Steyr's Special Purpose Pistol

By J. I. Galan

Hardly one single month goes by without a new "wondernine" semi-auto pistol of one type or another being introduced to the domestic market, and for good reason. A growing number of people are getting into handgunning these days, be it purely for sport, for personal defense, or both. Undoubtedly, many of the high-capacity autoloaders out there are quite interesting, but occasionally a new pistol appears on the scene that is a bit more unique than the rest and a closer look is in order.

One such pistol is the new Steyr SPP, which stands for Special Purpose Pistol. And special it certainly is, given its manufacturer, the world-renown Austrian firm Steyr Mannlicher. The latter has a long and enviable reputation for its many successful military and sporting rifles. The Steyr AUG, for instance, is one of the most advanced assault rifles in current use around the world. Steyr's submachine guns have also earned a well deserved reputation for innovative design and reliability.

The 9mm Steyr SPP is a semi-auto-only civilian version of the Steyr TMP (Tactical Machine Pistol), profiled in the nearby article by Belgian gun writer Jacques Lenearts. Extremely compact at under 12 inches overall, the TMP has selective fire capability that in full-auto carries a cyclic rate of 900 rpm. Available only to military, police and other official entities, the TMP is finding favor among professionals in the field of VIP protection, given its compact size, high firepower and overall fine quality.

The SPP is slightly longer than its burst-firing cousin, measuring 12 3/5" overall and tipping the scales at approximately 3.1 lbs. with a fully loaded 15-round magazine in place. As such, this handgun is not what I would consider suitable for concealed carry, except perhaps under a trench coat or other similarly loose-fitting top garment.

The SPP has a sling mount located at the rear of the lower receiver. A handy adjustable web strap to fit that mount is available as an extra which allows the gun to be comfortably carried slung from the shoulder, bodyguard fashion, and still be instantly ready for action. It can also assist in steadying the pistol when firing over longer than normal distances.

Steyr engineers, as has been their practice for some time now, chose to rely heavily on modern, state-of-the-art molded synthetics for the construction of the SPP. To that effect, the entire outer envelope of the pistol is made of a synthetic material called DCEF 1313. The manufacturer reports that this substance is practically indestructible, having an expansion modulus similar to that of steel.

This outer envelope is divided into upper and lower receiver sections. The lower section houses several moving components - trigger and safety mechanism, for instance - while the upper section covers the bolt and barrel sub-assemblies. Incidentally, the box magazines for the SPP are made of the same extremely tough plastic material as that used in the AUG assault rifle and can be easily disassembled for cleaning. The SPP comes with one 15-round mag, but 30-round magazines are also available, at extra cost. The SPP on test had a matte black finish on all molded surfaces, while metal parts have a phosphated finish.

The SPP employs a rather ingenious delayed blowback, short recoil operation featuring a rotating barrel. At the moment of firing, the barrel is solidly locked to the telescoping bolt via eight locking lugs with both parts moving rearward for a short distance. The barrel is then suddenly stopped and rotated free of the bolt, after a brief delay caused by resistance from the opposing torque of the bullet's rotation.

The bolt continues its rearward travel alone, completing the cycle of extracting and ejecting the fired casing, recocking the internal hammer and disengaging the sear. At this point the bolt is stopped and then begins to move forward under pressure from the recoil spring, chambering a round from the magazine. As it slams shut, the bolt forces the barrel to rotate into the locked position, ready for the next shot.

There is a clever method to hold the bolt open when the magazine runs dry. The rear of the ejector, which is part of the slide release lever located on the left side of the gun, is raised in order to catch the bolt and hold it open.

As a result of the SPP's method of operation, perceived recoil is reduced - vis-a-vis other 9mm pistols of comparable size that employ the straight blowback system - due to its massive, heavy bolt. Thus, it seems capable of delivering greater potential accuracy in rapid fire than simple blowback pistols.

The cocking handle of the SPP is quite similar in design to that of the AR-15 and is located at the rear of the upper receiver, under the rear sight. The latter has a fairly wide square notch and is adjustable for windage only, via a screw. My test pistol - one of only a couple brought into the U.S. initially - had a round post for a front sight, adjustable for elevation by turning it with a screwdriver. The top of the upper receiver has a molded rail that allows the mounting of a variety of optronic sights. The pistol's open sights, however, were found to be quite adequate for most of the uses that this gun is bound to encounter.

The trigger mechanism gets overall high marks for safety and simplicity. Its mostly straight-back travel was somewhat long and spongy, but the let-off pressure was quite consistent, breaking at approximately 9 1/2 lbs. This trigger incorporates an automatic safety that prevents the hammer from falling unless the trigger is actually pulled and thus acts as a drop safety. There is also a manually activated crossbolt trigger safety.

Tests disclosed that the SPP can handle just about any factory 9mm ammo with alacrity. In firing several hundred rounds of various brands and types of ammunition, the SPP did not have one single stoppage. Impressive, to say the least. Equally impressive was the accuracy obtained with this pistol. Using a two-handed hold, at 25 yards, most 15-shot groups fired at a rapid cadence clustered well within the center of mass of a standard silhouette combat target. Using the optional sling as additional support, the groups shrank even further.

The bottom line is that I would not hesitate to depend upon this new pistol in a life-threatening situation. It has truly stupendous reliability and delivers more than sufficient accuracy to get the job done, for sure. Take-down for routine cleaning and maintenance is extremely simple with the SPP.

The importer of the Steyr SPP is GSI (P. 0. Box 129, Trussville, AL 35173, 305-755-8299), and they suggest a retail price of $895. They indicate that the SPP is an ideal defensive gun for boaters and other outdoorsmen requiring a low-maintenance, durable and utterly reliable firearm. I fully agree with that assessment, but I would also add that it could come in handy in a home defense scenario, where its wicked appearance may be enough to dissuade an invading scumbag.

In summary, the Steyr SPP is a new, high-tech defensive pistol that can be used in a variety of legitimate civilian applications.

Originally published in the July 1993 edition of Guns Magazine

SPP Technical Data

Caliber 9x19mm
Sights Open notch type
Barrel length 130mm 5.1 in.
Total length 322mm 12.6 in.
Width 45mm 1 3/4 in.
(w/o magazine)
1,190g 2.6 lbs.
Weight of empty
65g 2.3 oz.
15- or 30-rounds