Back in 1985 Classic Coke was a confusing fiasco when it replaced New Coke, which had replaced Coca-Cola. The term “Classic” is supposed to refer to something that is timeless, with an air of tradition, perhaps even a masterpiece. Smith & Wesson’s Classic revolvers are even more bewildering since S&W has used the term at least three times.
So Many “Classics” it’s Confusing
The Springfield, Massachusetts gun maker’s most recent use of the “Classic” title is the Model 19 Classic in .357 Magnum. They have been using the term when they bring back revolvers that have been missing from their catalog for a while, such as the Model 36 Classic or Model 27 Classic. The guns are not made the same way they were many years ago (with one-piece pinned barrels, recessed cylinder chambers, and dare I mention that their frames were unmarred by the internal lock hole), but their model numbers and overall appearance are similar enough.
There was another line of “Classic” revolvers with wood grips made in the early 2000s and throughout that decade. Examples are the Model 10 Classic and Model 40-1 Classic (both available with case hardened frames by Turnbull Restoration), among others over the years. Just to muck up the terminology, S&W also featured a “Heritage” series of various caliber revolvers made for Lew Horton Distributors during the same decade. They were certainly touting these terms and I’m surprised they didn’t start adding the idiom “vintage style” to some of their firearms.
My close friend Karl shot my Model 29-2 at my dad’s range in the woods next to my parents’ log cabin back in the early 1990s. Karl always shot well, but he shot my big 6 ½-inch barrel .44 particularly well. He was impressed with the “Dirty Harry” revolver and resolved right then and there to obtain one of his own. I’d bought mine from a dispatcher at my department and it was the proverbial .44 Magnum that came with a box of fifty cartridges, only six of which had been shot. The dispatcher had fired six shots and then never touched it again. He was happy to sell it and I was happy to buy it.
My buddy Karl walked into the local gun store and spotted a brand new Model 29 Classic DX displayed on their glass shelves. He purchased it and when I first saw the big double action sixgun, I remember thinking that this was something special. I also remember thinking that it would probably not be manufactured for very long and my friend was wise to make it his own. The DX turned out to be one of the best shooting revolvers from S&W and it was produced for only two years during 1991 and 1992.
The Model 29 Classic (Non-DX)
The Model 29 “Classic” model was a large N-Frame revolver with a full length under lug all the way out to its muzzle, adding balance and weight to subdue recoil like the smaller 585/686 L-Frame revolvers with their .357 Magnum cartridge. The 29 Classic was built on a round butt N-Frame and had a handsome polished blue finish. Interchangeable front sights (utilizing a spring loaded plunger located at the muzzle, just above the bore) could be purchased separately. The white outline micrometer click adjustable rear sight (the frame was drilled and tapped under this sight for a scope mount), .500” target hammer, .400” serrated target trigger were standard features along with Hogue rubber grips.
The Smith & Wesson Model 29 Classic DX
This is where is gets a little more confusing. Many shooters have made the mistake of seeing a 29 Classic and thinking that it was the even more rare and desirable 29 Classic DX. Those two letters make a big difference.
The DX had the same features as the 29 Classic except that it included a total of five interchangeable front sights (red ramp, black ramp, patridge, white dot, and gold bead) and a set of combat Morado wood stocks in addition to the Hogue rubber grips. This Deluxe .44 Magnum had the additional two letters Lasersmith engraved on the right side of the barrel, which reads, “29 Classic DX.”
Factory Test Target
In addition to the usual cleaning rod and instruction manual, there was a very special additional item that came in the box with each DX. A hand dated and signed factory test target.
The story goes that all of the Model 29 Classic revolvers were test fired at 50 yards from a machine rest. The targets were saved for those that grouped five shots under 1 1/2-inches and those exceptional handguns became exclusive DX models, uniquely marked on their barrel with their accuracy achievement.
Guns with factory test targets have always curried a special place in my heart. My father had a pre-WWII Colt National Match 1911 .45 that came with a test target in its original box. Walther often included them and my 1988 PPK has a test target in its original box. Even today’s PPQ M2 5-inch model comes with a target punched through by fired bullets. Sig Sauer’s West German P-series pistols of the late 1980s came with them as well. It’s a practice that is almost unheard of these days.
Think for a moment about how factory test targets were accomplished. Imagine running a target 50 yards down range. Then shooting five shots at it. Then bringing the target back, hand writing the serial number and date and signing it. Then placing it in the box with the correct gun. One target at a time or multiple targets, either way it’s a ton of labor-intensive work.
The target that accompanied this particular DX states that the gun was secured in a machine rest. That’s a lot of work to tighten the revolver down to where it will not move at all in the rest. Then all five shots have to be fired, cocking the hammer and using the contraption to pull the trigger. The test target measured all five shots in a group of 1.25-inches at 50 yards. Taking the human element out of the equation resulted in an objective measure of the revolver’s true capability. That’s a tight group at 50 yards from a 6 ½-inch barrel! This 29 Classic certainly earned its DX title.
My Friend’s Model 29 Classic DX
My friend has fired both .44 Special and .44 Magnum cartridges with excellent accuracy. Sometimes standard production revolvers get lucky and the barrel-cylinder gap, forcing cone, and cylinder bore alignment magically come together with unusually superb accuracy. The DX guns were hand selected due to these charmed coincidences that coalesced into outstanding precision.
The blue finish shines on the DX and the case hardened hammer and trigger contrast well. The balance with the 6 ½-inch barrel is excellent, with the heavy full-length under lug contributing to its heft. The trigger pull is smooth and relatively light in both single and double action. The serrated trigger is better suited to single action firing when cocking the hammer first. Lateral movement of a shooter’s trigger finger is not very comfortable after a couple cylinders full of ammunition.
The Hogue rubber grips are stippled and their finger grooves fit my big hands well. They leave the back strap open for a shorter trigger reach, but that means full power .44 Magnum loads transfer their recoil directly into your palm. The wood grips are round butt style with finger grooves and the same open back strap design as the rubber grips. Both sets have S&W medallions for that factory appearance. The wood grips felt very small in my hands and I’ve never shot the gun with them on. The rubber Hogues give a square butt feel to the round butt frame and felt much better.
The Lasersmith markings are handsome, with a white paint fill that hasn’t worn off, even after many applications of Hoppes No 9 solvent and gun oil. This particular gun has a turn ring on the cylinder that is pretty much unavoidable on S&Ws. The writing is striking with Latin style lettering. My friend ordered an El Paso Saddlery Threepersons style crossdraw leather holster with a button strap, a matching belt, and a double speedloader case. He has carried this gun as backup when wild boar hunting. The crossdraw holster keeps the gun at the ready when seated and out of the way when shouldering a rifle.
My friend’s revolver is, in fact, a Model 29-5, meaning it incorporates changes to the Model 29 that were made for the fifth time since the model name of “.44 Magnum” (introduced in 1955) was changed to the numerical 29 in 1957. S&W adds a “dash number” (e.g. 29-1, 29-2, etc) each time they change something about the gun. They are up to at least a 29-10 today.
According to the Standard Catalog of S&W, 4th Edition (SCSW4) by Jim Supica and Richard Nahas, 5-inch barrel DX revolvers carry a 50% premium in price and the 8 3/8-inch carries a 10% premium over the $1500 value of the 6 ½-inch barrel.
Stainless Steel DX’s, Too
Stainless steel adaptions of blued steel S&W revolvers are usually designated by the addition of the number 6 at the beginning of the model number. So the Model 29 becomes the Model 629 in this case. There was a DX sub-model of the 629 Classic just like the blued Model 29. It was also introduced in 1991 and production continued until 2002. The dash numbers were 629-3 until a change in 1993 became the 629-4, a 629-5 in 1997, and a 629-6 in 2001 (the infernal, I mean internal lock!). The 629 DX is more common than the 29 DX due to the fact that it was made for a total of ten years instead of under two for the blued gun.
The same three barrel lengths were produced the same as the 29 DX and the 5-inch carries a 50% premium since, like the blued model, it was apparently made in much smaller numbers than the other two lengths. The SCSW4 gives a value of $1200 for the 6 ½-inch barrel stainless steel revolver. The 629 Classic DX came with a total of eight front sights and they came in a neat little leatherette black box with the gold S&W logo imprinted on top. The red lined box held each of seven additional interchangeable front sights lined up in two little rows. Some 629s were made with un-fluted cylinders.
Model 29-5 and 629-3 .44 Magna Classic
There was also a 7 ½-inch barrel blued Model 29 called the Magna Classic. It too came with five front sights in the fancy little S&W box, a test target, a registration certificate, and a cherrywood presentation case. “1 of 3000” was Lasersmith engraved on the barrel and it wore a special high polish blue. According to the SCSW4, it was made in 1990, but only 1800 were made. That’s because 1200 stainless steel Model 629 Magna Classics were also made with a wonderfully high polished finish and with the same paraphernalia and fancy case.
Perusing a 29 Magna Classic for sale on Gunbroker, I noticed the test target’s grouping had a considerably larger spread than Karl’s DX. It noted at the top that the revolver had fired five shots into a 2 ¼-inch group. Sorry, Magna Classic, you’re a great looking gun in a really nice case, but objectively you just don’t shoot as well as a DX.
These “Classic” .44 Magnum hand cannons show that the DX is still an exceptional Smith and Wesson revolver.
Prices and Collectibility
Looking at prices on Gunbroker.com, some sellers are asking much more than what the SCSW4 claims as a fair price. Lofty hopes and dreams aside, actual selling prices are dictated by condition and the inclusion of the factory accouterments. Factory boxes and papers are desirable to both collectors and shooters alike. When it comes to a revolver like the DX, I wouldn’t even think about buying one without the factory test target. That signed and dated sheet of paper with five bullet holes is what places this firearm in an exclusive category.
Some guns offered for sale on Gunbroker do not have the target and some do not have the front sights or the extra grips. The fact that these guns include a factory test target makes shooting them all the more fun. And no one can say that the gun is worth less because it has been shot. The DX was never “unfired” and has a test target to prove it!
Just keep in mind that the Classic and the Classic DX are two different guns, separated by those two special and distinctive letters on the barrel and that test target. The term Classic confuses some buyers. Some enthusiasts claim that their standard Classic shoots just as good as a DX and I don’t mean to doubt or disparage them. But S&W took the time to shoot the test targets before applying the DX nomenclature to the right side of the barrels of these scarce revolvers. Those five 50 yard shots objectively set the DX apart from the other “Classics, “ even the Magna Classic (which does not include the DX nomenclature).
My friend’s first year production Model 29 Classic DX is a shooter but it retains its value due to his foresight in keeping the box, papers, grips, and sights all together. For a shooter, a standard 29 or 629 Classic is an accurate .44 Magnum that will last a few lifetimes. But for the discerning RevolverGuy, the handsomely blued Model 29 Classic DX is a special gun that will be an heirloom for generations.