr selling sniper rifles to Iran which were then used by insurgents in Iraq/Afghanistan.  There is no truth to that rumor.

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4 Responses to “Steyr – The Other Austrian Handgun”

  1. […] A look at Steyr’s innovative but never real popular handguns. […]

  2. Tam says:

    While the Stigma and the Steyr look kinda sorta similar, the Smith was mechanically close enough to the Glock that you could swap slides between the two guns. As a matter of fact, I did that while our Smith rep was in the shop back when the Stigma was first released.

    I think the sticking feature that cost S&W the lawsuit was the trigger safety, but I can’t recollect off the top of my head.

    Anyhow, the Smith beat the Steyr M to market by half a decade, so who should sue who? 😉

    No mention of Steyr M designer Willi Bubits’ previous employer? 😀 (Incidentally, he’s now with Caracal in the UAE…)

  3. Matt Groom says:

    I have always loved Steyr designs. They are one of the most creative and innovative companies out there. The only Steyr I own is a GB, and it is so cool. I wonder why nobody builds one just like it, and the main complaint I see about them seems to be that they’re “big”. I don’t know where that comes from, it’s the same size as my Beretta M92G, which is a compact model. It does not feel large in the hand at all, at least not compared to nearly any other wondernine. It’s also surprisingly accurate, and I wish they had kept them in production longer than they did (they were apparently the same price or slightly less than Sigs made in the same era.) as they are impossible to find magazines or holsters for.

    • Gunnutmegger says:

      I wonder if MecGar or ProMag would run off a batch if they received enough requests…

    • Tam says:

      Matt,

      I don’t know where that comes from, it’s the same size as my Beretta M92G, which is a compact model.

      That’s because Beretta plays pretty fast and loose with the definition of “compact”, not because the GB isn’t a horse pistol.