Savage Model 1907 & 1917: The 1911’s Forgotten Historical Nemesis?
Compact, all-metal guns designed for home defense, carry, and even military service at the beginning of the 20th century, the Savage Model 1907 and 1917 boasted some unique and forward-thinking design features for the day. Originally patented in November 1905, it would take almost 100 years for another semi-auto Savage pistol to roll off the assembly line when the Model 1917 ended production in 1928.
Now, with the introduction of the micro 9mm Stance in 2022, Savage may finally be back in the pistol game, but there was a time when the little 1907 and its variants sought to challenge even the mighty 1911 on the military and civilian market.
I pulled this sample Model 1917 from our Collectors Corner, and these guns remain surprisingly affordable given the age and curious design. Originally built to rival other semi-auto pistols from the likes of Colt, these pistols offered capacity and compactness for the time.
To say Savage was a bit bold and heavy handed in its marketing of the “new Savage Automatic” would be an understatement. Running ads like “The Only Gun a Burglar Fears” and “Is Your Wife Helpless – Or Dangerous,” Savage laid it on pretty thick. That included publicizing endorsements from powerful celebrity influencers of the day like legendary gunslingers Buffalo Bill and Bat Masterson of Wild West fame.
Regardless, the Model 1907 and its offspring did host some impressive qualities, from a 10-round capacity and compactness to cunning internal engineering. Growing off the original Model 1907 produced from 1907 until 1920, the Model 1917 offered two calibers, .32 ACP and .380 ACP. The two guns were nearly identical with the exception of the grip. The 1907 had a slightly smaller grip and used no screws in the entire design. The 1917 can be easily recognized by the two screws required to hold its larger plastic grip panels. Beyond that, the guns are simple to operate and field strip without any tools.
Savage also produced a small number of the guns in .45 ACP to compete in the U.S. Army’s new pistol trials. The final decision for those trials came down to just two finalists, with Savage’s design finally falling to what is now the Colt 1911. The guns did see some service with the French military as contracted purchases for pistols during World War I, but they did not see wide military adoption. Still, the capacity of the little guns made them a popular civilian purchase.
Design, Specs, & Function
Don’t let the small “hammer” at the rear of the slide fool you. Despite outward appearances, this Model 1917 is in fact a striker-fired gun that uses a rather ingenious bolt/striker/cocker system that can be easily plucked out the back of the slide. The “hammer” is actually just a cocking lever. Beyond that, it is a blowback design that also boasts a rotating/locking barrel system.
The safety lever doubles as the slide lock. From there, removing the bolt/breech-plug assembly is a simple matter of twisting and pulling it out the rear of the slide. Everything else slides forward and off the frame of the gun. The result is a strikingly compact operating system that disassembles and reassembles easily for maintenance. I’ve added some general specs below:
Trigger pull for me came in at right around 8 pounds, and the trigger travels directly rearward. There’s a lever-style magazine release located at the front base of the grip and, while not conducive to speed reloads, proved not to be intrusive for my hands. The 10-shot double-stack magazines fall freely when empty but do not eject with spring pressure. Variants of the original Model 1907 could be had in .32 ACP, .380 ACP, and a handful of .45 ACP pistols made for the Army trials, providing shooters with 10, nine, and eight rounds respectively.
Shooting & Range Time
If we set aside the fact that this gun is chambered in the relatively anemic .32 ACP, I definitely see the appeal of this pistol for anyone looking for a carry or home defense gun. It offers shootability, concealability, and capacity. Besides, despite modern feelings about the little .32 cartridge, it was quite common as both a self-defense load and a military chambering back in the day. But clearly the big winner is the capacity.
I was also pleased to discover the little gun actually shoots quite well at 15 yards considering it has rather crude and minimalist sights. I was only able to run a single box of .32 ACP through the pistol, since that is what I could find, and I found it easy to keep my first two mags within a reasonable 5-inch grouping during off-hand shooting. I did not note any reliability issues.
Recoil is minimal with the .32 ACP in this all-steel gun, and there is some mush to the trigger. But the trigger itself draws directly to the rear and is certainly functional enough that I would expect some significant improvement if my stash of ammo was a bit larger. Despite its odd appearance, the grip actually locks nicely into your hand for one-handed shooting, and the gun points naturally for me.
My biggest gripe on ergonomics is the safety, which is workable but not quite what the modern hand is familiar with in a pistol anymore. Given this is an older single-action-only design, that would be my biggest complaint beyond the round itself.
There’s something to be said for guns that are mechanically interesting, innovative, and can still perform on the range even after nearly a century. The Model 1917 that I got for testing checks all those boxes. It was a joy to shoot, even with the current price of .32 ACP.
But it was when I took this gun apart that I really got excited. We’re talking about a century-old striker-fired pistol with a double-stack magazine that disassembles almost as easily as most modern designs. That’s just plain cool. Strangely, these guns seem to generally fly under the radar, with prices still in what I would consider a budget-friendly collector’s zone. It would certainly be a fun one to have in the safe.