The FNH Hi-Power DAC 9x19mm Pistol
By David Tong
A few words of explanation about all those initials in the title of this piece: “FNH,” of course, stands for “Fabrique Nationale Herstal,” the storied Belgian arms factory and the city where it is located (Herstal) that has been responsible for many of the most famous arms of the 20th Century. FN built the majority of Browning firearms for the U.S. market until about 1980. DAC stands for “double-action compact.” The original Hi-Power, or P-35, is the popular, single action 9x19mm (9mm Luger) caliber pistol that once was the standard issue of over 35 nations. (The P-35 is marketed by Browning in the USA.)
Evidently, two versions of the double action Hi-Power were built between about 1986 and 2000. They corresponded with the introduction of investment cast frames and slides introduced on the single-action P-35 in the Mk. II version of that pistol. While the DA versions somewhat resemble the P-35 externally, internally the pistols differed greatly.
FNH offered these for sale worldwide, including the USA, as the Browning Arms Company evidently declined to import them. Full sized versions were available, known as the FNH DA and DAO, the latter being double-action only. The compact was also available with either the traditional double/single action lockwork or in DAO form.
A clean example of the DA/SA version came into my local gun emporium and I, being a bit curious about anything unusual, found it interesting. Of all steel construction, it uses a round cross pin instead of the ovalized unlocking cam of the P-35. The investment cast receivers are especially known for greater durability than the original forged, but quite soft, prior versions.
The DA/SA trigger is unremarkable, in that its 12 pound DA stroke with some stacking at the final one-third of the pull is typical. This stacking corresponds to the point when the firing pin lock is raised against spring pressure. Its approximately 4.5 pound, crisp SA release with 1/8” of take up is “modern normal” for a pistol of this type and it has a pleasantly short reset distance of approximately ¼”.
One unusual feature of the lockwork is the use of a firing pin stop (retaining plate) that slides up and down in the rear of the slide. This acts as a drop safety by interceding the firing pin. When the trigger is pulled, this plate slides upward, releasing the firing pin lock, allowing it to strike the primer when struck by the hammer. The barrel appears to be a one-piece forging, or machined from stock, which differs from the P-35’s two-piece, silver soldered construction.
The one-piece plastic checkered grips have late 1980's style FN molded ambidextrous thumb rests that are not very comfortable. Neither is the attendant grip girth, both because of them, as well as the width of the handle where the web of your hand must go. The grip is secured by one rear slotted machine screw, much like a Makarov pistol.
The ambidextrous de-cocking levers appear to be thumb safeties, but serve no purpose other than to lower the hammer. The pistol is thus a “point and pull” design. The levers decock by pressing down, which is far more natural than swinging your thumb up for most American shooters.
One wonders whether they are even necessary, as even the abbreviated serrated hammer spur is easily lowered by one’s thumb when the trigger is depressed, much as one would do with a revolver. The mainspring is a mousetrap wire arrangement and while feeling light in poundage, provides a quick lock time nonetheless.
The pistol omits the magazine disconnect plunger of the P35, which makes the SA trigger pull more amenable out of the box. The magazine’s 10 round capacity means it is easy to load without a loading tool, but the short butt length means that the pinky rest extension is necessary.
The extractor doubles as a loaded chamber indicator that can be (barely) seen. It is more easily felt with your shooting hand’s index finger, as it protrudes slightly.
The finish of the pistol appears to be consistent with that era’s Mk. II Hi-Power, in that it is Parkerized under a baked on enamel topcoat. This provides some protection against corrosion.
Sights are the now de rigueur three-dot variety and the dots, as well as the rear notch, are fairly large and typical for a social handgun. Easily acquired, if not exactly the best for precision, in other words.
Unlike most of the modern pistols that use the SIG-Sauer style barrel with integral rectangular breechblock, the DA-C uses the older annular dual locking lugs that engage grooves in the slide. This makes the slide and thus the entire pistol much more slender and easy to carry, compared to the newer designs, thus preserving one of the great attributes of the earlier P-35.
Stripping the pistol is more difficult than some, easier than others. Drop the magazine, clear the chamber and retract the slide approximately 1/8”. Push the slide stop pin on the right side of the frame to the left and remove the slide stop. Push the slide off to the front, remove the plastic spring guide (which no longer uses the asymmetric slot of the P35) and spring, and pull the barrel straight down and back. The pistol is now ready for cleaning. Reassemble in reverse order, taking care to push the slide stop into that barrel underlug place where it has the semi-circular seat for the part.
In an informal check of the gun's tolerances, there appeared to be very little slide to frame movement, no movement of the barrel when its hood was depressed while in battery, nor movement at the muzzle. Mechanically, I therefore suspected it might be capable of better than average accuracy for a pistol of its type.
Country of Origin: Belgium
Type: Locked breech, semi-automatic pistol
Caliber: 9x19mm Parabellum
Width: 1.375” (measured over the thumb rests of the grip)
Height: 5” from magazine base to top of rear sight
Weight: 27.5 oz.
Barrel Length: 3.75”
Finish: Baked satin black enamel over manganese phosphate (Parkerizing)
Magazine: Sheet steel, detachable staggered row, ten-round capacity
Standard packaging: Plastic hard case with two 10 round magazines, cleaning kit, owner’s manual, fired case and cabled padlock
As one might expect, a nearly 30 ounce, all steel 9x19mm pistol with a relatively low bore axis is not going to recoil much, no matter what the load. In deference to the pistol’s relative scarcity and current lack of spare parts or customer service, I fired it only with standard pressure ball ammunition. Three five shot groups were fired at 25 yards from a plastic pistol rest off a bench using Federal American Eagle 124 grain FMJ factory loads.
Mean average group size = 4-1/3”
Function was good, but I must admit to being underwhelmed by this accuracy. After all, a decent trigger, what appear to be tight tolerances and visible sights should produce better results than those obtained. (American Eagle brand ammo has produced inferior accuracy in many Guns and Shooting Online reviews, while FN/Browning guns have generally produced superior accuracy. We suspect that the DAC Hi-Power would shoot better groups with other brands of ammo. -Editor.)
These pistols were closed out at bargain-basement prices when their importation or production was discontinued (around 2001). Too many folks wanted their concealed carry pistols to be lightweight and less expensive, it seems.
In a lot of ways, were it not for the paucity of parts, magazines and customer service support for this little pistol, it would be a reasonable carry option. It carries well, is well made and has a decent trigger and sights. What more could one ask for in a protection sidearm? For the average person wanting a durable pistol, who doesn’t expect to put thousands of rounds through it, a Hi-Power DAC might work.
Copyright 2013, 2016 by David Tong and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.