The ASP 9: The coolest custom gun you weren't suppose to hear about
If you’re under the impression that the current generation of shooters ‘practically invented’ super modified combat carry guns, it might come as a shock to stumble across something like the 1960s ASP 9 and realize this trend is just a case of just building a better mousetrap.
Never heard of the ASP 9? Well friends, this story begins with one Mr. Paris Theodore of Seventrees Ltd, and the year was 1966.
Who was this man?
Paris Theodore was the product of New York in the 1950s. The son of a vaudeville dancer and an art professor, he grew up on and off Broadway. After disappearing and allegedly working for shadowy government agencies for a few years, in 1966 at the age of 23, he started Seventrees Ltd, which specialized in custom and semi-custom holsters.
From his shop on West 39th Street in New York, he made several radical departures from the standards of the time, filing more than a dozen patents on new concepts. His work used hand boning to fit the exact pistol, for the express purpose of reducing wear and simultaneously retaining the pistol. He also pushed for muzzles that extended beyond the holster; and molded front sight protection, industry standards in many cases today. Nevertheless, he was much more than a holstersmith.
Behind a safe in his holster shop, Theodore also made clandestine firearms for a number of government agencies. These included 22 pen guns, cigarette lighter guns, a clipboard for the FBI that could fire live rounds, and briefcase guns. In his spare time, he invented the Quell shooting system, a reactive point-shooting technique that concentrated on central nervous system shots using muscle memory.
In the late 1960s, he was approached by those unknown and asked to make a very special gun. One that could be used overseas where 9mm was readily available. A gun that could be carried concealed but when put into service could win a gunfight. This gun became known as the ASP 9.
The ASP 9
S&W Model 39, the base model for the ASP 9.
At the time, one of the most popular up and coming semi-auto handguns on the U.S. market (that wasn’t a .22 LR or .45 ACP) was the Smith & Wesson Model 39. This single-stack, double-action 9mm was produced by S&W from 1955 and had an anodized aluminum frame, a blued carbon steel slide, and walnut grips. Using this weapon as a starting point, Theodore made 200+ changes to the gun.
ASP 9 Guttersnipe replaced both the from and rear sights.
First, he lightened the already light 7.3-inch long, 28-ounce frame, and slide as much as possible, shortening the slide in the process. He removed the sights and added his own special ‘guttersnipe’ sight that ran most of the length of the slide.
To be able to tell how many rounds were left in the gun without ejecting the magazine, he replaced the elegant checkered walnut grips with simple clear plastic GE Lexan panels through which the user could look into a cut-away window in the magazine and see how much brass was left in the fuel tank. On the magazines themselves, a curved baseplate was added for an extended grip.
Beating today’s manufacturers by decades, he ‘melted’ all of the surfaces making every sharp edge blend smoothly so that the gun was virtually snag free. A bobbed hammer spur and reduced slide stops and safety levers complemented this. He added a forefinger hook to the trigger guard and cut away another part of the guard to aid in better grip alignment and faster trigger time. To keep the coating simple and rugged in the days before Duracoat and Cerakote, Theodore covered the gun inside and out with a Teflon-S, which also had self-lubricating properties. The final product was 6.7-inches long, weighed in at just 21-ounces, was a dream to conceal, could acquire a target rapidly out of the pocket, and had a 6-pound DA trigger pull to get those quick shots off.
A S&W M39 modified to become a ASP 2000.
More a ground-up re-manufacture than a simple conversion the “procedure” cost $299 in the 1970s (to a gun you had to already own).
ASP 9 advertisement.
Theodore converted an unknown number of M39’s over to his new firearm from 1968 onwards. He patented the design itself (#230400) in 1971. After 1982, he stopped building them himself and licensed it to Kevin Parsons of Armament Systems and Procedures of Appleton, Wisconsin, for a more extensive build.
Billed as the gun that is ‘unseen in the best places’, ASP made/converted about 3000 or so of the gun with less quality control than Theodore for $760 gun included. Nevertheless, it proved popular with people on all sides of the shooting world (among the few that knew about it). Others tried to copy it over the years, especially after Theodore stopped working on firearms after 1987 and his patent on the design expired the next year.
Ken Null, another famous holster maker, took over the ‘unseen’ motto, Theodore’s designs, and a lot of the ASP9 legacy, which continues to this day.
ASP 9, with transparent grips.
Even James Bond 007 carried an ASP 9 in several of the novels written by John Gardner in the 1970s and 80s before going back to the Walther after the Regan era. James Bond expert James McMahon would later write: “If Bond were a gun, he’d be the ASP. Dark, deadly, perfectly suited to his mission.” This is appropriate as many gun writers equate Paris Theodore to the Q scientists in the James Bond series.
Right hand side view of ASP 9 made by ASP. Note the difference in the trigger guard and the snake logo on the grip.
Very few Paris Theodore originals and even fewer genuine ASP 9 handguns were ever made. Probably far less than a thousand including very good fakes are in circulation. This gun however has a loyal following and correct ASP9s can easily go for over $3,000 with nice examples going twice as much. On the flip side, 60 percent examples of these converted guns that are still in working condition appraise at around $600ish.
‘Quest for Excellence” ASP 9. Note snake patch, CIA dagger and ‘book case’.
ASP-produced guns will have a jagged snake that resembles the heart monitor cardiac flat line and be plainly marked ‘ASP Appleton WI’ while Paris’s handmade guns will have very little if any markings. Among ASP’s 3000 guns are a special 100 that were of the “Quest for Excellence” series with buffalo horn grips that were sold with a CIA letter opener/dagger, ASP patch, and hollowed-out book case that can go for $3500+ in 100 percent condition.
Today the ASP Company sticks to batons and handcuffs and Theodore’s shop has long since been shuttered, the former shadowy figure with the tactical turtleneck himself went to that great secret gun shop in the sky in 2006.
Rare shot of an ASP 9 in the daylight.
ASP magazine. Note the curved baseplate and the cut away. These magazines can bring in $200 on their own.
The ‘ASP 9 build’ is fairly easy to pull off (at least parts of it) and is often seen on small frame S&W 9mm pistols. Charles Kelsey of Devel made several conversions both of the Smith M39 and its big brother the M59 that are very similar to the ASP9 concept, but go a few steps further. One company, ASP2000 (no relation to the original) makes a version today based on the S&W 3913/3914/3953 series, themselves Smith’s own more mainstream take on the ASP, that is fairly close to Theodore’s original.
Overall, many of Paris Theodore’s ideas are still around even though he and his guns have faded from the public’s mind. Just look at the subcompact pistols of today and judge for yourself.
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The ASP 2.0: Re-Imagined with a Shield
RECOIL and ROBAR Reinvent One of the Coolest Pistols You’ve Never Heard of
Photos by Straight 8 and Iain Harrison
[This story first appeared in Concealment #6]
The last several years have seen a veritable blossoming of the concealed-carry pistol market, as well as the culture of self-reliance that comes with it. And we strive to bring you the latest and greatest in carry guns. But sometimes you need to take a look back to move forward. Many of the features that we all consider standard fare for defensive pistols can be traced back more than 30 years to a man, whom most people have never heard of, and the pistols he built, which few have ever seen.
We teamed up with Robar Guns in Phoenix, Arizona, to examine the innovations of this unique gunsmith and pay homage to his pioneering with a 21st century reimagining of his pistol that (we hope) would make him proud.
Sneaky Stuff and a Man Named Paris
The name Paris Theodore is all but obscure gun trivia now, but in the early 1970s he ran a small holster shop in New York known as Seventrees Ltd. His holsters were designed for deep concealment and rapid access. They were known to be popular among undercover police officers and intelligence agents — so popular that he was awarded small contracts by federal agencies whose people specialized in this kind of work.
While gun leather was their primary front, Paris was a dedicated tinkerer and basement engineer. Seventrees had a much smaller sister company known as Armament Services and Procedures, based out of the same office on West 39th St in Manhattan. ASP focused on designing and building clandestine and concealed weapons for several intelligence organizations. If ever there were a real life (American) counterpart to James Bond’s quirky techno-nerd “Q,” Paris Theodore was it. But beyond the mythos of being a super spy gadget guru, Theodore conceived and implemented some cutting-edge handgun improvements that we still consider ideal on a self-defense gun.
The Gun. The Myth. The Legend.
Their most well-known design was a compact 9mm pistol with no name, eventually known simply as The ASP 9mm. The ASP started life as a Smith & Wesson M39 or M39-2. For those unfamiliar, the M39 is a double-action/single-action, single-stack 9mm auto with an aluminum frame and steel slide. It was the first of S&W’s “first gen” semi-autos and one of the oldest mainstream American-made auto-loading pistols. It saw use by everyone from the Illinois State Police to Navy Special Warfare units. When Paris Theodore started building ASP pistols in the early ’70s, it was one of the most widely used duty pistols of the time.
The list of modifications made by Mr. Theodore was extensive. The slide and barrel were both shortened. The barrel was throated and ramped. He replaced the traditional bushing system with a fixed version. All metal parts were coated with Teflon-S.
On the outside, he checkered the front and backstraps of the frame. The side panels were deliberately left smooth to avoid snagging on clothes. Said side panels were made of clear Lexan, offering an instant visual index of your round count. The trigger guard was reshaped to include a hook for the support side index finger, a popular shooting grip at the time. The trigger guard was also thinned out along one side, the shooter’s dominant side, to facilitate a higher grip.
Both front and rear sights were removed and replaced with a unique sighting system known as the Guttersnipe. This was a U-shaped half pipe coated on the inside with fluorescent paint. The tube narrowed from back to front, channeling the eye toward the target. It was one of the earliest (modern) attempts to create a single focal-plane sighting system for defensive pistols — a feat we now accomplish with micro red-dots. The entire exterior of the pistol thoroughly de-horned and every hard line or sharp edge was “melted” down to be totally snag free during draw and presentation.
We’re willing to bet most of you have at least one or two of these upgrades on your current carry gun. We sure do, and all of us can thank Paris Theodore for pioneering these mission-specific refinements to the contemporary compact autoloader. It’s said that less than 500 of the original pistols were built by ASP. An unknown, but equally small number, were produced by a now-defunct company known as Devel. Unable to get our hands on a sample of either for less than a kidney, we decided to update a classic.
The Rest of the Story
Since the original ASP guns were built on Smith & Wesson pistols, we went straight to the source. Luckily, we didn’t have to cut down a full-size duty pistol since S&W already makes a very popular compact single-stack nine. Their M&P Shield is one of the most recognizable concealed carry pistols on the market today, enjoying a hefty helping of aftermarket support. The folks at S&W were kind enough to send us one to have our way with. Then the wizards at Robar Guns gave us a hand with the labor. Here’s what we asked them to do:
> Enhance texturing around the frame
> Undercut the trigger guard
> Mill slide and install Shield SRS sight
> Install Apex action enhancement kit with flat-faced trigger
> Cut channels in the grip and install Lexan inserts
> Skeletonize magazines to make rounds visible through Lexan
> De-horn pistol
> Refinish slide and internals in lowfriction Rogard and NP3 finishes.
After all that, we slapped on a Streamlight TLR-6 subcompact weapon light. While the original ASP lacked a light, we believe it was only due to technology lag. Considering that the pistols were hand built for personnel doing good work in bad places all over the globe … if they could have had a light on board, they would have. The TLR-6 offers 100 lumens. Some might turn their noses up at a “measly” 100 lumens in this age of 1,000-lumen light sabers, but the TLR-6 fills an important niche of providing illumination on guns that are too small for such super lights. Streamlight’s offering also adds no length or width to the original dimensions of its host gun. Not to mention that given the choice, we’d rather have 100 lumens than fight in the dark.
The result is a pistol that includes almost all the features of an original ASP with modern conveniences like a polymer frame and electronic optics. Nano-sized red-dots on pistols are the natural evolution of the guttersnipe — both are single focal-plane sights that draw the eye with bright color and allow you to focus on the target rather than the sight. As a bonus feature, the UK-made SRS sight includes an integral rear sight that co-witnesses perfectly with the OEM Shield front sight. That means with this particular setup there’s no need to use a suppressor-height front sight. This maintains the lowest possible profile and keeps your viewing window free of garish sight posts sticking up under the dot. Out of the box, the M&P Shield comes with one 8-round extended magazine and one 7-round flush-fit magazine. We improved the flush-fit with the addition of a Strike Industries +2 baseplate. This combination gives the end user a total of 17 rounds in a package that’s very low profile while still being comfortable to shoot and chock full of all the modern amenities that any secret agent could ask for.
The Full Package
The original ASP pistols came with a custom leather holster and mag pouch. That design is still available through Milt Sparks. But in keeping with our theme of modernization, we decided to go the Kydex route. While there are plenty of holster solutions for the M&P Shield, there aren’t any that accommodate a Shield with TLR-6 light attached. At least, not any that we liked. So we visited our friends at We Plead The 2nd and asked for a lowvis Kydex sheath for our super-spook project pistol. They delivered in force with a squat, flat holster in “Gray man” gray that’s both low profile and comfortable. Their original design had to be slightly modified to accommodate the slide-mounted red-dot. But this proved to be no obstacle, and after a little alteration work in a gun store parking lot, we were off and running. This wasn’t our first
encounter with WPT2 and likely won’t be our last. Their service is quick and craftsmanship top notch. Our holster featured a single-wide clip and adjustable retention. A loose Tshirt made the ASP 2.0 hard to spot. A cover shirt or light jacket made it practically invisible.
Of course, this fancy project isn’t worth the polymer it’s molded with if it can’t actually perform. Fortunately, the Shield is a market-proven design that demonstrated both reliability and accuracy. While its light frame and short barrel will forever prevent it from achieving “tack driver” status, we were able to print sub 2-inch groups as far as 15 yards thanks to the red-dot and crisp Apex trigger kit. The trigger seemed to dance back and forth on either side of the 5-pound mark, gauged by a Lyman digital. There’s no over-travel, thanks to a small stop
molded into the trigger guard. While we’d love a slightly lighter trigger, the Apex bang switch breaks crisp with a loud snappy reset. That’s plenty good enough for us and miles beyond the average OEM striker trigger.
We ran a proper gamut of duty-worthy JHPs including SIG’s 115-grain V-Crown and three versions of Federal’s HST: 124-grain standard, 147-grain +P, and their ultra-heavy 150-grain standard, specially crafted for sub-3-inch barrels. While this homage to firearms history is currently a RECOIL one-off, ROBAR is ready and willing to do all of this work to your pistol. The full package, as shown here, runs in the $1,100 range. Not inexpensive. But the value added is undeniable, and we’re sure ROBAR would be willing to scale back the package based on your budget and priorities. Not only do these upgrades enhance the capabilities of your carry gun, they also pay tribute to a pioneer of combat pistol innovation. If you decide you just gotta have it, reach out to ROBAR and ask for the ASP 2.0 package. Don’t forget to tell them you saw it in RECOIL.
ASP pistol, right side
ASP pistol, left side
Diagram of Guttersnipe sight for ASP pistol, from original patent
Type: Double Action
Calibers: 9×19 mm Luger/Parabellum
Weight unloaded: not known
Length: ~ 173 mm
Barrel length: ~83 mm
Capacity: 7 rounds
The ASP pistol has been developed by American gunsmith Paris Theodore in early 1970s. It is believed that the design was inspired by some US government organisation(s) which required a compact and powerful handgun for its undercover agents, operating worldwide. Some years later (circa 1982-83), small batch of ASP pistols (about 250 to 300 pieces) has been released to the American market; these guns were manufactured by Armament Systems and Procedures company. After that, this gun was never manufactured.
The ASP pistol was designed as a deep concealment weapon, and thus had a compact size and no-snag appearance, with distinctive shape. The most interesting thing about the ASP is its patented Guttersnipe sight, which required no front sight blade. The relatively large rear sight block had an open-top tunnel, through which the shooter aimed the gun. This was not the best long-range arrangement, but the ASP was intended for close-range clandestine work only, so this sight was good enough – fast and snag-proof.
The ASP pistol was not an entirely original design. Instead, it was a major rebuild of the well-known Smith&Wesson Model 39 double action semiautomatic pistol. The rebuild procedure included cutting off the parts of the slide, the barrel and the grip frame, removal of the hammer spur, reshaping of the trigger guard and grip frame, and many other changes. The grip panels were made from translucent Lexan plastic, allowing the shooter to quickly observe the rounds, remaining in the magazine. All sharp corners were smoothed out, and all external surfaces were covered with black Teflon finish. The ASP retained the double action trigger with slide mounted safety-decocker of the S&W M39, as well as its short recoil operated, locked breech action. Standard S&W M39 magazine has been shortened to fit into the shorter grip of ASP, and held seven rounds of 9mm ammunition instead of original eight.
2000 sale asp pistol for
ASP 9mm Auto Pistol
The ASP 9mm Auto Pistol was an answer to the U.S. Government’s quest for new concealable pistol. Almost 20 years ago the clandestine services of the U.S. Government stated a requirement for a concealable but powerful automatic pistol, and the first response was a cut-down .45 M1911A1 Colt developed by the C.I.A.
While this worked, it could hardly be said to be an elegant solution. It was noisy, had excessive muzzle flash, a magazine capacity of only four rounds, and less target effect than the average .38 special revolver.
Another solution was sought, which was to be based on the 9mm Parabellum cartridge, and this led to the design which is now commercially available as the ‘ASP’, named for the company who makes it.
The ASP pistol was in-fact a custom made handgun designed and built by Paris Theodore, owner of Seventrees, Ltd. a custom gun leather shop in New York City from the early 1970s to 1987.
Smith & Wesson Model 39
The ASP is actually a re-manufacture. It begins life as a standard Smith & Wesson Model 39 which is then severely cut about. The butt, slide, slide stop and safety catch are all dimensionally reduced and lightening cuts are made in the slide so as to distribute the balance correctly. The barrel is shortened, throated and polished, the feed ramp smoothed and polished, and a custom-built barrel bushing pressed into the slide.
New recoil spring and guide are fitted, every edge od the weapon hand-smoothed, ant the entire surface coated with ‘Teflon’ to give a smooth, black, resistant finish. The butt plates are replaced with special models, with that on the left side having a transparent panel which allows the contents of the magazine to be checked. The trigger-guard is given a forward hook and the magazine floor given a finger rest, both aiding the holding of the pistol in combat mode. Finally, a ‘Guttersniper’ combat sight is fitted to the slide.
This is a trough with the interior walls colored yellow, and if the sight picture is correct, the target can be seen within three equally-proportioned walls. If the aim is off, then the walls of the sight display an unbalanced picture which indicates the sighting error.
The resulting weapon is not cheap, it is necessary to buy the Smith & Wesson Model 39 first and then add $350 for the conversion. But for those whose lives could depend upon quick and accurate firepower, the price is immaterial a the ASP promises to be the right answer.
|Manufacturer:||Paris Theodore, Seventress Ltd.|
|Type:||Double action, tilting barrel, locked-breech|
|Barrel:||3.25 in (82,5 mm)|
|Weight:||1,5 lb(680 g)|
|Magazine capacity:||7-round box magazine|
The ASP is a custom made handgun designed and built by Paris Theodore (owner of Seventrees, Ltd., a custom gun leather shop in New York City) from the early 1970s to 1987. The ASP was based on the Smith & Wesson Model 39pistol. The ASP featured clear Lexan grips allowing the shooter to see how much ammunition is left, a rounded hammer, hooked triggerguard and no front sight. The ASP was responsible for later innovations made in the development of concealable handguns.
The ASP was a reworked Smith & Wesson Model 39 or 39-2, employing a shortened slide; a fixed bushing (in lieu of the Smith & Wesson designed collet bushing); the unique Guttersnipe sight system; clear Lexan grip-panels; a fully ramped and throated, shortened barrel; and a smoothed and radiused profile to ensure no risk of snagging on the draw.
The fixed bushing was tightly fitted to the shortened barrel and dry-lubricated by Teflon-S, which was applied to all components of the pistol, with the exception of the clear Lexan grip panels. This coating is somewhat more durable than the more typical Teflon formulations used in cookingappliances and utensils. The unique sighting system, referred to as the "Guttersnipe", was a narrowing U-channel with fluorescent yellow panels that would form three triangles, all pointed at the target when the sight was properly aligned.
Checkering was kept to a minimum, and reserved for the frontstrap and backstrap, as opposed to the grip panels, which were smooth to prevent the drawing hand from catching prematurely on draw, thereby minimizing the risk of any misalignment of the pistol during presentation, aiming, and firing.
The ASP 9 mm handgun was made in either right-handed, or left-handed models, as the extended trigger guard (which included a recurved hook for the index finger of the supporting hand — one of the earliest known instances of such a feature) was cut away on the side of the strong-sided hand (which would depend on the handedness of the individual using the pistol).
Included with the gun was a patented double magazine pouch which used a magnet to hold the spare magazines in place. The cost for the complete ASP modification package on a customer-supplied handgun was $475, and was done by a subsidiary company, Armament Systems and Procedures, Inc..
Production of holsters and magazine carriers for the ASP 9 mm were contracted out to Ken Null, who still produces those designs. Theodore ceased production of the ASP in 1987.
In 1976 a gunsmith from Cleveland, Ohio named Charles Kelsey ordered an ASP pistol and never received one. His experience led him to develop an improved version of the ASP. Working with Firearms Instructor Ken Hackathorn, he developed the Devel pistol.
The wood grips featured a clear lexan insert, allowing the shooter a visual account of the number of rounds in the magazine. The pistols were coated in an electroless nickel finish and featured traditional sights. Kelsey sent a sample gun to Smith & Wesson, for a factory agreement to produce these pistols on a large scale. An agreement was never reached, yet several of Kelsey's improvements were incorporated into the S&W 3913.
In his quest to replace the fictional secret agent's traditional sidearm, Walther PPK, novelist John Gardner goes through an array of weapons before settling for an ASP 9mm for almost the remainder of the continuation novels to equip James Bond with. The weapon also serves as Bond's sidearm in the 1989 comic book, Permission to Die.
This pistol is a usable weapon in Call of Duty: Black Ops.
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Sweet ass sparkled under the rays of the ever-noon sun, beckoning to beautiful distances. It was enough to lie down next to her in the same position and, gently kissing her back, insert the piston. What's in the way. Absolutely nothing. But the fifth hunter, and he was well-known to you, my dear readers, Maxim, climbed the highest tree and from there looked.