RIA: The ASP Subcompact 9mm for Sneaky People

The ASP was a custom take of the S&W Model 39 autoloading pistol developed by a man named Paris Theodore in the 1970s. Theodore made a wide variety of sneaky James-Bond-like guns for various clients, but is best know for the ASP. At the time, it was one of the best options for a subcompact pistol in a full-power pistol cartridge (9×19). In addition to cutting down the slide and grip and dehorning the whole gun, the sights were replaced with Theodore’s proprietary “guttersnipe” sights to provide a very fast (and “accurate enough”) sight picture for close quarters shooting.

When Theodore sold his business in the late 70s, it was purchased by folks who continued to make the ASP pistols in Wisconsin, where this particular one came from.

38 Comments

  1. Ooh. Want. That see-through grip lets you have a “bullet counter” without being very fiddly. The sight is pretty instinctive, as mentioned, and won’t snag on your pants (and I don’t think having torn under-garment fabric on the muzzle makes for any serious threat to a mugger on the street). And by the way, Ian, nice book.

    Weapon of choice scenario:

    People, people, everywhere, nor anyone to trust. Which do you take going through a city known to have several “intelligence agencies” and gangs operating within killing range of each other?

    1. ASP pistol
    2. Suppressed Walther PPK
    3. Beretta Bobcat or Cheetah (with suppressor, of course)
    4. Double-Tap derringer in 45 ACP and a Bowie knife
    5. S4M and MSP silent pistols
    6. Taurus Judge or Taurus PT22
    7. Stolen North Korean Type 70
    8. Katana and a Type 14 Nambu
    9. Chinese Type 64 suppressed SMG
    10. Burgess folding shotgun
    11. Or per the usual, screw the budget and add your favorite toys to this list.

    This activity is totally voluntary. You are not required to go spying or spy hunting if you do not wish to do so. Please keep any criticism of this post humane and free of foul language.

    Thank you,

    Cherndog

  2. The ASP was well past its heyday when I started working UC, but I remember the older guys reverently referring to them as “unseen in the best places”

  3. I’m all for clear plastic grips and cut-out slots in the magazine, but if I was going to hide a firearm and accessories in a book, it would be titled “A Beginners Guide To Algebra”.

      • Can’t remember which Lee Child novel it was, but there’s one where Jack Reacher finds himself protecting an elderly lady in an isolated house, and when he asks if perchance there are any guns in the house she hands him a “History of Smith and Wesson” with a Model 10 in the cutout between the covers.

  4. Small quibble, but the ASP was built off the single-column S&W Model 39, not the double-column Model 59. I don’t think they ever did even a custom model for sale using the Model 59 as a base, although I did hear rumors of a prototype.

  5. When the ASP was designed the usual pistol carried was a snub .38 or the PPK/PPK-S. Unlike today the choices were limited. Some intrepid souls could carry a Browning High Powder concealed but most blundered through with various snub .38s (the S&W M60 was a status symbol and most desired). The ASP is a fine close range pistol. Mine served me very well for over a decade.

  6. Very cool, Ian!

    Many years ago, I think in the 1980s, a writer named James Gardner purchased the rights to write more books in the James Bond series. In one of them, Bond is issued or otherwise chooses to use an ASP, if I’m not mistaken.

  7. Smith & Wesson brought out the Model 469 decades ago which was, more or less, a perfected ASP but with two big differences. A: a double column Mod 59 base frame (12 rounds in the mag, plus one up the spout for 13, plus full compatibility with Mod 59 standard plus extended mags. And unlike the Mod 59 and/or ASP B: actually functioned in what you or I would call a reliable manner.
    Had this one for more than 25 years with exactly three malfunctions, all clearly attributable to defective ammo, not the gun. I’d never call this one a target gun, but I would call it at the very least as accurate as the parent ( longer barreled) mod 39/59 platform. Thicker, yes, but once you’d traded out the finger-doodle plastic magazine baseplate for the flat steel standard Mod 59 mag baseplate, it was no larger than a Walther PP.
    It has the additional positive effect at the indoor range of providing a fireball muzzle flash bigger than your head and a “WHOMP” guaranteed to make everybody there to turn around an see if Clint was there with his Magnum. Entertainment value is not fo be dismissed. Still got it and still considered my “work” gun.
    Wouldn’t mind the clear grips, though. Stylin’

    • “Stechkin”
      Which Stechkin? Игорь Яковлевич Стечкин designed more than 1 weapon pattern; please choice exactly one:
      APS (9×18 machine pistol)
      ОЦ-23 «Дротик» (5.45×18 machine pistol)
      ОЦ-01 «Кобальт» (9×18 revoler)
      ОЦ-27 «Бердыш» (different cartridges machine pistol)
      ОЦ-33 «Пернач» (9×18 machine pistol)
      ОЦ-20 «Гном» (12.3×40 revoler)
      ОЦ-38 (silent revoler)
      ТКБ-0146 (5.45×39 avtomat)
      other

  8. Cherndog I’m going with option 11 and I’m choosing a Glock 26 (yawn) with at least one spare 33round mag and a silencer stowed in a pocket or maybe shamelessly copying the Stechkin revolver idea from Iggy as a backup gun/quiet option since it’s a brilliant idea and it offsets the plainness of Glock. Then at the opposite end of the decibel scale a few V40 mini grenades in case things get really unpleasant (or to make them so). As a final backup a knife like a Fairbairn and Sykes dagger or some tough little tanto.

    • At least you didn’t retreat into the broom closet for the Schnellfeuer and the katana… Or the M1897 trench gun with bayonet.

  9. Haha those would still be cool IMO. Especially a newer Chinese Type 80 Schnellfeuer descendant with a special edition hatchet stock in 7.62x25tokarev. I nearly brought the Stechkin machine pistol into it and the idea of the Trejo machine pistol in .22lr with a silencer and heaps of spare mags was even considered.

  10. How is the “Guttersnipe” sight fixed to the slide? I cannot tell if it uses one or more dovetails, or something else. Has anybody here actually used this sort of sight? Is there a reason this seemingly good idea never saw any kind of broad adoption? It has always been something I’ve wanted to experiment with, though I’m pretty sure making one with my manual mill would require a fair bit of fixture fabrication to do the tapering trough.

    • Mike
      The guttersnipe sight was an attempt to make a quick acquisition sight system for use under stress. My ASP had a guttersnipe which was not worth the effort. It is held in place in the rear sight dovetail. I found it difficult to use. Mine was replaced with fixed “dot the eye” SIG style sights. The ASP was intended to be used at the same ranges as a .38 snubnosed revolver. ASPs are not target weapons and the guttersnipe may be perfect at close range, just not for me.
      The project you propose would not be difficult in machine work, the application of the contrasting sighting planes may be the hardest part. Paris Theadore really worked hard to make his weapons something one could rely on. In my opinion for a 1970s design he had achieved his goal.
      All the best
      Andy

      • I can see some difficulty in manufacture, you have three planes all converging at one end, in order to cut them you would need to set the sight block on a set of sine blocks in both directions for each of the three cuts.

  11. Part of the reason why the US gun industry was not making (many) compact but powerful semi-automatic hand guns in that era was that there was no market for them. Police were still using revolvers, and there were compact revolvers being made. Few civilians had licenses to carry guns concealed, and the prevailing wisdom at the time was that if one was so licensed that the best idea was to carry the same weapon that the local under cover detectives were carrying, i.e., some model of a revolver. The 1968 GCA kept small semi-autos from being imported, so there was no import market to compete against, so may as well compete in the markets that were better understood (revolvers and large semi-autos). There were a few domestic small semi-autos made in that era, but they tended to be very small caliber. It is doubtful that S&W or Colt would have been that interested in making really short runs of semi-autos for a three-letter agency, which would have instantly been traceable to said agency.

    The partially cut-away trigger guard showed up on the ASP in the video–it had been a popular modification for many decades, I’m not sure that anyone (even custom) does it anymore.

    Paris Theodore had some creative holster designs, for some catalog items the catalog instructed one to visit their offices and produce credentials to see them. Later on Paris developed some sort of defensive shooting system, which I’ve really never heard much about.

  12. Ian,
    Your video would have done well to compare a full-sized S&W 39 to the ASP since many people are unfamiliar with them.
    Whenever I show my ASP to someone, I always drag out the M39 as well. It’s a dramatic difference – so much so that at first they don’t really think it’s the same gun!

  13. I was lucky enough to get one of these last year – it’s a probably a 1970 – 71 model. There are no roll marks other than S&W (39-2, 12xxxx). It came with two magazines, an original magazine holster with magnetic magazine hold downs, and an original case / pistol rug, which does have the ASP logo on it. I took it to the range as soon as it “got out of quarantine”, and after I thoroughly inspected and cleaned it.

    It runs like a champ, and ate everything I fed through it, including defensive rounds. I did not put +p through it, and won’t. It seemed fine with 125 gr NATO. It’s a very comfortable pistol to shoot – fits well in the hand for shooting, very natural. Felt recoil seemed quite soft to me. It does feel slim and smooth, compared to modern semi-auto pistols, like a Glock, or a Sig.

    That Guttersnipe Sight is a very weird thing, but once you get used to it, it’s very quick and more than satisfactorily accurate. It took me a little while to get my head around the sight picture, but it suddenly hit me: it’s exactly like Luke Skywalker’s targeting computer image on his X-Wing fighter! Once that popped into my head, I just turned on The Force, and instinct sighted, and lo and behold: accuracy.

    I had no problem maintaining sub-three inch groups at seven to fifteen yards, all center of mass – meaning, I hardly had to try – the thing just works. For me, the trick was not to sight _down_ the shute, but to two-dimensionalize the image – see it as a flat picture. Doing that, acquisition was effectively instant. Anyway, all I was looking for was keeping shots in center of mass, and that proved virtually effortless. It’s a fine shooter.

    By the way, I have a Semmerling LM4 too, and a Detonics Combat Master. The Semmerling is really fun to shoot, but I don’t take it out much. Once you get used to the weak hand thumb flick manoeuver, it’s possible to empty the magazine in about three seconds – all on target. The Combat Master is simply a joy to shoot – end of story.

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