The Smith & Wesson Escort
The fundamental design of the Escort was taken from the 1908 Pieper Bayard, with the barrel fixed to the frame and an above-the-barrel recoil spring held at the rear by a frame-mounted tubular housing and at the front by the front sight. The slide covers the recoil spring and has an underslung breech block which fits into the frame beneath the recoil spring housing. Both guns are blowback-operated and hammer-fired, with a coil hammer spring and a left-side transfer bar. The Bayard has an unusual hammer block that engages when the slide is not all the way forward, but the Escort has a Browning-style disconnector that pushes the transfer bar down so it cannot trip the sear when the slide is not all the way forward. The Escort also has a cocked-hammer indicator on the left side grip. The Bayard has an all-steel one-piece frame, whereas the Escort has an aluminum frame with a side-plate on the left side. The Bayard has a terrible trigger pull, but the redesigned lockwork in the Smith & Wesson gives it a very decent trigger.
Both guns, while compact, are unergonomic. The design, with the recoil spring over the barrel (à la the 1900 Browning), forces the hammer pivot rather low, leaving a very short grip on a pocket pistol. A woman might get two fingers around the short grip, but most men will only get one. It is a mystery to me why Smith & Wesson chose to copy an outmoded 60 year old design.
I get the impression, when reading early reviews of the Escort, that the writers were trying to find something nice to say about it: it is simple, light, easily disassembled, has good sights. But the Escort wasn’t critically accurate, didn’t point naturally, and the magazine only held 5 rounds. No one liked the look or the feel of the gun, and it was a resounding commercial failure. Nonetheless, in three years, Smith & Wesson managed to produce four different variants of the gun, making it an interesting collector piece today.
The Model 61
The original version of the Escort had a die-cast aluminum frame and no magazine safety, which was touted as a “feature” that allowed hand feeding of cartridges if the magazine were lost. The Model 61 was available for two months--March and April of 1970--with (according to Simmons) serial numbers ranging from B1001 through B7800, making a total production of 6800.
The Model 61-1
Smith & Wesson must have almost immediately had second thoughts about no magazine safety, because in May of 1970 they introduced the Model 61-1 with a very effective magazine safety that blocks the hammer when the magazine is removed. Owners could send their Model 61 back to the factory to have it retrofitted with the magazine safety, though I doubt that very many did. Guns with the magazine safety added were marked 61-1 on the base of the grip. (I’d be curious to hear from owners of Model 61-1 pistols with serial numbers in the range of the Model 61.*) Serial numbers of production Model 61-1 pistols range from B7801 through B9850. A group of presentation pistols was made with serial numbers from B1 through B500. Total production of the Model 61-1, excluding retrofitted Model 61’s, was 2550, making it the most collectable of the Escort pistols.
In September of 1970 a barrel bushing (or barrel nut) was added to the end of the barrel to more precisely position it in the frame. Previous barrels had been press- fitted into the frame and could not be removed. Simmons implies that the 61-2 and later barrels were removable, but I have been unable to verify this. Serial numbers for the Model 61-2 ran from B9851 to B40000, with a total of 30150 being manufactured. However, a correspondent writes to me that he has a Model 61-2 with the serial number B2687. It is possible that the serial number information given in Simmons is incorrect.
The Model 61-3
In July of 1971 Smith & Wesson began making Escort frames from forged machined aluminum instead of die-cast aluminum, and guns with the new frame were designated the Model 61-3. The disconnector was also changed, from a two piece design with an L-shaped lever and a pivot pin that was pressed into it, to a one-piece design in which the lever and pin were riveted together; and the distance between the front of the breech block and the back of the barrel was reduced slightly. These changes were prompted by endurance and proof testing performed by the H.P. White Laboratory in February of 1971, in the course of which two Model 61-2’s were essentially destroyed by firing over-pressure proof loads in them. One of the guns had a non-functional disconnector before the testing began. The original one-piece steel frame design of the Bayard had been weakened by the use of die -cast aluminum and the addition of a side-plate. Of course, no one had ever blown one up before because the older guns were perfectly safe with normal ammunition, but Smith & Wesson took steps to allay any fears regarding the safety of the Escort by strengthening the frame. According to Simmons, Model 61-3 serial numbers ran from B40001 to B65438, with a total production for the model of 25,438. Production ended in March of 1973, but guns continued to be assembled from existing parts until March of 1974. I have documented a Model 61-3 with serial number B17768--this gun was originally a 61-2 that was recalled and when it came back from Smith & Wesson it had been updated to a 61-3 but retained its original serial number. Another 61-3 has been reported to me with serial number B31802.
Total production of all Escort variants was 64,938. The vast majority were blued, but approximately 6600 were nickel plated. The guns were marked SMITH & WESSON on the left side of the slide and 22 LONG RIFLE CTG on the right. On the left side of the frame is the inscription:
MADE IN U.S.A.
On the right side of the frame is the Smith & Wesson “SW” trademark monogram in a circle, with REG U.S. PAT. OFF. beneath it. The serial number is on the base of the grip, as is the model number.
Note: If you remove the left grip there is a good chance that the pin for the cocked hammer indicator and its spring will fall out. These fit in a recess in the upper rear corner of the grip.
*Send me your serial number if you have a Model 61-1 in the range from B1001 through B7800.
Copyright 2010 by Ed Buffaloe. All rights reserved.