The Taurus Model 85: A Classic Carry Gun

— Travis PikeCADRE Dispatch

Taurus is a behemoth. Beyond handguns, they’ve brought rifles and shotguns to the market in recent years and have worked hard to be a reputable, innovative company.

The gunmaker has existed since 1941 but didn’t start importing firearms into the United States until 1968. They began with importing two firearms, the Model 85 and the Model 66. Of the two guns, the Model 85 would become the flagship of Taurus revolvers. 

The Model 85: Keeping Heeled 

The Taurus Model 85, with its familiar S&W J-Frame design, is a testament to a significant event in the company’s history.

In 1962, the Bangor Punta Corporation, which already owned S&W, acquired a controlling stake in Taurus. This strategic partnership allowed the two companies to share data and designs, leading to the development of the Model 85. Inspired by S&W’s successful concealed carry revolvers, this revolver became Taurus’ flagship. 

I say ‘inspired’ because S&W has several guns that fit this description, including the Model 40 and 42 and their descendants.

However, the Model 85 is not based on a specific S&W Model; It’s more or less just another J frame-sized revolver. Taurus and S&W were competitors to a degree, but they were also cooperators. S&W produced high-quality, American-made designs that were a known source. 

fancy stainless steel taurus model 85
The Taurus Model 85 came in tons of configurations and styles. (IMFDB)

A Working Man’s Gun

Manufacturing the Model 85 in Brazil was cheaper, allowing Bangor Punta to produce a more affordable option for those who couldn’t afford S&W money. The guns look very similar on the outside, but if you pop the side plate off, there are some differences. 

The older Taurus guns were less refined, which typically led to a perfectly reliable gun but a noticeable difference in their general smoothness. The trigger, cylinder release, and ejection rod might not be as smooth as the S&W equivalent. 

By 1973, Bangor Punta had sold Taurus, and any ties to S&W had been severed. However, the Model 85 remained a popular firearm for Taurus. In the 1970s, small revolvers were the guns for concealed carry, and Taurus offered an affordable but reliable option. It was a stout little gun that could fit into a pocket or purse without a problem. 

While the world moved onto automatics, Taurus kept pumping out Model 85s. It was the little gun that could. They certainly must have sold plenty of them. The Model 85 was a working man’s gun. 

Taurus 85 blued
The Taurus Model 85 served concealed carriers for almost 50 years.

It might not be the gun a gun nerd would choose, but if the average person needed a little gun to protect themselves, the Model 85 was an easy choice. For the average person, a $100 price difference is massive, and you don’t mind a gritty trigger or the fact it’s made in Brazil instead of Massachusetts. Add in the fact that Taurus had a lifetime warranty, and it was likely an easy sale. 

We know the gun was popular because they kept making new models alongside the standard Model 85. 

The Many Model 85 Configurations

Your standard Taurus Model 85 features a 1.87-inch to 2-inch barrel, a five-shot cylinder, and a hammer. Finishes varied between stainless steel, blued, and matte black. That’s about as plain as a snub nose, but it gave a Taurus a base to build various models. 

850 – The Taurus 850 simply bobbed the hammer to create a more snag-free gun with a double-action-only design. 

851 – The 851 or the Protector used a shrouded hammer with a small tab that still allowed the user to cock the action. It’s similar to the early models of the S&W Bodyguard. 

Tuaurs model 851
The 851 used a shrouded, but still accessible hammer.

Polymer Protector – The Polymer Protector used polymer for the frame and to reinforce certain parts of the gun. This somewhat ugly gun aimed to be lighter than the 85 but also remain affordable. 

poly protector model 85
The Poly Protector broke the ugly mold.

85VTA – The 85VTA, also known as the View, was an even smaller .38 Special that used a 1.41-inch barrel, an aluminum frame, and a titanium cylinder. A grip redesign made the gun even smaller.

The name “View” came from the clear polycarbonate side plate that allowed you to see the gun’s inner workings. Eventually, a “No View” model with an aluminum side plate was introduced. 

taurus view
The View was a bit of a failed experiment.

85SS3 — This variant featured a 3-inch barrel but was identical to the standard Model 85 in every other way. 

Model 85 with 3 inch barrel
The Model 85 is typically a snub nose, but there was a 3-inch model.

Beyond the models with external differences, Taurus also made the Model 85 in UltraLite configurations to cut weight. One of these Ultralite guns even used a titanium frame, cylinder, and barrel shroud. The Titanium models are fairly rare these days and tough to find. 

A Model 85 Ultra-Lite.

The End of the Taurus Model 85 

You might be asking, “If the Model 85 is so great, why did Taurus discontinue it in 2017?” That’s true. It’s no longer in their catalog. The gun’s run from 1968 to 2017 is quite impressive, though. That was 49 years of constant production. Was the gun no longer good enough? Not quite. 

Taurus found a way to fit a sixth round in the five-shot cylinder without increasing the gun’s bulk. This gun became the Taurus Model 856, which has now replaced the Model 85. It doesn’t make much sense to produce five-shot and six-shot models of the same gun. 

In the world of firearms, more ammo is better than less ammo, so it made sense for the Model 85 to be retired and for its son, the 856, to take over. The 856 has become successful in its own right and developed into a family of firearms. 

I think it’s a testament to the Model 85’s prowess that the only thing that could replace it was the same gun with an extra round. That’s what I call staying power. 

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