For those of you who remember American pop singer Jim Croce, one of his biggest hits of 1973 was “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” – a song about a mean dude on the other side of the law who “owned the downtown”. He was known for his fighting – he carried a razor in his shoe, and “a .32 gun in his pocket for fun.” He was king of his turf until he met up with Slim – he lost his crown and various parts of his anatomy.
Now, the fictional Mr. Brown probably had some non-descript .32 semiauto in his pocket, not a Beretta Tomcat – that would have cost too much for him. Why a .32? Unfortunately, Mr. Croce isn’t around to ask – probably poetic license, or it just rhymed or fit. This song was released the year he died in a plane crash.
But…the .32 was THE gun of choice for many concealed carriers (on both sides of the law). Once upon a time, it was considered plenty of gun to settle whoever’s hash you came across, with the plain ol’ 71-grain full metal jacket bullet. It was king of pistol calibers in Europe and was plenty popular in the U.S. Let’s look at the .32 ACP’s history, then we’ll talk about the Tomcat. A quick discussion about ammo types for this gun will come next and then we’ll shoot it and look at those results. After that, we’ll wrap it up. Let’s start with the cartridge…
The .32 ACP…Browning’s First
Let’s talk for a bit about the .32 Automatic Colt Pistol cartridge and its history.
John Browning perfected the handgun cartridge in 1899 for Fabrique Nationale for use in their FN M1900 pistol. (His name sure keeps popping up, doesn’t it? He designed the .380 ACP, the .50BMG and the .45 ACP among others). The round is also known as the .32 Auto and the 7.65 Browning Short. Here is the original pistol it was designed for:
The .32 was Browning’s first pistol cartridge and utilizes a couple of interesting design features. First, it is a straight-walled case for reliable blowback operation (if there are any recoil-operated, locked-action .32s out there I don’t know of them). Secondly, it is semi-rimmed. Most semi-auto cartridges headspace on the case mouth, but the .32 headspaces on the case rim for reliable feeding from box (pistol) magazines.
European nations snapped up guns chambered for the .32 by the thousands. Walther chambered its popular PPK in .32, then later .380; Mauser even made .32 pistols. Police agencies and military units bought them enthusiastically. Another trivia note – the .32 ACP has been chambered in more handguns than any other round. Even Ian Fleming, when he was writing his “James Bond” novels, was encouraged to give his spy a Walther PPK in .32 ACP by none other than noted firearms expert of the day Geoffrey Boothroyd.
The caliber was so popular that, between its introduction in 1899 and 1909, Fabrique Nationale alone chambered approximately 500,000 guns for it. That doesn’t count what other companies were making. Even H&K got into the .32 ACP game – they made about 12,000 guns (their model HK 4) for the German police in 1967. It was their first pistol.
The cartridge came to roost across the pond, here in America. Here are a few of the guns it was originally chambered in:
- The Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless
- The Ruby pistol
- Browning Model 1910
- Savage Model 1907
On a more morbid note, Adolf Hitler was said to have committed suicide in 1945 by simultaneously biting down on a cyanide capsule and pulling the trigger of his personal Walther PPK pistol with the muzzle against his temple (or, under his chin, depending on which account you believe). The gun was a .32. Many German (and more than a few American) generals carried a .32 caliber pistol, more as a badge of rank than as a combat piece.
So you see how popular the .32 was. Its popularity rode a crest well into the 20th century, then died out a bit as other affordable, small guns were chambered for more effective calibers such as the .380 and the 9mm. But, with the wave of modern bullet technology innovations that occurred during the last twenty years or so, the .32 is (re)gaining its popularity. With guns such as the seven-ounce Kel Tec P32, one can have a firearm in a pocket (CCW holster) and almost forget that it’s there yet still have access to a firearm in case of immediate need. The old .32 ACP is still alive and kicking, after 120 years.
So much for the cartridge…now, let’s look at the gun itself.
The Beretta 3032 Tomcat
If you look at Beretta’s website, you will soon discover that they are very proud of their .32 ACP pistol. Not so much in their price (MSRP of $485, not too bad for the stainless Inox-finished gun), but in the copy written about the gun. I quote: “The Beretta 3032 Tomcat Inox is tiny, sized like average cell phone. Besides offering the power of the .32 ACP cartridge, it sports a tough and durable stainless-steel finish”. So, if you are looking for a cell-phone-sized pistol that shoots the “powerful .32 ACP cartridge”, here’s your gun. OK…enough fun-poking. (If you want this gun in another caliber, the look-alike Model 21A Bobcat comes in .22 LR and .25 ACP in a blued finish or the Model 21 in .22 only in Inox. The Model 21(s) have an MSRP of $410).
My brother-in-law Joe has an older, blued version of the 3032 (before the stainless Inox finish was used) that he has carried. I thank him for loaning me the gun I used for this article. The Tomcat is a pretty popular gun, even given its caliber. The Tomcat is a very concealable gun and shoots well. But in my opinion Beretta has a winner in the Tomcat, at least in part due to one feature – the tip-up barrel.
The barrel of the Tomcat tips up when you move the lever above the trigger forward – it unlatches.
If you are like me and are starting to have (or already have) arthritic complaints from your hands when you try to rack a pistol’s slide, this little feature negates the need to do that. Just press the lever forward to pop the barrel up and insert a cartridge into the chamber. Snap the barrel down and insert a loaded magazine and you’re good to go. Very easy, and a good idea. The magazine holds seven, plus you already have one “in the pipe.” Let’s look at specs now and then we’ll hit some of the main features of the gun before moving on.
Specs & Pictures
|Caliber:||7.65 (.32 ACP)|
|Overall Height:||3.7 inches|
|Overall Length:||4.92 inches|
|Overall Width:||1.1 inches|
|Weight (Empty):||14.5 ounces|
|Warranty:||One-Year Limited to the original owner with an additional two years added if you register the gun with Beretta|
Here are some of its selling points…
The Tomcat is made for your pocket. It is pretty much de-horned, except for the front sight (but it sticks up so little it shouldn’t matter):
Notice how “slick’ the gun is. Nothing much to snag on the draw.
#2 Tip-Up Barrel
This makes it very easy to get that first round in the chamber without racking the slide.
#3 Single-Double Action Hammer-Fired
In this day and age of striker-fired pistols, it was a bit refreshing to shoot a gun that used the old double-action-first shot, then single action after that. The trigger was a bit of a challenge, with the always-present take-up before the double action sear release. You pull the trigger a long, hard way until the hammer falls. Afterwards, there was some creep in the single action mode but it was manageable. I don’t have a trigger pull gauge, but it felt like the double action pull was around 12-15 pounds and the single action around 6 or 7. These are just educated guesses but they should be close. Many of you will be very familiar with this set-up and would do well with it. Something to remember – when you load the chamber of a regular double-action pistol, it cocks the hammer. Some pistols include a decocker that lets the hammer down so the first shot will be double action, so the hammer is down and not cocked. With the Tomcat, if you tip the barrel up to load the chamber, the hammer just stays down so that’s not an issue. Here’s a quick tip that probably you already know about, but for some it may be new – in order to more easily rack the slide of any hammer-fired pistol, physically cock the hammer first. That way, you don’t have to add the hammer’s spring weight to the recoil spring that you’re having to overcome in order to rack that slide. Of course, safety is first. If you do cock the hammer first, keep the chamber empty before loading that first round. That way, no accidents can happen. I only mention this as something folks might want to try if they have issues racking a slide with the hammer down. With the Tomcat and similar tip-up barreled-guns, it’s a moot point. Again, just a thought that might help you rack the slide a bit more easily.
OK…I can hear you out there saying “the sights are tiny – why feature them?” Well, it’s because the rear sight is in a dovetail and can be replaced. Tru-Glo, Trijicon, AmeriGlow…the list goes on. You can buy just a replacement rear sight or go all-out and have your front sight milled off and a dovetail cut – then you can buy a front/rear sight combo. The Tomcat is one of very few true pocket guns that will accept replacement sights. Here’s a screen shot from a company that will replace both sights, in case you have one of these guns and are interested…
#5 Thumb Safety
I mention this only to point out its existence…being a lefty, most thumb safeties are of very little use to me, but a lot of shooters want a thumb safety on their pistols, especially if they are not striker-fired. Here’s a thought, though…the Tomcat doesn’t have a firing pin block, so technically it is not drop-safe. If you choose to carry it with a loaded chamber (why have a tip-up barrel if you’re not going to do that?), use the thumb safety. To sum up, from my research I found that the gun is not drop-safe safe with the hammer down on a loaded chamber.
Shooting The Little Guy
I shot the Tomcat with the only .32 ACP load I had at the time, some Winchester White Box 71-grain full metal jacket. Here is a photo of a target I shot at 10 yards:
This is, again, one of my handy-dandy homemade targets with the inch grid and both center- and 6:00 holds marked (in case somebody forgets.). There are 10 holes in the target, one for each time I pulled the trigger. They are a bit low but all in all not bad in terms of actual point-of-impact. The gun pretty well shot to its sights. If you discount the flyers (I’ll let you decide which are flyers), it isn’t that bad. My brother-in-law carries the gun with Gold Dots and is pleased with the results.
Speaking of .32 ammo, there are two schools of thought. One is that you shoot the best defensive ammo that you can find, a fast jacketed hollow point that will expand in the target. The second school would have you shoot full-metal-jacketed rounds in order to get the most penetration from the rather-slow-moving 71-grain bullet (I clocked the FMJ rounds at 700 fps over my Caldwell chronograph).
Since we can’t always rely on the bullet to expand, I tend to go for penetration. I have carried both types of ammo in my Spectrum .380 – only you can decide what you like in your gun.
Here is a gel test screen shot from luckygunner.com…
They tested two jacketed hollow points – the Gold Dot and the Federal AE, plus one full metal jacket. As you can see, the full metal jacket rounds penetrated the furthest (well into the F.B.I.’s desired penetration range of between 12 and 18 inches). According to the accompanying chart (read about it here), neither hollow point expanded beyond .32 inch, the diameter it went in at.
Draw your own conclusions, but I think if I were carrying a .32 (or .25, for that matter), I might be inclined to carry a full-metal-jacketed round. At least with the penetration they get, you have a chance of hitting something that would incapacitate the bad guy. I might be a bit concerned with the hollow points, especially in winter (when heavier coats are the norm around here) that they just wouldn’t get far enough in to do the job. Why bring up this particular discussion in a gun review? Because, since it is a .32, these things matter. Many people carry .32s… I just want to make sure I do everything I can to explain the differences in ammo in this caliber. As for the .32 ACP, I am neither knocking it nor condoning its use – I’m just putting facts out as I see them. Now…would I feel under-armed if I had a Tomcat in my pocket? Any gun is better than no gun, for sure. I have a Springfield Armory XD(M) Compact .45 ACP with five magazines in my safe, but notice, that’s where it is. It’s summer here, in the 90s, and a pocket gun is easier to carry. That’s why my Taurus Spectrum gets free rides in its pocket holster now, while it’s so hot. Maybe this winter the .45 will get out more, under a coat. My point is that, yes – I’d carry the Tomcat in a pocket if that’s what the weather dictates and not feel undergunned.
When I shot the Tomcat, the trigger had me a bit perplexed until I caught on to it. I fired all shots single action, cocking the hammer for the first shot. As mentioned above, there was a little creep before it released the hammer but nothing that couldn’t be dealt with and compensated for. I used a high-center hold and it still shot low for me (my new glasses are in at the eye doctor’s, seriously…!). I never ever blame a gun that is not mine if it doesn’t shoot exactly where I aim – everyone’s eyes are different – so I was pleased that the groups were as good as they were. Also, I shot at 10 yards. For some, that might be “long range” for a .32. Seven or even five yards are the norm for calibers such as this, so why ten? That’s just how my range was set up, plus I figured if it did that decently at 10, it would do even better at closer ranges. At least the sights are useable on the Tomcat – you get a definite post-in-the-middle-of-the-notch sight picture. The post is a bit wide, but still very useful. It might be interesting to shoot it with aftermarket sights installed. I’m sure groups would improve. Everything considered, the gun shot very well- I was pleased. Recoil was minimal.
Cleaning The Gun
This is very simple. First, remove the magazine and make sure the gun is empty. Then, push the barrel release lever forward, releasing the barrel:
Then, pull the barrel to a vertical position:
Pull forward and up on the slide:
Pull the slide off.
That’s it. Clean as usual, then reverse the process to put it back together.
To Sum Up
We’ve looked at the .32 ACP cartridge and its history, then we examined the Beretta Tomcat in some detail. Finishing off with a discussion of .32 ammo choices and the cleaning procedure leads us to the end of our little journey. As for the gun itself, some folks think it’s a bit too “chunky” for a .32, as other guns of that caliber tend to be less than an inch in width and lighter. I think the tip-up barrel negates that concern. You might gain a width loss of a few thousandths of an inch and a few ounces less with other guns, but the ability to load the Tomcat’s chamber without racking the slide means a lot – especially for those of us with arthritic hands. The only other thing that might cause a bit of hesitation would be the fact that there is no firing pin block. However you slice it, with proper gun handling and safety procedures (like you’d use with any other gun), the Tomcat is a viable candidate for a backup gun or even primary carry, if the caliber doesn’t put you off.
I had a Taurus PT-22 once upon a time. What’s that got to do with this review? Taurus bought a factory in Brazil that Beretta had used to build pistols for military consumption, and with that, they earned the right to build their own versions of certain Beretta models. The PT-92, Taurus’s version of the Beretta 92, is a great gun. Some say they improved the original design by moving the thumb safety from the slide to the frame. OK, back to the Tomcat and Taurus…I owned that PT-22, a .22 LR version of the Beretta 21A, for a good while. I appreciated the tip-up barrel. Here is what it looked like:
As you can see, it is a pretty faithful (and legal) copy of the Beretta, except in .22. I shouldn’t have traded it, but I say that about four times a day when I think about some of the guns that have lived here for a while then moved on.
You could sure do worse than buying a Beretta Tomcat (or the Bobcat in .22 or .25). I liked the one I shot and could see it going along with me when walking the woods, hunting, fishing or other outdoor activity. I think that, given its limitations, the Tomcat would be worth a hard second look if you see one in a gun case. Having owned something very similar, I can say that with authority…check it out!
Let me know about your experiences with the Tomcat or other tip-up barrel gun in the comments below. Stay safe and get out and shoot!
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Mike has been a shooter, bullet caster and reloader for over 40 years. Never one to be satisfied with the status quo, he is often found at his reloading bench concocting yet another load. With a target range in his backyard and after 40 years of shooting, his knowledge of firearms and reloading is fairly extensive. He is married, with four sons and daughters-law and 8-and-counting grandkids.