Although Ruger had missed the boat on the U.S. Air Force’s pistol replacement trials in the late 1970s, and the first couple rounds of the Army’s follow-on trails to phase out the M1911– all of which had been won by the Beretta 92– by 1985 company had a double-stack 9mm that would show up for the postscript XM10 pistol trials.
Ruger’s first production centerfire semi-automatic pistol, the P-85, had a lot going on. Using an aluminum alloy frame, stainless barrel, and cast steel slide, the 15+1 shot semi-auto was designed as a combat handgun in an era that had little competition. Double action/single action with an oversized trigger guard and an ambi magazine release, the P-85 was comparable to early “wonder nines” like the S&W 459 and then only recently introduced Sig P226 and Glock 17.
Unlike the Glock, the Ruger pistol was hammer-fired and had molded G.E. Xenoy grip panels. Using a 4.5-inch barrel, weight was 32-ounces overall.
The bad news on the Army contract was that Beretta made it a clean sweep on the XM10 trials, repeating their earlier wins, which kept the P-85 out of the hands of the U.S. military. However, in 1987, Ruger offered their new gun to the public with a (suggested) retail price when introduced of $305, complete with a plastic case and spare magazine. They proved popular in the consumer market and even saw some brisk police sales in its day.
A redesign and subsequent retrofit led to the P-85 MK II series in 1990 which in turn morphed into the P89 after 1992.
Other caliber options followed on the same platform such as the .45ACP P90 and stainless KP90 in 1991 followed by the P91/KP91 in .40 S&W.
The 9mm pistol was also offered in a shortened variant, using 3.9-inch barrels, as the P93/KP93 as well as the P94/K94.
By 1995, the aluminum frame was swapped out for a polymer one to save a few ounces and the P95/KP95 was born. While the P-85 never suited up for military service, the later P95 was sold in small numbers to the U.S. Army for secondary service and several were also later adopted by the post-Saddam Iraqi forces.
An effort to slim the downright chunky pistol series came about in 2005, some two decades after the P-85 was originally developed. This resulted in the P345 which deleted the lanyard ring, featured polyurethane grips and a slimmer frame as well as bringing the option for a dustcover-mounted accessory rail. The swan song in P-series development, the gun would hint heavily at the later SR-series pistols that Ruger would put into production in late 2007.
Gradually, the P-series disappeared from Ruger’s catalog altogether, with the P-95 lingering on until 2013. Still, it was a good run that the company has followed up on with not only their SR-series pistols but also the more current Ruger American and Security-9.
Nonetheless, those looking for an affordable and hardwearing pistol would be well-served to grab an old Ruger P85, P90, or P95 before nostalgia kicks in and they suffer the price increase that comes with collectibility.
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