By R.K. Campbell
Once a handgun becomes successful it is inevitable that copies or clones of the piece are produced. So it is in spades with the Colt 1911 and less frequently with other handguns. One such handgun is the Czech CZ 75. This innovative handgun was hailed as the greatest service pistol available and little has changed since. The CZ 75 is highly proven in service and rigid government testing on both sides of the ocean and places in between. But the subjects of this feature are the clone guns of the CZ 75. There are quite a few and it isn’t possible to cover every one but we will take a look at the most widespread versions. Most are products of the Italian company Tangfoglio, a maker of quality parts that are sometimes finished by others. Other handguns are completely assembled in Italy. Another clone pistol is produced in Turkey.
The original CZ 75 combined the high magazine capacity of the Browning High Power with the Walther P-38 double action first shot trigger feature. This was not big news: the Smith and Wesson Model 59 and the Beretta 92 did the same. But the CZ 75 did so with a different approach. With all respect to other designs, the CZ 75 has considerably outpaced its rivals in service use and longevity. There have been few problems with the CZ 75 while other handguns have suffered nightmarish problems and a lack of confidence in service. The original CZ 75 features an internal drawback in the double action trigger, compared to the dated external drawbar used on the P-38. The trigger is usually smooth. The single action trigger is also smooth, with most variants breaking at about six pounds, clean, with the characteristic backlash of the type. A trait of the type is that the hammer is rocked slightly to the rear just as the sear breaks. The CZ features a kidney shaped camming surface in the barrel. The slide lock runs through this kidney shaped device. The most innovative feature of the CZ 75 was the slide configuration. The slide is designed to run inside the frame rails. The slide rails are reversed. By using this arrangement, the CZ 75 features a lower bore axis. For control and hand placement in controlling the trigger, the low bore axis is a great advantage. The engineers at CZ managed to produce a double action first shot pistol that has proven as easy to shoot well as the Browning High Power - perhaps even a bit more controllable.
The safety configuration is also important. The pistol is designed to be carried hammer down and ready for a rapid first shot. The safety cannot be placed in the on position with the hammer down. However, clone guns such as the EAA Witness and the ArmaLite AR 24 have modified this safety to allow on safe carry with the hammer down. This is fine as far as it goes and something some shooters seemed to ask for. The CZ has proven a capable handgun appreciated by those ‘in the know.’ But while the pistols are high quality, there was room for improvement.
The European American Armory (EAA) Witness is simply a clone of the C 75 with the majority being produced in 9mm Luger caliber. However, there is a demand for big bore handguns in America and the Witness was soon chambered for other calibers after its introduction. Notably the Witness was available in large numbers in North America when the original CZ was very difficult to obtain. The Witness changed the safety configuration as we have noted. The grip tang was also extended into a longer beavertail. This beavertail resulted in not only lowering the bore axis but in spreading recoil out about the palm in a superior fashion to the original CZ 75. Another advantage of the Witness is that the Witness features superior sights. Witness handguns are available in 9mm, .40, .38 Super, 10mm and .45 ACP. European American Armory got the jump on CZ by offering good quality CZ types before CZ had a presence in America, and offering compact and big bore versions. Good results have been enjoyed with the Witness with never a serious problem that could not be resolved by minor gunsmithing. The extractor needs to be replaced every 5,000 rounds or so and the recoil spring at 3,500 rounds. This was learned in competition shooting though this is not an onerous standard. This is a particularly accurate little beast that will place five rounds of Federal 155 gr. JHP into two inches at 25 yards. The Witness is actually looser than the original CZ 75 upon examination but all seem to work well and the targets do not lie. The compact version is an impressive handgun. Then there is the big Witness in 10mm caliber. The popular press has overlooked this big bore CZ, but the fact is the piece is superior in every way to the original Bren Ten. Here is a 10mm CZ that works!
The CZ 75 B
This is an interesting CZ and no, it is not a clone. It is a real CZ and is included because the CZ 75B compact is obviously an answer to some of the clone guns. Just as Colt offered the 1991 A1 in answer to Springfield’s GI pistol, CZ offers an improved CZ in compact form. The tang is elongated and the dust cover beefed up; a combination of features from other elevated CZ types. And of course it is a big bore. The low bore axis of the CZ is evident, giving good control, and the pistol is among the best balanced of handguns. With the Fiocchi 165 grain JHP, newly introduced, this handgun is particularly accurate. A five shot group of two and one half inches at 25 yards is possible but concentration on the small sights is required.
The AR 24
This may be the most sophisticated and most accurate CZ 75 clone ever. Produced in Turkey for ArmaLite, the AR 24 is well finished. There are slight changes in the tang and grip frame, the pistol features the Witness type safety system, and the sights are first quality. Additionally the slide has been reconfigured to closely resemble the SIG P 210. The P 210 is a well made and fantastically accurate handgun. The AR 24 is also a very accurate handgun. Two inches at twenty five yards with the Black Hills 124 grain JHP is a result that can be achieved with a high likelihood the handgun is capable of even better accuracy. The AR 24 is proving popular and feedback is good. Time will tell but at present this pistol seems to be a winner.
The Baby Desert Eagle
Magnum Research, Inc. imports the massive and impressive Desert Eagle, calling their CZ 75 clone the Baby Desert Eagle. For brevity, and out of affection, most of us call the Baby Desert Eagle the ‘Baby Eagle.’ The Baby Eagle is produced in Israel by Israeli Military Industries. The pistol may feature an Italian made frame and certainly the original Jericho and Uzi pistols were basically Tangfoglio pistols. The Baby Eagle features a very important design change. The safety has been changed to a decocker/safety mounted on the slide. While this seems to be a triumph of the technical over the tactical, many police agencies demand a decocker over a frame mounted safety. The Israelis seem to practice chamber empty carry, so it doesn’t really matter. Despite a three and one half inch barrel the Baby Eagle is very accurate. I have fired groups of three inches or less for five shots at twenty five yards on a number of occasions; with Winchester 230 gr. SXT load proving the most accurate to date. The monolithic frame of the Baby Eagle actually lends it a resemblance to the Desert Eagle. Overall this is a fine handgun and a favorite among the CZ 75 clone guns.
The CZ 75 is a very well designed handgun. It is no surprise that even better handguns have sprung from the original. There is more to come and fans of the CZ 75 should be well pleased.
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