The story of the ASP reads like a Ludlum or Flynn novel. In 1966, a young Paris Theodore founded a custom holster company known as Seventrees Ltd. Located in New York City, on West 39th Street, Seventrees designed and produced â€œmodernâ€ concealment holsters for professionals. The companyâ€™s clientele ranged from NYPD detectives to â€œspooksâ€ from a variety of countries. Documents show that Seventrees was awarded several contracts from a variety of U.S. agencies including an order for handcuff cases from the United States Secret Service.
The holster business, while both legitimate and profitable, was only part of the story. Located in the back room behind a vault door, Seventreesâ€™ sister company, Armament Systems and Procedures (ASP), was a clandestine laboratory that worked with various government organizations designing and producing specialized weapons. In fact, Theodore designed an â€œexperimental submachine gun,â€ complete with a shoulder holster, a belt holster, and a unique sight.
However, the most lasting project from Armament Systems and Procedures was the ASP pistol. According to Theodore, the ASP was developed on behalf of a government agency who had a need for a concealable handgun chambered in a â€œmajor caliber.â€ During the early development, numerous 1911s, Commanders, and the Browning P-35 Hi Power were cut down and reconfigured. In each case, the end result was found lacking.
The ASP was extremely compact, with rounded edges and an intriguing round-counter window cut into the grip panels.
Theodore finally settled on the Smith & Wesson Model 39 as the base platform for the ASP. The Model 39 was introduced in 1954 to compete in the U.S. Army service pistol trials and was offered to the commercial market in 1955. The Model 39 featured an aluminum frame, 4-inch barrel, and a double-action, fire control system. It was chambered in 9mm with an eight-round magazine capacity. The most notable feature of the Model 39 was the one-piece, deeply curved back strap. To this day, the 39 fits my hand better than any pistol I have ever owned.
The trigger guard of the ASP was recut and welded to have a forward recurve, something that came strongly into vogue later in the 1980s.
The ASP was the result of some 212 modifications on the stock Model 39. The most dramatic modification was the reduction in the size of both the slide and frame. The slide and barrel were shortened by Â¾ inch while the butt of the frame was reduced by 9/16 of an inch. Both reductions required extensive internal modifications with regard to the barrel bushing, recoil spring and guide, the mainspring and back strap assembly. To lighten the slide, the muzzle end was tapered. To further reduce the size, the hammer spur was removed and the thumb safety was shaved. Each pistol came with three reduced-size magazines that featured a patented finger rest base plate.
One striking feature of the ASP was the uniquely shaped trigger guard. The standard trigger guard was cut and a hooked extension was heli-arc welded onto the pistol using a comparable alloy. The design was patented as a â€œforefinger pocketâ€ and designed to aid in a finger forward, two hand grip. The forward half of the trigger guard was reduced in width by 50% to allow improved access. This reduction was tailored for either right- or left-handed shooters.
The ASPâ€™s sighting system was revolutionary. Theodoreâ€™s patented sight, called the Guttersnipe, consisted of a machined block of steel with a tapered channel that ran longitudinally. The sides and bottom of the sight channel were painted yellow for high visibility. There was no front sight. The Guttersnipe required the shooter to subconsciously balance the yellow panels on the sides and bottom of the channel to align the ASP properly. In practice, the Guttersnipe was extremely fast to acquire and was â€œbattleâ€ accurate.
Theodore understood that it was rare for anyone involved in a violent encounter to keep track of the number of rounds that were expended. To that end, he cut a large witness window in both sides of the magazines and equipped the ASP with Plexiglas stocks. This allowed the user to visually observe how many rounds were in the magazine. It also added one more exotic touch to the pistol.
The entire design of the ASP was focused on the rapidly changing dynamic in a moving gunfight. To quote Theodore in a Combat Handguns article, â€œOur mission was to create a major-calibre weapon which was readily concealable yet could be brought into action with â€œthe speed of an impulse.â€ That was pretty shocking in 1970! Every edge was radiused and it was void of any textured gripping surfaces. Instead, the shape of the grip and trigger guard caused the pistol to seat in the hand during a panic draw.
2006 Paris Theodore obituary