H&K VP-70Z (Video)

I recently had the chance to hit the range with a VP-70Z, the semiauto civilian version of H&K’s 1970 machine pistol. It is notable both for being one of the few production machine pistols around (and it would only fire automatically when its optional buttstock was attached), but also for being the world’s first production polymer-framed handgun. On a less positive note, it’s next-most-known feature is it’s trigger pull, which is very reminiscent of a staple gun.

The VP-70 was a very simple design, using a plain straight blowback action and an 18-round double-feed magazine. One of its other notable features is very deep rifle, which I had read was intended to reduce pressure by allowing gas to blow past the bullet. That sounded like a pretty goofy idea, but lo and behold, it’s true. I was able to examine a couple recovered bullets, and the all show that the rifling groove area makes no contact with the bullet, and blackened scorch marks are present as well, a bit like cartridge cases from fluted chambers. In addition, a friend I spoke to has done some chronograph testing with a VP-70, and found that it produces significantly lower velocity with a given cartridge than other pistols with the same barrel length. Here are some 10-shot average muzzle velocities, compared to manufacturer spec:

VP-70Z (4.6″ barrel)  Standard test barrel (4″)
Winchester 124 grain FMJ NATO (+P) 1098fps 1200fps
CCI 115 grain TMJ “LAWMAN” 1100fps 1200fps
Federal 124 grain TMJ “Toxic-Metal Free Primer” 887fps 1120fps

As for the trigger, it’s long and heavy (kinda like everything else HK was making at the time…), but not necessarily as terrible as some folks would suggest. You have to approach it like a DA revolver, and get used to staging the trigger most of the way back and then pulling the final short distance when you have a proper sight picture. I found it interesting that Tim Mullin (with several thousand rounds’ experience on the VP-70) commented in his book on SMGs and machine pistols that he would choose the VP-70 over an MP5PDW.

52 Comments

  1. Great video Ian. I have to wonder why more pistols haven’t adopted the 2-position feed magazine, however. I heard somewhere that the slide/bolt has to have more mass to strip the rounds from a 2-pos magazine, but I can’t see why that would be so. Thoughts anyone?

    • I think to some extent it’s an issue of slide width. A dual feed mag needs a larger feed block on the bottom of the bolt part of the slide to keep the next round held down, and to feed reliably, there’s also a need for a wider feed ramp up to the chamber, all of which tends to make for a wider pistol and especially a wider slide. One thing you can never describe a an H&K VP70 or a Steyr GB as, is “compact”.

      Then there’s also an issue of laziness/cheapness which I think crept in with SMG mags, first using stocks of WW1 bolts which had been developed to use the Luger trommel mag, then continuing to seek compatibility with existing guns and stocks of mags.

      That said, I do like dual feed mags.

      • I think you’re probably right, especially about the slide width. Although why people would be overly concerned about the width of the slide when the width of the mag-well/grip has to be at least as thick anyway, I don’t know. Seems like the reliability of the 2-position feed system would be worth more in a combat sidearm than cutting down a little on the width up top.

        As well as of laziness and cheapness, it seems that innate conservatism abounds in gun design. Military/police contracts are always financially and often politically influenced, so when more radical designs fail to find any major sales, they end up labelled as “unsuccessful”. Then people like us discuss them on sites like Forgotten Weapons and wonder design features X,Y and Z never appeared in anything else.

  2. I thought that trigger mechanism looked familiar, I wonder if it had been infecting minds in Obendorf for the previous quarter century? https://www.forgottenweapons.com/mauser-volkspistole/

    Confirmation of the over deep rifling is interesting. Grooved chambers to reduce slide velocety are a dirty expedient, tending to gum up with residue, so H&K were wise to avoid that route – does anyone know whether there was some sort of bureaucratic standard that H&K were trying to meet with the VP70
    (like the later German police standard, which the H&K P7, Sig Sauer P226 and whatever the Walther was, were developed to meet – as there was no existing pistol which met the requirements)?

    The reason I ask, is because leaving the slide a few grams heavier would have reduced its velocity without requiring the rather odd bore dimensions. though I guess that with its small capacity and c 40,000 psi max pressure, a 9mmP isn’t going to destroy its rifling by gas cutting in too much of a hurry.

  3. “Kind of like a refined version of a Hi-Point pistol.” Ha!

    Very interesting. Thanks for posting.
    Too bad the shoulder-stock version was not available!
    Very simple internally. Truly a “forgotten weapon.” The “pre-Glock polymer pistol.”

  4. This is kinda left field, but many years ago, before I ever even worked in a gun shop, and never having handled one, I out of the blue had a dream in which I found a VP70Z in a cigar box. In the dream, I disassembled the pistol, and curiously it broke down and looked almost exactly as this real one did. I remember wondering if the polymer frame was safe to shoot, then searching unsuccessfully for a box of ammo through the remainder of the dream. Watching this video brought that 30 year old dream right back to me as if I’d dreamed it last night. Thank you for the video guys.

  5. Interesting posting! In comparison, it may be good to look at competition of the time – Beretta 93R. There is also a video from shoot and in continuation also the VP70 for comparison. The controllability with stock is not bad.
    http://cssbl.com/tierra/beretta93r.htm
    Beretta has undeniably more finesse to it.
    CZUB also had a version of select fire pistol based on CZ-85. Spare magazine in inverted position was inserted in from of trigger and thus acted as forward grip; kind of makeshift solution.

    • Some of the mid 1950s Catron pistol prototypes had an area milled out so a magazine could be twisted in to form a forward grip for full auto use.

      It is interesting that the machine pistol idea keeps on re appearing. Mauser, Star, Astra, and IIRC Llama were manufacturing them commercially in the first half of the 20th century, full auto pistols were appearing in the fifties and sixties in places like Mexico and Italy, and the cosmetically very similar Catron and Kimball pistols had selective fire prototypes in 1950s America, and of course the former eastern block tank crew pistols.

      Then we get Heckler and Koch, Beretta, Glock etc producing full auto pistols in the last 30 years of the century.

      a conventional pistol might not be the best suited basis development of a full auto weapon, but they just keep on appearing.

      Was there also a selective fire H&K P9, or is my memory playing tricks with me?

      large numbers

      • Thanks for bringing the Catron and Kimball pistols to my attention. I find full auto pistols really interesting in spite of their questionable usefulness, but I’ve never heard of those two. I found a book on Catron, but when I look for Kimball pistols all I find is information about their .30 carbine semi-auto
        (which also pretty interesting, though not good)
        I’ve never heard of a select-fire P9, but I’m obviously far from encyclopedic on the subject.

        • There’s a slight twist to the Kimball (no 144) photographed for Buxton’s book on Catron;

          it was in 7.63x25mm Mauser

          Its story is somewhat tenuous, but seemingly, when the Detroit machine shop which was making the pistols, fell out with Kimball, it sold the parts to an unknown shop in New Jersey, which assembled them – that much is concrete – however it appears that in an attempt to get better life out of the pistols than the 100 or so rounds before failure with .30 carbine, the shop used surplus 2 groove barrel to convert a small number to .30 mauser in the vain hope that they would last longer and sell better.

          If you look closely at the pictures in Buxton’s Catron book, the Kimball pistol itself is beautifully finished, but the barrel and front sight look decidedly Bubbaficated.

          According to Buxton, Kimball’s selective fire prototypes had very little parts commonality with the “production” guns.

      • There is something about “firepower” which fascinates potential clients. If we look at modern ammunition potential however, we find that one placed shot is usually enough to deal with pesky adversary. That having said, if there is a group target, the selective fire comes handy. Overall, seems to me that wave is fading though.

        The gun you mention (without looking into sources) – (the P9) is not selective a believe. I recall that soon after I showed up on this chat, in lack of knowledge about calibre of readers, I begun to ‘tutor’ on pistols. I recall you came with VP70 as an example of unlocked design in 9mm Para. I well noticed that you have taste for unusual things and oddities and that is good thing; the mainstream seem to kind of repetitive. Thanks for sharing your findings!

        • Denny, I’m learning lots from you too, and please correct me when you spot me making a mistake.

          The great thing about information is, we can give all we have to others, and we still posses, and can still use all that we’ve given.

          If we each swap the same amount of information, we each end up with twice as much as we gave.

      • As usual I have an afterthought… yes Keith, that is true what you say about un-suitability of regular pistol for full auto. Russians went kind of usual with Stechkin and unless fired with stock attached, it is not much of use.

        The Polish have done quite well with their line of mini-SMGs starting with Rak and Czechs not too badly with Skorpion. That gun has not much of effect in original calibre, until it was reproduced in 9mm Browning. Lately, Saab-Bofors have a phenomenal weapon, mini SMG actually, in unique calibre 6.5×25, which has sabotted tungsten projectile.

        • Are you referring to 6.5×25 CBJ? Does it really perform like the company claims? They cite some rather remarkable armor penetration numbers, and I didn’t know if the round/weapon had been adopted by anyone yet.

          • Yes, it is a “wonder gun” (plus its ammo). The projectile is 4.5mm 4g ‘heavy’ bit of tungsten and it performs well against 240 Brinell armour plate not to mention any form of body armour. Did anybody adopt it yet? This would be Swedish defence force I’d think. No, not to my knowledge. maybe because it would eliminate everything in its way. Out of sudden you would not need on typical combat range anything else.

      • Keith,
        your memory is correct. That were several different select-fire prototypes of P9 and P9S, respectively. If I’m not mistaken, the very first prototype of the P9 (number ‘StK0001’) select fire. But none of these select-fire prototypes made it into production.
        The early prototypes had the select fire lever on the frame, just beneath the safety lever on the slide. A later P9S prototype had a fire mode selector lever on the right side of the frame, opposite the safety lever.
        Early prototypes had provisions to attach a shoulder stock, more similar to a Stechkin than the VP70M, since the fire control group is incorporated into the pistol and not the stock. A late P9S-prototype had a crude wooden handgrip just in front of the trigger guard.
        Kersten’s HK-book contains a couple photographs of the different prototypes (as does the ‘world of HK’-section of hkpro.com).

        • Could you place some relevant reference on P9S? In my reaction to Keith’s I am sceptical of select fire version, since I know only series version. Thanks.

          • Hi Denny,
            how deep do you want to dive into the P9S info?
            I checked Kersten/Schmiitts book on HK. According to their book, most early prototypes of the (single action) P9 were select fire, in order to test the mechanics and check the reliability of the miniaturized roller-delayed blow-back action. As we know now, the concept did work satisfyingly. All pictures of select fire P9-prototypes I know show a frame mounted fire mode selector, mounted on the left side of the frame, just beneath the safety lever and hinging on the top of the frame, under the overlapping slide.
            During development of the (double action) P9S, there were several select fire prototypes, with two different fire mode selectors: one model had a three position safety lever with a spring-loaded locking pin protruding from the front. The three positions were semi (horizontal) – auto (mid-way between the usual ‘fire’ and ‘safe’ position) and safe it the usual downward position. Interestingly, the lever used the usual 60 degrees arc for all three positions (unlike the Stechkin, where the lever rotates more than 90 degrees). Maybe this was the reason for the third fire mode selector variant, comprising of a separate lever on the _right_ side of the slide, independent from the safety lever on the left. This is the prototype with a wooden grip in front of the trigger guard and without provisions for a shoulder stock. Allegedly there were two different, interchangeable grips: one vertical and one horizontal, detachable via a spring-loaded push-button.
            Apparently the P9S prototypes date from the early seventies, when the VP70M was already in production and deemed far more appropriate for the job, given the twice as big magazine and burst-fire shoulder stock.
            I don’t know if any of the licensees (e.g. Greece) made ther own prototypes or even placed them into production.
            For some more info (without me having to infringe copyright) look for ‘HK Heckler & Koch’ by Manfred Kersten and Walter Schmitt (out of print) or ‘Heckler & Koch – Die Pistolen 1952-1992’ by Manfred Kersten (out of print also)
            Or have a look over at hkpro.com –> World of HK –> the Pistols –> ‘P9’ and ‘P9S’ respectively (http://www.hkpro.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=60:p9&catid=6:the-pistols&Itemid=5 and http://www.hkpro.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=59:p9s&catid=6:the-pistols&Itemid=5)
            (I hope I don’t step on anybodies toes by linking there…)

  6. The selective-fire VP70 is an interesting gun to shoot. In 3-shot burst mode it fires so fast that bystanders cannot distinguish the individual shots and it just sounds like one long bang. The shooter is able to feel the recoil of the 3 shots through the stock, and they group very close on the target if the gun is held firmly. 2″ to 3″ 3-shot groups are possible at 25 metres in burst firing with a solid hold.

    • Rifling with conventional looking lands and grooves (even if its dimensions are unusual) is something of a deviation for H&K who back in the 80s, used to tout their use of polygonal rifling in their advertizing.

        • So, does it mean that by virtue of this registered patent the HKs have become actually “fathers” of polygonal rifling? That would be truly revealing to me. I was of that impression, that PR was kind of ‘innate’ knowledge of pretty old origin. But then, everything is invented by people, right?!

          • Hi Denny,
            I’ve not read through the patent yet to see exactly what non obvious innovation they claimed to have made.

            Metford’s segmental rifling and Lancaster’s “oval bore” rifling were both much earlier versions of the same principal.

            There are also the rounded grooves and lands used for bores which are intended for chrome plating, in order to get a more even deposit of chrome (which builds up thickly on the corners of lands but won’t go into the corners of grooves). Chrome plating was certainly a standard practice in places like Japan, before WWii

            There was therefore plenty “prior art” which could be pointed to if H&K had ever got snotty with anyone producing a rounded polygonal rifling.

            When I was looking through the H&K patents on Espacenet for the VP70 patents, I found that H&K had also patented the roller delay system which was developed almost quarter of a century earlier for the Gerat 06.

          • OK, I’ve read the patent, either the British patent office was desperate for money (gathering revenue is what it exists to do), and or the examiner was lazy and ignorant of guns.

            Lancaster and Metford were there almost a century before.

            That said, the patent mentions tests in which bullets were either late to seal in the bore, or completely failed to seal, this was particularly the case with lead cored steel jacketed bullets.

            The polygonal rifling profile is said to approximate the shape which a steel jacketed soft cored bullet assumes with conventional land and groove rifling.

            Reading between the lines, it appears that some bright person at H&K has realized that the problem of poor sealing with some conventional rifling, provided one possible solution to the problem of high slide velocities with their blowback 9mm Volkspistole.

            I’m not sure at what point that realization came, as the patents for the pistol show a spring buffer mounted under the barrel to buffer the final impact of the slide.

            The german patent application for polygonal rifling was made in 1966, and it refers to the use of rifling broaches.

            I’m not sure at what stage H&K got its first big gun sales (I gather that it started off employing the local skilled machinists in making sewing machine parts and other small precision pieces) but from the mention of broaching and the absense of mention of cold forging, it sounds as though H&K was still too small at that point to afford (or justify) a rotary hammer.

            How it afforded the many and elaborate development programs, I do not know – was it receiving secret grant aid – in the way that German owned arms companies in other parts of Europe did after the Versailles treaty at the end of WWi?

  7. I have a friend who is looking for one of the ‘target” models of the VP70 it has a longer slide and adjustable sights. He had one years ago and made the mistake of selling it. Now he wants to buy it or one like it back. Bob

  8. Neat! A friend who was a “gun of the month” horse-trader had one of these for a while in the 80s. I only shot it once and aside from the usual issues my “K frame Smith/ 1911” size hands have with most wondernines (as they were called then) I thought it was pretty nifty. Saw the merits then of a trigger that took some effort to fire. When the cops started going to DAO autos a decade or so later I said “Wait… wasn’t H&K doing that years ago?”

    For the Forgotten Library… fellow Stephen Hunter fan here, loved the “Pale Rider” review. It’s hard to find but in the 80s Hunter did a novelization (a genre I usually I can’t stand, but this one is pretty good) of a Gene Hackman flick called “Target.” Never saw the movie but Hunter used the opportunity to fill a niche in the emerging Shorty French mythos, which is the character who ties Bob Lee to Earl to “The Second Saladin.” Anyway, Hackman’s character in the novel is up against a STASI agent with a VP-70 that has been modified to fire bursts without the stock. There’s also a Polish PM-63 (sort of a 9×18 mini-Uzi) in the hands of the bad guys. Fun Hunter romp and probably the only novelization I’ve ever finished.

  9. The VP70 M or military version have same capacity 18 rounds maximum,true selector is build on stock and ones selects on full auto 3 burst wont be able redetach from pistol..
    However I heard there is even more unique VP70 version chambered by 9×23 or 9x21mm IMI and was adopted for Israeli troops or special police,I seen ones it was sold and ever science no news from that version…
    What I know it was rebuild somehow from full auto to civilian version and stock attachment grooves was present…
    But yes VP70 M is fully uncontrollable on full auto mode,tested it myself and there is very notable misadvantage of VP70 that’s there is no slide stop on it when magazine empty..

    Despites of everything there is other unique pistol models that’s also amazes the eye like mauser M712 Schnellfeuer,APS Stechkin,Drotyk,Pernach,Beretta 93R,Glock 18,Steyr Hahn model 1914,even Luger in full auto variation…
    The role of automatic pistol is serves as backup sidearm needed in very difficult situation especially in tight corridors or corners where smg’s or assault rifles hard to pass to do job accurately..

    VP70 is still one of my favorite models although trigger pull is very tough,with APS I familiarized very long time ago back at Poland..
    There is also was some stupid movie forgottened what name of it was they used APS and PM63 as agent main sidearms during ambush..

    About PM63 is hard to say if that automatic overgrown pistol or SMG but fact is that its nolonger used by Polish army and been replaced by more ergonomic UZI like hybrid PM84 Glauberyt…

    Certain of those UZI like hybrids could be very interesting to find manuals like Italian Socimi,USA Ruger MP9 and very little information about Mexican Mendoza SMG…

  10. Got one of these, along with four mags. Thought about selling it, but it’s too interesting every time I take it out. That looong pull doesn’t affect its accuracy, and the weird front sight (two reflective ramps surrounding a front post) doesn’t either. I understood the long trigger was for civilians so they wouldn’t waste ammo after they were issued one when the Russians came through the Fulda Gap. Maybe so. But it was also used in Aliens as the sidearm of the Space Marines, and that alone makes it cool. A huge handgun, though, seems time and a half a full size 1911.

  11. VP70 may be called as “Most sophisticated simple pistol ever made” since it could
    be made at least two Glocks with manufacturing expense for it.

    Standart slide weight for a 9mm Parabellum pistol working in Simple Blowback type,
    is near to 800 grams and VP70 slide seems about maximum at 500 grams range. In this
    case, it should be necessary to get some precautions to lower the internal pressure
    as deeper rifling for gas outlet or deeper chamber lenght providing more support at
    back of cartridge case. VP70 seems as using both of them and in fact, it seems that
    it was made to use regular pistol round with other handguns used in an armed force
    which being not very particular on arms technology as being like South African
    Nations.

      • Near 800 grams slide weight is calculated theoreticaly assuming a breechbolt
        recoil speed of 4 metres per second as resulting 2 milimeters backward travel
        at instant of when a 9mm Parabellum bullet leaving a 10 centimeters barrel.
        According to the bullet weight and muzzle velocity, it differs from 700 to 780
        grams.

        In practice, there is at least, 5 milimeters web at back of a 9mm Para. shell and
        powder burning is not occured all in at once. Leaving two milimeters for extractor
        groove gives three milimeters of supported case back and, assuming the powder
        burning happening gradualy, that calculated slide weight can be reduced near to
        450 grams which is adequate for a service type pistol to work in simple blowback
        principle. Besides, taking all of the case back into the chamber with a raised up
        extractor, descends that value and additional precautions like deeper rifling
        grooves or larger bore with very swallow rifling will even take it further.

        • when you do the calcs, it is surprising how light a slide you can get away with on a blowback and still remain within the safe case head protrusion limit.

          The fun part appears to be how to safely and comfortably decelerate that light, and therefore fast moving slide at the end of its travel.

          • Responsibility belongs to Mr.Newton, Keith.

            In fact most of the pistols working in blowback principle like LLama’s
            and Astra’s of the past fall in 300 to 380 grams range as still repeatedly
            making their tasks. All of them also are of “Hammer” guns which their
            mainspring acting somewhatly to slow the slide backward travel. Return
            springs work on the second funny section to soften the impact of speedy
            slide and most of them are overstrenghted for this purpose. VP70 has
            another bumper spring combination for it since being of “Striker” type.

        • > Near 800 grams slide weight is calculated theoreticaly assuming a breechbolt
          recoil speed of 4 metres per second as resulting 2 milimeters backward travel at instant of when a 9mm Parabellum bullet leaving a 10 centimeters barrel.

          ?
          1. M*V=m*v
          2. M*(V*t)=m*(v*t)
          3. M*L=m*l

          800g*L=8g*100mm
          L=1mm

  12. Val – Recently read somewhere (probably W-pedia) that the few hundred VP70s that were made in 9×21 were for the Italian civilian market because of laws against “military chambered” weapons in private hands. Not sure how many European nations have this law, but I don’t think Italy is the only one. Most of the pistols that Americans think of as 9×19 also exist in .30 Luger (remember seeing .30 Belgian Browning High-Powers NIB for around $300 in Shotgun News 20 years ago) and/ or 9×21 for countries where 9×19 is banned. (This is why a lot of expensive German bolt rifles are still made in .222 Remington – 5.56/ .223 is illegal for civilians.)

    • France and Italy were the main two which used to ban civilian ownership of “military” calibres.

      It was a hangover from laws introduced by the occupation force in France (they also introduced testing for hunters, which the French bureaucrats have gleefully retained) and Mussolini’s regime in Italy.

      I’m not certain, but I think both calibre bans were dropped a few years back. There remains a massive legacy of pistols re chambered from 9×19 to 9×21 (only the length of the brass and the chamber differ from 9×19, bullet and loading are same as 9×19), and of pistols barreled for .30 Luger.

      It was always amusing that a .357 mag or max was ok, but 9×19 wasn’t, or a .300 mag was ok but a .308 wasn’t.

  13. I just looked at a VP yesterday. As I told the gun shop owner, “A real neat gun, but there are other guns I want more.”

    If anyone in Wisconsin is interested it is at Thunder Shooting Supplies in Milton, just north of Janesville.

  14. It is an interesting question if this gun would end up being more popular, if it was made with SA and DA mode of fire, similar to many wonder nines of later years.

    Was that DA only feature a miss that doomed the whole pistol and its good design sides (blowback simplicity, first polymer frame, high capacity etc.) ?

    Of course, one could also argue about the blowback and it’s reduced bullet velocity feat, and if that is really a improvement or a step back compromise (for example maybe it could be in accuracy terms if it wasnt the trigger pull??)

    On the other hand, double feed magazine promises a possibility that pistol magazine capacity can be further increased (xdm houses a 19 rounds in the mag).With double feed construction, Im sure they could squeeze extra 2-3 rounds in there.
    Who is sceptic about this, should take a look at, for example, Uzi and Sten gun magazine and compare them.

  15. Also on important thing I remembered ;
    speaking of the dirty round in 9:50 that failed to extract (stuck in chamber), must be known that for all blowback firearms it is very important to clean the barrel and especially the chamber after EVERY shooting session (when at home, not between magazines of course)

    Blowback action results in more burnt gas/particles fouling of the gun internals compared to the locked breech designs (probably the breech/slide opens a bit before all the gas left the barrel at the muzzle, behind the travelling bullet) so it is no surprise that dirty round “glued” itself in the chamber dirty from the previously shot rounds.

  16. Looking at the diagram of this wonder nine, I see double set of springs above the trigger!

    Everybody complaining of stiff trigger, and some changing the striker spring to wolfie one helps a little bit,
    but how is the trigger feel when pulled disassembled ?

    It might be that fiddling with these above trigger springs (removing, putting weaker etc.)and not the striker spring could be the magic formula for upgrading the trigger pull. Anybody tried that ?

    I think this gun deserves some tweaks and upgrades to remove the missed opportunity stigma.

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