CZ-75: Military Sidearm Extraordinaire
CZ-75B SA in the Factory Box
The 1980s saw the birth of the “Wondernines” – typically defined as a high capacity 9mm full-sized pistol, usually with a double action first shot. The guns that would become iconic for the term were created at least a decade – or in some cases several decades – before the ’80s, but it was the ’80s when the concept really caught on.
This was probably helped greatly by the US adopting the Beretta 92 as our new standard service pistol, designated the M9. This spurred new interest in a number of pistols, such as those based on the S&W 59 series. Sig was in the game with the 226, which was a higher capacity update of the earlier 220-series pistol. but perhaps the best of them was the enigmatic pistol located just a stone’s throw over the other side of the Iron Curtain – the magnificent CZ-75.
Česká zbrojovka Uherský Brod being a bit hard to pronounced to the native English speaking, most Americans know this firm as simply “CZ“. CZ has been around since before WWII, making very high quality small arms. When it came time to modernize the service pistol for the Czech military in the early 1970s, the Czechs continued their path of defying the Soviet rule for those inside the Iron Curtain by turning away the excellent quality (but under powered) Soviet 9x18mm “Makarov” pistol, opting for the more internationally-accepted 9mm Parabellum cartridge.
CZ-75B: the Business End - photo by Mr.Smashy
Designed by veteran CZ designer František Koucký, the CZ-75 was a big departure from anything going on in the East, and more closely followed the direction of handgun design in the West. Time has shown this to be the correct path, and only recently – nearly 40 years late – is Russia catching up. But there were some ulterior motives – CZ’s success with the VZ-58 rifle’s export deals encouraged all future designs to be created with an eye toward this lucrative market. The CZ-75 was a resounding success in this regard. While the Browning Hi-Power is almost unquestionably the most widely distributed military pistol in the world, the CZ-75′s success has earned it the number two slot.
Koucký’s design was a masterpiece of shootability and functionality. There is a certain degree of complexity inherent in most DA auto pistols, but the CZ-75 just seems to have a little less than most. Where the user is concerned, it’s so very similar to a Browning Hi-Power, with field stripping procedure nearly identical.
My Introduction to the CZ-75
My first contact with this pistol was a “contraband” CZ-75 that was purchased by a gentleman in Europe, who sent it to Canada and then somehow finagled it across the border, legally or otherwise… I really don’t know. All I know is this: in the early ’80s a CZ-75 was something you just didn’t see on this side of the Curtain. This particular one was one of the original “Short Rail” guns where the slide rails are quite a bit shorter than current make. I had always heard that all com-bloc weapons were “crude but effective”. There was nothing crude, and everything effective about the CZ-75. The finish was first-rate, the ergonomics were simply outstanding, and man did she shoot!
The double action trigger pull was smoother than any DA auto pistol I had ever felt – I asked if someone had slicked it up, because I just couldn’t believe anything could come from the factory that smooth. He said it wasn’t, and to this day I’m not sure I believe him – while CZ-75 has a nice DA pull, they’re not as nice as that one.
There was one design feature that was really unique in the world of military pistols and seemed to hearken back to one of the early prototypes of the Browning Hi-Power: the slide/frame rail system. Like the original Browning Hi-Power prototype, the CZ-75′s frame encapsulates the rails of the slide, making the slide sit inside of the frame rather than the frame being inside of the slide like most other pistols. There are those who say this was done for accuracy purposes, but I can’t see where either way has any sort of accuracy advantage. What I have
noticed about this arrangement is a reduction in weight. The CZ-75 is a big pistol, much larger than a 1911 – yet while maintaining an all-steel frame, the CZ-75 weighs in at around 33-34oz depending on the specific model. That’s quite a feat.
The previously mentioned “Short Rail” gun was a first year of production gun, where the slide rail only went out about 4/5th of distance of the slide. This didn’t last long, as the first CZ’s did have some reliability problems which seemed to clear up when they extended the slide rails the rest of the way out. Along with the short rails, the original CZ-75s had a rounded trigger guard, much smaller sights, a spur-type hammer and very simple (but to my eye, very attractive) grooved plastic grips. The CZ-75 “B” changed all of this. The trigger guard was squared and checkered in the front to accommodate the popular in the ’70s & ’80s practice of putting the index finger of the support hand on the front of the trigger guard. The hammer went from spur-type to the much more popular rounded “Commander” style. Sights became a little larger and easier to see, and the very classy grooved grips gave way to a more traditional, much less distinctive in appearance, full checkered plastic. What the newer grips gave up in distinctive looks, they more than made up for in ergonomic feel. Along with that fine checkering came a very ergonomic shape that included a very subtle and gentle palm swell… and the new ones didn’t look bad.
CZ-75B sans grip panels - photo by Mr.Smashy
All in all, the external human engineering design is outstanding for this gun. The grip frame shape is just plain excellent, there’s no other word for it. For a pistol that’s holding onto a 15 round magazine and encapsulating a mainspring behind it, the feel is outstanding. The hand is very high on the backstrap, getting the hand as close as possible to being in line with the bore of the gun. This greatly minimizes felt recoil and making follow up shots nearly instantaneous. Those ergonomics really pay off – the CZ-75 is one of the “fastest” shooting guns I’ve ever handled. By “fastest” of course, I mean fastest back onto target. The shape of the front strap helps also because it gives a subtle kick out toward the bottom of the grip, giving your pinky finger just a touch more leverage to control muzzle flip.Another feature really appreciated by us old Colt/Browning aficionados is a frame-mounted thumb safety that allows for cocked and locked carry – the way God and John Browning intended a safety to be. Having a choice in carry modes is a nice touch, and something not at all common.For me, military service says a lot; nothing punishes a firearm like a conscripted soldier. Military service will push the design integrity of a gun unlike any other test you can throw at it; through it all the CZ-75 just continues to give up the goods. Accuracy wise, they range from “pretty accurate” to “very accurate”, and rarely does CZ produce one that shoots much over 3.5″ at 25 yards on average. I have ventilated milk jugs all the way out to 200 yards with a CZ-75. If you’re up to the task, the CZ-75 will deliver.CriticismsCriticisms? Very few in my opinion. The design is becoming a bit dated, so by today’s standards the original 75 is a bit large and a touch heavy. The reach to the DA trigger is pretty long, which makes the pull difficult for those with small hands. If you’re a private individual, this isn’t really an issue as you can just carry it cocked and locked with the knowledge that the firing pin safety acts as a backup to the thumb safety. For those who are issued the CZ-75, this can be an honest problem if their hands are small.
The slide is very petite and that can be a bit problematic for someone not familiar with the CZ-75 while clearing the very rare malfunction, or performing Tap-Rack-Bang drills in training.
That’s about all I can come up with to criticize – and it’s not as if CZ has just slept since inventing the CZ-75; they have taken the core design and morphed it into several other versions to keep it relevant to any market demand today.
The CZ-75 will go down as one of the greatest service pistols of all time. It’s certainly one of my favorites, and just a joy to shoot anytime. What’s more, it’s an absolute top notch, best quality auto pistol for not too much money; certainly much less than most of the other pistols of similar quality.
For someone seeking a good defensive pistol, the CZ-75 is a sound choice.
[Editor's Note: Attributed photos in this article were graciously provided by Mr.Smashy. His work and generosity are much appreciated]