Sometimes partnerships can bring the best out of us. Like the partnership of peanut butter and chocolate to make Reeses or my fan fiction with Robocop and Judge Dredd partnering up.
Occasionally, partnerships happen between gun companies to create better weapons.
Smith and Wesson and Walther are excellent examples of two companies coming together for mutual benefit. S&W became Walther’s primary importer of German-made firearms in the United States.
Walther produced several rimfire guns for S&W, and S&W manufactured American-made PPKs. They even partnered up to create a unique firearm.
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Enter the Smith and Wesson SW99
I say this gun is “unique-ish” because it’s essentially a Walther P99 with some S&W work done to it. Walther produced the frame, and S&W made the slide and barrel.
Like the P99, it is a striker-fired, polymer-frame pistol with a DA/SA action and manual decocker. Walther’s Anti-Stress two-stage trigger was used, as was the P99’s paddle-style trigger guard magazine release.
It’s an odd gun, but a nice one. The double and single-action triggers are both fantastic, with smooth pulls and a short, positive reset. S&W also increased the capacity of the 9mm version by one, bringing it to 16 total.
Overall it’s a well-thought-out design and is a duty-ready gun.
Why Partner Up?
It was the late 90s, and Glock ruled the roost. Everyone was trying to play catch up with the polymer frame wonder that was Glock.
S&W went as far as basically copying the Glock design with the Sigma series, which got them sued by Glock. Sprinkle in an out-of-court settlement, and S&W seemed to have soured on polymer frames and striker-fired mechanisms — at least for a few years.
In 1999 the S&W 3rd gen guns were ending their life cycles. The market for metal-framed DA/SA guns was drying up.
Instead of developing their own plastic fantastic, they teamed up with Walther, who had a proven design in the P99 but lacked a significant American market share.
S&W wanted to recapture law enforcement markets with the SW99. They had long held much of that market with their revolvers but were quickly losing sales as more departments adopted Glock pistols.
The SW99 presented an easy entry into the polymer-framed market.
The SW99 featured replaceable backstraps, which was a unique feature for the time.
A .45 ACP variant was also produced — a caliber that was never available in the P99. S&W made numerous variants, including a DAO-only model, a single action-only model, and a compact version.
Did It Succeed?
How do we define success? Did the SW99 take over the market? Sadly, no.
Only a few police departments picked the gun up, the most notable being the New Jersey State Police. Civilian market sales proved to be mediocre at best.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
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The SW99 was an oddball in the market, and the gun industry rarely rewards oddballs. Striker-fired guns with a DA/SA system, a decocking button on the top of the slide, and a European-style magazine release weren’t too popular.
The death blow to the SW99 came in 2005 when S&W released their M&P series of automatic pistols. These pistols became the hit S&W always wanted. They went for a more standard approach to the polymer frame, striker-fired guns this time around.
Sadly, standard is what people wanted, and the M&P series remains the mainstay of S&W’s police and civilian market today.
In 2012 S&W and Walther broke up, but it was amicable. They went separate ways, and there was no bad blood situation by any means.
Even today, SW99 pistols remain relatively inexpensive, with most used copies ranging from roughly $350 to $500.
It’s a great pistol and is one of my hipster go-to options for concealed carry. With the future of the Walther P99 in limbo, the SW99 is an excellent alternative for someone looking for something different without paying for the Walther name.
Do any of you have experience with the SW99? Let us know in the comments below! Interested in the SW99’s parent gun? Check out our article about What Happened to the Walther P99.