Smith and Wesson Performance Center Firearms

The Smith and Wesson Performance Center, which is now its own brand under the Smith and Wesson banner, provides specialized services and products which the average gun purchaser may not be aware of.

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The Smith and Wesson Performance Center, which is now its own brand under the Smith and Wesson banner, provides specialized services and products which the average gun purchaser may not be aware of. With Christmas rapidly approaching, I thought it might be good to tell you a bit about what is available through them before you make a personal Christmas handgun purchase for yourself, or as a gift for a loved one.

So, what's the Performance Center (PC) all about? Well, Smith and Wesson's website says "From hand cutting to fine tuning for precision, Performance Center firearms are top performers. Products from the Performance Center are the ultimate expression of old-world craftsmanship blended with modern technology. Feature-rich and enhanced for better performance, our firearms maintain production line integrity".

I'll cut to the chase. Smith and Wesson's PC bridges the gap between production handguns (they also currently have one rifle, the M&P 22 on hand) and true custom firearms whose prices runs in the thousands of dollars. Most folks, myself included, simply can't afford top end true custom guns, but the Performance Center gives us a chance to own a more personalized firearm with the varying touches and features that aren't available on basic production guns.

Within the PC brand itself, there are several categories of specialization. There are the M&P Performance Center Pistols, Performance Center Revolvers, the Classics Revolver line-which includes timeless revolvers like the .38 Special Model 10 and the .357 Magnum Model 27, a Hunting Revolver line, and Precision Gunsmithing and Engraving services. The Engraving services are most likely the most expensive area of the Performance Center, especially when gold inlaying is involved.

I recently had the opportunity to work with two different Performance Center handguns, which were actually the first PC handguns I've ever fired. The PC M&P 9 Ported Shield and the PC 686 L-Frame .357 Magnum snubnose revolver.

The Ported Shield is a great example of a factory handgun that is given a couple of basic improvements from the PC that won't break the bank. Starting with a standard M&P 9 Shield-a great pistol in its own right-the PC adds four features, two of which can't easily be added by the average shooter. The first features are the Performance Center markings on the slide, which sets off this Shield as something special. The second added feature are the fiber optic sights-green front and red rear. Standard Shield sights are white three dot, although night sights are also available. So far nothing Earth shattering. The third feature is an improved, smoother trigger which is always helpful. But the fourth and most significant feature is the ported barrel which reduces muzzle flip.

Ported barrels exhaust powder gases upward from the top of the barrel-usually at a "V" angle, each time the gun is fired. The upward exhausting pushes down on the barrel which is rising upward due to the forces of recoil generated by the firing of the cartridge. Thus barrel rise is reduced, allowing for faster follow up shots.

I can report that while I did have my doubts as to effectiveness of porting on a 9mm pistol, the M&P 9's ported barrel did in fact help keep the sights on target during firing. During the test, I did not see the flash of burning powder coming from the barrel. When you see photos of ported guns firing, you see the powder flash. That is what looks cool in the photo. However, I test fired the M&P 9 during daylight conditions outdoors. Had the light been lower I might have noticed powder flash more. But most of today's defensive handgun cartridges are loaded with low flash powders anyway so the porting shouldn't be much of a factor even at night. Accuracy was quite good, aided by the improved trigger pull.

The M&P 9 PC Shield, and its full size brothers, are examples of functional "custom" improvements that the Performance Center can provide on the lower end of the scale. There is no cosmetic difference between a PC Shield and a standard Shield, and Vance Outdoors just had them on sale for $399.99 (normal price is $499.99). This is an outstanding price for a PC handgun that can double as home defense or concealed carry piece.

I also tested a Performance Center revolver, the seven shot L-Frame .357 Model 686 2.5 inch barreled snub nose revolver. This improved 686 revolver does include both appearance and performance enhancements at a moderately increased price over a standard 686.

The Performance Center 686 Snub features a smooth walled cylinder with no flutes. This is the most obvious sign that this is not a standard factory product, along with the sculpted barrel shroud. The trigger is very smooth, particularly in the double action firing mode. Grips are striking laminated walnut colored wood with laser engraving and stippling. The "Performance Center" markings are prominent on the handgun frame and barrel, and the attractive Matte Silver finish also sets it apart from a standard 686. This is a revolver that is as close to custom as you can get without a true custom price.

The PC 686's improved performance features include a chrome teardrop hammer and a chrome trigger with stop that complements the Performance Center Tuned Action. You will notice the difference between the PC 686 and a standard production model as soon as you try the trigger pull.

The barrel of the PC 686 is precision crowned for accuracy, and the cylinder is cut to allow the use of full moon clips-three of which are included. This means that this revolver can be used not only with moon clips, but also standard either strip or cylinder type speedloaders. This adds to its versatility.

Shooting the PC 686 was enjoyable, even with full power magnum loads. The weight (34.1 oz) combined with the grip shape tamed the recoil of the .357 Magnum loads I tried it with. Sights are traditional orange insert ramp front and micrometer adjustable rear. This 686 would be even better with a brass bead front, a change I might see about in the future on mine. MSRP is $1099. The last time I worked, we had one in stock at the Cleveland Avenue location. Both can be ordered. With the right holsters, this would be a great belt mounted trail gun, or a concealment piece for those who want 7 quick rounds of powerful .357 Magnum (or .38 Special) ammo on tap.

There you have it, two examples of what the Smith and Wesson Performance Center is all about, but I've only scratched the surface.