Classic replica air pistol review: The Schimel

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You could probably make a case that the first modern replica air pistol was the Schimel, a CO2 powered Luger lookalike which first appeared in California in 1948.  Although production lasted only two years, this has proved to be a very popular pistol with replica collectors.  And there are certainly lots of good reasons for wanting to add a Schimel to your collection: This was the first replica air pistol powered by CO2, it resembles the iconic Luger and a good Schimel is an accurate and powerful shooter.  However, there are some equally valid reasons why you might not want one: it’s now almost 60 years since production of the Schimel ended and the materials used in construction are prone to cracking, brittleness and shrinkage so that it can be difficult to find a Schimel in good shooting condition.  However, whether you want one or not, few people would argue against the Schimel being one of the classic replica air pistols.

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Stoeger’s advertising for the Schimel GP-22, from the late 1940s

In 1945, two Californian brothers, Orville and Clifford Shimel (and no, that isn’t a typo – an extra “c” was added to create the Schimel brand.  No-one is sure why – perhaps because the added “c” made the title seem a little more Germanic?) became interested in the possibility of producing a replica air pistol which resembled the German Luger.  Both were experienced machinists and Orville was also a talented tool and die maker.  Working out of Clifford’s garage in Sun Land, California, they created a .22″ calibre cast alloy prototype which used a novel form of power source – an 8g CO2 cartridge designed for use with the Sparklet fizzy drink maker.  The prototype produced lots of power, getting close to 600fps with a .22″ pellet or lead ball!  Interest in the Luger pistol was huge in the US following World War Two and the Shimel brothers felt confident that a replica based on the Luger had strong commercial possibilities.  By 1946 they had set up a manufacturing plant in North Hollywood and in early 1948 they begin offering the Schimel GP-22 for sale.

Schimel GP-22s8

The main components of the Schimel GP-22 are made from a cast zinc alloy called Zamak (known as Mazak in the UK) and closely match the overall dimensions and grip angle of the Luger pistol.  Grips are plastic and the 8g CO2 cartridge is stored inside the grip and pierced using the charging handle which articulates from the butt. A 6″ rifled steel inner barrel is concealed inside the alloy casting and the rear part of this barrel also extends to form the loading trough into which a .22″ pellet or lead ball is placed.  The pellet loading probe is operated using a mechanism which looks rather like the toggle mechanism on the Luger.  A simple crossbolt type manual safety is provided above and in front of the trigger and the rear sight is adjustable.  Period advertising claimed that the pistol was finished in “real gun blue“, but it was noticeable that the dark finish chipped and flaked very easily, so I assume it’s more likely to be some form of painted finish.

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Preparing the GP-22 to fire is a little more complex than on modern replicas.  The CO2 cap at the base of the grip is unscrewed and removed and then the charging lever is pulled back.  The 8g CO2 cartridge is then placed inside and the cap replaced.  The reset button on the right side of the upper body is then moved forward to seal the secondary compression chamber.  The charging handle is then pushed fully closed, piercing the CO2.  The charging handle must then be opened and closed once more to prepare the pistol to shoot.  The loading probe is then retracted by lifting the toggle mechanism and a .22″ pellet placed in the loading trough.  The probe is then closed by moving the toggle forward until it sits flat, which pushes the pellet into the barrel in front of the CO2 valve.  All of this is best done with the crossbolt safety engaged, and to fire, this must be disengaged.  The charging handle must be opened and closed and the reset button moved forward before each subsequent shot.  One 8g CO2 was claimed to be good for 30 – 35 shots and it was recommended that any remaining CO2 pressure was vented by pulling the trigger with the charging handle open before unscrewing the base cap.

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Period advertising for the Schimel GP-22.  Which apparently provided “Excellent burglar protection” and will “frighten off possible prowlers, rodents or other intruders“. Hmmm…

There are some great ideas on the Schimel.  The use of a small self-contained CO2 cartridge was an innovation in 1948 – the contemporary Crosman Model 111 for example, was also CO2 powered but required to be bulk filled from a large 10oz CO2 bottle.  Making the loading probe actuation device look like the toggle from a Luger helped to make this replica look authentic.   The power extracted from the tiny 8g cartridge was also surprisingly good.  However, some things about the GP-22 weren’t so well done.  If you forgot to place the reset button forward when loading CO2 and before each shot, all the CO2 would be vented through the muzzle when you pulled the trigger.  If the base cap was unscrewed while there was remaining CO2 pressure, the cap and CO2 cartridge would be launched across the room at a fair velocity (and remember that in the late 1940s, people weren’t used to CO2 powered replicas).  Zinc alloy casting was a fairly new technology and the alloy components, especially the charging handle and trigger were not particularly strong and were prone to cracking and breakage.  But the worst problem was the seals.  The GP-22 used neoprene seals (unlike the nitrile seals used on modern replicas).  These worked initially, but quickly absorbed CO2 during shooting, leading them to expand in size by anything up to 50% and ruining sealing.  The seals would shrink back to their original size if left for a while, but achieving reliable sealing proved to be a major and continuing problem for Schimel owners.

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Most Schimels are marked “MODEL GP-22” on the left side of the main body, with the letters being raised parts of the casting.  However, it’s notable that only the letters “MODEL” and “P-22” are actually cast, the “G” is stamped separately.  Presumably this was done so that a common casting could be used for both the GP-22 and the planned AP-22, with the appropriate additional letter being added by stamping later.  However, a small number of Schimel pistols are marked only as “MODEL P-22” which has led some people to believe that the P-22 is a different model.  It isn’t – these are simply GP-22s where for some reason the additional G has not been stamped on the casting.

Schimel AP-22

The Shimel brothers planned a second variant of the Schimel pistol – the AP-22, though this never went beyond the prototype stage.  The AP-22 was very similar in appearance to the GP-22 (and it used a number of common castings), but it was a pneumatic pistol which used the charging handle as a pump to pressurise an internal air chamber.  Given how fragile the charging handle proved to be on the GP-22, it’s difficult to imagine that this would have proved reliable in extended use as a pump, and perhaps that’s why this version was never offered for sale, despite enthusiastic advertising produced by Schimel Sales.  Occasionally a Schimel will be offered for sale which is claimed to be an AP-22, but these generally turn out to be GP-22s.  Although the AP-22 was extensively advertised in the late 1940s and prototypes were presumably made, it doesn’t appear that any were ever actually sold.

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Pre-sales advertising for the AP-22

The end of the Schimel

Sadly for the Shimel brothers, the GP-22 didn’t bring the commercial success they had hoped for.  Owners reported a number of problems.  The valve arrangement was very complex and prone to wear and failure, the neoprene seals tended to leak, the alloy castings were fragile and breakages of the charging handle around the pivot for the link rivet were common.  There were also problems with the cast alloy trigger breaking, especially if the trigger was inadvertently pulled with the safety engaged.  In addition to being brittle, the zinc alloy castings had a tendency to exude a white powder residue, which could cause some components to seize.  The plastic used in the grips tended to shrink and crack when exposed to UV light.  In addition, the loading and charging procedure was complicated compared to contemporary pneumatic pistols and it was just too easy to get it wrong and accidentally vent all the CO2.  As a result, sales were not as strong as hoped and the under-capitalised company ended up spending a great deal of time on costly warranty repairs.  As a further disincentive to prospective buyers, the GP-22 was also fairly expensive – around twice the price of a contemporary pneumatic air pistol.

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In some ways, the GP-22 was simply ahead of its time and ahead of contemporary knowledge of plastics, zinc alloy casting and CO2 sealing in the late 1940s.  Sadly, in 1950 Schimel Arms went out of business, though stocks of GP-22s continued to be sold for a number of years.  However, this wasn’t quite the end of the Schimel story.  In 1956 Californian company A.C. Swanson bought equipment and tools from the bankrupt Schimel company and briefly manufactured an improved multi-shot version of the Schimel called the American Luger.  But perhaps that’s a story best kept for another article…

Do you want one?

The first thing to consider is that any Schimel GP-22 will now be over 60 years old.  The problems of brittle and fragile castings and shrinking grips which affected these pistols when new are going to be worse now.  This is a replica that needs to be handled with some care if it’s to survive.

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On this Schimel, note “P-22” markings, shrinkage of the grips and mis-matched grip screws

It’s unlikely that you’ll find a GP-22 which still has its original neoprene seals, but even so, it’s probably wise to assume that re-sealing will be required.  In general, this isn’t a major problem – seals for the Schimel are still readily available from specialist suppliers, but changing the two seals on the barrel can be difficult.  The issues with the zinc alloy casings means that it’s possible for corrosion to cause the steel barrel to become completely seized inside the relatively fragile alloy outer casing.  You can’t replace the seals without removing the steel barrel, and it’s horribly easy to break the alloy casting if you exert too much force.  If you have a Schimel with this problem, it may be worth considering professional help.  If you’re considering buying a Schimel, look to see if there is any trace of white powder residue on the castings.  If there is, there’s a good chance that the inner barrel is seized in place, and you should budget for this unless the seller can demonstrate otherwise.  In general, flaws in early die-casting techniques mean that the castings on a Schimel will almost certainly be more brittle than on a more modern replica.  You must handle with care, especially the charging handle and slender trigger.  I believe that it may be possible to find replacement triggers in steel, though I’m not sure where.

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Loss of finish, oxidisation and pitting of the alloy castings are obvious on this example

Shrunken and cracked grips are another common issue and there is no simple answer other than replacement.  However, be aware that the grips can shrink so much that it can be very difficult to remove them.

Finish on Schimels also seems variable.  Some seem to have retained their finish well while others are almost completely bare.  Part of the problem seems to be the relatively soft zinc alloy casings.  If these have oxidised badly, there’s a good chance that the black finish will simply have disappeared.

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This Schimel has retained its finish well and the grips aren’t too badly shrunk

If this all seems like a lot of messing around, at least you’ll have a powerful and accurate replica when you’re done.  A Schimel in good condition shoots with a meaty bang and will still fling a .22″ pellet at around 450 – 500fps – better than most modern replicas!  Accuracy is very good too and you can expect groups of around ½” – 1″ at 6 yards.  You’ll get around 20 – 25 full power shots per CO2 and fortunately the 8g CO2 cartridges are still widely available as they’re still used in soda makers.

The website The Schimel is a good source of parts and advice for Schimel owners (you’ll find a link at the end of this article).  The site is run by David and Jon Shimel, sons of Clifford Shimel.  Replacement seals (in Buna-N and Viton) are available though the site, as are replacement grips, charging levers, triggers, CO2 caps and toggle assemblies.  This site also sells operating guides and a handy guide on how to re-seal a Schimel.

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This Schimel is going to require some work…

Finding a Schimel isn’t difficult.  Though it was in production for only a short time, there do seem to be lots of examples around.  But finding a good one can be more difficult.  Like most vintage air pistols, the value of any particular example is almost entirely dependent on condition – you get what you pay for.  An unrestored Schimel with cracked grips, flaking finish and leaky seals frankly isn’t worth much and will require a fair amount spending on it to bring it up to standard.  Highest prices are paid for professionally re-sealed examples which still have their original finish and come in their original box with a manual and paperwork.

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So, should you get one of these?  If you have an interest in vintage replica air pistols and as long as you understand and are prepared to deal with the potential problems and treat this replica fairly gently, the answer is probably yes.  This isn’t a modern “fire-and-forget” replica – a Schimel will probably take time, effort and money to restore to working condition, and even then it must be treated with respect to get the best out of it.  However, I know that, if I were offered a decent Schimel at a good price, I’d buy it without hesitation.  If you own a Schimel, you own a bit of replica air pistol history which happens to be a very fine shooter too.  Surely that’s worth a little time and effort?

Related pages

Classic replica air pistol review: Crosman Wild West revolvers

Classic replica air pistol review: Crosman 38 revolvers

Classic replica air pistol review: Smith & Wesson 78G/79G

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