In the early 1950s Egypt ordered modified Beretta M1951 Brigadier pistols for their military and police. They liked them, but didn’t like the modifications that they themselves had specified. MAADI, Egypts largest gun manufacturer, then licensed the rights to produce the M1951, bought equipment and tooling from Beretta and produced them as the Helwan. A few decades back Interarms started importing these guns. They called them the Helwan Brigadier.
These guns were not well-finished like their Beretta counterparts, but they were cheap and for the most part worked well enough for while. MAADI, unfortunately, did not do a good job heat-treating the locking blocks that the gun depends on, and these wore rather quickly, unless you fired +P ammunition, in which case they wore out right now. Before long these parts became difficult, then impossible to find. Locking blocks for the Beretta-made 1951s were out of production, and soon they were almost as hard to find as the MAADI parts.
When my Helwan packed it in one only very occasionally saw a Beretta barrel w/locking block for sale- generally for more than you would pay for a Helwan. I had a Beretta m1951 by this point, and saw no purpose in spending money on the Helwan. It spent several years doing duty as a paperweight after donating it’s magazines to my Beretta. I occasionally considered fabricating a new locking block in my shop, but it just seemed like more effort than the gun was worth. This last week it occurred to me- what if the gun didn’t need a locking block? Dead simple top grind the locking lugs off the block, rendering the gun a blow-back.
Of course you’d have to be a madman to fire 9x19mm out of this gun as a blow-back pistol, and if you did you might just eat the slide. But what about .380 ACP? It could work. Of course nobody really needs a full-sized service pistol in .380, but it’s better than a full-sized service pistol paperweight. Besides, Linda always enjoyed shooting the Helwan, and as a range pistol who really cares about the caliber? I’m set up to reload .380, and it’s even cheaper to reload than 9mm. Besides, it would be interesting.
First things first- grind off the locking lugs from the locking piece, and grind down the pin in the breech that normally pushes the lock up to disengage it. reassembled the pistol and it hand-cycled fine.
I experimented to see if it would chamber a .380 round from the stock magazine. It would, and further it would hand-cycle rounds into the chamber and eject them. But would they cycle the gun? Yes, they will. But the feed lips of the stock magazine are so far back the round actually leaves the magazine before it enters the chamber, which seems fine when you are hand-cycling the gun, but at the full cycling speed of the gun it either stovepipes the round it’s trying to chamber or throws it right out of the gun with the empty cartridge. Yeah, that’s not going to work…
I tossed around several schemes of varying practicality before arriving at a simple idea- use a .380 magazine mounted in a chassis that mimics the original magazine. This had the added advantage that I wouldn’t need to cannibalize a perfectly good magazine for my Beretta.
I swung by Ben’s Loans and pawed through their Box-o’-Random-magazines and found one that had the same angle as the Helwan magazine. I forked over $8 and was ready to get started.
OK, I cut the mag-release notch on the wrong side- an oops, but easy to fix. Next up was turning my aluminum faux magazine into something useful.
I had to modify the follower and tweak the feed lips, but soon the gun would hand-cycle cartridges reliably. Time for the real test. I loaded five rounds into the magazine and fired into the bullet trap. It cycled, but the second round stove-piped. I tweaked the feed lips some more and tried again. This time it worked, but I needed to give the slide a little assist to get the next round chambered. The last three rounds worked fine.
Two more five-round magazines also worked, so it’s basically running, though I am not satisfied yet- there are still two things I want to fix.
1) I want to make a new follower that will activate the slide hold-open on the last round. This is pretty easy- it’s just cutting and bending a flat piece of metal.
2) I want to do something about the chamber. Since 9mm is not straight-walled the rounds are a bit loose, which is hard on the brass. Also, the rounds are headspacing on the extractor- which is not a good way to do things and will probably prove unreliable in the long run. Worst of all if you stick a factory magazine in, the gun will still chamber 9x19mm, which would probably damage the gun and might be quite dangerous.
Most likely I will bore out and sleeve the chamber, them ream it for .380ACP. This will solve all the issues (and probably create some new ones, but I’ll deal with that as it goes.) The I may do something to address the cosmetics and make the gun more distinct. I’ll also mark the gun for .380 ACP
Anyway, the gun is functioning relatively well, so part one is complete.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 13 October 2018