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The Vault

Steyr GB

After World War II, the Austrian military used a mixture of Browning High Power and Walther P38 pistols – they were effective and available in large numbers so why not? However, by the early 1970s it had been decided to replace them with a new standard pistol. To fulfill the military requirements, Steyr (a preeminent Austrian firearms and heavy equipment manufacturer) designs the GB pistol.

Steyr GB and Browning High Power

Steyr GB and Browning High Power

Steyr’s design was quite a good one, offering both light recoil and better than average accuracy. It did this by utilizing a gas delayed blowback system virtually identical to the last ditch German Volkssturm Gustloffwerke (VG1-5) rifle. Basically, the front half of the slide acts as a gas piston, and ports in the barrel allow gas into that piston while the bullet is still in the barrel, thus slowing down rearward movement of the slide. In the photo below, you can see the gas sealing rings machined into the barrel, to prevent that gas from venting down around the recoil spring. The piston sleeve rotates to unlock from the slide for disassembly.

Steyr GB pistol disassembled

Steyr GB pistol disassembled

The fixed barrel necessary for this type of gas delayed action has the happy side effect of allowing very good accuracy. In most service handguns the barrel moves on firing as do the sights (being mounted on the slide), requiring two major parts to realign precisely for accurate fire. In the Steyr, only the sights move – not as good an arrangement as one where the sights are fixed to the barrel, but better than the norm. The gas delay system also slows down the recoil energy transmitted to the shooter. In conjunction with the mass of the gun (approximately 2 lb – it’s a full-size steel-framed pistol) this  provides a pleasant soft-shooting feel. Italso came standard with an 18-round magazine capacity, which is large even by today’s standards.

Steyr GB barrel and gas port

Steyr GB barrel and gas port

Steyr expected the GB to be a shoo-in for the Austrian military contract, as it was well understood that a domestic Austrian design would receive preferential consideration. However, a no-name bayonet supplier named Gaston Glock appeared out of nowhere and won the military trials with his polymer-framed G17. Steyr certainly hadn’t expected that, and they proceeded to enter the GB in the 1983 US military pistol trials – where it lost out to the Beretta 92 despite many good qualities. Steyr’s management must have found all this rather unbelievable (losing to a fellow Austrian is one thing, but Austria being beaten by the Italians?) and fell back to marketing the gun to police and civilian buyers. Sales trickled in slowly, but it never gained a major official departmental sale and by 1988 they threw in the towel and stopped manufacturing the guns.

As an aside, we should note the stereotypical Germanic flair for creative naming – the “GB” stands for “gas bremse”, which translates into simply “gas braked”. Kind of like Steyr’s previous service pistol design, the 1912 Steyr-Hahn or “hammer”. In recognition of, well, the fact that it used an external hammer.

Photos for this article (including the additional detailed shots you can see below) were kindly provided by reader Chris B – thanks, Chris!

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30 comments to Steyr GB

  • Cyrus

    This has long been a favorite gun of mine/object that I always look for at gun shows.
    I read an an article about it many years ago, perhaps ’93?
    Anyway, here is a reprint if you like:
    http://www.remtek.com/arms/steyr/gb/gb.htm

  • William Barnett-Lewis

    Interesting. While hardly a bad design and it’s arguably simply a case of the wrong place at the wrong time, I think both the Austrians and the Americans made better choices of sidearm. Looking at the barrel ahead of the gas port on the sample in the photos makes me wonder how well it would last as well as even function in any environment more extreme than an Austrian firing range.

  • Nirvana

    That’s an interesting observation I hadn’t made before about this design. That stuff on the barrel is carbon buildup. While the barrel is hard chromed on these inside and out, I imagine that it would still take a wirewheel or a solvent soak to remove the crud, something that wouldn’t happen in a battlefield environment. I wonder if the VG1-5 was ever fired enough for such a problem to arise.

    Agreed though, the better designs won out.

  • j

    is it possible to suppress this pistol or does the gas delayed action make it impossible

    • Interesting question – I’m really not sure. I expect you wouldn’t lose much of a suppressor’s effectiveness – all they do is slow down the gas expansion, and you shouldn’t get too much volume of leakage around the gas cylinder.

      • Micki Mahoney

        In “Silencer History and Performance Vol. 2″ by Paulson, Parker and Kokalis, there’s a picture of the Steyr GB wearing a rather large, ungainly-looking suppressor with front-and-rear sights on the suppressor body. The photo is credited to Steyr themselves but there’s no info as to how effective it was. Apparently a German company called “Tactics Group” have bought the rights to the GB, calling it the P18, and have developed a silencer which seems to clip onto a rail beneath the frame, rather than screwing into the barrel. Again, no info as to how effective it is, or even if it’s in production yet.

        In the book mentioned above, there’s a bit of discussion as to whether the similar action of the H&K P7 could be effectively suppressed; the long and short of it is, opinions seemed to differ! Some found that the gas leaking out of the gun after firing contributed to more noise, whereas others found that increased back-pressure from the suppressor held the slide closed for longer and reduced the sound signature significantly. Seems that the internal suppressor design probably had a lot to do with it. No doubt it would be a similar story for the Steyr.

  • Gerard

    A guy I always thought was neat. Also a favorite of author Lee Child who has it appear several times in the Jack Reacher novels.

  • Fidel Feederle

    The piss-poor quality of the Rogak P18 (produced by one of Steyr’s US importers without licensing the original design) tarnished the GB’s reputation beyond rescue.
    The gun heats up considerably after a few dozen rounds due to the Barnitzke delay, not as hot as HK P7 or Vektor CP1.
    The function quickly suffers from crud or dirt around the gas sleeve.
    Silencing is easier than with Browning designs because of the fixed barrel.
    Sweet and acurrate shooter, big lump though, IIRC.

  • Keith

    Ian,
    You are still tempting us with the prospect of the volks pistol…

    I had a few tries at the range with a GB, when it was still legal to do so in Britain.

    The side by side comparison with the Browning Hi Power is deceptive. In the hand, a GB is huge! much wider than the Hi Power.

    It was a beautiful pistol to shoot, a comfortable hand full with light recoil, and it worked acceptably with very mild lead bulleted re-loads as well as full power S&B factory loads. The alternate side feeding mag was a pleasure to load compared to the single feed position Browning.

    The Rogak P18, pirate copy of the GB (a “weapon best forgotten;-) ), appears to have operated as a plain blowback, indicating that the weight of the slide alone (at least when made of stainless) is sufficient to keep the case from bursting or separating, without the gas braking, though I dread to think how long the impacting surfaces for the slide and frame lasted without gas buffering.

    Other straight blowback 9mmP pistols, such as the Astra hundred series were said to have unpleasant recoil.

  • Markus

    Slight mistake here: “the “GB” stands for “gas bremse”, which translates into simply “gas braked”. ”
    Gasbremse means gas brake. Gas breaked would be gasgebremst.

  • seeker_two

    The design lives on in a simplified version in the Czech Kevin .380ACP pistol, aka MRI Micro-Eagle.

  • Fidel Feederle

    Not a bad idea and certainly easy to rack for the ladies.
    I’d have the chamber reamed up to 9×19 and Walter Wolff to wind me some springs, with 147gr bullets set deep to the OAL of the .380, the barrel might need another 2 mm port hole ahead of the chamber though.

  • Bob

    I had the misfortune to buy an early Rogak P18 from LES arms of Skokie Ill. As I was firing it on an indoor range the firing pin came strait back out of the slide and struck me in the eyeball. I went to the emergency room and was diagnosed as having scratched lens and swelling. I missed 2 weeks work and had to pay the bills. I called LES and talked to Morris Rogak and reported the accident to him. He asked me to inspect the rear bottom of the slide and look for the “Roll pin” and none was present in my gun. He said later guns were fitted with a roll pin to Keep the firing pin in the gun. If You own a Rogak P!8 check it for the roll pin. If it doesn’t have one please grind the firing pin tip off so no one in the future will be able to shoot it.

  • Magus

    From that first picture, I would’ve assumed the GB was a polymer-frame. Just on account of the texture of it. You don’t normally see that on steel frames.

  • Skans

    I have a Steyr GB. After turning my nose up at one (in favor of a S&W 659) in 1988 because it was “odd looking”, I bought one a few years later. It is an exceptionally well made gun, mild recoil and extremely accurate due to the fixed barrel. No malfunctions at all. If you don’t want your barrel to get discolored, you do need to clean it after using it. BTW, the barrel does not corrode. There was a threaded barrel made for this gun, so I assume a suppressor would work. BTW, the reason I turned up my nose at this gun initially was because I didn’t like the plastic trigger guard. I got over it.

  • Storgus

    A nice and interesting handgun. My father have one, and I am currently looking for spare magazines for him. Any tips or suggestions where to look would be appreciated. Greetings from Norway!

    • Bruce Thurmond

      I have two original magazines in very good condition due to my GB being stolen. I haven’t had a chance to advertise online. Also have cleaning kit to include. Contact me if interested. I will be happy to send pictures.

  • Robocop-55

    Hi everyone,

    I am a firearms collector in Europe and part of my collection are 7 Steyr GB. I like them very well, because they are fine guns.
    Because I had also 4 original Compenstors I had made 2 of my guns to special guns. I send them to IGB Austria, a company who made spare / custom matchgrade barrels for a lot of European Guns, including the Steyr GB. They equipped them with their custom 7.5 inch barrel and I used 2 of the comps as barrel protection for these “Long Toms”. Now I have 2 Steyr GBs looking like real space guns. I belive the Steyr Gb had been better looking in the Battlestar Galactica TV-Show, than the FN Five-Seven they used in the show.
    I hope Tactics Group Company in Germany will made a good rerelease of the Steyr GB, so I might get one for shooting and save my collectable pieces.

    A few years ago, I had the chance to take a closer look to a Rogak P-18. I Thought it might be a good piece for my collection, as a contrast to the original gun. But I was very disappointed. One could shove a EURO Banknote throu the gap beetween frame and slide. Everything is rattling and there is a smooth barrel (no land and grooves) in the gun. And for this piece of junk, the dealer wanted € 1.500.00.

  • Ron Hunter

    I tried to carry a Steyr GB as a duty weapon back in the 80s. It was a great pistol, one of the best natural pointing handguns I have ever fired. It also fit small hands well, despite having such large capacity.

    Unfortunately the magazines were garbage. They did not taper to line up straight with the barrel but remained double at the top. This caused factory hollowpoints to jam, requiring full metal jacketed ammo in order to be reliable. Since neither reloads nor fmj ammo were allowed,it’s use as a police weapon was nil. I sold it to a guy as an expensive plinker.

    • Robocop-55

      Hi Ron,

      as mentioned the Steyr GB had been developed as a duty weapon for the Austrian Army. Because of the Haage Regulations of Warfare Military Forces are limited to FMJ Ammo for their small arms. Also the magazine design of the GB is similar to the magazine design of SMGs. This is indeed a critical point in the 1980s, because JHP Ammo in this years could be troublesome in autoloaders like pistols or carbines.
      Maybe today, with a wide range of different style JHP Ammo and other special bullets, the GB will work as a duty or home defense gun. I have not tried it yet, but in the next time, I will try some ammo like the Hornady Critical Duty or the Speer Gold Dot 115 grs JHP in one of my GBs.
      I will also ask the Tactics Group Germany at the IWA this year, if their rerelease of the GB will work with JHP Ammo.

  • Robocop-55

    Hello everbody,

    after visiting IWA (German Shot Show) on Saturday I have the following informations about the “new” Steyr GB. Guns in made by
    SSD – Sport systme Dittrich, the company who make also the semi-auto version of the Sturmgewehr 44 and the Fallschrimjägergewehr 42 (German Army Assault Rifle 44 and Paratrouper Rifle 42).
    They told me, the internel parts will differ from the original gun, because they improved the original GB. Only the magazin will be interchangable. Also a picatiny rail will be available (will fit also GB), a silencer and an adjustable sight.
    Also there will be a short version (approx. one inch shorter) of their gun, grip frame same size as the regular one.
    And there will be also an extended magazine with a capacity of min. 30 rds.
    Release of the new guns will be fall 2013. Rumors of price tag is 1.500.00 Euros. – I belive this is too expensive for sucess, especially with aiming to special unitis (police / mititary). I do not know about the bugets of US LE, but in Europe, even for Special Units every pistol more than 800.00 Euros will be to expensive.

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