The year 1977 was pivotal to Americana, as Atari was released, Elvis died, and Browning first imported a neat new double-action pistol from Europe.
Old World Roots
The Swiss gunmaker SIG, in a move to comply with Geneva's tough gun export laws, partnered with J.P. Sauer & Sohn of Eckernförde, West Germany, to produce guns without having to cut through layers of Swiss red tape. Thus was born Sig-Sauer in 1976. The new organization's first gun would be the P220.
A modernized answer to SIG’s 1940s-era P210 to replace the latter in the service of the Swiss Army, the P220 was introduced in 1975 and was immediately met with open arms by military users around the world. Switzerland adopted the new 9mm handgun as their Pistole 75 — where it continues to serve today both in the Alps and with the Swiss Guard of the Vatican. Overseas military customers included the Japanese Army, which produced them under license by Minebea Mitsumi, as well as a host of smaller countries.
By 1977, Browning, which had long imported pistols and rifles from Belgium, France, and Portugal, as well as shotguns from Japan under their iconic banner, became the first to bring the Sig Sauer P220 to American shores. Dubbed the Browning Double Action, or BDA, the new gun would be imported in not only its standard 9mm caliber but also more New World flavors, namely .38 Super Auto and .45 ACP.
A hit and a miss
When the BDA first hit the market in the U.S., gun writers liked how it shot, but hated the European-style heel-mounted magazine release. George Nonte, writing in the Nov. 1977 American Handgunner, went so far as to call the heel release "abominable." He also grumbled on its price tag, saying, "I have no doubt that a great many people will gladly pay $400 plus for this gun, but I'm equally certain that a good many of them will mutter under their breath and grit their teeth as they do so," showing folks have always had heartburn over the cost of Sigs.
Nonetheless, the BDA proved popular, with competition shooter Seth Nadel running a .45 model in the 1980 Bianchi Cup Match. Nadel said afterward that, "It may not be as esthetically pleasing in looks as a 1911, but when you shoot it you will feel the difference."
However, even as Nadel was running his BDA, the model was dropped from Browning's catalog, with Sig Sauer soon marketing the gun under its own banner after establishing operations first in Virginia and then in New Hampshire.
By 1986, the P220 had a more American-style frame-mounted push-button release and remains in production today in the U.S. But that is another article.
Not to let a good naming convention go to waste, Browning marketed at least two other double-action centerfire pistols in the U.S. as the BDA. This included the BDA-380, a rebranded Beretta Cheetah (84BB) in .380, which was brought in between 1977 and 1997.
Then, there was the FN/Browning Hi-Power BDA, a double-action variant of that famous handgun. Listed in the U.S. commercial market as the BDA9, it was pitched to the Army to replace the M1911 service pistol in the early 1980s, a contract that ultimately went to Beretta, whose Model 92 9mm became the M9 in military parlance. In a twist of fate, Sig-Sauer's P226, based on the earlier P220 but with a double-stack magazine, also took part in that contract chase.