Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Bernardelli 60

The Bernardelli 60 is a perfect example of the kind of "pocket pistol" that was once very common here and abroad, but was killed off by the Gun Control Act of 1968.  This particular gun came from the estate of a good friend and mentor, who taught me just about everything I know about fly fishing and bird hunting. It was first made in 1959, and could be had in .22LR, .32ACP or .380 versions.

The 60 failed the new post-68 laws on account of being just a bit too small, and not having various sporting-appropriate features as defined in the GCA. Bernardelli replaced it with the Model 80, which was otherwise identical but included a de-cocking lever and grips with a molded in thumb rest, which gave it more points under the GCA import restrictions. (The thumb rest made it more of a "target pistol.) The 80 was made into the 1970s.

It was once common for fishermen and hunters to carry a small .22 pistol, the classic example being the Smith & Wesson .22/.32 Kit Gun. You might be on a fishing trip, or deer hunting, traipsing through the woods, when you'd come across a rabbit or a grouse you could bag for that evening's dinner. Or you might need to administer a coup de grace to a wounded animal. A gun like the 60 could come in handy.

But rules and regulations changed, and carrying a .22 in your pocket, even in the woods, became a felony. Game seasons were tightened up, and the typical deer hunter was as likely to be staying in a motel as in a wall tent. And tastes changed. The classic styling of this pistol evokes an earlier time; these days, the popular style seems to be squared off guns with hard edges. The only high quality guns still on the market that evoke this style, as far as I know, are the SIG 232 and the various Walther PPK variants. (There are still a few cheap guns based on old designs, like the Jimenez and Jennings .22 pistols.)

This is, incidentally, a fantastic pistol in .22. Recoil is modest, as you might expect, and accuracy is exceptionally good for a simple auto with fixed sights. The only flaw, to a modern shooter, is the heel magazine release. It's much slower to use than a button release and it makes it hard to reload. Based on my experience with the PPK and other straight blowback pistols in .380, I would think a model 60 in that caliber would be very unpleasant to shoot. A .32 would probably be comfortable enough.

As  I mentioned, this particular pistol came from a friend's estate, and was given to me. I brought it to the range (after complying with my state's registration laws) and put a few bricks of CCI Minimags through it. It's a pretty accurate shooter, despite the tiny fixed sights. At  25' I could keep all my shots in a 6" circle, which was not too shabby considering the dim lighting and the tiny sights. It spends most of its time in the safe, but still comes out occasionally to accompany me on jaunts through the woods.

Update: Here's an ad for the 60 I found while searching for more information on the pistol:

A web search for more information led me to the July 1971 issue of The American Rifleman, and this two-page piece on maintenance and assembly/disassembly of the 60. I then found a used copy for sale and scanned that in. I hope my readers appreciate the ends I go to for them! ;-)


  1. Hello, I just got one of these and tested it out at the range. Really nice gun. Very high build quality. Seems like a virtually unknown here in the US, really. I knew the name from very high quality shotguns they produce(d).

    I got mine with no instructions or box or anything. I was wondering if you had any leads on where I could find a manual, etc? I've already taken it down, and found one exploded diagram on line that is very helpful. Thanks in advance.

    1. The only info I found is an exploded parts diagram at, where I bought a spare magazine. I have the original box mine was purchased in by the previous owner, but there's no manual. I wonder if it was even sold with one?

  2. Thank you for the scans. When my Dad died I inherited his .380 cal Mod 60. I've taken it to the range a few times and wanted to dissassemble it for cleaning. Thanks to you...I now have a good idea how to do that! does have a nice little "kick" to it, but I could never call it unpleasant ;-)

  3. I've had one of these in 32 ACP since the 1980's and never had any manual or guide to breakdown. Always just struggled through it to break down and clean. thanks for digging up this info. Love to shoot this pistol, has nice feedback and pretty accurate for a pocket gun in Concealed Carry.

  4. That 3-1/2" fixed barrel is the key to accuracy, I think. It really is a great shooting pistol.

  5. Anyone know where to get plain grips for a model 60 (no thumb rest)?

  6. My 30 something daughter recently became interested in shooting. So I broke out my Bernadelli 380 that I bought new in 1981 and hardly used. We fired away with it and my new HK VP9. Suprisingly, the Bernadelli had signifcanly tighter groups for both of us. Aside from a magazine release problem, we love it, especially the thumb rest.