by Senior Correspondent Rod Pascoe
The .380 ACP is not a cartridge you hear talked about in target shooting circles. Often referred to as the best of John Browning’s creations, this small centrefire pistol round is more commonly found in the magazines of small, short-barrelled law enforcement and personal defence pistols. The .380 fits into the trio of Browning’s pocket pistol favourites along with the .25 ACP and the .32 ACP that would be more familiar to James Bond and other undercover operatives.
Also known as the 9mm Browning, 9x17mm, 9mm Kurz (short) and .380 Auto, this diminutive cartridge is two millimetres shorter than the popular 9mm Luger, or 9x19 Parabellum cartridge and therefore has reduced powder capacity. To compensate for this, lighter 90 and 95-grain projectiles are used rather than the 115 to 135-grain bullets commonly found in the Luger round. It also has a slightly smaller base and therefore requires a dedicated set of reloading dies and shell holder.
Following its introduction in 1908 by FN in Belgium and later by Colt in the US, the .380 ACP became popular with a dozen or more handgun manufacturers and was adopted by a number of European governments as their official military and police pistol cartridge. The .380 ACP is once again proving itself an effective self-defence round especially in the US, where now almost every state allows concealed-carry of handguns. Beretta, Walther, Sig, Smith & Wesson and Colt offer firearms especially for these emerging markets where compactness and ease of accessibility are pre-requisites.
However, the latest handgun manufacturer to adopt this little cartridge is not in the US. From the Slovakian town of Banska Bystrica, Grand Power entered the market with a range of four handguns chambered in the .380 ACP in 2007. The range consisted of short-barrelled compact models for the self-protection market, but they went one step further by developing a target-shooting specialist, the Roxor. Modelled on its big brother and Grand Power’s flagship, X-Calibur, the Roxor is a full-size handgun with almost identical features. It has an external hammer and a single/double action trigger. The 9mm X-Calibur, with its unique rotating barrel locking system, has quickly gained a reputation as an accurate sports pistol, especially in the IPSC discipline both in Australia and overseas.
The Roxor is presented in a moulded, foam-lined black plastic case and contains two 10-shot magazines, cleaning brush, extra safety catch levers and instruction manual. Two more magazines are included separately, making it a four-magazine package. The Roxor is imported into Australia by Industek and its magazines have been converted from the standard 15 shots to 10 to comply with Australian regulations.
At first appearance this is a very stylish pistol. The slide is machined from a single piece of steel and has a black nitride finish. Each side of the slide has nine vertical slots machined through to the barrel and five angled grooves at the rear, all helping to keep the weight down and provide a positive grip for manipulating the slide. Industek also has its trademark etched on the front of the slide.
On top of the slide, the rear-sight is adjustable in both windage and elevation. It is made by an external contractor, Elliason, and sits neatly into a machined slot. The fibre-optic front-sight is easy to locate in quick-firing situations. However, in full sunlight I found it almost too bright and a bit distracting. Then again, I’m more familiar with Patridge front blades. The front-sight is pinned into position and can be easily replaced.
The polyamide grip is exceptionally strong and comes with four interchangeable clip-on back-straps to suit individual hand sizes and finger lengths. The magazine release has an oversize button and can be reversed by a competent gunsmith for left-handed shooters. Removing a couple of pins will release the steel frame insert from the frame for thorough cleaning or adjustment. Inside the grip is the steel frame that mates to the slide and incorporates the barrel, trigger group, hammer and safety mechanism. The hammer spring is contained in a cavity in the hammer itself.
Two styles of safety catches are provided and are easily changed by the user. I chose to mix-and-match, leaving the large thumb-operated safety lever on the left side for my right thumb and replaced the right side lever with the smaller, low profile one.
The fluted barrel has a taper towards the breech and takes its shape from its big brother, the Grand Power X-Calibur. However, unlike the X-Calibur it is fixed to the frame and not of the floating/locking barrel design. The pressure generated by the .380 ACP is at the upper limits of cartridges that could be safely used in a straight blowback system. This was something I was conscious of as I was working up a load with a 100-grain lead semi-wadcutter projectile of .357” diameter; not to exceed a safe pressure. The muzzle end of the barrel measures 17mm in diameter and fits snugly through the front of the slide without the need for a bushing.
Field stripping is straightforward. Once safely clearing the gun, remove the magazine. Pull down on the catches either side of the frame, just above the front of the triggerguard with the thumb and forefinger simultaneously. Hold both catches down while pulling the slide firmly straight back with the right hand against the recoil spring. When the slide is fully to the rear, lift the back of the slide off the frame until it releases from the slide rail. Let the slide forward under the pressure of the recoil spring. As a fair bit of strength is required for this operation, it is best to brace the bottom of the grip and your left wrist against your stomach.
With the slide off, the recoil spring will move forward on the rod guide and come away without any obstruction. Re-assembly is effectively the reverse of this, being careful to align the spring and rod guide in the bottom of the slide as you draw it over the barrel. There is no need to hold the two slide catches down as you replace the slide. Pull the slide to the rear holding the back of the slide above the rails. Once the spring is fully compressed, lower the rear of the slide firmly on to the frame and allow it to move forward under the tension of the recoil spring.
As the only factory ammunition available in .380 ACP have jacketed projectiles, I made up a load using one of my favourite lead bullets, the Hawkesbury River 100-grain semi-wadcutter. Jacketed bullets are prohibited at my club’s range.
At the range I fired a magazine full of ammo with each of the four supplied grips and settled on the one that fitted my hand and felt right. Then, shooting from a barricade, I fired two six-shot groups at a standard service pistol target. The recoil was mild as expected with just 1.8 grains of Nobel GM3 shotgun powder. Over the chronograph this load produced an average of 980fps.
Despite being a defence/personal protection cartridge it is surprising how readily available reloading components and dies are for the .380 ACP in Australia. Starline brass is stocked by Nioa and dies are produced by many manufacturers. Hawkesbury River Bullets also makes a dedicated .380 ACP 95-grain round-nose projectile in .355” diameter. There is loading data available in most reloading guides but they usually refer to full metal jacket or jacketed hollow-point bullets. Nevertheless, most pistol powders work in the .380. Other loads I found worked well were the new ADI pistol and shotgun powders using the Hawkesbury 100-grain SWC. Just 2.5 grains of APS 350 produced average velocities of 995fps and with three grains of APS 450, 1030fps.
So why would anyone use a pistol such as the Roxor that fires an uncommon cartridge when there are so many pistols available in, say, the 9mm Luger? In some parts of the world, civilians are not allowed to use firearms that employ the same ammunition as the police or military. Chile is one of a number of South American countries where this is the case. The Roxor also qualifies for the Service Unrestricted match where meeting a prescribed power factor is not required and the trigger meets the required weight of 1360 grams in single action mode. The Roxor may also be an ideal candidate for the Steel Challenge match. Other than that it’s a comfortable gun to shoot and is accurate to boot.
The Grand Power Roxor is a serious contender for the practical-style target shooting disciplines. Even though it uses an uncommon cartridge, reloading components are not a problem to obtain. It is a lot of fun to shoot and has milder recoil than the 9mm Luger round. A word of caution though - make sure you’re familiar with the rules of the particular match you want to shoot with it. If you’re going to shoot competition matches that require a specific power factor, the Roxor and the .380 ACP cartridge will only at best make around the 110 mark - not enough for IPSC for example. Despite that there is plenty of shooting to be had in other events without concerning yourself about power factors.