December 2001:

South African Flag
Republic Arms RAP 440 Pistol
South African Flag
RAP 440
RAP 440 Pistol
Type:  Recoil Operated Self Loading Pistol
Chambering:  .40 Smith&Wesson
Capacity:  7+1
Sights, front:  Fixed blade
Sights, rear:  Drift Adjustable Notch
Length: 165mm (6.5")
Barrel length:  89mm (3.5"), 6 grooves RH twist 
Weight (unloaded):  915 g (32.21 ounces)
Suggested Retail Price:  $300


From the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary:


                     Main Entry: icon·o·clast
                     Pronunciation: -"klast
                     Function: noun
                     Etymology: Medieval Latin iconoclastes, from Middle Greek
                     eikonoklastEs, literally, image destroyer, from Greek eikono- + klan
                     to break -- more at CLAST
                     Date: 1641
                     1 : one who destroys religious images or opposes their veneration
                     2 : one who attacks settled beliefs or institutions
                     - icon·o·clas·tic  /(")I-"kä-n&-'klas-tik/ adjective
                     - icon·o·clas·ti·cal·ly  /-ti-k(&-)lE/ adverb

The commercial firearms market in the United States is a very settled, conservative place, where cherished ideas reign freely, unfettered by fact or logic.  Consumer reaction to pricing trends is an excellent example.  Build a technically excellent firearm that fills any number of niches, make the purchase price attractive, and you've virtually guaranteed failure.  However, take that same gun, jack the price up anywhere from three to ten times the original amount, and people will line up around the block to get one.  This is as true for ultracompact concealment guns as it is for clones of military battle rifles.  Apparently, the rationale behind this behavior is a combination of the belief that more expensive things are better than less expensive things, and that there's some sort of status gained by spending an additional two to five hundred dollars on a substantially similar gun.  If you subscribe to these beliefs, be forewarned, you're probably not going to like this month's review, as the subject, the RAP 440 iconoclastically exposes these concepts as the myths they are.  On the other hand, if you're open to the idea that price is not the sole indicator of quality, it might be fruitful reading indeed.

Anton Hausler was a skilled engineer and machinist.  A precision optical equipment maker for the Carl Zeiss firm, Hausler found himself possessed of two important things:  Politics that were a little too liberal to be healthy in Hitler's Germany, and trade skills that would ensure him employment almost anywhere.  Accurately reading which way the wind was blowing, he emigrated to South Africa in the latter part of the 1930's and established a family owned business, Hausler Scientific Instruments (Pty) Ltd.  Today, Hausler Scientific Instruments (Pty) Ltd. (HSI) is a precision engineering manufacturer, and a major subcontractor to the South African state owned aviation, nuclear, power generation and armaments industries.  HSI has a comprehensive manufacturing and quality assurance capability and places particular emphasis on the production of high precision components.  The long association with the armaments industry has given the HSI extensive experience in the development and manufacture of weapons, ammunition components and fire control systems.  The current product line is quite extensive, and includes aerial survey instrumentation, aircraft engine components, aircraft turnbuckles, helicopter control system components, handcuffs, bore scopes, fuzes for missiles and submunitions , fire control equipment and instrumentation, hydraulic & pneumatic rammers, hydraulic/pneumatic recoil systems, primers (electric and mechanical), sights , precision goniometers for use with night vision and other equipment, 60 and 81mm mortar systems, mechanical components for small arms, and mounting systems for rapid fire weapons.  Quite an impressive list for a company with approximately one hundred employees!

Among the associated companies that comprise HSI is Republic Arms.  Republic Arms, located in Jeppestown, South Africa, entered the small arms field in the late 1970's with a line of small, but well made revolvers similar to later Smith&Wesson J-frames or the small Astra revolvers.  Currently, Republic's product lines concentrate on a series of concealable double action self loading pistols and the "Musler" 12 gauge pump action shotgun.  The Musler is explicitly designed for law enforcement usage as the forward portion of the barrel is reinforced and contoured so as to accept a standard 22mm rifle launched grenades.  The intent is not to launch antitank or fragmentation grenades so much as it is to give riot police a versatile weapon that can launch a variety of non-lethal projectiles in addition to standard 12 gauge shells.


In the late 1990's, the South African Police Service (SAPS) indicated a requirement for an all steel double action 9x19mm pistol.  Republic Arms was one of a number of firms, both inside and outside of South Africa that submitted samples for consideration.  In the event,  Republic Arms was awarded the contract in 1997, and continues to supply the pistol to the government where it is issued as the standard concealed carry pistol for plainclothes police officers, as well as the standard pistol for female officers.  The double action pistol,  christened the RAP (Republic Arms Pistol) 401, is the product of the engineering efforts of Walter Niermann and Erich Mickelat.  The pistol the designers eventually produced amalgamated design features from two of the best small "major caliber" pistols on the market, the Star "Starfire" and the Astra A-75.
RAP 440, Left Side
RAP 440 Pistol
The RAP is a locked breech recoil operated pistol that operates on the Browning tilting barrel system.  The RAP dispenses with swinging links in favor of a barrel lug that is cammed up and down as it rides in angled grooves in the frame.  Lockup is achieved by an enlarged and squared barrel chamber area that fits into a matching cut out in the ejection port, much like a Glock or a SIG-Sauer.  Additionally, the pistol boasts many "modern" safety features including a passive firing pin safety, and a combination safety that, when pushed up with the hammer cocked, locks the firing mechanism, allowing the pistol to be carried in a "cocked and locked" mode.  When the safety is pushed down below the "off" position, it functions as a hammer drop, safely lowering the hammer to the quarter-cock position.  The safety can also be applied with the hammer down, locking the firing mechanism.  Layout of the RAP pistols is fairly conventional, with the thumb safety and slide stop in the traditional location.  Disassembly is also traditional; the slide is drawn back to a disassembly point and the slide stop removed.  The slide is then able to be run forward off the frame.
RAP 440 Partially Disassembled
RAP 440 partially disassembled.  The slide is drawn to the rear just far enough so that the semicircular cut-out behind the slide stop notch is aligned with the projection on the rear of the slide stop.  The slide stop is then pushed out from right to left, and the slide is ridden off the frame.
RAP 440 Slide Assembly
RAP 440 Field Stripped
TOP:  RAP 440 slide assembly.  Button at lower right corner is passive firing pin safety pin.
BOTTOM:  Completely field stripped slide

By any standard, the RAP pistols are very well made.  All components are made from steel; the frame is an investment casting while the other major components are machined bar stock.  The forward portion of the barrel is blued while the chamber area is polished bright.  There is no barrel bushing, rather the muzzle is centered in the slide by an integrally machined bulge at the forward edge of the barrel.  The external extractor is reminiscent of that on the Browning High Power, pivoted on a roll pin positioned vertically in the slide.  Like the High Power, the RAP 440 dispenses with a swinging link to unlock the barrel and slide in favor of a cam system.  However, the RAP cam system is more advanced than that of the high power, relying on milled recesses in the barrel underlug and mating recesses in the frame to move the barrel in and out of battery.

RAP 440 Frame Cam Grooves
RAP 440 frame detail showing angled cam groove milled into frame.   Note heavy machined steel trigger bar along right side of frame.
RAP 440 Barrel
RAP 440 barrel.  Note bulge at muzzle and milled cams on barrel lug under the chamber.

In a concession to late 1980's aesthetics, the forward bow of the triggerguard is squared and knurled, and the pistol boasts a full length recoil spring guide rod.  The sights are of the "three dot" variety with the front sight being machined integrally with the slide and the rear a wide low profile notch that is windage adjustable.  The trigger is wide and smooth while the grips are roughened black plastic.

The RAP 401 immediately aroused a great deal of interest in the world's largest commercial firearms market, the United States.  In an effort to make the pistols even more attractive, the RAP 401 was given a .40 S&W stablemate, the RAP 440.  The two pistols used identical magazines, but the 440 had a slightly heavier recoil spring and a slide and barrel modified to take the larger cartridge.  Initially imported by TSF, Inc. of Fairfax, Virginia, the RAP pistols have the distinction of being some of the very few designs to meet the demanding requirements of the Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice's Standard No. 0112.03.  Despite this, the pistol never made many inroads with the law enforcement community.  Whether this was due to the presence of many other small double  action pistols on the American market or the nature of law enforcement procurement is open to conjecture.

In 1999, Century International Arms of St. Alban's, Vermont, took over importation of the RAP pistols, and continues to bring them in today.  The pistols' comparatively low price belies their high standards of manufacture and qualifications, and owes more to the exchange rate between the rand and the dollar than anything else.  Ten years ago, one dollar almost bought one rand.  Today the rate is more like eleven rands to the dollar.  The result is that there are some excellent values to be had for the American consumer on South African products.

What can we say?  We're suckers for a bargain, especially if that bargain involves a well made, aesthetically pleasing pistol.   We ordered a RAP 440, and a few days later the BBT arrived bearing the little gun.


External Inspection

RAP 440 Breech Face
RAP 440 breech face.  Note that the breech face is completely smooth with no machining marks whatsoever.  Contrast this to Glock pistols costing hundreds of dollars more, whose breech faces are typically rough.
RAP 440 Breech
RAP 440 feed ramp and chamber.  Note wide, polished feed ramp that makes for improved reliability with a wide variety of ammunition.
RAP 440 Sight Picture
RAP 440 sight picture.  Note easily acquired three dot sighting system.
The RAP 440 was packaged in a blue and white cardboard box, and came with one magazine and a cleaning rod. (Note:  Additional magazines are supposed to be available in the near future from Century.  Alternatively, Astra A-75 magazines will function well.)  Finish was a very attractive bluing, highly polished on the sides and bottom of the frame, and matted to a non-glare finish on the top of the slide.  Markings included model designation on the left side of the slide, caliber and serial number on the exposed portion of the barrel, maker and serial number on the right side of the slide, and an importers marking on the right side of the frame.  Fit and finish were overall excellent.  There was no indication of looseness or excess play.  Slide to frame fit was very tight, but the slide moved with no hint of binding on the frame.

Shooting the RAP 440
The Model 440 had a lot going for it; the NIJ certification, it's Astra and Star design antecedents.  And so, we packed the pistol, into our range bag and headed off  to the NRA range in Fairfax, Virginia.

We brought along several types of ammunition with which to test the 440.  The selection included:

Sellier & Bellot 180 grain FMJ
Winchester USA 189 grain FMJ
Federal American Eagle 180 grain FMJ
Federal Hydra-Shok 180 grain JHP

Targets were both 3" black centers and 1" orange dots set at 10 yards.  Factory indexing was just about perfect, with a center hold sight picture yielding impacts nicely centered in the target.  Five shot center to center group sizes ranged between 1.5" and 2.5".  Accuracy results are indicated below:

Group Size
Sellier & Bellot 180 grain FMJ 2.5"
Winchester USA 180 grain FMJ 1.75"
Federal American Eagle 180 grain FMJ 2.3"
Federal Hydra-Shok 180 grain JHP 1.5"

While the distances were rather short, they were chosen to reflect the a maximum at which a concealed carry pistol is expected to be employed.  We're not match shooters.  We don't even consider ourselves particularly good shots with a pistol.  Despite this, the pistol performed impressively.

Recoil and Ergonomics
Recoil was surprisingly light.  This is directly attributable to both the pistol's comparatively heavy weight and the excellent ergonomics of the grip.  We've always been a bit suspect of the trend to lighten handguns to the n-th degree.  After all, every gram removed from a pistol's weight translates directly into more felt recoil, which in turn not only makes the firearm less pleasant to shoot, but increases the time between shots and adversely affects accuracy.  Given the plethora of readily available well designed holsters that make even full sized pistols both concealable and easy to carry, we'd much rather have a heavier, more robust, more comfortable pistol.  Any holster that will accept an Astra A-75 will accept the 401 or the 440.

Control surfaces were well designed and easy to reach, and shooters with both large and small hands were easily able to put the pistol on and off safe, and to actuate the decocker.  The trigger was very comfortable, being both wide and smooth.  Trigger pull was was very long on double action, but smooth and not overly heavy - much like a well tuned double action revolver.  (It should be noted that a long trigger pull on a double action pistol carried with the hammer down on a loaded chamber and the safety off is actually a safety feature.)  Single action pull was light and crisp.

RAP 440 Fire Controls
RAP 440 Fire Controls.  Safety can be applied (pushed up) with hammer cocked or down.   Pushing safety down safely drops hammer.  Slide stop is well positioned and firing hand need not change position to drop the slide.
We found the RAP 440 to be very reliable.   It fed, fired, extracted and ejected every round of every brand we put through it, whether the slide rails were lubricated or not.  There were several instances when the unlubricated slide failed to lock back after the last round had fired, but this problem disappeared when a light coat of grease was applied.

The RAP 440 would serve equally well as either a concealed carry piece or a home defense handgun.  It very nicely finished and displayed excellent standards of manufacture.  Additionally, it was reliable, accurate and extremely pleasant to shoot.  There's really not much more one can ask from a compact self loading pistol. 

Actually, that's not true.  One could ask it to be an excellent value, and this the RAP 440 most definitely is.  So let's just recap: Whether you're a law enforcement officer looking for an off-duty or back-up gun, or a civilian searching for something suitable for either home defense or concealed carry, we suggest you take a long hard look at the RAP 440 as it represents one of the best combinations of quality and value available today.

And now, our Buy-O-Meter rating for the Republic Arms RAP 440 pistol:


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