Click here to read a darn good article (the best I have had the pleasure to peruse) written about S&W Model 640’s evolution from .38 Special to the Model 640-1 .357 Magnum. Dean Speir’s effort has many details that I will not attempt to cover in this humble blog entry.
My guess is that the lightly used revolver in the above photo dates back to circa 2000 – 2002, as evidenced by the etched serial number on the frame just below the cylinder window, a location S&W does not commonly use (page 173, 3rd edition, Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson). I purchased this revolver at a local gun store in mid 2013 during a weak moment. After anguishing for many years whether to add this model to my small cache of S&W Centennial Revolvers, I finally succumbed. The price of the used pre-internal-lock revolvers had soared and their market availability had dropped over the years since S&W started making revolvers exclusively with the locks; this revolver was over a couple of hundred dollars less than any price I had seen for a pre-lock 640-1 in a good long time.
Some snub J-Frame holsters are fine for use with the 640-1 while others do not fit well. Compared to the .38 Special and 9mm snub-nosed J-Frame revolvers, the 640-1 cylinder and window is a bit longer and the barrel is a bit longer and thicker. Most grips from any round butt J-Frame should fit the 640-1. I tried smaller boot grips on the 640-1 for only one shooting session. Mega ouch. My hands much prefer the larger grips when using magnum loads. While a J-Frame snub with large grips (yes, I am aware that what most of us call “grips” are correctly called “stocks”) can be pocket carried, it is barely at my limit of being practical. Over the past several months I found that an inside the waistband holster at the small of the back, or just behind either hip, to be more realistic, and quite comfortable, even when changing a tire on a cold snowy night (which included my wiggling under the van, on my back, to place a bottle jack under the axle). The large grips do make the 640-1 uncomfortable for me to sit with when I carry in the appendix position, although my other J-Frames with boot grips are okay (.38 Special Model 442, 9mm Model 940, and .38 Special Model 640 no dash). A custom designed holster may provide a solution that allows me to carry the S&W Centennial Models, adorned with large, hand-filling grips, in the appendix position. Time and experimentation will tell.
The 640-1 weighs in maybe an ounce or two less than does my Ruger SP101, which hardly makes it an airweight. Perhaps the slightly lower weight is significant; in my hand the S&W does seem a bit flippier with magnum loads than does the Ruger, but that could just be a subconscious bias; the Ruger and I go back many years and several thousand rounds of practice. Aside from .38 Special loads, the SP101 and the 640-1 are at their most manageable (and most pleasant) for me to shoot with the 110 grain .357 Magnum Winchester semi-jacketed hollowpoint load. The once famous full power Remington 125 grain scalloped semi-jacketed hollowpoint load, although loud, flashy, and punishing, is manageable and accurate. With either revolver, my respective degrees of pain and flinch are off the charts when used with the magnum loads ranging from 158 grain through 180 grain; I’ll need more dedication and practice to become proficient with them. However, heavy slugs chased by heavy charges from small concealed-carry revolvers will not be a priority for me unless we relocate to an area where savage wild hogs compete with the criminals for rule of the neighborhood streets.
Finally, I cannot speak with authority about the merit(s) (or lack thereof) of the internal lock that S&W put into their line of revolvers. Simply, I CHOOSE to not purchase one, ever, at any price. If you prefer that your S&W revolver have an internal lock, your choice is your business and whatever is your business is forever cool with me. Choice is a good thing.