Walther P88 Compact Auto Pistol

by David W. Arnold

One of Carl Walther's most recent additions to their handgun line is a compact version of their P-88 service auto. The latter is the latest autopistol design of this famous German arms company, which has produced several classic handguns over the years. One of the best-known Walther pistols is, of course, the P.38, which was the first full-caliber double-action auto pistol to gain universal acceptance.

The Walther P-88 is actually radically different from the P.38 and has none of its design characteristics. For a start, it uses Browning's tilting barrel design to lock its action during firing, instead of the P.38's wedge-type system. Secondly, it has a dual-purpose control lever that is mounted in the frame above the trigger that is both a slide stop and hammer-lowering device. This control lever is on both sides of the frame, which makes the pistol fully ambidextrous. The P.38 has a separate slide stop and slide-mounted hammer-lowering safety, neither of which are ambidextrous. The P-88 also has a firing pin lock and its magazine catch is of the button type, which is in the usual position just behind the trigger on the left side of the frame. The R38's magazine catch is located in the bottom rear part of its grip.

The new P-88 Compact has a 3 1/4-inch barrel that gives it an overall length of 7 1/8 inches. This makes it 1 1/4 inch shorter than the full-size P-88. The pistol's height has also been slightly reduced, which cuts its magazine capacity by one round to 14. This can be increased to 15 when the chamber is also loaded. The Compact P-88's overall weight when empty is 28 ounces.

The P-88 Compact has also had some significant design changes, apparently to make it less bulky. The ambidextrous dual-purpose control lever has been dispensed with and replaced with a separate slide stop and a hammer-lowering safety. The former is located in the usual position on the left side of the frame just the trigger. The safety is ambidextrous and mounted on the rear of the slide. The barrel locking lever is, however, the same as that of the full-size P-88. It is positioned on the left side of the frame, just forward of the slide stop.

In all other respects, the P-88 compact is the same as its bigger brother. Its sights are fixed, with the rear drift-adjustable for windage. Like most modern service auto pistols, it has the three-dot aiming system for shooting in low-light conditions. Finish is matte blue metal surfaces, with the slide sides polished and black plastic checkered grips.

The inclusion of a slide-mounted safety makes the P-88 Compact operate and function pretty much like the old P.38. Depressing the safety drops the hammer and disconnects the trigger until manually released. It is therefore possible to apply the safety before loading so that the pistol will be in the double-action mode after cycling the slide to chamber a round.

The procedure for disassembling the compact model for cleaning and maintenance is the same as for the full-size P-88. First apply the safety, remove the magazine and pull back the slide to check that the chamber is empty. Then rotate the barrel catch down in a clockwise direction and pull the slide off the frame. All that remains to be done is to remove the mainspring assembly, and then the barrel and stripping is complete. The pistol is assembled in reverse order.

All Walther pistols are imported into this country by lnterarms in Virginia, which sent me a P-88 Compact for evaluation. It came in a cardboard box with an instruction manual, cleaning rod and spare magazine. The pistol displayed the usual high quality of fit and finish that Walther is renowned for. Its single-action trigger pull was crisp, requiring just over 6 pounds of pressure to drop the hammer. Its double-action trigger pull of just under 12 pounds was nice and smooth.

As far as looks go, the P-88 Compact is, in my opinion, a far nicer-looking pistol than the full-size model, which has a blocky, angular appearance.

I used a variety of factory 9mm ammunition to evaluate the P-88 Compact. This consisted of Federal 124-grain FMC, Hornady 147-grain JHP XTP, Pro Load 124-grain JHP +P, Remington 115-grain FMC, Remington 115-grain JHP and Remington 147-grain JHP subsonic.

The pistol was first shot for accuracy from a seated benchrest at 25 yards using my Millett Benchmaster rest. Its best performance was with the Remington 147-grain JHP subsonic ammunition, which produced an amazingly tight 1 1/8-inch group. The next best group of 2 1/2 inches was with the Federal 124-grain FMJ, followed by the Pro Load 124- grain JHP +P, which measured 2 13/16 inches. The Hornady 147-grain JHP XTP produced a 3 1/8-inch group, while the remaining loads both shot groups measuring 3 3/8 inches.

I found that the P-88 Compact had very nice handling qualities when I put it through its paces on the combat range. The grips were very comfortable and enabled me to easily engage the trigger when in the double-action mode. The pistol also pointed very well for me, and I was able to reach and manipulate all of its controls without having to change my grip. The sights were clear and easy to pick up when the pistol was brought quickly into aim.

When shooting fast two-shot strings from 5 back to 20 yards, it kept all but one of its shots within the 10-ring of a B27 combat silhouette center. During this exercise, I was able to make the transition from the long, heavy double-action trigger to the lighter single-action pull quickly without any great loss of accuracy.

I did some fast close-quarters shooting, drawing the pistol from a holster under a coat. For this exercise, I used a Michaels of Oregon "Side Bet" belt slide holster. This is a universal holster that fits most handguns and is constructed of Cordura nylon. One of the nice features is that it has a securing strap that is both adjustable and also detachable.

After a little practice, I was drawing the pistol smoothly and getting off a fast, accurate shot. The excellent grips of the pistol enabled me to get a full hold, while their good pointing qualities ensured the sights were invariably on target the moment I got the pistol up to eye level.

When it came to reliability, I experienced two cases of the slide not going fully forward during the early early of the accuracy evaluation. No other problems were experienced, and in the combat evaluation the pistol digested all of the ammunition that I shot in it. The two malfunctions experienced during the accuracy evaluation may have been caused by the bottom of the slide coming in contact with my Benchmaster rest.

You don't see too many Walther pistols in gun shops in this country, which is probably due to their high cost. This is unfortunate, because Walther makes fine handguns. The P-88 Compact is a good example, proving to be a very accurate, reliable pistol with excellent shooting characteristics. Its compact size makes it easy to conceal and an ideal companion to the full-size P-88 service pistol.

First published in the October 1993 edition of Guns & Ammo

P88 Compact Specifications

Action type Locked-breech, double action
Caliber 9x19mm
Capacity 14+1
Overall length 7 1/8 inches (181mm)
Barrel length 3 3/4 inches (95.3mm)
Weight 29 ounces
Finish Blue
Sights 3-dot, adjustable rear
Grips Black checkered plastic

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