The Smith & Wesson Model 5903 SSV is a rare bird for sure, and now I have one thanks to a very special donation by a person who wishes to remain anonymous. First and for most, you know who you are. Thank you very much for allowing me to own one of the rarer S&W Third Gen Automatics.
So what exactly is a Model 5903 SSV, you ask? It’s a traditional 9mm S&W Third Generation semi-automatic with a few differences from the normal run-of-the-mill guns. The fabled S&W “Wiz Wheel” can’t event describe it.
The 5903 SSV was a one-off product made in 1990 and released in 1991 by the now defunct Lew Horton Distributing Co. of Westborough Massachusetts. S&W was transitioning from the first production design of their guns to what would be their mainstay layout for the Third Generation.
The original frame design of the Third Generation semi-automatic pistols had a hooked combat trigger guard and Big Blue was moving to a rounded trigger guard.
So they had first production run frames just lying around. Smith, being the company that they are, wouldn’t just junk them. S&W has a history of using older parts and frames to make one-offs and that exactly what they did. They took those first production run frames and made something special.
SSV stands for Short Slide Variation. S&W took the compact 6904 slide and barrel and slapped it on the 5903 frame. The 5903, being the full-size aluminum framed 9mm duty gun, meant it was already a light weight gun. But by adding the 6904 upper, they trimmed the weight a little more and instead of it having a 4″ barrel, it had a 3.5″ barrel.
So in essence, Smith & Wesson made a Commander variant of their tried and true 9mm duty guns. Or for you younger shooters out there who aren’t 1911 aficionados, S&W made their own version of the GLOCK 19X and GLOCK 45.
Another touch they gave the gun was a bobbed hammer instead of a spurred version. Also they used a stainless decocker/safety lever to give it a two-tone look and they shaved down and thinned the slide stop lever, too.
The sights are the ever-classic 3-Dot Novaks…rugged, reliable, and slick. They’re far better than what S&W originally used when they first came out with the Third Generation line.
Smith only made 1,500 of these. Along with the 5903 SSV, they made a double action only version, the 5943 SSV. They made just over 3,200 of those. But the 5903 SSV is a traditional double/single action gun. The pistol has a long DA pull for the first shot and then a short, crisp SA pull from there.
Size wise, the 5903 SSV and a traditional Third Generation Compact like the 6906 aren’t that different.
The guns both weigh in about the same. The length of barrel is the same and even the grip length is the same due to the pinky extension on the magazine. But the main difference is magazine capacity. The 6906 can take a regular full-size mag. But their specific mags are limited to 12 rounds while the original magazine for the 5903 was 15 rounds.
Like I said, I use the Mec-Gar 17-round mags for my gun, but the 6906 is easier to conceal if you use a flush base plate on the 12-rd magazine.
If you have a compact gun like my 6906 and want to know what it’s like shooting the 5903 SSV. You can always get Grip Plus 2 magazine adapter from Precision Gun Specialties. It gives you a full grip when using the full size magazines in the compact guns.
What makes this gun special is the little “SSV” marking on the gun, because nothing stops you from buying a regular 5903 and getting a surplused 6906 or 6904 upper and making your own. I know on the various Smith & Wesson forums, folks have done exactly that. But the fact that this gun was a factory build from S&W with that little marking is what sets it apart.
All in all, the 5903 SSV is a gun for the hardcore S&W fan or someone who wants something different, but reliable. They’re great carry guns since they have the shorter barrel and slide but you still get the full-length grip. The weight isn’t bad either due to the aluminum frame so they’re easier to carry in a good OWB holster and belt.
Only 1,500 of these were made in 1990 and released in 1991. How many of them still exist? Who knows? All I know is I have one.
Luis Valdes is the Florida Director for Gun Owners of America.