The Hi Power is a classic. Unfortunately, it did not get much updating during its heyday, and the last one FN made looked very much like the first one. Well, this is the 21st century, and the Turkish manufacturer Girsan, and the importer EAA, had other ideas. As a result, we have the 21st-century Girsan High Power MC P35—several variations of them.
The nomenclature of the variants may be confusing. The MC P35 itself is a full-size steel job that most harkens back to the original, though it’s now available in various colors. The PI version has a shorter barrel. Then you have Match and OPS versions of both the full-sized and the PI versions, which sport modern upgrades we’ll go into more later, like the extended tang/beavertail, G10 grips, and flat trigger. The term “OPS” means you’re getting a rail. Plus, there’s an OPS-Optic version of the traditional MC P35 that comes with an optic and a rail. All clear? Good, because now the lightweight versions (“LW”) have just rolled out (shown), which have aluminum frames instead of steel, and this half-pound-lighter version is available for both the Match and OPS versions of the (shorter-barreled) MC P35 PI.
The changes added to the P35 derive from improvements that custom pistol smiths made to the design over the decades but were never adopted by the original manufacturer. The modernized models have that extended tang on the rear of the frame. One of the biggest problems with the original design was that it was perfect for the style of pistol shooting common before IPSC: one-handed, thumb down. Once competitors discovered that shooting with both hands in a higher grip with thumbs up produced faster times and higher scores, the smaller tang led to hammers and slides cutting hands. The newer tang prevents that and creates a better lever to control recoil (not that the 9 mm cartridge generates a lot).
The modernized models also have a straight trigger. As a product of its time, the original had a curved one, which was believed to be better; however, a flatter trigger provides a smaller contact surface on your finger, which leads to better control and increased sensitivity; as a result, a straight trigger feels lighter in pull than a curved one, even at the same pull weight.
Girsan has also manufactured the new P35 to tighter tolerances, and thus the trigger pull is greatly improved. The original could feel long and heavy with a lot of movement. The trigger pull now is far cleaner—much more like that of the Model 1911. The test pistol, an MC P35 Match, had a trigger that the scale measured at five pounds, four ounces, which I would have estimated almost a pound lighter in dry-firing. That’s the benefit of flat triggers and tighter tolerances.
Modernized models also have a frame swell at the bottom of the frontstrap. This, along with the modest magazine-well bevel, makes reloading a bit easier, but the big bonus here is if your hand fits the frame (mine does), then the swell acts to lock your hand to the frame more than it would with a straight frontstrap. In addition, the grips are made of G10 and machined with an aggressive non-slip pattern.
The modernized models also come with an ambidextrous thumb safety—something that was offered only on the later models of the originals.
Probably the most-controversial feature is the accessory rail. This is a short “pic” rail where you can mount a light or laser. When I first saw photos of these models, I thought “Oh, that’s awful.” But, in the actual steel, it is relatively unobtrusive and does not “uglify” the P35. While the traditionalist in me still has to blink when I see it, a lot of shooters are going to find this useful.
To further clarify the models, the MC P35 PI OPS is what would have been called in an earlier era a “Commander” P35—instead of the standard barrel length of 4.7 inches, the PI OPS has a 3.9-inch barrel and slide to match. The sights are low-profile and three-dot, but the slide is also machined to be optics-ready. So, if you want an all-steel, compact-carry 9 mm with a 15-round magazine and the classic look and feel of the Hi Power, here you go.
The MC P35 Match/OPS is a full-sized P35 and is all-steel. Girsan added a fiber-optic front blade and an adjustable rear to the slide. This is perhaps the exemplar of what a light-custom Hi Power would have been, back in the day, and from EAA you can have it for perhaps a third of the price of what you might’ve paid then.
The last of this trio is the OPS Optic, and here Girsan and EAA have replaced the rear sight with a machined space for a red-dot optic. There is no need for an adapted plate if your sight uses the RMS/RMSc footprint, which is a lot of them. You have to give up the iron rear sight, but that’s a small price to pay. EAA decided to go with no adapter plate, to keep the installation compact, and chose the RMS as one that many red-dot optics would fit. Included in the price, EAA has installed an optic (at the time of this writing, it’s a Perry Optics red-dot, but soon it’ll be an EAA FAR-DOT). This is easy to swap for your own, if you like.
Those who just cannot get enough “bling” might consider the MC P35 Gold, with its engraved and gold-finished slide and frame. The gold plating isn’t real gold, of course, but some plated alloy Girsan and EAA clearly expect to be durable enough (gold isn’t) to stand up to use. The sights on the Gold are fixed, in transverse dovetails, and the rear slot is flanked by white squares, while the front blade has the ramp painted white. This has the G10 grips and the ambi safety, but it gets the original, curved trigger. The extra finish and engraving add about $350 to the average price of the various models.
Finally, there is the MC P35 PI, as in “private investigator,” meaning it is a Commander-sized 9 mm with fixed sights—fixed, but in dovetails, so they can be adjusted. While it has the ambi thumb safety, it, too, has the curved trigger, and it has black thumb-rest grips reminiscent of the design that came on Hi Powers back in the 1980s and 1990s.
All of the models come with MecGar magazines, so they hold 15 rounds each. The bottom tube flutes of the magazine are gone, and that allows (along with an improved follower and spring design) a capacity increase from the original 13 rounds up to 15. In 1935, 13 rounds of 9 mm was an amazing breakthrough. Now, 15 is so much the baseline that if you offer less, you’d better be doing it in a sub-compact pistol.
As these are all-steel pistols, the weight is not going to be wispy. But that helps when you are shooting defensive 9 mm ammunition.
EAA sent me the MC P35 OPS model, and I was happy to have that one to test, as it would be much closer to the various Hi Powers I have shot through the years. The trigger pull was a bit heavy and gritty at first, but with some dry-firing it cleaned up nicely, and I was impressed with how good of an out-of-the-box trigger it was. This trigger design uses several levers, up into the slide and back down into the frame, and it has always posed pistol smiths a real puzzle. That Girsan can make the trigger feel much more like a 1911’s is impressive.
Accuracy was very good. The accessory rail allows for a light or laser. What you will have to do is carry the weight. While the MC P35 in any version is not as heavy as an all-steel traditional 1911, it is a couple of ounces heavier than many polymer guns. (The lightweight version helps with this, of course.) As an upgrade of the classic, for a fraction of the cost, the MC P35 is superb.