There are firearms that exist only in legend; firearms you only read about third- or fourthhand, because they exist in such small numbers that no one has ever handled them, let alone shot them. These guns are almost like unicorns: You’ve read about them, you’ve heard about them, but you know they only exist in fantasy.
The Luger Model 1907, chambered in .45 ACP, is one such firearm.
U.S. ARMY TESTS
The test pistols used in the trials that ended up with the adoption of the Colt 1911 are such pistols. Rarest among them is the Luger Model 1907. Depending on what source you read, there were four, five or six of them made, two of which were shipped to the United States for the tests. One was used up in the testing, reduced to a rusted mess. The other one disappeared into the mists of time shortly after the tests (one wonders if someone just “happened” to take it home since it was no longer being considered for adoption).
The others apparently stayed in Germany, if they even existed in actual steel. Two wars later, one of which essentially involved the Eighth Air Force bombing the country until the rubble bounced, made it hard to track the inconsequential details of where a few old pistols got to. One of the remaining ones might have been “liberated” and brought back to the States.
But for those of us who were not wealthy, connected collectors, even handling one was simply not in the cards.
Oh, there were similar ones to be found, made or purchased shortly afterwards. John Martz made custom Lugers, including a model in .45 ACP. His approach was somewhat limiting. His method involved taking two otherwise intact Lugers and cutting them into two pieces, but sliced off-center. Then, he would weld the two larger halves back together. This meant each .45 Luger caused the demise of two 9mm Lugers, because the remaining parts could not be welded back into a 9mm Luger. It also meant the costs of cutting, welding, handfitting and tuning had to be borne by the new owner.
I talked to Cameron Hopkins recently about this. He was the editor of American Handgunner back when Martz was working, and even he was stopped by the price:
“I wanted it, but $10,000 for a Martz, back when a full-house 1911 from Steve Nastoff cost $2,500, was a bit much to take.”
Well, times have changed, and the .45 Luger is now available— oh, not the originals and not from Germany. And because you brought it up: I saw a gunsmith at the IWA show in Germany who was making .45 Lugers. His quote for the basic model was 10,000 Euros.
Now, you can have one here in the States for a bit more than half that, and you get choices, as well. Eugene Golubtsov— aka “LugerMan”—is making them.
Before the one test gun disappeared back in 1910, the Army had draftsmen measure and record all the dimensions. Copies of those blueprints were available, and Eugene availed himself of the opportunity. He acquired a copy of said prints, sat down with the computer and began planning CNC machine cutter paths to make parts. The end result is a big pistol— which should not come as a surprise when you consider we’re hurling .45-caliber bullets here.
In layout, and appearance, you would be excused if you did not notice the caliber until you were within arm’s length. The Model 1907 differs from a basic P-08 in size and the shape of the trigger, plus the rather uncommon grip safety. In photos, unless you spot the trigger, there is no clue about caliber.
I tested it with a bunch of my knowledgeable firearms friends. I would send them a hi-res photo and ask, “What’s up with this?” I got comments back about the grip safety, and one mentioned a somewhat thicker barrel, but no one mentioned a caliber change. However, once you pick it up, oh boy, the world suddenly changes!
In all respects besides size, it is a normal Luger. But that size makes a big difference. The grip is larger—noticeably so. If you have large hands, you will not find it a problem, but shooters with average or smaller hands will find that the Model 1907 is just a bit portly. Part of this comes from the grips, which are a bit squarer than I personally prefer. But they are wood, and wood can be altered. The frame is also a smidge longer front to back, simply because it is holding a magazine that contains .45 ACP cartridges. That is unavoidable … and unchangeable.
The grip safety is clean, elegant, works perfectly and, unlike the 1911, does not pivot in such a way that a too-high hold negates its function. If there were one thing John Moses Browning should have changed back in 1910, it is the way the 1911 grip safety works. But, hey, in 1910, no one held a pistol in any way that his design caused problems. In this, Georg Luger got it right.
The safety is the normal Luger safety, with the rearward position clearly marked as “safe” with both the word and an arrow. The barrel and barrel extension are much larger than those of the 9mm, again because of the proportions of the cartridge they contain. This is a good thing, because it allows the manufacturer to also offer—and, hold on to your hats—a 10mm option.
That’s right—a 10mm Luger. And because this is a fully custom-built product, you have many choices in barrel lengths, sights, etc. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The sights on the pistol I was sent were the traditional ones: that is, a pyramid front sight that comes up to a point and a V-notch rear. You can, on yours, have the sights as a patridge front and rear, which would make for a much more precise and pleasant aiming experience.
You see, the pistol I tested is a pre-production sample, serial number 4. As a result, it was made to be as close an example of the test trials pistol as was possible. This meant period-correct sights.
The toggle train is marked on top with a script logo that is the company (LugerMan) but is meant to evoke the appearance of the DWM logo that many of you who have Lugers will have on your 9mms. It looks good, it looks right; and, if your buddies haven’t memorized the exact configuration of the DWM logo, they won’t notice the differences.
One detail you’ll notice right away are the spring forces involved. If you have used a 9mm Luger, you know how much effort it takes to pull back the toggle train and cock/chamber a round in the pistol. Well, make sure you’ve eaten your Wheaties before you go to do the same with the Model 1907: It is a lot stiffer … but then, you are shooting a .45 ACP.
This applies in spades to the magazines. The magazines are a detail that Eugene, the owner of LugerMan, is particularly proud of. They are not simply common extrusions, scaled or altered to hold .45 ACP ammunition. He folds the correct sheet steel, welds the tube and heat-treats the tube and lips to hold the rounds properly and feed them at the correct angle. The springs are adjusted to keep up with the toggle action, and the follower is metal, while the base plates are wood.
One unavoidable aspect of the Luger design is that the speed and timing of the toggle system “is what it is,” and there’s not a lot of adjustment in its timing that a designer or manufacturer can make. This means the magazine has to be ready for the toggle when it returns, or bad things happen. The magazine spring in the Model 1907 is strong. LugerMan includes a period-correct (but made for his magazines) magazine loading tool. I have two words for you: Use it. Slip the hole over the magazine tab and pull down. (The pointy screwdriver end of the tool goes up for this use.)
Pull down, insert a couple of cartridges, relax, then repeat. Do this until the magazine is full. The original tool was useful in the original 9mm Lugers. In the .45, it is absolutely essential, although a bit marginal for the job.
Eugene is making an improved one. It won’t look like the original, but it will work a lot better.
SHOOTING THE UNICORN
OK, history is cool, and looks are cool, but we all buy firearms to shoot them. Whether it is for EDC, competition, plinking, hunting or just having fun, we expect to shoot the guns we buy (collectors aside, that is).
So, how does it shoot? Well, it is different. I’ve put a lot of ammo downrange. With many handguns, I can feel the various parts working as they cycle. When I’m “in the zone,” I can feel the slide unlocking, the round being stripped off the magazine and the slide closing.
The Model 1907? None of that. I press the trigger, there’s a loud noise, and right now, the pistol is closed up and I have to get the sights back on target. Also, unavoidably, the axis of the bore is higher above your hand than it is with other designs. This gives the Model 1907 a bit more leverage to get the muzzle up in the air.
So, your prior shooting experience will, perhaps, color your time with the Model 1907. If you have spent a bunch of time shooting a soft-recoiling, low-bore-axis 9mm pistol, the Model 1907 is going to seem like a handful. It isn’t, but that’s only because you’ve been spoiled by your polymer-framed 9mm. The recoil isn’t harsh or excessive; it is just sudden.
The sights on the Model 1907 (#4) were just like the originals. If you decide you just have to have a .45 Luger (and who doesn’t want one?), I can’t recommend too strongly taking the patridge sight option. You will enjoy your shooting sessions a great deal more than if you were using the pyramid sights of the original, late-19th-century design. The original sights made accuracy-testing a lot more work than it usually is, but the Model 1907 worked hard to help me out. It liked what it liked, and it didn’t like what it didn’t like.
Which brings me to reliability.
In the test trials, Georg Luger had a heck of a time getting his pistols to work with the ammunition the ordnance board provided. He finally got permission to build his .45 Luger using German-made ammunition and have the test board test it with his ammunition. With an ocean in between the factory and the test site, that seems reasonable. And I guess the U.S. Army figured that if the Luger turned out to be the winner, the ammunition companies here could always be made to manufacture ammo that worked in the pistol and not vice-versa.
Well, old Georg’s plan didn’t work out. His Luger still wasn’t as reliable as needed, even with his ammo. It seems the toggle system, while elegant, beautifully crafted and mechanically efficient, is picky about what it likes.
So, your .45 Luger will probably be touchy, as well. And what your Luger likes or dislikes might differ from your gun club buddy who also bought a .45 Luger. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that there are more .45 ACP ammunition options out there than you can shake a stick at. I only tried a handful and found more than enough that worked just fine. And if you are a reloader, you can easily find a load tuned to your Luger that makes it purr right along.
Hey, you have a new, one-of-a-kind pistol—one that cost you $6,000 as the starting price. If you can’t be bothered to find a load that functions in it correctly, I don’t want to know what kind of gasoline you are putting into your expensive sports car. Think of it this way: You’ve just bought the sports car of your dreams. Are you really going to complain that the only gas station with the correct fuel for it is on the other side of town? Probably not. Find the ammo your particular Model 1907, or variant, likes, and use it.
The last detail to amaze you is the finish. Eugene machines the various parts out of billets of 4140 steel. After fitting and polishing, they are given a slow, rustblue finish. When I started test-firing #4, I mentioned to Eugene that I really wanted to be careful, because I didn’t want to put too much wear on a brand-new pistol.
The response I got was, “Don’t worry. That one has had more than 6,000 rounds through it; close to 7,000.” The old, slow rust-blueing method is very durable, and the function of the toggle system only puts the visible wear to the finish in a few, small areas.
Shoot your new Luger all you want. The finish won’t care.
TYPE: Toggle-locked, short recoil, striker-fired, selfloading pistol
CALIBER: .45 ACP
BARREL: 4.75 inches
OVERALL LENGTH: 9.4 inches
WIDTH: 1.48 inches (at toggle); 1.25 inches (body)
HEIGHT: 5.75 inches
WEIGHT: 34 ounces
FINISH: Rust blue
GRIPS: Checkered walnut
SIGHTS: 19th-century blade and notch
TRIGGER: 5 pounds
MSRP: $ 5,795 (standard U.S. Army test model)
CONTACT INFORMATION: LUGER MAN
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the May 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.