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The Steyr Special Purpose Pistol (SPP)

By James D. Creviston & Anthony Dee

For years, firearms makers have marketed semiautomatic firearms that closely resemble their full-auto counterparts such as the MACs, Uzi, and SP89 (the semiautomatic pistol version of the MP5). With the sunset of the “assault weapons” ban, more firearms are making an introduction in the marketplace with many consumers taking notice be it purely for sport, for personal defense, or both. Among the many high capacity autoloaders on the market is Steyr’s SPP, Steyr’s answer to the HK SP89. Made in Austria by Steyr Mannlicher, the Steyr SPP (Special Purpose Pistol) is a semiautomatic version of the Steyr TMP (Tactical Machine Pistol.) and its newly updated and renamed version the MP9. As is common today, the gun is mostly polymer from magazine to receiver.

The SPP is a cross between an UZI, AR-15 and Colt 2000. The magazine seats inside the handle like the UZI, the charging handle is similar to that of an AR-15 and the ergonomic handle and rotating barrel were borrowed from the Colt 2000.

The 9mm Steyr TMP (Tactical Machine Pistol) is extremely compact and measures under 12 inches overall with a selective fire capability that in full-auto mode operates at 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 and TMP are not all that dissimilar in appearance. The TMP often comes with a pistol-grip forearm, and is actually a tad shorter than the SPP.

The SPP is slightly longer than its burst-firing brother, measuring 12-3/5 inches overall tipping the scales at approximately 3.1 lbs. with a fully loaded 15-round magazine in place. As such, this handgun is not what would be considered 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 chose to rely heavily on modern, state-of-the-art molded synthetics for the construction of the SPP. A growing trend we see with not only Steyr but Glock, HK, Ruger, Beretta, SIG and Springfield Armory. To that effect, the entire outer body of the pistol is made of a synthetic material. Much like the frame of the Glock, the substance is practically indestructible having strength similar to that of steel.

Like most semiautomatic pistols, the SPP is divided into upper and lower receiver sections. The lower section houses several moving components including the trigger and safety mechanisms, while the upper section covers the bolt and barrel sub-assemblies.

The SPP employs 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 located low to the shooters hand allowing better control of the firearm. The SPP’s approach to keeping the chamber closed until the bullet exits the firearm is to use a rotating barrel. The barrel is free to rotate locking the chamber when closed. When the bullet exits, the rotating energy is no longer there keeping the chamber closed. 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 cartridge case, 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. 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 compared to other 9mm pistols of comparable size that employ the straight blowback system, due to its massive, heavy bolt.

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 rear sight has a fairly wide square notch and is adjustable for windage only, via a screw. The round-post front sight is adjustable for elevation and is only adjustable after breaking down the gun. The top of the upper receiver can have a molded rail that allows the mounting of a variety of optical sights. With the rebirth of the TMP as the MP9, an upper receiver with a tri-rail is a new option. However, the pistol’s open sights are quite adequate for most of the uses that this gun is bound to encounter.

The trigger mechanism has great safety and simplicity though it has a long trigger pull. The reason for the long trigger pull is that the TMP has a two-stage trigger with the first stage being semi-auto and the second stage being full-auto. There is no select fire switch to set. The TMP inherited its fire selection system from the Steyr AUG. The SPP, being the semi-auto version of the TMP, Steyr just changed the trigger setup so that it would only have a single semiautomatic stage. That is why the trigger pull is long on the SPP. Its mostly straight-back travel was somewhat long and spongy, but the let-off pressure was quite consistent, breaking at approximately 9.5 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, with appropriate red and white markings.

Take-down for routine cleaning and maintenance is extremely simple with the SPP. Like the Glock, it has a front release that is pulled down to disengage the firing pin. With a push of the rear pin and front shroud release, the pistol comes apart easily.

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 magazine, but 30-round magazines are also available at extra cost.

The SPP can handle just about any factory 9mm ammo without problems. In firing several hundred rounds of various brands and types of ammunition, the SPP did not have one single stoppage. It has amazing reliability and delivers more than sufficient accuracy to get the job done. The Steyr SPP is a well made high-tech defensive pistol that can be used in a variety of legitimate civilian applications.

Steyr SPP Technical Data

Caliber: 9x19mm
Sights: Open notch type
Barrel length: 130mm (5.1 in.)
Overall length: 322mm (12.6 in.)
Width: 45mm (1.75 in.)
Empty weight: 1,190g (2.6 lbs.)
Magazine capacity: 15- or 30-rounds


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