Heckler & Koch VP70: The First Polymer-Framed Handgun

This striker-fired, blowback handgun, introduced in 1973, was way ahead of its time.

When people talk about Glocks, you often hear the term “first polymer-framed pistol,” and sometimes, to be more accurate, the qualifier “successful” will be added in there somewhere.

The fact is, another European gunmaker developed a polymer-framed handgun a full 12 years before the Glock 17 debuted and it included a number of features that made it incredibly far ahead of its time. It was so far ahead of its time, and had such a futuristic appearance, that it didn’t sell particularly well, though it ended up in a few movies and TV shows.

Let’s talk about the very first plastic handgun, the Heckler & Koch VP70.

The VP70 was developed in 1970 and hit the market in 1973, yet it was not the first polymer-framed firearm. That honor goes to the Remington Nylon 66 rifle, which was introduced in 1959 and sold quite well.

The VP70 had a bunch of futuristic features in addition to it’s polymer frame, which gave it an unloaded weight of 28.9 oz.

The military version was designed to be used with a stock that doubled as a holster when not in use, much like the Mauser C96’s stock set-up. But the stock was more than just a stock.

Unusually, the stock included a mechanism and a selective fire switch, located on the stock, that allowed the pistol to fire in three-round burst mode with a super high rate of fire of 2,200 rpm.

It uses a spring-loaded striker, just like the Glock, instead of a firing pin and it’s double-action only with a realatively heavy trigger pull, much like modern striker handguns. Another interesting touch is, instead of a blade front sight, the VP70 uses a polished ramp with a central notch in the middle to provide the illusion of a dark front post.

The military version, the VP70M, had no manual safety, but the civilian version, the VP70Z, did in the form of a circular button located right behind the trigger. It is a common crossblock safety. The military version has a non-functioning plug in this space.

The pistol was chambered in 9mm parabellum, and it also featured a whopping 18-round box magazine.

Let’s say that again. In an era when the aging Browning Hi-Power was still considered the highest-capacity 9mm around with a 13-round magazine, this pistol, which looked like a space gun, had 18-rounds on board. The Beretta 92FS in 9mm, adopted as the standard U.S. military sidearm in 1985, had a 15-round capacity.

The standard magazine in the SIG Sauer P320, which was adopted a few years ago as the standard U.S. military service pistol, has a 17+1-round capacity.

With the military stock installed, it could fire six three-round bursts without reloading.

Despite the fact that the gun was simple, impressive, and fairly inexpensive to manufacture—it didn’t catch on and production ceased in 1989.