007’s Walther P99 – The Harbinger of a New Era

Story of the Walther P99

Recently, I was commissioned by Collector’s Elite Auctions to share the story of Walther’s P99, as in their inaugural auction, the very first Walther P99 ever to be commercially produced is available. It was a privilege to share one of my favorite stories. Republished here for your enjoyment.

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The year is 1993. The historic small arms manufacturer, Carl Walther GmbH is doing everything in its power to remain alive. For the first time ever, the company is for sale. It is no longer majority held by a member of Carl Walther’s bloodline.

The sale, while not ideal, is the final move left on the board. Despite decades of innovation, widespread adoption of Walther pistols has not been achieved in the Post-War era. The situation became so dire that Walther began divesting priceless prototypes. This included first production models, and one-of-a-kind pieces to keep the bankers at bay.

Enter Steyr. The Austrian firearms manufacturer, who will forever be known for their AUG platform, was quite ready to secure the German firm. And made it known that a deal was to be made soon.

This news resonated rather sourly with those proud of Germany’s heritage as a small arms manufacturer. This spurred another player into action, Umarex. This air gun manufacturer, at the direction of Wulf-Heinz Pflaumer and his partner Franz Wonisch, insisted on keeping this German company home where it belonged. It emerged victorious. Pflaumer was quoted as saying, “It can’t be that such a traditional enterprise should simply be sold out of country!”

This is the scene that set the stage for the P99. All eyes were on the air gun company, a firm known for selling licensed replicas of popular weapons. What could they possibly design? And how could it remotely stack up against the offerings of Heckler & Koch, Beretta, Glock and so many others?

The Walther P99

The P99 was an entirely new concept for Walther, a company well known for its hammer-fired, steel-framed pistols. In entering the striker-fired, polymer market, Walther knew that their pistol had to meet certain criteria, while also exceeding expectations.

The P99 undoubtedly accomplished both. After three years of research, the revolutionary Walther was introduced to the world at the 1996 IWA show. Built around the concept of “flexibility over uniformity,” the P99 was a pistol ready to be tailor made to the needs of the user.

007's Walther P99 - The Harbinger of a New Era

At the launch, the P99 was released with three separate trigger system offerings. All were curated for the unique requirements of different police and military services, and easily dropped into the frame. The standard offering, a double/single action trigger, is a system rooted richly in Walther history. It spans back to the PP and PPK, the first semi-automatic pistols to feature a double/single action trigger and decocker lever. This patent that changed everything for Walther. Over 60 years later, that very same concept would revolutionize the striker-fired market. The decocking button, built into the top of the slide, in front of the rear sights, was the very first of its kind. A stageable striker-fire trigger that could be rendered “safe” with a double action did not exist.

In addition, the pistol was the first to be offered with a modular backstrap system. This allowed the end user to fit the gun best to their hand. Some models were even offered with a wooden backstrap, so the user could build a custom grip of their own. This feature, 25 years later, is now the expectation of the market for any new pistol.

The frame was ready for the budding accessories industry as well, and was designed with a proprietary accessory rail. Flashlights and lasers would be offered, and later, after the widespread adoption of the M1913 rail system, an adapter would be offered.

Over the years, the frame of the P99 was subject to modification and change. The pistol continued to evolve with the needs and expectations of the marketplace. So much changed, that by the time the pistol was designated as the P99Q, the firearm was an entirely new gun — the PPQ. Walther would later reintroduce a new P99, after the formal introduction of the PPQ as its own system. The P99 AS, known colloquially as a “Generation 3” P99 is a clear transitory model, and was in production until a Final Edition was announced at SHOT Show 2023.

The Bond Era

007's Walther P99 - The Harbinger of a New Era

No conversation about the P99 can be truly complete without a nod to a particular suited hero of the silver screen. Earlier, it was noted that the world was introduced to the P99 at 1996’s IWA. Technically, that’s true. But it was 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, Pierce Brosnan’s second outing as James Bond, that undoubtedly introduced millions to the new Walther.

Bond would carry his P99 for the remainder of Brosnan’s films, and in the first Daniel Craig adventure, 2006’s Casino Royale. So much of Walther history can be told through their connection to this hero, and to pop culture. But, like the PPK before, the P99 was truly a technological marvel and innovation, and deserved every moment afforded to it in the limelight. Pop culture might have sold the dream of a Walther, but the people at Walther, and their products, always stood by, eager to exceed expectations.

This is all shared to articulate just how formative and essential the P99 has been to the last quarter century of Walther. Today’s flagship pistol, the PDP, stands on the shoulders of the P99’s victories. The lineage is clear and unquestionable. A significant level of backwards compatibility in parts is found between P99s and PDPs, a testament to this heritage.

The first Commercially Produced P99

Because of the bespoke nature of the P99, the very first commercially produced P99 at auction is a highly desirable piece of small arms history. To see a P99, in incredible condition, and in the “standard” production offering is a privilege. For a fan of Walther pistols, or small arms history, this would be a jewel in the collection.

For collectors in the United States, the lack of import markings on the slide add to the excitement. Over the years, different importers partnered with Walther, and most “1st Generation” P99’s have either “Interarms,” “Earl’s Repair Shop” or “Smith and Wesson” etched on the slide.

007's Walther P99 - The Harbinger of a New Era

The angular frame of the early P99 immediately invokes the world of James Bond, posters of Pierce Brosnan, a smile in his eyes, and a pistol raised to his face. It also highlights the risk taking, and frankly, stunningly functional design choices made by Walther. In a world now dominated with polymer pistols, all with similar features, with little aesthetically to differentiate them, the early P99 is one of the few immediately recognizable handguns of this class. That is a testament to the functional beauty of the design.

This pistol marks the beginning of the new age of Walther. It tells the story of a new leader, an intrepid group determined to salvage a historic German firm, the story of James Bond and the story of modern Walthers being carried around the world by military, law enforcement and civilians. When this pistol, the first commercial P99, came off the production floor in 1996, it was the harbinger of this new world.

Listing the First Walther P99

007's Walther P99 - The Harbinger of a New Era

This P99, serial number D001001, is, on its own, a piece of history. But the auction in question provides far more. This comes complete with the original documentation and box. It also comes with a letter of authenticity verifying that the P99 production did in fact begin with SN D001001. The listing even comes with a book celebrating the history of Walther, and the evolution of the P99.

Check out all of the Collector’s Elite Auctions.

007's Walther P99 - The Harbinger of a New Era

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