The great engineer and inventor of masterpieces of mechanical design, John Moses Browning, took steel, wood, and magic and blended them together to create some of the most treasured firearms in modern history. Best remembered for his 1911 design, the Hi-Power was one of his last gifts to us. The truth is that Browning contributed to the design by engineers at FN in Belgium finished it after his death, but let us not let that detract from the legend.
Imminent gun writer and shootist Colonel Jeff Cooper once said of the hi-power "Aside from its less-than-optimum cartridge, it is an excellent weapon." In addition, "it is readily modified by a competent gunsmith into the best heavy duty 9mm auto in existence."
The Browning Hi-Power (BHP) went into production in 1935 and during WWII was made for and used by both sides. From about 1946 through the late 1980s they were probably the most common non-Warsaw pact handgun encountered around the world and are still used my several militaries.
In the course of my life, I have had several Browning Hi-Powers pass through my hands, and the Argentine-made M90 is the latest.
Argentina contacted with FN Herstal in Belgium in the early 1960s for a number of Hi Powers. They liked the guns so much that they started to manufacture them. Argentine-made Hi Powers were produced by Direccion General Fabrications Militaries (commonly called FM) at their arms factory, Fabrica Armas Portatiles Domingo F. Matheu in Rosario, under Belgian FN license from 1969-1989 with FN inspectors watching close by. These were produced for the Argentine military and national police with a heavy manganese phosphate finish as a clone of the MkII 1965 version of the HP. Unlike many foreign-made BHP's, these Argentine guns are not simple clones with questionable interchangeably, but true license built models, and are marked as such.
In 1990, FM began producing a civilian and export version of their BHPs that are not licensed copies, dubbed the M90. These firearms are still largely interchangeable but are not made with FN looking over the process. Hence, you can get one for about $250 used or $300 new from a number of importers. This price is about half what you would spend on a Belgian or Portuguese-made FN BHP. These can be readily identified by the more 1911-style slide cut near the muzzle. Another big change in the M90 from old licensed series BHPs is the deletion of the lanyard ring and plastic grips.
- Note the FM (Not FN) marking and the 1911-style cut in the slide. This quickly identifies it as a M90.
The fit and finish
True to their military brethren, the M90 used in the testing features a thick black parkarized finish. When compared with FN or Browning commercial products, it is horribly crude. However, for a military-grade firearm, it is perfect. Thick and smooth, the finish is non-reflective, hides smudges and rubs, and best of all, if you scratch it you are not going to cry. The grips, standard rubber combat, are a very close approximation of pachymyr signature grips and make the pistol easy on the hand. This is a combat pistol and definitely looks like one.
Handling and accuracy
In several rounds of testing, I cycled about a case of ammunition through the M90. This ranged from 115-grain FMJ through 147-grain JHP from Remington, CCI/Speer, PMC, Federal, and Winchester. The gun liked everything and no one brand hiccupped more than any other. It shot acceptably well at close range out to 25-meters, making 50 hits out of 50 on a man-sized target with every load used. Of course, with range, the groups got larger, but that is due to the shooter and not the handgun I suspect.
Surprisingly the round that produced the best groups was 115-grain PMC bronze FMJ. The Korean made ball ammo left a really nice and evil looking matchbox sized 13-shot group at 15yards.
The M90 is sleek, thin, has a reasonably large magazine, long sight radius, and is very accurate. The slimness of the frame overall still beats many super-guns of the last few years like the M&P, USP, and Glock. This makes the platform a nice CCW piece. Its finish is rugged enough for it to be a truck gun, or even a tackle box gun without too much concern for its well-being. Chambering in the mild 9x19mm parabellum round allows for a large magazine capacity and cheap practice while still being effective.
The factory-supplied magazines are crap. One failed to feed all together due to a bad spring, and both just felt...sticky. I must confess that I used a set of FN-made magazines that I borrowed from my MkIII for the testing and I recommend that if you find yourself with a FM, you invest in quality magazines.
It is a little heavy but it is all steel and no plastic so I cannot complain about that too much. The hammer spur, being single-action, was noticeably long. It was too long if you ask me as it bit the web of my mitts a couple times. I personally am replacing the spur with an 'old-school' round spur as soon as possible. In addition, the magazine safety mysteriously disappeared from my test gun.
- The hammer spur is just too dang long for me...
I have previously owned Argentine-made Ballester Molina (which I did not like) as well as Argentine-made Systema Colts and Bersa 380s, which I did like, so I entered into this review with my eyes open. Overall, I found that I personally liked the gun and I am going to hang on to it. Chances are it may not be in its original configuration too much longer, but hey, isn't that life?