Smart K-28 – Colt Model 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol

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While looking at some airsoft pistols in a local street market, I came across a box which at first I took to contain a not very good replica of the Norinco Model 213 (a Chinese clone of the Tokarev TT-33).  However, when I opened the box, I realized to my delight that what I was looking at was instead a pretty decent metal, 6mm replica of the Colt Model 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol.  Why was I delighted?  Well, in replica terms, the 1903 is the forgotten pistol.  Even though it had a forty year production run, sold more than half a million examples and starred in some of my favourite movies, I wasn’t even aware that there was a 6mm version of the 1903.  I love early Colt semi-autos and I was delighted to find that this was a heavy, all metal replica of this wonderful early 20th Century handgun.   OK, it was only a spring powered replica and for some reason it was supplied with Norinco style grips, but what the hell, I was just happy to have found a reasonable 1903 replica.

Six dollars quickly changed hands and I walked away smiling and the owner of a Smart K-28.  Why is it called a K-28?  Who are Smart?  I have no idea.   But let’s see if it’s any good…

Real steel background

By the early 1900s, John Moses Browning’s talent was beginning to expand into the genius that would produce the Colt 1911 pistol, the M1918 BAR and the Hi-Power amongst others.  Browning had already produced a couple of semi-automatic pistols; the slightly ungainly looking FN M1900 and the bulky and virtually identical Colt Models 1900 and 1902, when he began work on the design of a pocket pistol for Colt.  The plan was to produce a small semi-automatic pistol which could be carried in a pocket or concealed holster and drawn quickly without fear of snagging.  Browning based his design around the .32 ACP round which FN had introduced for use with their M1900 and produced a smoothed, rounded pistol with no sharp edges to snag or catch.  In August 1902, Colt released the new gun as the Model 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol.

Despite the name, the Model 1903 isn’t hammerless at all – the hammer is concealed inside the rear of the slide.  Mechanically, it’s a simple and reliable straight blowback design with a single action trigger and a fixed barrel.  A manual safety is included on the left side of the frame (the safety can also be used to prop the slide open) and the 1903 is the first Colt pistol to incorporate a grip safety in the rear of the grip.  Weighing 1.5 pounds and just seven inches long overall, the 1903 is a compact, easily concealed weapon which stood out from the bulky handguns generally available when it was released.

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The 1903 was an immediate and spectacular success.  More than half a million were made between 1903 and the end of production in 1946.  In 1908, Colt added the Model 1908 Hammerless Pocket Pistol to their range, which is essentially the same pistol chambered for the .380 ACP round.  In addition to being popular with private owners, the Colt Models 1903 and 1908 were adopted by a number of Police departments in the USA (Including New York City Police) and were issued as a sidearm to General Officers in the US Army until the 1970s (Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, Marshall and Patton all carried this model during World War Two).  It was also issued as an officer’s sidearm to Republican Chinese forces in the 1920s and 1930s and was adopted by Shanghai Municipal Police at the same time.  The 1903 has been a favourite of collectors and shooters for some time, and prices for examples in good condition have increased sharply in recent years.  Interest in the 1903 remains so high that, in early 2015, Colt announced that they would resume limited production of this pistol.

Its small size, reliability and easy concealability also made the 1903 appealing to some less law abiding citizens.  High profile criminals Al Capone, John Dillinger and Bonnie Parker all favoured the Model 1903.

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Colt 1903 fan John Dillinger

Because of its popularity as the real weapon of choice for gangsters, the 1903 also featured widely in the gangster movies of the 1930s and 1940s.  One of its most enthusiastic supporters was Humphrey Bogart.  You see, at 5’ 8”Bogey was actually smaller than he might have wanted to appear, and it is claimed that he liked the small size of the 1903 because he felt that it helped to make him look bigger.  I have no idea if that’s true, but it’s certainly a fact that in the poster for Casablanca (1942), one of his most famous movies, he is seen holding a 1911.  In the actual movie however, he uses a 1903.  As he did in several other movies including The Big Sleep (1946), Key Largo (1948), Tokyo Joe (1949) and The Desperate Hours (1955).  If you watch just about any Hollywood gangster movie from this period, you’re almost certain to see one or more 1903s.

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In the poster he may be carrying a 1911, but in the movie Rick Blaine uses a Colt Model 1903

The Smart K-28

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What is it with Chinese airsoft manufacturers?  Why are they so coy?  This is the second replica I have picked up recently which I think comes from a Chinese manufacturer.  But I can’t be certain because while the box appears to show the manufacturer of this replica as “Smart”, I can’t find any information on any airsoft manufacturer or distributor using this brand name.  And unlike the Colt 1908 reviewed last time, I haven’t seen the 1903 being sold under any of the larger Chinese brands such as Galaxy.  There was something called the XueLang Smite 32, which was a 6mm spring powered replica sold for a short time a few years back and which looks similar to this, though that replica had Colt markings and grips and a different magazine.  So, all I can say with confidence is that here we have a replica produced by some company, somewhere.  But most likely in China.

Construction of the K-28 is mainly metal other than for the drop-out magazine, trigger and grips which are all plastic.  The manual safety, grip safety and the magazine release in the base of the grip are moulded in place and have no function.  The actual magazine release is a button on the left side of the frame.   The pistol is cocked by racking the slide, exposing the chromed metal front section of the outer barrel.  Internal construction is virtually identical to the Colt 1908 replica tested recently, with a plastic inner barrel incorporating a fixed hop-up rubber.  They are so similar that I assume that both this and the 1908 originate from the same manufacturer.

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Packaging and presentation 2/5

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The K-28 is supplied in a simple but sturdy card box featuring a colourful picture of the pistol on the front and simple instructions in Chinglish on the back (Including “Press to play the box to dismantle to unload the button, unload the bullet box.”  Sheesh!  If you’re going to provide instructions in English, at least have them translated by someone who has a passing familiarity with the language!).  Inside is the pistol in a plastic insert and a plastic tub of 200 unidentified BBs but no manual.

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Visual accuracy 6/10

Other than the grips and the lack of markings, this is a pretty good visual replica of the Colt Model 1903.  The overall size and profile are very close to the original and the shape and position of the (non-functioning) manual safety is correct.  The only thing that spoils the overall look of this replica is the button style magazine release on the left of the frame (on the original, a catch in the base of the grip releases the magazine).

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Colt 1903 (left), Smart K-28 (right)

The finish on this replica is a speckled grey which is actually a fairly close approximation to the finish used on some 1903s.  It’s darker than the finish on the 1908 and it’s obvious that the finish is painted on rather than electrostatically applied – there are very slight imperfections and blemishes in the paint.  However, the finish is thickly applied and seems to be hard-wearing.  There are no markings whatever on this replica.  Given how poor the markings were on the replica Colt 1908 I reviewed recently, this isn’t particularly distressing.

What is confusing are those grips.  These are typical of Bakelite grips incorporating a star design used on some Chinese Norinco pistols produced from the 1950s – 1970s, especially those fitted to the Model 213 (a copy of the Russian TT-33).  Now, although some Norinco pistols of this period were copies of existing models, as far as I’m aware they didn’t produce a clone of the 1903.  Colt 1903s were used by some Chinese police services in the 1920s and 1930s and they were issued to officers in Republican Chinese forces in the same period, so it’s certainly possible that some might have been used by Nationalist forces and that these could have been fitted with this style of grip.  However, I have never seen or heard of such a thing and to me, these grips look totally wrong on this replica.

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Norinco 213 grip (left), Smart K-28 grip (right)

The grips completely change the look of the K-28, which is a great pity.  Why go to the time and effort of designing and producing a reasonable visual replica and then fit grips which are totally wrong?  With replicas of black rubber Colt grips of the correct shape or better still, reproduction wood grips, this could look very good indeed.  If anyone knows where I can buy or have made a better set of grips for this replica, I’d really like to hear about it.

Functional accuracy 7/15

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There is no way of locking the slide back on this replica – it has been propped open for this picture in order to show the range of slide travel.  Which is very close to the original.

Functional realism isn’t particularly good on this replica.  The manual safety, the grip safety and the magazine release in the base of the grip are all moulded in place and have no function.  There is a working magazine release, but it’s a button on the left side of the frame.  The slide can be retracted, but there is no way of locking it open (on the original, the manual safety can be used to lock the slide back).  The magazine is full-size and drop-out.  Although the trigger looks like a 1903 style sliding trigger, it’s actually a conventional pivoting trigger.

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Shooting 30/40

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Preparing the K-28 for shooting couldn’t be easier.  Load up to ten BBs in the magazine.  Insert the magazine which locks positively and then rack and release the slide to cock the pistol.  Racking does not require undue effort, and it is easy to get a good grip on the slide.

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The sights are fairly small and non-adjustable though they still manage to provide an adequate sight picture.  The trigger has short travel and releases cleanly and consistently and with a very light pull.  The pistol fires with a reasonable crack (it’s louder than the 1908) and of course there’s virtually no felt recoil.  The only advertising I have seen for the similar XueLang Smite 32 claimed power of somewhere between 130 and 230 fps – a fairly wide range!  I don’t currently have access to a chronograph, but I’d assume that something close to or a little less than 200fps is probably reasonable.  At 6m, there is almost no gap between the sound of the pistol firing and the BB hitting the target, which usually indicates something around 200fps.  BBs do hit the target with enough force to punch cleanly through a paper target and leave a respectable dent in a heavy card backstop.

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Shooting the K-28 with GoldenBall 0.2g BBs generally gives a horizontal spread of 2” and vertical spread is 1½”. If you exclude the single flyer (which may be down to me), the group shown below is under 1”. Repeated shooting with the GoldenBall BBs gave similar results – the shot-to-shot consistency is good and I can generally get close to a 1” group (the picture at the top of this section shows a typical target shot at 6m using the GoldenBall BBs).

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Like the tiny Colt 1908, this is fun to shoot.  And like many of John Moses Browning’s designs, it just feels good to handle and shoot.  I actually prefer the 1903 to the larger 1911.  It seems to fit my hand better and its smaller size makes it more comfortable to shoot for extended periods.  It’s a great pity that the grips on this replica aren’t closer to the grips on the original – the Norinco style grips make the very slim 1903 feel a little broader than it should.  However, in most other respects, this is actually a pretty good replica.

Quality and reliability 11/15

Construction of the K-28 is very simple.  The slide and frame are cast in two halves which are secured by crosshead screws.  Inside is the main spring, slide return spring, barrel, loading nozzle and piston.  The plastic inner barrel and hop-up rubber are retained inside a plastic housing onto which the chrome metal outer barrel is screwed.  The barrel assembly is fixed in place in the frame.  All parts of the trigger assembly are plastic but the magazine catch is metal.

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Internal design and construction are very similar to the Model 1908 previously reviewed.

Quality is reasonable.  Castings are fairly sharp and though there is a lot of plastic inside the gun, nothing has broken or is showing signs of wear so far.  The magazine is also plastic, though it feels more robust than the rather flimsy item fitted to the 1908.  So far, the finish on my 1903 is showing no signs of wear or deterioration.  Ironically given how cheap this is, the finish on the 1903 actually seems thicker and of better quality than the finish on some much more expensive Taiwanese replicas.

Overall impression 12/15

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The Smart K-28 is reasonably heavy, which helps to make any replica feel convincing.  There is no side-to-side play or wobble in the slide and the magazine inserts and releases cleanly and without any movement.  When you rack the slide to cock the pistol the action feels precise.  The trigger releases cleanly, smoothly and with very little effort.  Like the 1908 reviewed recently, this actually feels as if it’s of reasonable quality and is good to handle and shoot.

Conclusion

In some ways, this is a frustrating replica to review.  A replica of the Colt 1903 is long overdue.  In fact, it must be one of the few popular handguns of the Twentieth Century which hasn’t yet been modeled as a gas or CO2 powered 6mm or 4.5mm replica.  So, it’s wonderful to find a reasonably accurate metal replica of this pistol.  Of course, I’d rather have a fully functional blowback version, but I’ll settle for a decent springer in the meantime.  However, I do hate those grips.  They not only look wrong, they make the grip of the wonderfully slim 1903 broader than it needs to be.

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But at least it is a reasonably hefty metal replica of the 1903 which shoots adequately.  This, with the 1908 and a 1911, would make a pleasing collection of replica early 20th Century Colt pistols.  However, these do seem to be fairly rare (Googling “Colt 1903 airsoft” only pulls up one reference to the now unavailable XueLang Smite 32).  So I feel lucky to have found this one even if it’s the basis for an interesting project rather than a wholly satisfactory replica out of the box.

Now, if I could just find some decent grips…

Total score 68/100

Cons

I don’t like those grips

It’s a single shot springer

I really don’t like those grips

Pros

Good visual replica of the 1903

Reasonable finish

Good weight

Handles and shoots nicely

Stupid cheap

Related pages

FN Model 1906 Browning Pistol review

Smart K-17 (FN Model 1910) review

The Handguns of John Moses Browning – Part 2

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