The JO.LO.AR. pistol, like car phones or the portable record player, fits the profile of an invention that seemed a whole lot more clever on paper than it was in actuality. That doesn’t change how undeniably weird and cool-looking it is.
Where you’ve seen it:
Odds are good you haven’t.
Back in 1919, a Spanish gun dealer named Jose Lopez Arnaiz (see what he did there? JO.LO.AR.) came up with the best solution ever for a problem that never really existed. He believed his invention—a steel lever screwed into the slide of a semi-automatic pistol—would turn a conventional handgun into a dexterous weapon capable of effortless one-handed operation. In simpler terms, armed with a pistol of his design, you could rack the slide—chambering the first round if you were carrying without one in the tube—using only the pointer and middle fingers of your shooting hand. Living during a time when horse-mounted cavalry still seemed a viable force on the battlefield (one could assume they rode with one hand on the reins, the other on their sidearm), Arnaiz was certain his invention would succeed commercially. After securing a patent, Arnaiz sought out a deal with Hijo de Calixto Arrizabalaga, a Spanish gunmaker. The management at Arrizabalaga liked the idea of the JO.LO.AR., but were in no mood for taking a huge risk on it. Their ‘Sharp Shooter’ line of blowback-operated pistols had a history of poor sales, making it the perfect candidate for an experimental improvement.
After the addition of an extractor, the removal of the weapon’s trigger guard, and the addition of Arnaiz’s Palanca (lever), the newly recast JO.LO.AR. was ready. Now there are a couple of things I took issue with when I first handled this gun: First, I questioned how black and blue my knuckles would be after shooting this piece with that lever hanging down. Fortunately, the gun’s recoil swings the lever out of the way of the hand during firing, and the mechanism does work as advertised to charge the pistol (even if it takes the finger strength of of a concert pianist to tug it back). Second is what I believe to be the reason Arnaiz’s idea never took off: The weapon comes equipped with a tip-up barrel as seen on the modern Beretta 86—a handy addition for the individual who wants to drop a round in the chamber without the need to rack the slide. In this configuration, all you’d need to do is thumb the hammer back and the gun’s ready—almost certainly easier than using the JO.LO.AR.’s stiff cocking lever. Unless you’re hell bent on carrying this gun in condition 3 (Chamber empty, full magazine in place, hammer down), there’s really no practical reason for Arnaiz’s invention.
Though the JO.LO.AR. was produced in five different calibers (.25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, 9mm Largo, and .45 ACP), the most common examples were chambered to the 9mm Largo—not to be confused with conventional 9mm (9×19 Parabellum) or the .38 Super (which fits in the chamber and, if fired, may turn a scarce pistol into an M-80 firecracker).
Arnaiz would have done better to have sold his patent when there was an inkling of interest in it rather than refusing to sell or license his beloved invention. Instead, during the entire course of production, Arrizabalaga had to deliver the JO.LO.AR.s to Arnaiz, who would install his invention on them before sending them on to the purchaser. This worked for a short while before the two parties experienced a falling out. Though still convinced of the value of his invention, Arnaiz never found another manufacturer to produce pistols for him. In total, fewer than 30,000 JO.LO.AR.s made it into the world market—most ending up in the holsters of the Portuguese or Peruvian mounted police. That said, the JO.LO.AR. is an enormously fun gun to shoot, always gets attention at the range, and will surely go down in the annals of history as one of the oddest handguns to surface in the early 20th century.