Chinese Norinco Model 320 ‘Uzi’
By R.K. Campbell

Some sixty years ago the Uzi submachine gun was invented by Captain Uziel Gal. The Uzi 9mm submachine gun was not particularly innovative in some regards as it relied upon proven design principle but the confluence of design proved immediately successful. Primary design features included a telescoping bolt that wrapped around the barrel to increase compactness and the magazine design that was fitted into the grip frame. The safety design is ergonomic. An additional safety measure is a positive grip safety that prevents the trigger from being pressed if the grip safety is not fully compressed. The Uzi proved relatively simple to manufacture, inexpensive compared to imported firearms, and even gave Israel a top of the line commodity for export. The Uzi was born of stark necessity and the need for self preservation and soon became an icon for the fighting ability of Israel. The Uzi Submachine Gun is simple mechanically, firing from an open bolt. The action is a simple blowback with the bolt’s energy harnessed by a powerful recoil spring. The Uzi in its original version fired at a cyclic rate of approximately six hundred rounds per minute. The magazine position allows the user to quickly change magazines simply by meeting the hands in the middle position. This design feature is particularly advantageous in low light battle.

The Uzi is easily one of the most popular submachine guns ever designed. The pistol has been on the price point compared to European designs and reliability has never been an issue. Like any firearm, the Uzi will malfunction if dirty enough but it is more reliable than most firearms. The Uzi was gradually phased out in front line service as the military has realized that fully automatic carbines have greater range and effect than a pistol caliber carbine. Just the same, many are still in service world-wide with both military and police units. The demand for the Uzi by civilians was such that many versions were produced as a semiautomatic carbine or pistol. The efficiency of such a firearm is debatable but no one needs an excuse for owning a replica firearm as a matter of curiosity and interest. The semi-auto carbines also featured a minimum barrel length of sixteen inches in order to conform to federal law. Frankly, the advantages of the 5.56x45mm AR-15 carbine are such that few of us would wish to deploy a 9mm carbine in a tactical situation. There is some merit to the 9mm SMG, but that is another story.

When it comes to the Uzi, many shooters view the type with a sense of history and emotional attachment, much as they may view the Colt 1911 or perhaps even the modern semi-auto replica of the Thompson submachine gun. The original Action Arms carbines are well made of good material and usually prove reliable with full power full metal jacketed ammunition. While the type is not designed to feed open nose, hollow point or jacketed soft point ammunition, the Uzi is usually reliable with modern ammunition types. As an example, an in stock 9mm carbine functioned perfectly with the Remington 115 grain JHP, giving good function and excellent accuracy. The civilian legal semiautomatic carbines fire from a closed bolt rather than an open bolt, which often results in excellent accuracy to some fifty yards or more. However you look at the story, the Uzi carbine is still a long gun firing a short gun cartridge.

Due to the popularity of the Uzi it was inevitable that clones, copies and fakes would be encountered. Some were beat out on a rock and others were manufactured professionally. The Norinco Model 320, the subject of this report, was produced in the mid 1990s in China and is an unlicensed copy. The Chinese do not appear to have used Uzi parts of the original type but to have manufactured every part on their own, including magazines. Original Uzi magazines fit the Norinco 320, but further interchangeability is a guess. The parts appear close in tolerances with certain exceptions but the Chinese parts are obviously of inferior quality. The primary differences in appearance come from the wooden stock used with the Norinco firearm. This was a result of legislation passed during the Clinton era under the guise of the Crime Bill or Assault Weapons Ban. This stock is of rough construction, poorly finished, and less than attractive. An adaptor plate allows it to be bolted to the Norinco receiver. The barrel nut is welded to prevent removal of the barrel, presumably to prevent the changing of the carbine barrel with a shorter illegal barrel length. The magazines were blocked to ten round capacity as well. The Norinco 320 exhibits sharp edges not found on the original Uzi. This is a sure sign of cheap manufacture. The finish is a gray phosphate that mars easily. There is a slight difference in the contour of the ejection port compared to the original Uzi design. There are two holes in the rear of the receiver, on the bottom, that allow mounting of the adaptor plate for the wooden stock. These are not present on the original Uzi design. The drop and length of pull of the wooden stock are considerably different than the Uzi, whether the original was fitted with a wooden stock or a folding design. There are other problems with the stock as we shall see.

The evaluation of the Norinco Model 320 encompassed two different firearms and a number of ammunition types. The first example proved unreliable with all types of ammunition, occasionally firing three rounds or so and then it would exhibit a feed issue. Sometimes it would actually feed and chamber but when the trigger was pressed the firing pin would not be cocked! This was a problematic firearm. The second example proved to be shootable at least, with several hundred rounds fired, but it was not completely reliable with all ammunition. Most commercial non +P ammunition proved to be unreliable in this example. Finally, we were able to isolate two types of ammunition that functioned with acceptable reliability. The first is a proven handload that has demonstrated excellent reliability in a broad spectrum of self loading 9mm firearms over the years. This load involves the Hornady 124 grain flat point FMJ bullet over enough Unique powder for 1,150 fps from a pistol barrel. Cranked out by the hundreds on a Dillon, this load has served many high volume shooters well. The second example is the Fiocchi 123 grain Combat, a truncated cone design that gives good reliability. Oddly enough, truncated cone projectiles have always been problematic in Uzi SMGs. The Norinco exhibited a problem that isn’t easily fixed. The wooden stock is so large and poorly fitted that it often prevents a shooter from fully depressing the grip safety. Since the grip safety must be depressed to operate the bolt, this was a problem in administrative handling as well as firing. There is no easy fix other than modifying or replacing the stock. (Be sure to comply with local and Federal law when modifying this firearm.) We managed to work with the piece as issued but it was a chore to keep the grip safety full depressed during the firing sessions. A heavy trigger that proved to be inconsistent at best limited accuracy. The sights are a straight forward copy of the original Uzi sights so they are models of close range battle sights. Accuracy was not particularly encouraging and was far inferior to the original Action Arms carbines. It was a very good and patient shooter that could average a four-inch fifty yard group from a rock solid rest with the Norinco Model 320.

A subjective and objective outlook on a historical piece such as the Uzi often finds a valid comparison clouded by emotional attachment. The Norinco Model 320 is poorly made compared to the original and unlike the original Uzi, the Norinco model is only marginally reliable, per our testing. There is always the chance we managed to obtain two poor or worn out examples but the two test firearms seem representative of the breed. Only physically testing a firearm confirms opinions and impressions. As you grow older you run out of trustworthy people and the same may be true of firearms. Sometimes the legend isn’t a match for the steel. In the case of the Uzi, the author and his circle of professional friends have never seen an unqualified malfunction. Only poor ammunition or well worn magazine springs will cause the Uzi to malfunction. We have never seen a reliable Norinco 320. If you are considering a 9mm carbine for personal defense this is not the one. People commit inconceivable acts to survive, for cash, for drugs, and sometimes for the sheer joy of causing human misery and suffering. During a crisis, human mental degeneration is a sad fact. I would be very uncomfortable having to defend myself with a Norinco Model 320 in such a situation. On the other hand, if you are only looking for an example of the Uzi, and perhaps a recreational shooter, then this piece qualified - with certain parts upgrades to produce a semi-reliable firearm. But the Norinco should only be purchased at a fraction of the price of a true Uzi and resale value would be correspondingly low. Also, some experimentation is needed to find a reliable ammunition type. For recreational shooting, much of the inexpensive loads found on the shelf may not function the Norinco and even the loads proven in other firearms are not always a sure bet in this firearm. The Uzi is an interesting piece of history while the Norinco 320 is a poor copy.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (November 2012)
and was posted online on October 5, 2012


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