Type: Recoil Operated Self Loading Pistol
Chambering: .40 Smith&Wesson
Sights, front: Fixed blade
Sights, rear: Drift Adjustable Notch
Length: 165mm (6.5")
Barrel length: 89mm (3.5"), 6 grooves RH twist
Weight (unloaded): 915 g (32.21 ounces)
Suggested Retail Price: $300
Main Entry: icon·o·clast
Etymology: Medieval Latin iconoclastes, from Middle Greek
eikonoklastEs, literally, image destroyer, from Greek eikono- + klan
to break -- more at CLAST
1 : one who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration
2 : one who attacks settled beliefs or institutions
- icon·o·clas·tic /(")I-"kä-n&-'klas-tik/ adjective
- icon·o·clas·ti·cal·ly /-ti-k(&-)lE/ adverb
The commercial firearms market in the United States is a very settled, conservative place, where cherished ideas reign freely, unfettered by fact or logic. Consumer reaction to pricing trends is an excellent example. Build a technically excellent firearm that fills any number of niches, make the purchase price attractive, and you've virtually guaranteed failure. However, take that same gun, jack the price up anywhere from three to ten times the original amount, and people will line up around the block to get one. This is as true for ultracompact concealment guns as it is for clones of military battle rifles. Apparently, the rationale behind this behavior is a combination of the belief that more expensive things are better than less expensive things, and that there's some sort of status gained by spending an additional two to five hundred dollars on a substantially similar gun. If you subscribe to these beliefs, be forewarned, you're probably not going to like this month's review, as the subject, the RAP 440 iconoclastically exposes these concepts as the myths they are. On the other hand, if you're open to the idea that price is not the sole indicator of quality, it might be fruitful reading indeed.
BACKGROUND . . . .
Anton Hausler was a skilled engineer and machinist. A precision optical equipment maker for the Carl Zeiss firm, Hausler found himself possessed of two important things: Politics that were a little too liberal to be healthy in Hitler's Germany, and trade skills that would ensure him employment almost anywhere. Accurately reading which way the wind was blowing, he emigrated to South Africa in the latter part of the 1930's and established a family owned business, Hausler Scientific Instruments (Pty) Ltd. Today, Hausler Scientific Instruments (Pty) Ltd. (HSI) is a precision engineering manufacturer, and a major subcontractor to the South African state owned aviation, nuclear, power generation and armaments industries. HSI has a comprehensive manufacturing and quality assurance capability and places particular emphasis on the production of high precision components. The long association with the armaments industry has given the HSI extensive experience in the development and manufacture of weapons, ammunition components and fire control systems. The current product line is quite extensive, and includes aerial survey instrumentation, aircraft engine components, aircraft turnbuckles, helicopter control system components, handcuffs, bore scopes, fuzes for missiles and submunitions , fire control equipment and instrumentation, hydraulic & pneumatic rammers, hydraulic/pneumatic recoil systems, primers (electric and mechanical), sights , precision goniometers for use with night vision and other equipment, 60 and 81mm mortar systems, mechanical components for small arms, and mounting systems for rapid fire weapons. Quite an impressive list for a company with approximately one hundred employees!
Among the associated companies that comprise HSI is Republic Arms. Republic Arms, located in Jeppestown, South Africa, entered the small arms field in the late 1970's with a line of small, but well made revolvers similar to later Smith&Wesson J-frames or the small Astra revolvers. Currently, Republic's product lines concentrate on a series of concealable double action self loading pistols and the "Musler" 12 gauge pump action shotgun. The Musler is explicitly designed for law enforcement usage as the forward portion of the barrel is reinforced and contoured so as to accept a standard 22mm rifle launched grenades. The intent is not to launch antitank or fragmentation grenades so much as it is to give riot police a versatile weapon that can launch a variety of non-lethal projectiles in addition to standard 12 gauge shells.
|In the late 1990's, the South African Police Service (SAPS) indicated a requirement for an all steel double action 9x19mm pistol. Republic Arms was one of a number of firms, both inside and outside of South Africa that submitted samples for consideration. In the event, Republic Arms was awarded the contract in 1997, and continues to supply the pistol to the government where it is issued as the standard concealed carry pistol for plainclothes police officers, as well as the standard pistol for female officers. The double action pistol, christened the RAP (Republic Arms Pistol) 401, is the product of the engineering efforts of Walter Niermann and Erich Mickelat. The pistol the designers eventually produced amalgamated design features from two of the best small "major caliber" pistols on the market, the Star "Starfire" and the Astra A-75.
BOTTOM: Completely field stripped slide
By any standard, the RAP pistols are very well made. All components are made from steel; the frame is an investment casting while the other major components are machined bar stock. The forward portion of the barrel is blued while the chamber area is polished bright. There is no barrel bushing, rather the muzzle is centered in the slide by an integrally machined bulge at the forward edge of the barrel. The external extractor is reminiscent of that on the Browning High Power, pivoted on a roll pin positioned vertically in the slide. Like the High Power, the RAP 440 dispenses with a swinging link to unlock the barrel and slide in favor of a cam system. However, the RAP cam system is more advanced than that of the high power, relying on milled recesses in the barrel underlug and mating recesses in the frame to move the barrel in and out of battery.
In a concession to late 1980's aesthetics, the forward bow of the triggerguard is squared and knurled, and the pistol boasts a full length recoil spring guide rod. The sights are of the "three dot" variety with the front sight being machined integrally with the slide and the rear a wide low profile notch that is windage adjustable. The trigger is wide and smooth while the grips are roughened black plastic.
The RAP 401 immediately aroused a great deal of interest in the world's largest commercial firearms market, the United States. In an effort to make the pistols even more attractive, the RAP 401 was given a .40 S&W stablemate, the RAP 440. The two pistols used identical magazines, but the 440 had a slightly heavier recoil spring and a slide and barrel modified to take the larger cartridge. Initially imported by TSF, Inc. of Fairfax, Virginia, the RAP pistols have the distinction of being some of the very few designs to meet the demanding requirements of the Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice's Standard No. 0112.03. Despite this, the pistol never made many inroads with the law enforcement community. Whether this was due to the presence of many other small double action pistols on the American market or the nature of law enforcement procurement is open to conjecture.
In 1999, Century International Arms of St. Alban's, Vermont, took over importation of the RAP pistols, and continues to bring them in today. The pistols' comparatively low price belies their high standards of manufacture and qualifications, and owes more to the exchange rate between the rand and the dollar than anything else. Ten years ago, one dollar almost bought one rand. Today the rate is more like eleven rands to the dollar. The result is that there are some excellent values to be had for the American consumer on South African products.
What can we say? We're suckers for a bargain, especially if that bargain involves a well made, aesthetically pleasing pistol. We ordered a RAP 440, and a few days later the BBT arrived bearing the little gun.
Shooting the RAP
The Model 440 had a lot going for it; the NIJ certification, it's Astra and Star design antecedents. And so, we packed the pistol, into our range bag and headed off to the NRA range in Fairfax, Virginia.
We brought along several types of ammunition with which to test the 440. The selection included:
Sellier & Bellot 180
Winchester USA 189 grain FMJ
Federal American Eagle 180 grain FMJ
Federal Hydra-Shok 180 grain JHP
Targets were both 3" black centers and 1" orange dots set at 10 yards. Factory indexing was just about perfect, with a center hold sight picture yielding impacts nicely centered in the target. Five shot center to center group sizes ranged between 1.5" and 2.5". Accuracy results are indicated below:
|Sellier & Bellot 180 grain FMJ
|Winchester USA 180 grain FMJ
|Federal American Eagle 180 grain FMJ
|Federal Hydra-Shok 180 grain JHP
While the distances were rather short, they were chosen to reflect the a maximum at which a concealed carry pistol is expected to be employed. We're not match shooters. We don't even consider ourselves particularly good shots with a pistol. Despite this, the pistol performed impressively.
Recoil was surprisingly light. This is directly attributable to both the pistol's comparatively heavy weight and the excellent ergonomics of the grip. We've always been a bit suspect of the trend to lighten handguns to the n-th degree. After all, every gram removed from a pistol's weight translates directly into more felt recoil, which in turn not only makes the firearm less pleasant to shoot, but increases the time between shots and adversely affects accuracy. Given the plethora of readily available well designed holsters that make even full sized pistols both concealable and easy to carry, we'd much rather have a heavier, more robust, more comfortable pistol. Any holster that will accept an Astra A-75 will accept the 401 or the 440.
Control surfaces were
well designed and easy to reach, and shooters with both large and small hands
were easily able to put the pistol on and off safe, and to actuate the
decocker. The trigger was very comfortable, being both wide and
smooth. Trigger pull was was very long on double action, but smooth and
not overly heavy - much like a well tuned double action revolver. (It
should be noted that a long trigger pull on a double action pistol carried with
the hammer down on a loaded chamber and the safety off is actually a safety
feature.) Single action pull was light and crisp.
We found the RAP 440 to be very reliable. It fed, fired, extracted and ejected every round of every brand we put through it, whether the slide rails were lubricated or not. There were several instances when the unlubricated slide failed to lock back after the last round had fired, but this problem disappeared when a light coat of grease was applied.
And now, our Buy-O-Meter
rating for the Republic Arms RAP 440 pistol: