October 1984: Glock 17 Gets First Review in North America

Glock 17 Soldier of Fortune
The October 1984 cover of Soldier of Fortune magazine.

(TheGunBlog.ca) — This month marks the 32nd anniversary of the first major review in North America of the Glock 17 pistol, one of the world’s most popular handguns.

Peter Kokalis reviewed the polymer-framed firearm in Soldier of Fortune magazine as the U.S. military prepared for the so-called XM9 tests to pick a new handgun.

The article is reprinted below, based on the version found here.

(Note: TheGunBlog.ca e-mailed Soldier of Fortune magazine requesting permission to reprint the article, and never received a reply.)

Plastic Perfection

SOF Expert Gives Glock-17 Great Grades

By Peter G. Kokalis, Technical Editor for Soldier of Fortune Magazine

The best pistol will not win the current XM9 (Personal Defense Weapon PDW) trials. The finest military pistol in the world today, in my opinion, is not entered in the XM9 tests.

Currently in service only with the Austrian Army, the revolutionary Glock 17 pistol was withheld from the U.S. XM9 trials at the behest of its inventor, Gaston Glock, who would not accept U.S. government requirements to release the winning contender’s production and patent rights to open bidding. The Glock pistol represents an entirely new era in small arms technology. Glock would have submitted his pistol only if guaranteed production rights. However, this stipulation does not conform to procedures practiced by the DOD.

In May 1980, when the Austrian Army opened bidding for a new service pistol, Glock didn’t know the difference between a revolver and a semiautomatic pistol. His small company, employing only 38 people and located in the village of Deutsch-Wagram just outside Vienna, had been in existence only since 1963. Glock, whose personal background is that of a mechanical engineer specializing in machine tool construction, had developed and provided the Austrian Army with a heterogeneous mix of products, all of which combined his unique talents in the fields of both metallurgy and plastics. Glock produces nondisintegrating (but detachable) links for the MG74-3 machine gun (Austrian nomenclature for the MG42 in 7.62mm NATO), military fighting knives, entrenching tools and training grenades.

Gathering several weapons experts together, Glock asked them what features the ideal combat pistol would possess. In several areas their consensus was unanimous. The pistol should be capable of instant and instinctive performance. Any consideration of whether the pistol is in a safe or fire mode should be eliminated, if possible. Absolute reliability and simplicity of design were also stressed. Glock then tested and evaluated the most highly regarded pistols available and reviewed all existing patents. Within six months he had a working prototype. Glock’s startling response will stand as a hallmark in innovation and the application of advanced technology for generations to come.

Glock’s pistol has a unique plastic frame which still manages to retain a more-or-less classical appearance. Fabricated in a manner and of materials Glock will not divulge (understandably), four steel guide rails are integrated into the molding to accommodate the slide. This has, of course, resulted in a considerable reduction in overall weight. At 21.175 oz., empty, the Glock 17 (referring to its magazine capacity) compares favorably with its competition. The HK P7 weighs 27.5 oz., the SIG-Sauer P226 is 26.25 oz., the Steyr GB is 29.6 oz., the Beretta 92SB is 34.5 oz. and the venerable Colt M1911 A1 is almost twice as heavy at 39.5 oz. Loaded with a full magazine (also made of plastic) of 17 rounds, the Glock pistol weighs only 30.1 oz. – just .5 ounce more than an empty Steyr GB!

The overall envelope is as compact as it is light. With a length of only 7.4 inches and a height of 5.2 inches, the Glock 17 is only 1.2 inches thick. In addition, the plastic frame’s elastic qualities absorb a significant portion of the counter recoiling forces during firing. The Glock frame is also more durable under the distortion of hard shock and dropping than steel or aluminum, having successfully passed a two-meter drop test from all angles of contact. The frame’s final advantage lies in the area of cost-effectiveness.

Glock’s only condescension to conventionality is the pistol’s method of operation, which is those of the Browning pattern. Recoil operated, the barrel is locked up in the slide by a single lug which recesses into the ejection port, somewhat in the manner of the SIG-Sauer P220/P225/P226 series. The barrel thus moves rearward with the slide about 3mm until the bullet leaves the barrel and pressures drop to the safe level. At this time the barrel drops downward, separating from the slide and terminating any further motion. The slide’s continued rearward movement and return cycle are those of the Browning types.

The Glock pistol’s most distinctive feature is its so-called Safe Action trigger system. A wide outer trigger encompasses a small inner trigger, both fabricated from plastic. The outer trigger cannot be actuated, such as by contact with the holster, unless the middle trigger is first depressed. This two-component mechanism which can be pulled only from the center, not the edges, constitutes the pistol’s first fail-safe. There is no manual thumb safety and no hammer. The trigger mechanism consists of two stages. Stage one has a pull of approximately 2.2 lbs. and travel of 0.25 inch. During this stage three things occur: (1) The firing pin is fully cocked [it’s always half cocked]; (2) the firing pin safety is released [the second safety in the sequence]; and (3) the previously blocked trigger rod is released [the final safety]. At the second stage all slack has been taken up and we are at the point of release. Five pounds of pressure will draw the sear down along the oblique surface of the control spring, release the firing pin and fire the round. (The absence of a hammer increases lock time considerably). If the trigger is pulled without a cartridge in the chamber, it remains rearward. It can be reset by pulling the slide back about 10mm.

The entire Glock 17 pistol consists of only 33 parts. Investment casting processes are not used on any of the steel components. The square-cut slide is milled from a single block of steel. Everything is manufactured at the Glock plant except springs and the cold-forged barrel stock which is obtained from Ferlach. The barrel, machine finished by Glock, has an unusual bore profile intermediate between conventional lands and grooves and a polygonal configuration that offers superior barrel life. The original barrels were of the land and groove type. Even though there was no significant degradation of accuracy potential until 15,000 rounds had been fired, Glock opted for the improved barrel. The barrel is 4.5 inches long with six grooves and a right-hand twist.

The sight radius is 6.5 inches. The ramped front sight is 0.12 inch wide. The rear sight notch is 0.13 inch wide. The rear sight is adjustable for windage zero by tapping right or left in its dovetail on the slide. Different heights are available corresponding to various types of 9mm Parabellum ammunition.

The slide stop release is mounted on the left side of the frame directly below the slide, where it can be manipulate with ease by the thumb of the shooting hand. The magazine catch-release button is also where it belongs – on the left side of the frame, directly to the rear of the trigger guard. The plastic magazines are light, yet they fall freely from the magazine well. Holes in the rear of the magazine housing indicate the number of remaining rounds. The trigger guard is moderately hooked for those who wish to employ its use with the support hand.

The grip-to-frame angle is somewhat steeper than competing designs, but the pistol points instinctively and despite its large magazine capacity the grip sits well in normal-sized hands. As the frame is plastic, the pistol is decidedly muzzle heavy – also a desirable characteristic.

Disassembly procedures are quite straightforward. Remove the magazine and clear the chamber. Pull the trigger (with the pistol pointed in a safe direction!). Jack the slide back 2 to 3mm and simultaneously depress the two spring-loaded disassembly levers (located on each side of the frame above the trigger guard) downward. The slide can now be pulled forward off the frame. Separate the barrel, recoil spring and guide rod from the slide. Reassemble in the reverse order. Make certain the frame’s four steel guide rails are mated to the slide’s guide slots. Remember, the slide cannot be replaced unless the trigger mechanism is in the pulled position. Pull the slide rearward until the two disassembly levers engage.

By May 1982 Glock submitted samples and a price proposal to the Austrian Army. His offer was 25-percent lower than the next lowest bidder. As the Glock pistol was somewhat of an enigma, the Austrian Army test facility decided that it must first pass a preliminary firing test – 10,000 rounds with no more than 20 stoppages. The 10,000 rounds were fired with only one malfunction! This test was waived for the other contenders as it was assumed they would be able to complete this portion of the trials.

Tests of function and parts durability included firing under conditions of extreme heat, ice, sand and mud; a drop test (2 meters onto a steel plate – muzzle and rear); oiled and unlubricated functioning; and the firing of normal, low- and high-pressure ammunition (the high-pressure requirement was double NATO specifications – 5,000 BAR [56,000 psi]).

The test parameters also included accuracy potential on the first shot (a hit within 2 seconds was required from a bolstered gun); second-shot hit potential; precision shooting at 25 meters; magazine capacity (if the magazine capacity was 16 rounds or more only one issue magazine with each pistol was required; if less than 16 rounds, then two issue magazines were required); energy levels; handling characteristics; steps required to make ready; weight; dimensions; direction of case ejection; steps required to change magazines with the shooting hand; maintenance (no tools are required to completely disassemble the Glock pistol); parts strength; storage capacity; and necessary cleaning equipment. Training parameters such as the time required to train shooters, the number of parts manipulated to place the weapon into operation, and the possibility of dry-fire exercises were also evaluated.

The Glock 17 won hands down. No other competing pistol was even close. Glock was awarded the entire Austrian Army contract of 25,000 units plus spare parts. Delivery will be completed by 1985. After the manufacture of every 3,000 pistols, a gun picked at random must pass a 10,000-round firing test with parts assembled from five different units.

Five thousand miles is a long way to travel just to shoot another 9mm pistol. But the Glock 17 is not just another pistol. I must admit, however, that my initial reaction was genuine skepticism. Is nothing sacred anymore? Now they’re even making pistol frames out of plastic? In our pop culture “plastic” has come to mean vacuous or devoid of substance. Yet, plastic is a salient feature of the Glock design. Not only the frame, but the trigger and magazine as well are made of this material.

The proof of the pudding, in this instance, is in the firing. And the Glock 17 does that quite well, thank you. The specimen I was handed to test had already fired 8,000 rounds without a single malfunction. During the hundreds of rounds we fired, I experienced one stoppage – a failure to eject – much to the embarrassment of Herr Glock. The pistol digested an unbelievable assortment of ammunition: Austrian Hirtenberg, German Geco, Federal hollow points, Winchester-Western Silvertip hollow points, Finnish Lapua, Israeli Eagle, Norma, Remington, Czech, Spanish, and W-W ball. It will successfully feed all currently popular 9mm projectile types. We also buried the pistol in a sand pile, retrieved it, shook it off briefly, and then continued the firing sequences without any further stoppages.

What a pleasure to fire so many rounds from the modified Weaver stance without the slightest trace of hammer bite! The grip almost seems to mold its configuration to the individual hand. The frame’s amazing elasticity reduces felt recoil considerably. The accuracy potential is significantly enhanced by the barrel’s positive lockup in the ejection port. With a clean, constant trigger system, hit probability is quite high. The Safe Action trigger mechanism should pose no problem to even the rankest amateur.

Safe, reliable, accurate, instantly ready, easy to maintain, a minimal number of parts, light, compact, durable (almost indestructible), low felt recoil, a large capacity magazine, simplified training, and natural, instinctive pointing qualities – the Glock 17 possesses every single charateristic anyone has ever dreamed of having in a combat pistol. I have only one major criticism: It is not yet available in the U.S.

An importer has not been selected to date. Furthermore, the pistol will have difficulty passing the BATF factoring system for imported handguns. The plastic frame will lose points, as maximum credit is granted to all-steel frames. At the very least, the BATF has informed me that a metal plate containing the serial number (which is now marked on the slide) will have to be molded into the frame. If the import situation is resolved, other pistol manufacturers have much to fear from the tiny village of Deutsch-Wagram. The price is expected to be extremely competitive.

Glock 17 Specifications


9×19 mm


Safe Action (constant double action mode)

Overall length (slide)

7.32 in. (186 mm)

Height, including magazine

5.43 in. (138 mm)


1.18 in. (30 mm)

Barrel length

4.49 in. (114 mm)

Sight radius

6.49 in. (165 mm)


Hexagonal profile with right-hand twist of one turn in 9.84 in. (250 mm)

Weight, without magazine

22.04 oz. (625 g)

Weight, empty magazine

2.75 oz. (78 g)

Weight, full magazine

~9.87 oz. (~280 g)

Magazine capacity

17 rounds

Standard trigger pull

~5.5 lbs. (~2.5 kg)

Trigger pull length

0.5 in. (12.5 mm)

Number of safeties