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Low-Profile High Powers: EAA’s Girsan MCP35 PI & Ops

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Every so often, a gunmaker mines the custom market for buried treasure, bringing what was once a rare luxury to the shooting public. Importer EAA and manufacturer Girsan have partnered to do just that, producing a High Power variant that combines a long list of modern features in a model called the MCP35 PI Ops. It is reminiscent of several bespoke pistolsmiths’ work, but it is the first pistol of its kind to offer such features in a factory-made P35. So, does it check the boxes for High Power enthusiasts?

It doesn’t take too much imagination to picture a group of pistol enthusiasts sitting around a table brainstorming every feature that would be desirable to make the ultimate “custom carry P35”—a carry-length barrel, a sculpted beavertail, an undercut trigger guard, a deeply beveled magazine well and an extended, but low-profile, safety and slide release. And then, really stretching credulity a bit: a light rail on the frame; a direct-mount optic on the slide; a flat trigger; and, of course, no magazine safety. And why not add a chromed barrel with a reverse crown while we’re at it? Of course, such has only been conceivable in recent times.

The Browning Hi Power and its many clones, licensed offshoots and derivatives have traditionally been of the service pistol, “five-inch” (actually 4.7″)-barreled variety. For a brief period, the Argentine FM brand produced a Detective model High Power with a shortened slide and barrel. These have been off the market for some years, and the top ends are actively sought by fans of the classic single-action pistol. There was enough demand for a carry-length P35 that noted pistolsmithing shop Cylinder & Slide once offered a “Pathfinder” package that chopped the customer’s pistol down to a more concealable size while adding numerous performance features.

There are a few contemporary pistolsmiths who specialize in the High Power, and their signature builds tend to weld a beavertail onto the frame, bevel the magazine well, add extended safeties and refine the trigger. In recent years, a few ‘smiths have taken to flattening the triggers to offer a different feel and a 90-degree break. Likewise, a few shops have also begun to mill custom P35s to allow the mounting of a red-dot optic. The new MCP35 PI Ops not only combines these features and more, but it does so at an aggressive price point.

There are two ways to look at this Girsan. One is as perhaps the pinnacle in P35 wish-fulfillment. The MCP35 PI Ops brings together a stack of features that aren’t even readily available on the custom market. The other way to view the Girsan is as a uniquely positioned, high-performance, slimline carry pistol. The PI Ops is currently sitting in an underserved niche in the CCW handgun space. If one looks at the compact market for a metal-frame, hammer-fired, single-action pistol with a 16-round capacity, there aren’t many options. The PI’s most direct competitors are probably the Wilson EDC/SF X9 series and the Staccato CS.

One can lay the MCP35 PI Ops atop a Glock 19 and see that the Girsan is nearly identical in length and height to the benchmark compact. In width, however, the PI is a slimline with the holstered portion of the slide and frame having more in common with the micro-nine class of G43Xs, Hellcats, etc. In fact, the PI Ops fit almost perfectly into an inside-the-waistband holster I had for a Hellcat RDP model and was a close fit in a Tenicor holster for a G48.

Girsan MCP35 PI & Ops features

Key to the MCP35 PI Ops’ features is its removable rear sight/optic-cut cover and extended beavertail (left), the former of which makes direct mounting of a Shield-footprint red-dot as simple as removing a screw. Note also the flat-wire recoil spring (above, r.) and traditional layout of the pistol.

The first thing that jumps out upon handling the pistol is how good the frame feels in the hand. Every shooter I handed the pistol to immediately reacted in an, “Oh … I like the way that feels,” expression and comment. The combination of beavertail, undercut trigger guard, thin G10 stocks and recurve at the base of the frame is a winner.

The grip circumference of the PI Ops is surprisingly small for housing a double-stack magazine of 15 rounds. I measured where my middle finger wrapped around the frame, and the Girsan was almost 1/4″ smaller at that point than a Gen5 Glock 19 with none of its accessory backstraps installed. The frame is just long enough to let those with large hands get their fingers nestled in between the undercut guard and recurved bottom with no extra room, while small enough around to let those with quite small hands get a solid, comfortable grip.

The beavertail looks and feels great. I’ve handled custom pistols from several makers with a custom beavertail added to the frame, and I’d rate the Girsan’s as the most comfortable yet. There are a good many shooters whose chief complaint about the P35 is the short tang, which can lead to hammer bite, and as the saying goes, “once bitten, twice shy.” In my firing grasp, the recurve at the frame’s bottom works quite well in concert with the beavertail to snug the web of my hand into the tang, allowing a high, firm grip.

I fired 870 rounds through the PI Ops over the course of testing with no stoppages of any kind. The first 470 rounds came over several weeks with no cleaning or additional lubrication following my initial application. The pistol began to feel a bit “dirty” in cycling at that point—not necessarily sluggish—just not as pleasantly smooth. I casually wiped down the contact areas and then re-lubed it with Gunfighter gun oil. My habit with M1911s and High Powers is to add a couple of drops of lube every 250 rounds or so, but 400 rounds into the cycle, the PI Ops was still running smoothly.

Since the Girsan is squarely aimed at the carry market, I fired a dozen different hollow-point loads through the pistol. Whether Federal Punch or HST, Remington 147-grain Golden Sabers or 115-grain UMC JHPs, Black Hills, Hornady or handloaded match loads with a variety of hollow points, the pistol ran reliably.

Girsan MCP35 PI & Ops features

An extended beavertail, extended slide-stop lever, straight trigger and textured G10 stocks (left) make the pistol easy to handle on the range, and the three-slot accessory rail on the frame facilitates the mounting of a light, laser or combination unit (middle). The muzzle of the pistol’s six-groove, 1:7.87″-twist barrel is sharply tapered (right).

The MCP35 PI Ops is a visually striking pistol that has great lines from every angle. It looks at once modern, even cutting-edge, while maintaining the classic Browning lines. Subjectively, many high-performance pistols on the market may look distinctive but few are genuinely attractive. Many of the latest models from makers struggle to blend performance, a distinct appearance from competitors and visual appeal.

The fit is nice; the slide and frame have flowing lines with flats meeting curves, rounds and bevels, and each is as it should be. There are no hot spots or sharp edges. The finish is an even matte black, which looks at home on the model. On the minus side, I could do without the owner’s manual warning on the frame’s dustcover, and the serial number below is comically long at 15 characters.

The light rail appears the same length as one on a typical compact-size pistol, but where the lugs are cut, it prevents common lights such as the SureFire X300 or Streamlight TLR 7 from latching. I was able to mount a Streamlight TLR 7 Sub at the local gunshop, so I suspect that most lights made for the Glock 43X- and Hellcat-genre micro-compacts will be compatible.

Although the test Girsan shipped with a micro red-dot made by Derry, for direct mounting onto the cutout in the slide, it will sell without an optic. Once I degreased the thread holes and screws and applied thread locker, the Derry snugged right into place, the rear of the optic housing having a built-in rear sight notch that paired with the dovetailed front sight.

The red-dot optic was a chore to zero, with the unit having no clicks, no marked directions for up/right as is typically found on optics and the tiny hex adjustments seeming to respond inconsistently with point-of-impact changes. I gave up once I was close, and the unit did seem to hold zero throughout the rest of my shooting. The intensity of the Derry’s bold red dot self-adjusted based on a sensor with no manual override or adjustment. I was able to shoot the pistol in a wide variety of outdoor lighting conditions, and the dot typically erred on the side of brightness, which is preferable to the alternative.

After a couple of weeks of use and about 490 rounds, the dot began to flicker and then disappeared. Upon removing the optic and changing the battery, all was well again, and I re-learned an important lesson: When any optic uses bottom-loading batteries and must be unmounted to change them, it is in the shooter’s strong interest to forgo the included battery accompanying the optic and start fresh with a newly purchased, best-quality battery. Many instructors are adamant that Duracell brand coin cell batteries are noticeably more reliable and longer-lasting.

I wanted to ensure that the Girsan’s milled optic cutout was indeed compatible with Shield-footprint red-dots and was able to borrow a new-to-market C&H Precision EDC optic for testing. The C&H red-dot has a side-loading battery and adjustable brightness of its 3-m.o.a. dot and an estimated 50,000 hours of battery life. The EDC was first-quality with impressively tactile and precise adjustment clicks and a sharp, clean dot projected on a clear lens. I had the pistol perfectly zeroed for the new dot within 10 rounds.

The PI Ops’ flat trigger gives the pistol a different feel than the traditional P35 curved unit. Some shooters tend to pull downward on the forward curve of the standard trigger and drag their shots low. The flat trigger is forward-set so that it breaks at a near-vertical 90 degrees and helps to counteract this tendency. The PI Ops had a better-than-average trigger out of the box with a 5-lb., 8-oz., break with just a slight hint of roughness, which occasionally whispered through as the sear released.

I was thinking how a light polish on the fire-control parts might take the break to the next level when, about 700 rounds in, the trigger “broke in” and lost a full pound. Hammer-fired designs often wear-in as the parts burnish and polish each other during use, and this one upgraded from above average to quite good. The resulting 4-lb., 8-oz., break allowed excellent shooting while still being appropriate for carry use.

One advantage the MCP35 enjoys relative to the typical polymer-frame compact semi-automatic is the ability to be tailor-fit to the shooter’s preference by changing out the stock panels. The included thin G10 panels will be well-liked by many shooters, but the High Power’s small, well-rounded frame design has a tendency to want to twist in recoil for shooters with larger hands. I tried two sets of LOK Grips Palm Swell Hi Power panels on the Girsan, the company’s Bogies with aggressive dimples and a more finely checkered set. These increased surface area and locked the pistol into my grasp in recoil and felt great in conjunction with the PI Ops frame.

Shooting the PI Ops revealed a noticeable increase in blast and vigor to the cycling in comparison to the full-size P35, neither unexpected with a chopped slide and 3.88″ barrel. Even so, the Girsan was more pleasant for me to shoot than many polymer compacts. The extra weight of a metal frame, the excellent shape and the single-action trigger allowed me to do good work without necessarily working hard. On numerous drills, this translated to better times, hits and/or scores than what I often turned in with a Glock 19 or similar compact. I was able to have some other shooters I know well try the Ops out, and they each shot it well without the effort and focus I’ve seen them take with some other platforms.

The Girsan was solidly accurate. The compact pistol did prefer premium hollow points, as well as handloads using jacketed hollow points. Most range ammunition I tried had enough precision for general practice but not necessarily enough to push boundaries. Using established accuracy loads with both Hornady XTPs and Zero brand jacketed hollow points over Bullseye powder and CCI primers, I was able to stretch the pistol out past common defensive distances. The MCP35 could go plate-for-plate on the 50-yard rack and keep shots on a steel silhouette at 100 yards. Keeping all shots inside a 3″ square at 10 yards in the Prep Time drill (americanrifleman.org/preptime) was no chore, as long as I paid attention and maintained a little discipline.

Girsan MCP35 PI & Ops shooting results

A chunk of shooters will be interested in the Girsan as a slim carry pistol with the easy shootability for which the High Power is known. There are three factors that affect how well a pistol will carry and conceal, particularly when looking at carry inside the waistband: thickness, weight and shape. I carried the PI Ops in an IWB holster for a few days as well as a trip or two with a belt holster. It carried well in either mode. A good belt negates weight as an issue, and an EDC Belt Co. Foundation model allowed the pistol to ride comfortably and well-concealed in the adopted Hellcat RDP IWB holster. The thinness of the pistol more than offsets the few extra ounces the compact has compared to lighter polymer-frame pistols. An additional plus for carry is that the PI Ops’ thumb safety provides an extra layer of security from a negligent discharge when holstering.

Throughout the time I was working with the Girsan, I paid attention to listings for custom High Powers coming onto the market. There were beautiful renditions by some of the marquee names; Novak, Yost, Nighthawk, etc. In each case, the pistols started at $5,000 and went up from there. Each of these pistols would require additional modification to be able to mount either an optic or a light. I couldn’t help but look at the Girsan and wonder if the new pistol becomes a base gun for projects. Many of the things that would have required extensive artisan effort are built in with the MCP35 PI Ops. Now at a more modest cost, shooters might add some checkering to the frontstrap, tune the trigger pull to their specification or swap to a thumb safety of their preferences.

“Custom” in the pistol world tends to have a meaning that shifts over time. In most cases, the initial meaning is when a craftsman modifies a popular pistol to make it more useful, adding performance-enhancing features unavailable from the factory. Over time, the factories respond, incorporating features or ideas that were once exclusively a custom proposition until competition between makers eventually makes those features the new standard commodity. Once the previously custom feature set reaches this point, the market tends to redefine custom as the amount of skilled handwork that goes into the building of a model with the ability of a customer to tweak the specs to his liking.

This moment when the factories respond with previously custom features is a moment of real excitement for enthusiasts. I think this Girsan may have that effect on the High Power world.

EAA Girsan MCP35 PI & Ops

EAA Girsan MCP35 PI & Ops specs

EAA is also offering a more “bare bones” version of the PI platform without provision for a red-dot optic. The MCP35 PI features a standard P35 frame with a magazine-disconnect safety and MK III-style polymer stocks. It also uses a curved trigger. The PI slide and barrel are identical to those on the PI Ops, save the optic cut, with the former having a dovetailed, Novak-style rear sight in its place. The standard PI also uses the same low-profile bilateral thumb safeties as the Ops but lacks an accessory rail on the dustcover.

Article by JUSTIN DYAL

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