Retro Review: HK VP70Z
The HK VP70 began as a space age version of the disposable single-shot Liberator pistol that the OSS dropped to resistance members fighting the Nazis during the Second World War. The original intent was to produce a reliable, rugged, selective-fire 9mm machine pistol that could be economically produced in quantity. The gun was intended to arm partisans operating behind enemy lines during a global conflict with the Warsaw Pact that thankfully never quite brewed up. Radically advanced by any objective standard, the VP70 was almost, but not quite, awesome.
The particulars are breathtaking. The HK VP70 was the world’s first production polymer-framed handgun. It was also the world’s first production striker-fired pistol, at least as we define striker-fired today. The double-stack, double-feed magazine is still arguably the best handgun magazine ever produced. The weird negative space sight system does kind of work. The gun is lightweight and inexpensive to produce. The trigger, however, is utter crap. In fact, the trigger is so bad that comparing it to crap is offensive to crap.
The VP70 trigger actuates a striker not philosophically dissimilar to that of the modern Glock pistol. However, unlike the Glock, I would conservatively estimate the trigger pull on the VP70 at around 10,000 pounds. I can’t get through a full 18-round magazine without stopping to rest, and my trigger finger is nicely conditioned. Were it not for this abysmal trigger, the VP70 would have literally changed the world.
The VP70 is an unlocked blowback gun. That means the mass of the slide combined with the robust recoil spring are what stand in defiance of the not inconsiderable recoil impulse of the 9mm Parabellum cartridge. It was this simplistic action that made the gun cheap to produce.
The original military version was called the VP70M and sported scant finger grooves on the grip. This is the easiest way to differentiate between the GI VP70M and the civilian VP70Z. The VP70Z grip is smooth. The GI version had attachment points for a polymer buttstock that also served as a holster. The stock had a clever fire selector that allowed either semiauto or 3-round burst. When dismounted from the stock, the gun fired semiauto only.
The magnificent VP70 magazine resembles that of the HK MP5. Sporting a double-stack, double-feed architecture, the magazine packed 18 rounds on board, which was an unheard of number for its day. The VP70 is easy to load with nothing more than a standard set of fingers. After a literal lifetime of study, I cannot say that I understand why nobody else builds their pistols around magazines of this sort. For all its manifest trigger-related failings, the VP70 is utterly reliable.
The magazine release is on the heel of the butt in the European fashion, and the slide does not lock to the rear on the last round fired. The recoil spring telescopes around the barrel in the manner of the Walther PPK. The safety is a crossbolt located underneath the trigger. Disassembly is utterly painless. Pull down on the disassembly tab, retract the slide back, up, and over the barrel and let everything come off to the front.
The sights really are weird. They are cut into the slide, so they aren’t adjustable. The front sight includes a groove that seems to project a black strip onto the rear sight. The odd sights, the unlocked blowback action, and the minimalist entrails of the gun all conspire to make it inexpensive to make. HK still charged a premium for the thing back in the 1970s. After all, this is still HK. However, it would have been easy to produce them by the zillions if the Cold War ever got hot.
The VP70 looked so cool it made it into several high-end science fiction movies. The U.S. Colonial Marines in the James Cameron epic sci-fi combat movie Aliens packed the VP70 as their standard-issue handgun. The sleek lines and radical materials placed the gun generations ahead of its time.
The HK VP70 entreats the studious gun nerd to ponder what might have been. 65% of the cops in America pack Glock pistols. Had the HK guys made the trigger on the VP70 just a wee bit more user friendly all that glorious business might have been theirs. Now that is thought provoking indeed.