The GLOCK has been hailed as one of the 10 best handgun designs in history. To put that in some meaningful context, the GLOCK is on the same list as the flintlock and percussion lock pistol, Samuel Colt’s legendary 1851 Navy revolver, the Colt Peacemaker, and the Colt Model 1911/1911A1 semi-auto; in short, some very illustrious arms spanning somewhere on the order of five centuries of gun making. Considering that the GLOCK semi-automatic pistol didn’t even exist until the early 1980s, this accomplishment is all the more impressive.

Everyone is familiar with the GLOCK name, but perhaps not as familiar with how the guns came into being or how they have improved over generations of design engineering to the present 2012 Gen4 series. It all began around 1981, when the Austrian manufacturer, known for its use of polymers and injection molding techniques, was invited by the Austrian government to submit a proposal for an upcoming military trial intended to find a suitable replacement for the nation’s aging WWII-era Walther P38 sidearms. The Walther is still regarded as one of the great (and timeless) designs of the early 20th century, but it had two features the Austrian military no longer admired—its weight and cartridge capacity; one too much, the other too little. While European arms makers began submitting proposals based on their current designs, Gaston Glock and his staff started with a blank sheet of paper, no preconceived notions, and most of all, no existing hardware.

In 1982, the GLOCK 17 was adopted by the Austrian military, shortly after by the Austrian police, and the course of arms making the world over was altered. The innovations of the GLOCK were quickly realized by military and law enforcement agencies on every continent, though many were slow to warm to the idea of the polymer frame, the GLOCK’s almost indestructible design, ease of use and high capacity broke down preconceptions faster than the arms maker could produce guns.

The Makings of a GLOCK

When you start with a clean sheet of paper, the only rules are the ones you make for yourself. Gaston Glock knew he could use an injection-molded polymer frame for his new gun. It had been tried before by Heckler & Koch with the VP70 and VP70Z, both of which used a plastic receiver/grip assembly. The HK 9×19 pistols were introduced in 1970 and produced through 1984. This was a very large (28.9-ounce weight, 8-inch overall length), expensive ($2,250) DAO blowback design that has become one of the more interesting footnotes in German arms manufacturing. Mr. Glock took nothing from the HK when he began working on his proposal for the Austrian Ministry of Defense. The new semi-auto 9×19 pistol would be lighter in weight, innovative in its operation and far less expensive. And GLOCK had the experience to both prototype and manufacture the gun in-house.

The original GLOCK 17 was introduced to the public for sale as a 1983 model. It was virtually identical to the guns being made for the Austrian military and police, chambered in 9×19 with a capacity of 17+1. Being designed as a military sidearm, it was essentially simplistic in its execution and had very few of the features we find today on GLOCK semi-autos. The initial success of the GLOCK 17 also brought forth a wealth of consumer requests for change, something which manufacturers often loathe to do. GLOCK was slow to warm to the idea of altering what was essentially a brand new design, but the company was also market-driven and the original changes consumers wanted were neither unreasonable nor difficult with injection molding. Thus, beginning in 1991 (just eight years after being introduced), texturing was added to the grip panels, along with internal improvements: a new, integrated recoil spring assembly replacing the original two-piece recoil spring and tube design, and slight modifications to the magazine by changing the floorplate and fitting the follower spring with a resistance insert at its base. A second alteration came in the 1990s with the addition of checkering on the front-strap and serrations to the backstrap. This all constitutes the 2nd generation.

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