A Gun We’ve Always Liked: Whitney Wolverine

This one takes us back, as a hack Freudian analyst would, to our childhood (imagine echoes: “childhood, childhood…). We never had a Whitney Wolverine, but we had this:

Zebra-IIIt was a “Zebra” toy gun that shot pellets, and it was, as you’ll see, a ringer for the style of the Whitney, except compressed to about a Walther PPK form factor — perfect for a child’s hand. The only hard part was keeping it running; every James Bond or Cops and Robbers session left you a few less pellets to the good… and God alone help you if Mom found them first, because no power on Earth would help you at that juncture.

Here’s a beautiful Whitney, from a well-written post at the Smith & Wesson Forum:


While the Zebra toy was made in uncounted millions, and clones remain in production today, the Whitney started production in 1956 — 60 years ago today! — and it was all over by 1959 with exactly 13,371 pistols made. A few were made in nickel finish with white grips, and they’re really striking:

wolverine nickel

WOLVERINE-GUNS-3-19582Whether it was the space age, futuristic styling — retro-futuristic now that we’re living in the future designer Robert Hillberg, who came from aerospace (naturally), imagined — or whether it was that it was more expensive than another elegant .22 made by a start-up, the Ruger Mark I, the bold Whitney flopped with the same guys who bought Plymouths with gigantic tail fins and push-button transmissions, and Fords with plastic bubble tops. Or it could have been the marketing and legal It might be an interesting case study for a forensic or historical MBA.

The gun itself had a decent reputation as a fun-to-shoot .22, slightly picky about ammo.

Recently, Olympic Arms produced a clone with a plastic frame. It, too, tends to like premium high-velocity ammo, and jams on el cheapo Aguila (doesn’t everything?) Reportedly, many of the Olympic parts can be refitted to repair old Whitneys.

Here’s pictures of the two, from that same forum thread:

Wolverine and OlympicOlympic Wolverine Clone

While Ruger used several techniques, including steel investment casting and build-up of parts from laminated steel sheets joined with rivets, Whitney’s gun was primarily made of steel and aluminum investment castings. As you can see in the slightly-open Olympic clone above, the breech block traveled within the frame, like the Ruger (or a Nambu, Glisenti, and many other designs down through the years).

Disassembly and reassembly of the Whitney is a challenge — it’s ridiculously easy to take to pieces, many of which come out under spring pressure and, in accordance with Murphy’s description of the universe’s fundamental physical laws, are either transformed into energy or strategically position themselves in the most inaccessible niche beneath or behind furniture or machinery. Having, once the round-up of the itinerant parts is complete, a pile of pistol parts, reverting them to a functional pistol is a degree more difficult. But no special tools are required.

One elegant feature of Whitney design is seen in the magazine. Whereas most .22 pistol mags have a button for retracting the magazine follower to ease loading, the Whitney has a hole.  It’s a perfect fit for a .22 round or casing. There’s your button!

What occasioned this post? We were working on something else, but a Redditor, rocketboy2319 (how appropriate!) posted that he’d scored this Whitney, and posted it to Imgur:

Wolverine genty used R

It’s a non-Wolverine “post trademark dispute model” — Hillberg agreed to drop the Wolverine name when Lyman pointed out that had a trademark. (He’d chosen the name because he was a Michigan fan, and you might see a little U of M symbolism in the factory box).

In the Reddit thread he notes:

It truly is [sexy]. When they pulled it out at the FFL where I had it transferred, everyone came over to check it out. Most of the guys there has only seen pictures of them. I really want one of the nickel-plated ones they made, but I’m not willing to pay $2000+ right now. Out the door with shipping from the original dealer and transfer fees this came out to $385.

Wolverine genty used

And a commenter has this helpful tip:

If you ever order magazines from Olympic, let them know that they are for a vintage Wolverine, not one of their new ones. Apparently, there is some special tweaking that they do for vintage Whitneys. The one I bought from them works like a champ.

There’s some handling wear on the alloy frame/envelope of the gun, and it shows just how well it holds up (compared to the corrosion and pitting often evident on average steel firearms of similar vintage).

(Note: With Revenge of Small Dog going on here, posting may be slow for a day or two. As the posting of today’s six AM post almost at noon ought to tell you. We’ll keep dispensing the gun crack, it’s just going to take us longer –Ed). 

34 thoughts on “A Gun We’ve Always Liked: Whitney Wolverine

  1. Aesop

    Had the Zebra. Always wanted a bag the size of doggie chow with the pellets. Never enough ammo was not strictly an adult complaint.
    Also had another similar type that shot the day-glow plastic discs.
    Great for keeping the kitties on their toes.

    The Whitney looks like a fun toy that should be resurrected.

    1. John M.

      I had a disc gun also. The discs kind of had a mind of their own, making them hard to aim, but that was also part of the fun.

      -John M.

      1. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

        Had the Zebra, quite a few, the pump shotgun version too. The pump was prone to breaking at the reciever/stock joint, it would still work but only for a bad guy gun, Reed or Malloy would not be caught with the sawed off.

        Had the disk guns too, pistol and carbine.

        Still want a pair of Barretta pistols Duracoated blue and orange like the dart guns back in the day.

        The Wolverines are nice but for the money I’d rather have a High Standard auto and a Double Nine revolver.

  2. Jay Dee

    Got to shoot my friend’s new Wolverine. It was a hoot. Looked like something that should be a Flash Gordon serial.

  3. Sommerbiwak

    “Your father’s Whitney. This is the weapon of a .22 plinker. Not as clumsy or random as a Desert Eagle. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.”

    1. Hognose Post author

      Well, the VP70 is like the version a kid drew in his grade school notebook — if the kid had no artistic talent.

  4. Bert

    The new, plastic framed version comes in COLORS. Bright ones.

    GF bough a shocking pink framed one. “My gun is cute!” And quite likely to be mistaken for the toy, at a quick glance…

    1. John M.

      I am no fan of brightly-colored guns for this reason. Guns should look like serious tools. Anything else is just asking for trouble. Nobody makes pink chainsaws.

      -John M.

      1. Slow Joe Crow

        That’s what my wife said when we were shopping for a Ruger SR22. She turned down the Lilac frame in favor of basic black, but she did like the burnt bronze model.
        Back to the topic of space age looking .22 pistols, what are your thoughts on the Beretta Neos?

        1. Bert

          Oddly enough, she bought a Neos (black and red 2 tone), tried it out and sold it because she did not like the trigger. Still got some mags for it that were not found for the guy who bought it.

          Neither the Neos’ grip angle or trigger worked for me either, but I have dad’s High Standard Olympic (from the late 1950’s?), which is like a space gun made of blued steel and walnut…

    2. 10x25mm

      Pink gun in the hands of a woman does say “This is my gun” with the implication that she knows how to use it. All she needs is a look of steely determination. Black gun in the hands of a woman posits the questions: “Is it her husband’s/boyfriend’s?” “Does she really know how to use it?”

  5. redc1c4

    something else new to look for… speaking of looking for rare things

    we went down to El Cajon this weekend to transfer a Ruger Mk II that Resident Evil found on Gun Broker (can’t buy them new here in #Failifornia, because “safety list”)

    stopped by a random FFL down the street from where we did the deed, and found a Santa Fe Arms 1903A3, and, better yet, a 1911 with Cyrillic markings.

    not a typo: it’s a Russian Contract Colt from 1916. no import marks and it’s in great shape. only apparent non-original item is the barrel.

    pics to the host after we pick it up.

      1. redc1c4

        the SN checks out to 1916, so we’re in the right ballpark…

        we’ll see when we get it home and can send pics to Colt. if it all pans out, you’ll get scans/pics, etc, for a poast here.

  6. Badger

    I used to see that Whitney in the (drool-spattered) pages of my childhood gun catalogs; might’ve been a Stoeger’s Shooter’s Bible of the time. It looked fast sitting still. Jealous of your Zebra; that would’ve been quite the sidearm companion to the BB gun when we played in the canyons on the edge of the San Fernando Valley (different country then). Makes me remember a souvenir ‘musket’ I got at Knott’s Berry Farm once (pre-lawyers). Cork balls, powered by caps, energizing the ball in the time-tested method. If the hammer spring was in good shape you could enhance the MV by doubling over 2 caps in the slot if you folded them right. Bunch of us had ’em. Good enough range to defend the walls of the Alamo, aka, ones backyard in a post-WWII tract sub-division. I like that Zebra as a last-ditch thing though; maybe they came after my time.

  7. Y.

    Damn, I want one bad.

    Why can’t someone make proper, new clones? Plastic frames should die in a fire..

  8. Squid

    I have a pair of Beretta Neos. They are a mite too tiny for my paws but perfect for the kids.

    Since I’m frequently shooting with newbies, Boy Scouts, or other people’s kids I put cheap holographic sights on them. We call them the space guns and use them for their first time ever pistol shooting.

    Never jammed. Always hits where the holo sight had the spot unless somebody dropped it. Then cheap takes over. Great teaching tools that look cool.

  9. 10x25mm

    Best advice on stripping the Whitney: do it at the bottom of a 2’x2’x3′ cardboard box. Any used Whitney you buy today will be simply filthy internally and that filth will impede functioning. No one ever cleaned a Whitney without losing enough parts to render them inoperable. Clean them up and they run well, for a long time. But they really do throw parts when you disassemble them. Bought mine cheap from owners who complained they didn’t function. Every one worked well after a good cleaning.

    Think the only casting in a Whitney is their die cast aluminum frame. The rest of the parts are small, single function pieces of steel either stamped from sheet or machined from bar.

    1. Tom Stone

      I have sen three over many decades of visiting gun shows.
      One was in the box, unfired and with the original receipt.
      One was a parts gun and one was badly worn but allegedly functional.
      Very cool guns.

  10. Dienekes

    I remember the Whitneys from back in the day. The day(s) when I had no money, that is. Always did like them. When Olympic came out with theirs some years back I grabbed one. Big mistake; the recommended ammo was CCI Mini-Mags, and sometimes it would actually get through a full mag without a jam. Other ammo gave 2-3 jams out of a mag. The gun was terminally cute but that was its only virtue.

    Sold it cheap to get rid of it. Still have the hardbound book on the original Whitneys; it should go to a good home.

  11. vorkosigan

    Owned a Whitney for a while, some years back, cool gun looked great, fit the hand nicely, but as noted, many fiddly stamped metal parts upon disassembly for cleaning. Not as bad as a Ruger MkI , but then, what is? reasonably accurate, but jammed or failure to feed more than I liked. Good collectable, wish i still had it– along with a lot of others.

  12. raven

    The perfect .22 pistol has come and gone. The Colt Woodsman.
    Svelte, beautiful, light and accurate. Milled from steel, polished and blued.
    The Whitney is “styled”, with style being a main consideration.
    The Woodsman is styled by function, like a Spitfire.
    JMB did good work.

    1. Hognose Post author

      The High Standard began as a single-shot copy of the Woodsman’s “style” and early ones even used Woodsman magazines. (You see that on a lot of European 6.35 and 7.65mm pistols… Browning mags fit, because the designers copied the Browning mag exactly).

      1. John M.

        I wish more designers copied each others’ mag designs exactly. How many double-stack 9mm magazine designs does the world need?

        -John M.

          1. raven

            As long as it is not a glock mag. That, IMO, was the biggest single error in the design- it adds a few irreducible mm to the grip width and depth- and ends up being the “block” in Glock. Plus I hate the slippery plastic on plastic release-too easy to drop a mag inadvertently.

            But let’s talk muzzle brakes for a second- today in the IWM photo records, under Royal Artillery, I saw a photo of a 9 pounder, brass barreled piece with a series of about 1″ diameter angled holes around the muzzle, extending back about a foot or so. Definitely a startling looking compensator- it was 1863 IIRC. Bet the back blast from that was a bit toasty.

          2. John M.


            I find the “steel-coated-in-polymer” design to be quite robust. Both steel and polymer have their own problems as magazine materials, and covering the steel in the polymer uses each to help the other. I hadn’t considered the width problems associated with that, but then, I have small hands and find the Glock 19 to be adequately svelte for use, especially in Gen 4 trim.

            But then, our host said something about “engineering” and “tradeoffs.”

            -John M.

          3. raven

            That extra plastic around the mag does not make a 9mm feel too huge- where it really makes a difference is with the larger cartridges.
            Most of the big manufacturers use a steel magazine with no problems.
            I think glock got locked in by their own promotional efforts. Once they extolled “perfect plastic” it is hard to change course. Too bad, because the larger calibers came later and they could have gone to an all steel mag for those without any compatibility issue with the existing 9mm’s.
            My experience with German and Austrian firms (in other industries) is that the corporate culture has a strong dose of “we know best”, and are very reluctant to entertain outside suggestions.

    2. Larry

      What’s your opinion of the S&W model 41? That’s a mighty fine shooter, esp. with 7″ bull barrel.

  13. Mike_C

    >a Michigan fan, and you might see a little U of M symbolism in the factory box
    Heh. Doubtless burning the butts of partisans of the state’s other major university, Michigan State. (At the risk of getting all Game of Thrones, MSU. Sigil: Argent, a Spartan helmet sinister vert (or vice versa!). Motto: Advancing knowledge.) While you’re undoubtedly right about the homage to Michigan in the color scheme, I prefer to think of it as a sublimated yearning for Sweden*. The blue of Michigan is more of a navy blue, and the yellow is actually designated “maize” but then again, a photographic contemporary of the Whitney Wolverine, the infamous Argus C3 “brick” (1939-1966) of Ann Arbor, MI was packaged in similar colors. [Image stolen from some ebay vendor — I dug out my similarly colored Argus C44 lens box but forgot to bring it this morning.]

    The Whitney is a neat piece of industrial design. Howard Chaykin should have modeled the Rangers’ side arms after it in his American Flagg! series (in which homage is paid to Raymond Loewy, among others).

    *Sweden: we Finns (and mock-Finns) have a complicated relationship with Sweden.

  14. Docduracoat

    That is a way cool retro- futuristic gun!
    They should make a 9 mm that looks like a sci fi blaster
    The white stocked Steyr Aug rifles look exactly like an imperial storm trooper gun
    I bet lots of people would buy a sci if pistol that shot 9 mm!

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