New Ciener .22LR Conversion Kits Fit Classic Hi-Power Pistols
Photos & Story
by John Malloy
The Ciener .22-caliber conversion kit for the famous Browning “Hi-Power” or “HP” pistol can provide economy and versatility to users of this popular handgun. Many shooters who own and use these pistols can benefit from the ability to convert to the inexpensive .22 Long Rifle (.22LR) ammunition.
Over the years, conversions manufactured by Jonathan Arthur Ciener Inc. (8700 Commerce St., Dept. GWK, Cape Canaveral, FL 32920; phone: 321-868-2200; on-line: www.22lrconversions.com) have become a standard for conversions of centerfire pistols to use the .22 LR cartridge. Older designs are sometimes referred to as “pre-Ciener” conversions. The latest offerings from the Ciener firm are conversions for the Browning Hi-Power pistols. The conversion kits can also be used on copies of the original Browning HP design that are made by other manufacturers. According to Ciener, the kits will work with pistols chambered for .40 S&W as well as the original 9mm cartridge. As we shall see, that does not limit the possibilities.
The basic Browning HP design has stood the test of time. It was introduced in 1935, but its origins go back further than that. The Hi-Power design can be considered John M. Browning’s final pistol endeavor. The prolific firearms inventor was working on it in Liege, Belgium, when he died there in November 1926. The Belgian firm of Fabrique Nationale (FN) continued the development, and it was finally introduced in 1935.
The new pistol had a number of innovations that influenced subsequent pistol designs. Perhaps most obvious was the double-column magazine. It held 13 rounds, for a total capacity of 14 in the fully-loaded pistol. This gave the new FN Browning the largest capacity of any commonly-used pistol of that time.
Less obvious, but of great importance, was the cam-actuated tilting-barrel locking system. This locking system, which replaced the swinging link system of the Colt/Browning 1911 design, is used on the great majority of centerfire autoloading pistol designs today.
The Belgian Army almost immediately adopted the 1935 pistol as their GP-35. Other countries liked the design, and in short order, adopted the new Browning. However, production for other countries ended with the outbreak of World War II in 1939. When the Nazis took over Belgium in 1940, production for the Belgian Army also ceased.
However, production of the pistol continued. The German Blitzkrieg had been more successful than even Hitler and the Nazi military high command had hoped. Their forces had taken over a number of countries in an amazingly short period of time. The Germans were running short of supplies, including firearms. The firearms of the conquered nations were evaluated for possible German military use. The Belgian Browning 1935 pistol was one of the best designs they had encountered, and it used the standard German 9mm Parabellum (9mm Luger) cartridge. The Germans thought highly of the pistol, and continued the 1935 in production for their own use. Reportedly, it became the standard pistol of the German Waffen-SS troops.
Prior to the German occupation of Belgium, however, some FN engineers had fled to England, taking the drawings for the 1935 pistol with them. By 1942, the pistol was being produced for the Allies by the John Inglis Company in Canada. The Inglis-made pistols were used by a number of Allied nations. Thus, the Browning-designed pistol was used around the worldand on both sides of the conflict. It became highly-regarded as a reliable combat pistol.
After the defeat of Germany, FN in Belgium resumed production for military orders. The 1935 Browning became the closest thing to a “standard” pistol for the armies of the world. In 1946, the pistol was produced for commercial sales.
It became knownperhaps for the first timeby the English term “High Power” or “Hi-Power” pistol. The actual origin of the “Hi-Power” name (this latter spelling is the current usage) is in some question. True, the other pistols made by FN were of smaller caliber (.25 through .380 calibers), and so, the 9mm Model 1935 was the most powerful pistol they made at that time. Obviously, though, the Browning was no more powerful than any other pistol chambered for the 9mm Parabellum cartridge. Still, the name stuck, andformally or informallythe design has become known by it.
The Hi-Power (also often simply noted as HP) design became popular throughout the world in both military and commercial markets. Eventually, other manufacturers in other countries brought out their own copies and modifications of the basic Browning design. Argentina and Hungary, in particular, have made large numbers of HP-type pistols.
Size and Expense
The HP has stood the test of time, and countless pistols are in use by people throughout the world. If it can be said to have any disadvantage, it is the one that applies to any centerfire pistol: that of the size and expense of its ammunition.
With the recent introduction of the .22 Long Rifle Ciener conversion kit for the Hi-Power pistol, this situation is no longer a problem.
Interest in .22LR conversions for centerfire autoloading pistols dates back to the Colt Ace units of pre-WWII years. In the last 15 years, the Jonathan Arthur Ciener firm has become a dominant force in such conversions, previously offering kits for 1911, Glock, Beretta and Taurus pistols, as well as for a number of long guns. As mentioned, Ciener conversions have become the industry standard to the degree that some people use the term “pre-Ciener” to describe earlier conversion units.
The .22LR conversion kits obviously let a shooter shoot more for less money. The kits are not firearms, and can generally be purchased without restrictions and shipped directly to a buyer. Use of a conversion kit can extend the usefulness of a pistol in a location that may restrict the number of firearms a person may possess.
Ciener’s new Browning kits are offered in two styles, the standard “Hi-Power” and the “Hi-Power Plus.” The standard unit has fixed sights, while the Plus unit has adjustable sights. The adjustable sights are marked for direction and are easy to adjust. Finishes are matte black, gloss black and silver. The units work on both 9mm and .40-caliber Hi-Power pistols. Ciener supplied three different variations for this extensive testa matte black Hi-Power unit, (model HPKMB), a gloss black Hi-Power Plus kit, (model HPPKGB) and a silver Hi-Power Plus unit, (model HPPKS). These three units, with the options of finishes, and of fixed or adjustable sights, could make a match with just about any Browning-style HP pistol. A shooter could also mix-and-match, for interesting two-tone effects.
What could be more fun than spending a lot of time on the range shooting .22 pistols?
Three pistols were used for testing the Ciener conversions:
1. A Hungarian-made FEG FP-9, offered by Century International Arms. The FEG pistol is mechanically the same as the HP, but with a number of cosmetic changes. Among these changes are the incorporation of a ventilated rib on the top of the slide, extended control levers for the thumb safety and slide stop, and a tapered (rather than a stepped) reduction in slide thickness toward the muzzle. Since the slide will not be used with the .22 conversion, only the extended control levers were pertinent to the tests. The 9mm FEG had been shot quite a bit, but was in very good condition.
2. A new Charles Daly HP, essentially a copy of the 9mm HP, but with an extended thumb safety and rubber grips. The Charles Daly pistol is marked “Made in USA” but is reportedly assembled from at least some parts made overseas. The Charles Daly had been fired only little, and was in new condition.
3. A rare Belgian-made Browning chambered for the .30 Luger (7.65mm Parabellum) cartridge. Because the Ciener literature stated that the kits would work with all 9mm and .40-caliber pistols, I could not resist the opportunity to use a Hi-Power pistol not mentioned in the company literature. The Browning .30 Luger pistol had seen only moderate shooting, and was in excellent condition.
The .30 Luger Browning is essentially identical to the 9mm version except for the unusual chambering. One change, however, made a difference in the tests. The .30-caliber pistol had an extra spring-loaded plunger in the front of the recoil spring guide. This additional spring resistance was apparently added because of the recoil properties of the .30 Luger cartridge. It caused some failures to feed and to eject in early testing of the Ciener conversions, so a standard 9mm spring guide was substituted when the conversion kits were used. With the 9mm recoil spring guide, the conversions worked perfectly on the .30 Luger frame.
The Ciener kits are packaged in gold-colored, latching plastic boxes. The boxes have compartments that hold the slide-and-barrel assembly, the recoil spring and buffer. The lower compartment can securely hold either one or two magazines.
The parts of the conversion kit are beautifully made. The slide is aluminum, and is fitted to a steel barrel. Workmanship is good, and the shape and appearance of the slide match those of the original Hi-Power. When installed, it really doesn’t look like a conversion. Along with the slide/barrel unit, a new recoil spring and buffer are included. One or two magazines complete the kit. Magazines have 14-round capacity, duplicating the full capacity of the original Hi-Power.
Changing the pistol to the .22 caliber is simple. Ciener literature says it can be done in 10 seconds. I proceeded cautiously, but always managed it in less than 30 seconds.
To install the kit, remove the magazine from the pistol, then remove the slide and barrel assembly from the pistol in the normal manner. Remove the recoil spring and pull out the spring guide rod. The guide will be used when the kit is installed. Install the Ciener spring and buffer onto the guide rod. Then, slide the barrel/slide assembly onto the frame, making sure the buffer clears the front of the receiver. Pull the slide back and lock it with the safety. Then, install the slide stop pin. Carefully release the safety and the slide will go forward.
In essence, installing the kit is not much different than reassembling the original parts of the pistol. When the kit is installed on the frame, the pistol’s original slide/barrel assembly and magazine can be stored in the recesses in the Ciener kit boxes.
To load the pistol with the conversion kit installed, simply load and insert the magazine, then pull the slide back and release it to chamber the first round. The converted pistol can be used as any .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol. Because of the design of the .22-caliber magazine, the slide will not lock back after the last shot, but it can be locked back manually with the original slide stop.
For testing, I assembled all the different types of ammunition I could find. Ammunition manufactured by (in alphabetical order) Aguila, CCI, Federal, Remington and Winchester was gathered. Several variations from each manufacturer, including some no longer offered, were tried.
A great deal of shooting was done over a period that lasted many months. Careful records were kept of each shooting session.
As time went by, I realized I had amassed enough information so that the basic shooting characteristics of the Ciener conversions were submerged in detail. I had used three different pistols, three different conversion kits, and a myriad of different types of .22LR ammunition. The conversions were fired at 10 yards, 15 yards and 25 yards. The variables thus amounted to hundreds of different combinationsprobably more than the average Gun Week reader wanted to wade through.
So, here, in brief, is how the Ciener HP conversions did:
Ciener recommends the use of premium-grade .22LR high-velocity round-nose ammunition. This is the type, made by Remington that is actually used by Ciener for test firing their products. As might be expected, the Ciener-equipped Hi-Powers proved to give essentially flawless functioning with traditional 40-grain round-nose high-velocity .22LR cartridges.
However, those interested in small-game hunting may want to try hollow-point loads. Performance with 36-grain hollow-point ammunition was generally reliable, but there were differences with some brands of cartridges. I hesitate to mention brand names here, because, infuriatingly, different combinations of pistol frames and conversion kits gave somewhat different results.
Some target shooters swear by standard-velocity ammunition for maximum accuracy. Standard-velocity 40-grain ammunition gave surprisingly good results. Several brands functioned just as well as the high-velocity types did. One brand of standard-velocity ammunition (Aguila) gave generally poorer functioning, failing to cycle the action much of the time.
To sum up the reliability tests, it seems safe to say that a shooter sticking to 40-grain high-velocity loads will have little of which to complain. If a shooter wants to use hollow-points or even standard-velocity loads, he will probably get good results, but should be prepared to try a number of different types to find the ones best suited to his particular pistol.
The “formal” accuracy testing was done by your writer, shooting 5-shot groups, hand-held, from a simple bedroll rest at 10 yards, 15 yards, and 25 yards.
A great deal of more informal shooting was done from standing position, both two-hand and single-handed. Groups of greater numbers of shots were fired, including full 14-round magazines. These other methods were very interesting, and were a lot of fun. However, in large part they represented what the shooter could accomplish, not necessarily what the gun could accomplish.
The results of the 5-shot groups are here given in the form of all groups fired at 10 yards, 15 yards, and 25 yards. The groups included those that were fired from all three pistol frames, with all three conversion kits, and with all types of ammunition. No effort was made to high-grade the results to try to determine the “best” pistol, “best” conversion kit or “best” type of ammunition. Therefore, I believe these results represent what can be expected by a shooter using one of these conversions kits on any standard HP-type pistol, using ammunition that is commonly available.
To sum up the accuracy tests:
At 10 yards, the smallest group was .87 inches. The largest group was an even 2 inches. The average of all groups was 1.33 inches.
At 15 yards, the smallest group was .62 inches. The largest group was 2.12 inches. The average of all groups was 1.48 inches.
At 25 yards, the smallest group was .88 inches. The largest group was 4.75 inches. The average of all groups was 2.87 inches.
The ammunition that gave the largest groups still makes the pistols adequate for plinking and casual target shooting. The smallest groups are very impressive, and using that ammunition will make the converted guns suitable for small-game hunting and more formal target shooting.
In addition to being used by themselves as .22-caliber autoloading pistols, they can be taken, along with the original pistol, on an outing in a backpack or saddlebag. Sometimes it is useful to have both a centerfire pistol and a .22 along on an outing.
Regrettably, in some locales, forested areas have been the scene of criminal attacks. Animal attacks have also become more common in some places. Where legal, many people now carry centerfire sidearms with them while walking in the woods. Those who camp overnight may enjoy having a centerfire handgun while on the trail and in the tent. Those same people may appreciate the option of pot hunting and plinking near camp with a .22 pistol. Instead of taking two pistols, a Hi-Power and a Ciener kit can fulfill these needs.
For such use, the excellent Ciener storage boxes are not necessary. The parts needed for the conversionslide and barrel, recoil spring and magazineby themselves weigh less than 15 ounces. They can be wrapped in oily cloth, placed in plastic bags and carried in an outdoorsman’s pack or duffel, adding less than a pound to the gear.
Here on the Gulf Coast, the experiences of devastating hurricanes and forced evacuation have led many people to put together emergency supplies. A package of necessary items (locally called a “bug-out bag”) is often put togetherone that can be easily grabbed if the need to depart comes suddenly. A Hi-Power pistol with a full magazine, and a Ciener kit with a box of .22s, could be useful things to include.
So, for those people who already have a Browning HP-design pistol, a Ciener conversion may make a lot of sense. The conversions work reliably, are less than the cost of another pistol, and are accurate with a variety of ammunition.
To find every type of ammunition that will perform well in his Ciener conversion, a shooter should acquire as many types as he can. Then, he should retire to the range for an extended period of shooting, perhaps several. As the tongue-in-cheek saying goes, it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
By the way, if your experience is similar to mine, once you start shooting, it may be such fun that it will be hard to stop. Consider getting the kit option with two magazines. And, bring along a good friend to keep loading them for you!
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