The JoLoAr pistol was a combination of a poor-selling and unremarkable Spanish blowback semiauto pistol called the Sharpshooter and an idea by a man named Jose Lopez Arnaiz (whose name is the source of the pistol’s name). Arnaiz conceived the idea of mounting a lever (palanca in Spanish) onto a pistol slide, to allow the pistol to be charged one-handed. There is a rumor (unsubstantiated) that he was inspired by the one-armed commander of the Spanish Foreign Legion, Colonel José Millán-
The company he found was Hijos de Calixto Arrizabalaga, who were making the rather mundane Sharpshooter. This was a blowback pistol, which was designed without an extractor. Instead, it was equipped with a tip-up barrel for clearing malfunctions and unloading the chamber. This feature carried over to the JoLoAr, although an extractor had also been added to the design by that time. Wanting to maintain control over his idea, Arnaiz opened his own small shop where his employees would add his patented palanca to otherwise-complete JoLoAr pistols made by Arrizabalaga.
Arrizabalaga’s experiment with the Arnaiz idea worked out fairly well, really. About 30,000 JoLoAr pistols were made between the mid 1920s and early 1930s, which is probably a lot more than would have been sold as plain Sharpshooters. They were made in five calibers – .25ACP, .32ACP, .380ACP, 9mm Largo, and .45ACP. The main large buyer was the Peruvian mounted police, which bought them in 9mm Largo for issue and in .380 for officers. These make up the vast majority of JoLoArs available in the US today, as they were imported here when the Peruvian police replaced them. Confusingly, they are both marked 9mm, but can be distinguished by barrel length, magazine size, and the rear sight location (in .380 it’s a groove in the slide; in Largo it’s a sight milled into the rear end of the barrel).
The mounted police presumably purchased them for the utility of being able to use one-handed, while controlling a horse with the second hand. This is a bit awkward until you really have practiced it, but definitely works. Since the guns have no half-cock notch, manual safety, or hammer block, the only safe way to carry one is with a loaded magazine and empty chamber. This fits well with the palanca, as the gun can be (again, with practice) charged while being drawn.
Beyond this, the guns are fairly typical in operation. Both the .380 and 9mm Largo versions are relatively large and heavy for their caliber, which makes them comfortable and easy to shoot. The grip is pretty decent, and the fixed barrel design allows them to be surprisingly accurate – as long as you can work with the small sights (particularly on the .380). While I don’t think I would choose to carry one myself, they would actually make a very practical option for a person with only one hand or arm. And, of course, they make a great addition to any collection of unusual handguns.