A vintage 1955 S&W catalog with a box of well-aged Peters Rustless .38 Special, the 2009 Classics M14 is a page right out of S&W’s history. (Cartridges from the Mark McNealey/Chuck Ahearn collection, alleghenytradeco.com)
Every year Smith & Wesson adds another vintage model to its historic Classics line of revolvers. This year the celebrated K-38 Target Masterpiece (Model 14) joined a list that now includes 29 different guns comprised of nine models, the oldest design dating back to 1917.
The M14 has its roots planted in the early post-World War II era. After the war, S&W refocused its efforts on manufacturing a new K-frame revolver for target shooting. The K-38 Target Masterpiece was introduced 63 years ago. It represented a total redesign of the square butt K-frame .38 Special caliber revolver and was developed to meet the demands of competitive shooters.
Think of it as a finely honed target version of the venerable .38 caliber Military & Police model circa 1915 to 1942. The K-38 had a ribbed barrel, new micrometer click sight and an anti-backlash device (trigger stop) engineered to prevent excessive rearward movement of the trigger after discharge.
The K-38 was actually preceded by the S&W K-22 Masterpiece chambered in .22 LR. It was introduced late in 1946 and followed six months later by the K-38 in June of ’47. Both the .38 and .22 caliber revolvers were renamed Model 14 and Model 17, respectively, in 1957. By then the M14 was the dominant .38 caliber revolver for target shooting.
The original K-38 Target Masterpiece (and subsequent M14) was offered with a 6-inch pinned narrow rib barrel, 1/8th- or 1/10th of an inch Patridge front sight and new micrometer click adjustable rear sight. Unlike the 2009 Classics M14, the original guns were only offered with a blued finish. However, K-38s could be special ordered with nickel plating, a rare find today in S&W collector’s circles.
Although a significant number of running design modifications  were made to the M14 over the years, the .38 Target Masterpiece (M14) remained in production until 1982, at which time the gun was carrying the designation M14-4.
The M14 was reprised in 1991 as the 14-5 but the 1990s version was distinctively different from its predecessors, featuring a full lug ribbed barrel and smooth wood combat (finger grooved) grips. Changes were also made during this gun’s eight-year production run, concluding with the M14-7 in 1999.
Flash forward one decade and the resurrected M14-8 captures much of the original 1947 model’s design traits, as shown in the 1955 catalog page. There are, however, some notable variations, which include the trigger and hammer design and front sight styling. One of the special features of the K-38 and M14 Target Masterpiece revolvers was the grooved (serrated) trigger and adjustable travel stop, both of which are absent from the M14-8. The new gun also has a longer ramp and pinned Patridge front sight. And of course, there is a floating firing pin (previous models had the firing pin on the hammer until 1997) and the mandatory-keyed internal lock mechanism added to S&W revolvers beginning in 2001 to 2002, which sits squarely above the thumb piece. 
S&W had already done away with the diamond design around the grip screw escutcheon in 1968 and the pinned barrel design was abandoned in 1982. Overall, the majority of changes evident in the M14 are not that obvious except for the internal lock mechanism keyhole.
Although the nickel example tested is a handsome gun, if we were purchasing a M14 we would most likely opt for the standard blued finish, first for its authenticity to the original M14 and secondly because the key hole for the internal lock mechanism is less obtrusive on blued guns. Deep down inside we wish S&W could find a way to move it to the base of the hammer, where it serves the same purpose but remains tastefully out of sight. The sweet, traditional lines of the S&W frame really do not lend themselves to this unsightly addition.
The standard checkered wood grips with S&W monogram are an excellent fit to the grip strap and frame, and provide a solid grasp. That said, having fired a M14-5 fitted with the oversized combat grips, a retro fit of the M14 wouldn’t be a bad thing, just make sure to keep the original grips in the box.
Testing an older style gun requires an older style approach if you want to make it a bit more fun. The setup was an “NRA Official 50-Feet Timed and Rapid Fire Pistol Target” fired on using a classic one-handed target shooting stance. This Standard American Type target gives you a bull’s-eye measuring an inch in diameter and a 10 ring that is 1.75 inches across. On our usual Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C targets the 10 ring is comparatively cavernous being 2.5 inches in circumference.
The Model 14 acquitted itself well using both Magtech .38 Special 158-grain lead round nose cartridges and hot CorBon .38 Special +P 110-grain JHP rounds. The +P rated carbon steel frame and cylinder is the other big difference between the M14 and all of its .38 caliber predecessors.
The Magtech lead left the revolver’s 6-inch barrel at a modest 780 fps (feet per second) average making recoil more than manageable and tight groups a satisfactory 1.38 inches center-to-center for six rounds with three in the X, one cutting the line between the X and 10, and two in the 10 at 10 and 6 o’clock.
The CorBon 110-grain JHP went flying down range at just a hair under 900 fps average. Timed fire (five rounds) on the Shoot-N-C resulted in two closely paired groups at 12 and 8 o’clock, and one round splitting the difference for a best grouping of 2.75 inches. There were no problems with the CorBon, and the accuracy, even with heavy recoil, was more than satisfactory for a one-hand target-shooting stance. With a little more time and a greater supply of the costly 20-round packages of CorBon we might have trimmed that down to 2 inches or less.
With a single-action pull of 5.9 pounds, the S&W revolver is a joy to shoot. Even with the heavy double-action trigger pull that maxed out our 12-pound Lyman Trigger Pull Gauge, the action was smooth with that palpable two-click step as the hammer goes through its cycle. In our experience, once you have a feel for that double click before the hammer reaches its full rearward travel, target shooting becomes a great deal easier.
Would the Smith & Wesson Model 14 benefit from some fine-tuning of the trigger mechanism and a pair of oversized combat style grips? Absolutely, but out of the box it is an excellent gun as is. With its authentic square butt design and classic style thumb piece, this old gun offers something new for 21st century target shooters. Not bad for a revolver with its heritage firmly rooted in the 1940s. To learn more about Smith & Wesson’s Classic line, visit their website at smith-wesson.com or call 800-331-0852.
A vintage 1955 S&W catalog with a box of well-aged Peters Rustless .38 Special,…
by Bryce M. Towsley / Aug 1, 2010