Are there any of the HP clones that are of high quality like the original as a base for custom work? Or should I just keep searching here in CA for an original? Are the MKIII 9mm better base guns than earlier Belgium ones?
You could try Duncan's Gunworks in San Marcos (North of San Diego). I saw two NIB Belgian HP's there about a month ago. Unfortunately for us, HP prices tend to be slightly higher than the rest of the country. E-mail me if you need phone # or address.
I had real good luck with the FM Hi-Power produced in argintina.Browning parts fit and the workmanship appears to be of very high quality. I shot the devil out of mine and had no failures. The last distributer I knew of was in Florida. I can't recall their name but I will look for it.
I have owned several of the FM pistols from Argentina. These are great little shooters and I have customized two of them. The down side is if you buy a used one. It's really not a downside persay. Just check the locking lugs in the top of the slide. If they have been shot up with HOT loads, they tend to round off and lose accuracy. I have only seen this on two and it happened about the time there was a bunch of cheap subgun 9mm curculating from overseas. I think their steel may be a bit softer but with factory standard velocity loads you will never notice it. I also noticed recently, that C&S will do custom work on FMs and the FEG pistols.