I watched my fair share of old T.V. as a kid. My dad loved channels like T.V. Land, and thus I watched tons of westerns, the Andy Griffith Show, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
The latter was a television show about a secret agency called the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, a.k.a. U.N.C.L.E.
It teamed an American (Napoleon Solo) with a Russian (Illya Kuryakin) as they took down bad guys weekly. Ian Fleming contributed, and the show was rather unique for a Cold War Era television program.
Like all good spy media, it had all sorts of fun gadgets and gizmos, including their signature firearm — the U.N.C.L.E. Special.
I didn’t realize it watching the show, but two guns served as U.N.C.L.E. Specials. In the first season, the original was built from a 1934 Mauser Pocket pistol.
It turned out that the .32 blanks didn’t cycle well. This led to several continuity errors where the main character, Napoleon Solo, would switch to a Walther P38.
Both guns look alike, at least to the casual viewer. The exposed barrel and general automatic pistol design made it easy to interchange the weapons as a stop-gap measure.
Instead of just dealing with the problem for the rest of the series, the U.N.C.L.E. Special just transitioned to the Walther P38. It remained a P38 for the rest of the series, and the Mauser was never seen again.
As such, the rest of this article will focus on that Walther.
The U.N.C.L.E. Special
I’ve said “U.N.C.L.E. Special” about a million times now and still haven’t explained what that exactly is. It’s a high-tech spy gun…at least for a show made before color T.V.
This high-tech handgun isn’t portrayed as just a P38. Instead, it comes to life as a configurable tool that the user can wield in a multitude of situations.
Sure, it can be a concealed handgun and is used as such throughout the series.
However, on-demand shooters can add an optic, a shoulder stock, and even a longer barrel. The guns were even selective fire.
The original P38s got a barrel chop to shorten the gun, and that barrel was threaded to accommodate various extensions and muzzle devices. Throughout the series, several muzzle devices saw attachment besides the barrel extension.
An optics mount on the fame made it easy to attach a low-powered scope. On the rare occasion, the weapon was fired full-auto and an extended magazine was often fit to the gun. The grip allowed the gun to fit a folding-style stock.
Agents of U.N.C.L.E. carried the kit in an OWB rig, but the gun itself sat in a shoulder holster. On-demand they could modify the weapon into its various configurations.
Spies Like Us
The Walther P38 was far from high-tech. As the name implies, 1938 was the year it was designed. The P38 replaced the aging Luger with the German Army and saw widescale production as World War II began.
The 9mm pistol was cutting edge in 1938. It was the first lock breech pistol to use a double-action/single-action trigger system. It also opted for a short recoil system that relied on a hinged locking piece-assisted breech block design.
The safety acted as a decocker so the weapon could be carried ready with the hammer down. This type of system is used on tons of firearms, including the Beretta 92 series and the Sig metal frame P series guns.
The weapon’s inline travel of the barrel and slide aided in accuracy and a robust set of sights.
Oddly enough, rounds eject to the left of the user. The single stack magazine held eight rounds and proved to be a very robust pistol.
The show certainly didn’t try to be realistic — it was pure pulpy goodness. No one needed to reload, the good guys always won, and they shot straight…if they even shot at all.
The numerous extensions, stocks, and optics gave the weapon some serious pizazz, as did the full-auto capability.
They seemingly violated the NFA and the Treasury Department fined the show $2,000. That’s over $15,000 in 2022 money.
Optics and muzzle devices are quite common on pistols today, so it’s interesting to see that the U.N.C.L.E. special was somewhat right. Although, these mini red dots aren’t often removed.
The muzzle devices tend to reduce recoil or reduce noise, and they aren’t there to extend the barrel.
Stocks on pistols wasn’t a new idea then.
The Luger and Hi-Power both had stocks, as did the Mauser C-96. Today we don’t see them due to the NFA and the presence of SMGs, light carbines, etc.
Although they aren’t completely gone, as evidenced by the B&T USW system.
The B&T USW system is essentially the modern version of the U.N.C.L.E. special…except now we have a light, a red dot, a folding stock, and the ability to add numerous muzzle devices.
It’s interesting to see that some of the developments from a silly spy show from the ‘60s have made their way to actual handguns, albeit in a drastically different manner.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. got a remake film in 2015, but sadly the U.N.C.L.E. Special didn’t pop up.
What do you think? Was U.N.C.L.E. ahead of its time? Let us know in the comments below. For more on your favorite movie guns, check out “The Mummy“ & the Chamelot-Delvigne Model 1873.
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Yeah, I also watched the original telecasts. Best friend and I formed the neighborhood U.N.C.L.E. unit (I was Solo). Got the Ideal gun for Christmas, always thought it lame. Dad jigsawed one for me. Have bought and sold a vintage WWII P-38. Found a prop version- after all these years I still think about cutting down the barrel and putting on a cage flash suppressor... :-)
Wish I could find a sound file of the UNCLE gun in action.
I got the IDEAL toy version of the gun for Christmas when I was around 10 years old. Wonder what happened to it?
You watched that on the oldies channel, I watched it new. I had the plastic pistol, swore one day I was headed to Denver to find headquarters... Good article, thanks for that.
Yeah, I watched it back then too. It was my favorite show at the time. I always wondered what the UNCLE Special was based around.
My brother and I got U.N.C.L.E. toys for Christmas one year. He took the cool pistol with the stock and I got stuck with the camera gun! The movie remake was lame.