The CZ-75 Pistol

The best thing that ever came out of the Warsaw Pact

CZ-75 Compact from author's collection -- photo by author

Not much good came out of the Cold War.
The CZ-75 pistol was a shining exception.

 

Designed in 1975 or thereabouts in the Czech Republic, which was known then as Czechoslovakia, it was intended from the beginning as an export item to sell to the West. As such it was chambered for the NATO standard 9x19 (aka: "9mm Parabellum" or "9mm Luger") cartridge. Then, as so often happens, politics reared its ugly head and the design was considered so good that it was given a “secret patent” and export to the West was forbidden. This “secret” status prevented patenting it in Western nations, and when a few of the pistols made their way into Western Europe and even finally to the USA the design was quickly appreciated and even cloned by other gun manufacturers creating a large market for a gun that was essentially impossible to buy. This situation ended with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. CZ was able to sell their pistols worldwide, often competing with clones of themselves.

The basic CZ-75 pistol uses the nearly-ubiquitous Browning tilt-barrel locked breech design, and is very similar to the Browning P-35 (or “High-Power”) benefiting from the improvements Browning made to his own 1911 pistol. There is no barrel bushing used, and none seems needed. The CZ-75 uses a double-column magazine containing 15 rounds of 9x19 ammunition in its standard configuration. The trigger mechanism operates in what is now commonly called DA/SA mode; that is, the first round may be fired from either the hammer-down position or from the hammer-cocked position at the shooter’s choice and subsequent rounds are fired in “single-action” mode from the hammer-cocked position. There is no mechanical decocker provided; after shooting the user uses his/her thumb to control the hammer and allow it to return to rest by pulling the trigger. This is the same process that has been used for over a century. Since about 1990 CZ-75’s have incorporated an automatic firing-pin block that prevents the firing pin from contacting the cartridge unless the trigger is fully pulled. A manual safety is located on the left rear side of the frame convenient to the thumb of the firing hand (for right-handed shooters). The pistol may be carried with the hammer down or cocked, and with the safety engaged or not. Safety concerns advise against carrying with the hammer cocked and the safety disengaged – but it can be done. This pistol allows the shooter to decide which mode of carry to use. The CZ-75 is an old-school design being made of all steel except for the grip panels.

Field-stripping the CZ-75  is done in a very straightforward manner. First the pistol is unloaded and verified to be unloaded and the magazine is removed. Hold the two marks at the rear of the frame and slide aligned with each other (the slide will need to be moved rearward about one-quarter to three-eighths of an inch -- or about 9mm.). Next remove the slide stop pin by pressing it inward (right to left) so that the slide stop lever moves a little bit away from the left side of the frame. I usually use the corner of a magazine's base pad to do this since my fingers aren't all that strong. Then pull the slide stop all the way out of the frame. The slide is easily removed from the frame at this time by simply sliding it forward. The recoil spring, guide rod, and barrel are removed from the slide in a straightforward manner. What you have should look something like this photo (less the shotgun shell, of course). The very observant among you may notice that I use a Shock-Buf. It's not really necessary, but I like to protect the frame from any possible battering by the slide, and it doesn't hurt anything. It's really a good product.

 
Photo by author

 

Is the CZ-75 an attractive pistol? That is a completely subjective point. It was designed as a fighting tool. The finish is a durable black paint (probably some sort of epoxy) that seems to hold up well (my CZ-75 Compact is over 20 years old and shows little wear). The sights are dovetailed into the slide and can be replaced easily if you can find ones to fit. That is really the only negative point I can think of regarding the CZ-75 – the aftermarket seems to have ignored this pistol. I have found Tritium night sights for it and used them until the Tritium died. I now have fibre optic sights on it and they make things a lot easier on my 70 year-old eyes!  Oh yeah, to these old eyes it is, indeed, an attractive pistol.

   
Photo by author

The trigger and overall “feel” are critical for any firearm. The trigger in the CZ-75 is the equal of most high-quality DA/SA pistols. With a very little basic gunsmithing it became quite good. The SA trigger breaks at a crisp 3.5 pounds on my CZ-75 Compact. In DA mode it feels better than any other DA trigger I own – and I own a few! It breaks at a little over the maximum reading of my gauge (8 pounds) and I figure it is about 9 pounds.The SA mode is crisp and clean, with just enough pre-letoff movement to ensure that there is sufficient sear-to-hammer engagement that it is safe to carry. Again, this is a fighting pistol, not a target pistol. The thing that can’t be measured or really described well is how the pistol “feels” in your hand. The CZ-75 feels better to me than any other autopistol I own or have fired. It reminds me of a Browning P-35 I once owned, and that says a lot.

 

For a fighting pistol, reliability is an absolute necessity. My CZ-75 has never failed to function other than when fed bad reloads (my problem, not the gun’s). That is with any kind of factory load and any reloads that were done well. The design of the barrel/feed ramp system helps with reliable feeding, and speaking of the barrel, it is fully-supported in the area of the feed ramp allowing use of any and all 9mm loads, even the hottest SMG and +P+ loads without danger of ruptured cases.  After over 20 years of use and a lot of dry-fire practice (probably not a good idea) I had to replace a broken firing pin. I quickly obtained a replacement from the CZ Custom Shop at a very reasonable price and things have been going well ever since.

 

“How’s the accuracy?”, I hear you ask. Well, I can’t actually give a good measure of that. I know that it shoots to point of aim well and that it shoots a lot better than my old eyes allow. In IDPA competition it has hit every target it has been asked to. Honestly, any measure of accuracy here would only be a measure of my old eyes, not the CZ-75, as I do not have access to a pistol rest.

 

Good points:
Accurate enough
Reliable
Good “feel”
Allows for the shooter to choose the mode of carry
Not priced unreasonably high
Carries a decent number of fairly high-powered pistol cartridges
Made of steel
Has an external hammer (some may not like this, but I do)

Bad points
Some people may find the grip too wide
Poor aftermarket support
May be a little heavy for some people to carry
9x19 may be a bit low-powered for some people

How could it be improved?
Make it available in an aluminium-alloy framed version
Make it available in a slightly larger frame size to allow for .45 acp, 9x23, or 10mm chamberings
Make other finishes available
Make a version with an accessory rail (but don’t eliminate the rail-less version)

Do I "hear" someone asking "What about the clones?" Yes, there are quite a few companies making clones of the CZ-75 these days. The clones with which I am familiar are in the EAA Witness line and they are made by Fratierri Tanfoglio in Italy and imported into the USA by European American Arms. Like all, or almost all, CZ-75 clones the Tanfoglio guns are not an exact copy. You will find small differences and some of the parts that look the same won't interchange. The CZ has sights that are dovetailed into the slide. Most of the Tanfoglio clones use a front sight that is an integral part of the slide. Replacing the front sight on an EAA Witness requires machining the slide. On the original CZ the safety cannot be engaged when the hammer is not cocked; on the Tanfoglio clones the safety can be engaged with the hammer in either position. A firing pin block is incorporated by both the originals and the clones. On CZ pistols the block is pushed out of the path of the firing pin against spring pressure; on the Tanfoglio clones the block works the other way around -- it is held in the path of the firing pin by the trigger mechanism and spring pressure removes it when the trigger is pressed. Both methods work but they are obviously not the same.

The Tanfoglio clones have a couple of different finishes available -- notably blued and what EAA calls their "Wonder Finish" which seems to be a matte hard-chrome of some sort. It's really pretty good. Tanfoglio makes CZ-75 clones in two different frame sizes which has led to no end of confusion in the US.First is the "small frame" size which is the same as the original CZ pistols and can only be chambered in cartridges no larger than .40 S&W. Then there is the "large frame" size which is just enough larger than the CZ pistols that it allows the chambering of the .45 ACP and similar cartridges. Adding to the confusion is the fact that both small and large frame guns are made in full-size and compact versions. EAA once imported 9mm and .40 S&W pistols from Tanfoglio in the small frame versions and .45 ACP, .38 Suoer, and 10 mm Auto pistols in the large frame versions. There was lots of confusion here. EAA has since changed their policy and all their Witness pistols are made on Tanfoglio's large frame version -- except for some limited-edition "classic" models. But the good side of all this confusion is that we do have a CZ-75 clone that is available in .45 ACP, .38 Super (also 9x23 Winchester for the adventurous) and 10mm Auto! Most of the clones are available with accessory rails now, and some are even made with plastic frames for those who like such things. Need to customise your CZ-75 clone? Check out Henning's shop. He specialises in Tanfoglio clones, but he may have parts and accessories for others as well. I don't really know since I don't own any other clones.

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