Exclusive! Walther Factory & Museum Tour

By Dickson Ly

Walther is a well-recognized name for producing ergonomic pistols since the early 1900s. The name is most synonymous with the fictional character James Bond who favors the PPK (Polizeipistole Kriminalmodell, or Police Pistol Detective Model) pistol which was first featured on the silver screen in “Dr. No” in 1962. Most people are not aware of the fact that the company was originally started in 1886 by Carl Wilhelm Freund Walther, who was a gunsmith. The company celebrated its 130-year anniversary last year, and it shares the same age as other famous brands such as Coca Cola, Mercedes Benz and Bosch.

Walther’s Product Manager, Dr. Peter Dallhammer, took time out of his busy schedule to meet with me. He has a doctoral degree in engineering, and he has been with the company for over 20 years. He was directly involved with all of the current generation of Walther pistol developments such as the PPQ and PPX. There are four patents under his name, mostly related to trigger designs.

Dr. Dallhammer first gave me a presentation about the company and its history. Then he introduced me to Matthias Schulzendorf, Master gunsmith and the head of their Master Workshop (“Meister Manufaktur” in German). Matthias is only 38 years old, but he already has 15 years of experience under his belt working on guns.

Master Workshop

Matthias took me to his Master Workshop showroom on the ground level. It’s a nicely decorated room that has several neat examples of his work. First to mention is he has incredible wood working skills. He showed me thick blocks of Turkish walnut for their target rifles; they come from the deep center of the tree trunk, close to the root that, which show beautiful grain structure. He would do a bespoke measurement of the owner’s arms and shoulders and hand carve the wood to fit him or her. This is more akin to ordering a custom-made suit than purchasing a gun!

If wood is not your cup of tea, he can do different colors and finishes on the rifle stocks. It can be color anodizing to the now popular Cerakote. One particular rifle stock on display is finished in champagne color with many tiny genuine Swarovski crystals embedded on the stock. This is definitely made for shooters who appreciate a bit of glamour.

Cerakote finish has recently become very popular in both service and competition pistols, and that popularity seems to have come over to Europe as well. Matthias showed me a PPQ and the kydex holster, both finished in matching Multicam. This finish requires a base layer of coating with a few layers of additional coatings on top, and the complete process is very time consuming. However, the result is quite impressive. Many competition shooters also want to have red dot sights such as Docter and Trijicon RMR installed on their PPQ. Mounting such sights requires milling the slide, and some customers prefer to have rear iron sights sitting in front of the optic for co-witness. All of this requires custom work done to the pistols, but the customers can order their new pistols customized to their requirements directly from the Master Workshop and can either visit the factory for pickup or have it mailed to their local dealers.

Production Floor

Matthias first took me to the loading gate where the raw materials arrive. They mainly consist of steel and aluminum blanks for the barrels and slides. Walther does not produce polymers in house; they are made by an external supplier in Germany. In the next area, he showed me they still have a few of the older machines that make the barrels manually versus the new programmable CNC machines. It’s important to note that all of their barrels are button rifled; only the PPQ Q5 Match uses cold hammer-forged barrels which are made by Lothar-Walther located half an hour north of Ulm.

There are a total of approximately 350 employees in the building. That may not sound like a lot, but like the automotive industry, certain parts of the manufacturing process have been replaced by automation. One of the newer machines they have is a robotic arm that automatically picks up the freshly machined slides and drops them into the rock tumbler, picks them up and puts them in the rack in the exact orientation every time. The machine self-corrects when the slide is not picked up at the right orientation, puts it back down and picks it up again.

The next process is coating the metal parts for extra wear and corrosion resistance. Walther uses the Tenifer finish similar to Glock pistols. After that, the slide is laser-engraved with serial numbers and proof markings before going to final assembly and testing.

At the assembly stations, each technician’s table has a 5-step process for assembling the slide and frame components. The assembly station has a circular table so the technicians only have to rotate their chair through each of the processes.

You can quickly tell that the people working at the factory, while they are all professionals at what they do, are more relaxed rather than corporate-like. The dress code is business casual, but shirts can be untucked. There are also enlarged gun magazine covers and movie posters featuring their pistols displayed on hallway walls.

Their newest customer is the Taiwanese police from whom they received a contract to produce 50,000 PPQ pistols. The last batch is being delivered in October 2017.

It was interesting to see part of the manufacturing process such as polishing the barrel feed ramp; polishing of the trigger control parts is still done by hand. Of course, each pistol will have to be test-fired, and unique to most European firearms, each pistol comes with the test target to show that it does meet accuracy requirements.

The firing range is located in the basement level. Each pistol is test-fired with 30% more than standard pressure for the overpressure test to ensure safety and to obtain the CIP N standard and receive the proof marks on the barrel and slide. The proof house used is actually located in Ulm, and their marking is an antler’s figure.

The Museum

Once the tour of the production floor was complete, Matthias took me to the 2nd floor down a wide long hallway. He opened the last door on the left side after punching in the password on the keypad. What I saw after stepping through the door was like walking into a dark Disney ride. Immediately to my right was a huge Pierce Brosnan poster of him holding the P99. Then the James Bond theme music started playing, and I simply just smiled.

To my left there are a few anniversary pistols in beautiful display cases. All of them have gold engravings on the slide, gold-plated control parts such as the trigger, hammer and magazine release and have decorated hand- carved wood grips. There is the 50th anniversary PP pistol from 1929 to 1979, the 50th anniversary PPK pistol from 1931 to 1981, the 100th anniversary P5 pistol from 1886 to 1996 and the 25th anniversary TPH pistol from 1969 to 1994.

The next display features one of the oldest air rifles in existence. The wooden stock is fairly large and looks quite heavy. It’s actually difficult to tell it is an air rifle at a distance as it looks nothing like modern air rifles.

To the right they have a History of Innovation poster describing a bit of the company history and photos of Carl Walther and his sons, as well as the current co-owners Wulf-Heinz Pflaumer and Franz Wonisch. They did not hide the fact that the company was purchased by Umarex Group in 1993. In fact, according to Dr. Dallhammer, that purchase saved the company as it was in a long financial struggle until Umarex bought it and injected funding into the business. Additionally, it was Umarex that passed along the idea to create a smaller P99 (70% shrink in size) which became the P22. It was one of the best things that happened to Walther as it became one of its best-selling pistols.

Down the long hallway is an almost endless window display showcasing company products in chronological order, beginning with the Model 1 in 6.35mm from 1908 to the Model 9 which is a series of small pocket pistols that have become collectible items due to the limited production numbers.

The next gun that caught my attention down the aisle was the MPL (Maschinenpistole Lang–Long Machine Pistol). It’s a blowback submachine gun in 9mm that was first produced in 1963. Unfortunately, the Heckler & Koch MP5 was introduced in 1966. It shoots from a straight 32-round magazine with a firing rate of 550 rounds per minute. The appearance and controls are somewhat similar, but the MPL does look less refined and a bit clunky with the wire side folding stock. It’s a rare gem as production seized in 1985.

The next rifle to the right was the WA2000. These were hand-built, bullpup precision rifles made in small numbers with only 176 produced. It was designed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in response to the 1972 Summer Olympics Munich massacre. They were available in 7.5x55mm Swiss, .300 Win Mag and .308 Win while the museum unit is .308 Win. These rifles were made for Germany police units, but due to the high cost per gun, they were not popular. Only about 50 of these made their way to North America, and only 20 made it to the United States. Current value is anywhere from $45,000-$50,000 USD. One can be had in Germany for about 20,000 EUR.

While they were accurate rifles back in the day, these rifles do not hold well with time as they did not have free floating barrels or Picatinny rail attachments for optics. There had been renewed demand from customers for Walther to put this rifle back in production; however, with the rising manufacturing and material costs there is no doubt that if they were to be made again, the price would be completely out of the budget for most police departments and the average consumer.

Interestingly there is an engraved Smith & Wesson 460 Revolver that was given by Michael Golden, President of Smith & Wesson, to Co-owner of Walther, Wulf-Heinz Pflaumer, to celebrate their “Strategic Alliance” which started back in 1996.

As I turned to the right to the final showroom, I found myself with my eyes opened wide. On the left display wall, there is every single model of target rifles the company has ever made. The center column contains the display of all known variants of the P38, PP and Model 1-9 pistols. On the right display wall are all variants of P88, P5 and P99 pistols.

There had to be about 200 pistols in the room, and there are a few unit samples I would like to show to readers. First, is a PP pistol with a flashlight attachment that’s the size of a Maglite! It’s easy to forget that 40-plus years ago flashlights used halogen bulbs instead of tiny, powerful and energy-efficient LED modules. Batteries used were the more common D cell instead of much smaller CR123 Lithium Ion. The size of the light dwarfs the pistol like something coming out of a cartoon.

It’s important to note that the museum is not open to the public, mainly due to security concerns but also due to lack of a full-time museum curator. According to the Walther Germany website, a museum tour can be specially arranged during the customer’s visit to pick up his or her custom firearm purchased through the Master Workshop.


Visiting the factory (let alone getting access to the museum) is akin to visiting a secret lair in a spy movie. Walther certainly does not advertise what is housed in its building in order to keep away any unwanted negative public attention. It will continue to innovate and produce ergonomic pistols that are high quality, reliable and accurate for the next 100 years to come.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N10 (December 2017)
and was posted online on October 20, 2017


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