Super Vel Returns!

By Tom Murphy

The Backstory

The Super Vel (velocity) story is really the story of Lee Jurris and J.D. Jones of SSK Industries. Both men were born in the 1930s and both became interested in firearms cartridge design. Lee started handloading cartridges at the tender age of twelve. Through the 1950s he experimented with jacketed rifle bullets in an attempt to make jacketed handgun bullets. Up to that time, handgun bullets were mostly lead with a round nose or flat nose design. Lee developed a hollow point bullet that had much better expansion than the plain lead version.

Inspired by Jim Harvey, another handloader who was also working on the hollow point jacketed bullet idea, Lee founded Super Vel ammunition company in 1963. His factory was in Shelbyville, Indiana. He designed lightweight jacketed hollow point bullets that could be pushed at high enough velocities to cause bullet expansion. Prior to this, the police standard handgun was a .38 Special that pushed a round nose 158 grain lead bullet at a sedate 850 fps. Lee loaded a 110 grain hollow point bullet in the same cartridge. Velocity climbed to 1,400 fps, and the bullet expanded without over-penetration.

In the fall of 1967, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department switched from the lead roundnose bullet to Lee’s Super Vel cartridge – demand grew exponentially after that. By 1969, Super Vel was hard pressed to keep up with orders.

The big ammunition companies were none too happy with Super Vel’s popularity. Lee had been buying components from Winchester, F3ederal and Remington. The three companies decided not to sell any more components to Super Vel, forcing Lee to turn to Norma in Oslo, Norway for product. This increased manufacturing costs, slowing production.

However, other problems began cropping up. Super Vel produced a 90 grain 9mm Luger round that cooked along at over 1400 fps. Right at that time, Smith & Wesson introduced their first double-stack pistol, the Model 59. The feed ramp on the barrel was formed in such a way that part of the rear of the cartridge was unsupported. Sometimes this caused case failures, and Super Vel 9mm ammo gained a reputation of being too hot for the gun.

However, a much larger problem was on the horizon – the taxman commeth! The federal government levied an 11% tax on ammunition, and Super Vel had fallen behind on payments. The original amount was $145,000, but the interest and penalties drove the obligation to $305,000. Super Vel could not make the payments, and had to close their doors in January of 1975. Other people attempted to revive the brand, but with little success. Finally, the trademark expired in 2006.

The Current Company

Fast forward to 2015. Cameron Hopkins, long time editor of American Handgunner Magazine, started up Nevada Cartridge Company based in Las Vegas, NV. He supplied local ranges and gunshops with commercially reloaded training ammunition. He was familiar with the Super Vel story, and decided to see if it would be possible to bring the brand name back. His first order of the day, though, was to contact Lee Jurras, because Cameron felt that Lee was so tied in with Super Vel that it was only right to ask Lee for permission to use the name. Lee retained no rights to the name, and the trademark was expired, but Cameron knew this was the proper thing to do.

J.D. Jones, who knew both men, was contacted and he talked to Jurras, and then arranged a phone call between Lee and Cameron. Lee stated, “I have no further use for that name. You may have it with my blessing.”

Cameron purchased the trademark and after months of research, began producing ammunition. Many new powders had been developed since Super Vel closed its doors in the 70s, and hotter and cleaner ammunition could be produced. Pressure testing showed that both the 9mm and .45 ACP Super Vel rounds would fall within the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI) pressure limitations for the +P (plus P) cartridges if stronger brass cases were used. The cases have thicker walls and a stronger web area. The 90 grain 9mm topped out at 1,632 fps in a Glock 17L. The 185 grain .45 ACP hit 1,127 fps in a Larry Vickers Custom 1911. This is a modified Wilson Combat Protector with a Barsto barrel and other enhancements. An S&W M&P launches the 185 grain hollow point at 1,085 fps and 483 ft/lb of muzzle energy.

It looks like Cameron Hopkins and Super Vel have succeeded in their quest to provide super velocity and superior stopping power.

The Ammunition

If you own a 9mm subcompact pistol such as the single-stack Glock 43 with its 3.39 inch barrel, or the Double Action Only (DAO) striker-fired S&W Shield, the Super Vel 90 grain +P Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) is a perfect load. This load shoves a bullet along at almost 1,500 feet per second (fps). It’s loaded with a fast-burning powder and proprietary flash retardants similar to Hodgdon’s HS-6 powder, so muzzle flash is a small red glow, not a long yellow streak.

The next step up for the 9mm round is Super Vel’s 115 grain JHP load. It’s engineered for either compact, or full-sized 9mm pistols. The jacket on the bullet is tapered and skivied (longitudinal cuts in the nose of the bullet jacket) at the tip for increased expansion. Velocity out of Glocks, SIGs and Rugers runs right at 1.350 fps. It also benefits from low flash powder.

Then, there is a load for all of us who carry a .38 Special snub nose revolver like the author’s S&W 342 PD with a 1.8 inch barrel. It weighs right at 10.5 ounces empty, and when loaded with full-boat 158 grain JHP rounds kicks like a rabid mule. Super Vel’s “Super Snub” 90 grain JHP load is specifically designed for S&W J-frame revolvers. Muzzle velocity is a snub-nose-fast 1,200 fps. Even out of a snub barrel, muzzle flash is subdued thanks to the fast-burning powder. Recoil isn’t non-existent, but it is much reduced.

Back during the Vietnam era, the Navy SEALS were looking for a suppressed pistol for up close and personal operations. They took an off-the-shelf S&W Model 39, designed in the early 1950s, and hung a suppressor on it. Because one of its intended used was to take out guard dogs, among other uses, it became known as the M 22 Hush Puppy. It used a subsonic 158 grain FMJ round that carried a Super Vel headstamp. The loudest noise was the slide cycling. This was eliminated by installing a slide lock that effectively turned the M22 into a single shot.

Well, the Hush Puppy ammunition is now back in production. Today it is loaded with a 147 grain copper-plated roundnose bullet that exits the barrel at subsonic speeds that when coupled with a suppressor almost completely quiets the pistol. A slide lock could be engineered to quiet operating noise just like the original M 22.

For those of you that prefer your caliber to start with a “4”, Super Vel has brought out a .45 ACP caliber load that sends a 185 grain JHP down range at 1,100 fps, and it brings near 500 foot-pounds of muzzle energy to the party.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N3 (April 2017)
and was posted online on February 17, 2017


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