Shadow Line: The Power of Small Things

By David Pazdera

It is no big secret that the initially envisaged and planned new main product among pistols made by Ceská zbrojovka a.s. for 2013 was supposed to be the CZ P-09 polymer pistol. However, the plans of the company, located in Uherský Brod, were up-ended by the extraordinary commercial successes of the compact CZ P-07 Duty. The new “plastic” model to be made in Uherský Brod will have to wait for the start of series production, still some months to come, as there is simply no production capacity to spare. Nevertheless, Ceská zbrojovka had another iron in the fire, so the position of this year’s main pistol product was promptly moved to the original threesome of structurally linked models of the Shadow Line series.

This author first became aware of the “Three Sisters” of the Shadow Line in the second half of 2012, when at Ceská zbrojovka the final version of the new general catalogue was just being made. Frankly speaking, according to information available at that time, I did not expect any big event. Description of the new models gave the impression, that they just took three well-established pistols of the CZ 75 series – compact, standard and SP-01 – and outfitted them with a handful of features from the commercially successful CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow. In February 2013 and I, together with other Czech professional journalists, had the first opportunity to more thoroughly examine the new handguns, shoot them and we were in for a pleasant surprise. Yes, the design of all three pistols is directly based on the above mentioned and currently manufactured models and indeed they incorporate Shadow features; nevertheless all alterations are so sensitive and thoughtful that the result are handguns with significantly new, widely improved user parameters.

Shadow in the Limelight

In recent years it seemed that Ceská zbrojovka, when expanding its pistol line, intended to concentrate its attention only on new polymer models and “seventy-fives” with a radically simplified Omega trigger mechanism. With the demand for the CZ pistols, it is a little more complicated. The Duty polymer compact has certainly been very well accepted on the world market. Even with such a warm reception, the company was slightly taken aback and it resulted in postponement of the start of the CZ P-09 serial production. The Omega mechanism also made a score with users. In addition to all this, interest in CZ handguns made in classic versions is not lessening. These annually sell quite a few tens of thousands in all categories and variants. Moreover, the statistics show another interesting fact: the position of Uherský Brod’s flagship pistols, despite the great success of compacts and the solid position of subcompacts, is still occupied by the full-size models. This is another confirmation of the genius of František Koucký, father of the CZ 75, and his strong presence at the Pantheon as one of the most significant firearms designers of our time.

It is true that if there weren’t any of Koucký’s followers today the sales balance of seventy-fives would be undoubtedly noticeably worse. We have to say that in the Standard category, Ceská zbrojovka currently, and for several years now, strongly represents itself particularly with the family of service and sporting pistols designated as the CZ 75 SP-01, which we now see culminating in the CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow.

This pistol, which was launched in 2006 as a sportier variant of SPs initially conceived for service, is one of the most advanced versions of the classic CZ 75. It is also not surprising that as the underlying SP-01 model was a very successful handgun, and in the development of “Shadow,” had heavily involved such famous names in the shooting sports as Angus Hobdell, Adam Tyc, or Milan Trkulja.

Helping this product break through on the world market were the successes achieved in various competitions; including the world’s most prestigious championships organized by IPSC, where the Shadow pistols, with their performance, regularly overcame competitors from well-known and respected competing brands. What is not so well known is that this model also made a name for itself as the sidearm of several foreign armed forces. When Ceská zbrojovka, in connection with the CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow, speaks about being a bestseller, it is not an exaggeration.

The basic black models are also made available in the visually attractive Dualtone model, featuring a black polycoat slide combined with a silver polycoat frame, and a partly modified Orange model with grips made in orange colour. These feature a number of specific details and rich accessories. The CZ-USA company, whose Custom Shop, with Angus Hobdell at the helm, prepares a diverse line of original modifications covering the Shadow model.

Hobdell’s finely tuned “CeeZets” headed by modified “Shadows” enjoy a great reputation. This led the management of CZ-USA to the idea that it would not be bad if the serially produced pistols were supplemented with a custom line of finely tuned and specially made pistols. Since this idea corresponded with intentions of Ceská zbrojovka to use the unusual popularity of the Shadow for preparing other handguns with similar features, in 2011 a decision was made in Uherský Brod to start the Shadow Line Project.

Sophisticated Details

A remarkable selection of modifications in the style of the Shadow were chosen that included: the safety version of the CZ 75 Compact featuring a frame made of aluminium alloy with an accessory rail with one transverse groove, the standard CZ 75 and the safety version of the CZ 75 SP-01 with the body of the Shadow type, which is characterised with undercut trigger guard and swept hi-rise beavertail and accessory rail with three transverse grooves.

The designer of these changes was design engineer Libor Zálešák. Preparation of all three pistols of the Shadow Line took several months, including input from the company’s shooting team members. These designers always ask for opinions from real shooters when they work on any new firearm. This is very beneficial, particularly the opinions expressed by the current captain of the IPSC shooting team, Mr. Milan Trkulja.

The resulting Shadow Line series is an example of how much the shape and characteristics of a well-known handgun are changed by refined details. Common features of all three pistols are:

It must be noted that the magazine has 19 cartridges capacity, which you can see not only with the “espee” but also with the CZ 75 Shadow Line (we liked this combination a lot), was tested in this version only. During the tests it was decided to use the same magazine as is used for the CZ 75 and to extend its capacity (17 cartridges) with a butt (+ 2 cartridges). The handguns made in the series will only be supplied with this magazine. I should add that all three pistols of the Shadow Line feature an extended magazine catch taken from the Shadow model.

Things are a little bit different regarding the trigger mechanism components. The nickel-plated trigger blade is the same for the “Three Sisters” and at first glance one might guess that it comes from a Shadow. The trigger blade of the Shadow Line pistols is a little bit straighter, but the rest of the trigger mechanism is virtually identical with the Shadow.

The recoil spring of rectangular profile can only be found in the Compact model. Standard versions of the CZ 75 and also “espee” models use the usual “seventy-five” spring with a round cross section. Of note is a new long recoil spring guide rod made of steel used in the SP-01 Shadow Line, which has three parts in different diameters. The company staff explained this rather complex shape was chosen in order to facilitate the installation of the recoil mechanism assembly into the slide.

Jan Gibek, who is in Uherský Brod company responsible as the Product Manager for the handguns offers this answer to the question of “Why should I buy this model?”: “The difference between these handguns is really very small, so it depends more on the taste of each user. When I summarize the main differences, the CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow Line features nickel-plated magazines and trigger, nickel grips, a different shape of hammer, flat manual safeties and a polished recoil spring guide rod. Apart from slightly different user characteristics there is also the fact that it has a rather different look that may be more appealing to a user.”

Gone with the Firing Pin Block

The elimination of the automatic firing pin block in all three pistols of the Shadow Line is an interesting and, to a large extent, courageous step, which of course will be most probably welcomed by a large segment of the shooting public. The firing pin block is a controversial element of design in modern pistols and has roughly in the past two decades become the standard. Many experienced users never even came close to liking it. Their reasoning makes some sense – it instantly adds more components, which leads to a greater possibility of failure. Further, as with most mechanical safety features, the safety is guaranteed only when the rules of use are duly observed, and when these rules are observed there is really no need of the firing pin block. Finally, in the proposed design (when lifting the body of the block safety, the double-arm lever actuated by the trigger bar has to overcome spring resistance) this partially affects trigger pull and operation.

While the “espee” without the firing pin block was already here, the CZ 75 in this version is after all a novelty, which may revive interest in the classic all-steel seventy-five. It is a return to tradition, as “seventy-fives” from Uherský Brod did not have this safety feature until the early 1990s. Thus the CZ 75 Compact Shadow Line represents a unique version in the market. How many other 9mm pistols today lack the automatic firing pin safety? The question is whether this is a plus or a minus. Ceská zbrojovka’s Jan Gibek has said about the market potential of the CZ 75 Compact Shadow Line: “This compact is likely to have the greatest success with the traditional customers of our “Compact” versions in Asia, and I am convinced this handgun will be preferred for a day-to-day concealed carry also by shooters who are satisfied with the CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow.” He further observes: “After all the Shadow, although not having a firing pin block, is also successfully used abroad in some armed forces.”

Impressions and Facts

This author considers all three pistols of the Shadow Line as aesthetically well-made handguns with outstanding ergonomics, superior trigger mechanism operation and excellent fit and finish. Using one type of grip panels for all three models provides more or less the same grip. This justifies the expectations of Ceská zbrojovka that a certain segment of customers will purchase the whole series of the Shadow Line pistols for all of their shooting needs and activities (to this the company intends to adjust its pricing strategy).

There was really nothing to criticize regarding the fit and finish. There is a small gap between the magazine bottom and the grip butt, which is rather striking due to the nickel plated magazine body. This “shiny line” grabs the eyes as a flaw. That is really the proverbial tiny smear on an overall beauty.

Regarding the trigger pull weight, the CZ 75 Shadow Line and CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow Line are at a similar level as in the initial models, which is around 17 N (Newton unit of force) according to the factory specifications. A significant improvement was recorded for Compact model – the regular version has a trigger pull weight in the SA mode of fire usually exceeding 20 N, in the case of the CZ 75 Compact Shadow Line the measurements were slightly under 16 N. In the DA mode of fire all “Three Sisters” of the Shadow Line showed more or less the same trigger pull weight slightly over 43 N, which when compared with the standard model and “espee” means a reduction of up to 10 N, while with the Compact there is virtually no change.

Evaluation by Expert

Our short test of the Shadow Line pistol was also attended by Ing. Premysl Liška, a long time editor-in-chief of a Czech magazine called Strelecká revue (Shooter´s Review). Ing. Liška is a great sport shooter having extensive experience with the CZ 75 pistol series.

I have chosen few key passages of Mr. Liška’s assessment concerning properties and performance of the Shadow Line:

From the user’s point of view the most crucial elements of the firearm, apart from the grip, are sights and trigger. All three pistol’s sights are fixed with partial correction carried out by shifting the rear sight in the transverse dovetail. The rear sight rectangular notch is canted, elongated to the rear and sports a horizontally serrated visual surface. The front sight has a red fibre optic. I am not a big fan of fibre optics and prefer the front sight as a plain black squared post, but to someone else, a red dot (or other colours) on the front sight is more convenient and allows them to achieve better results. Anyway, the sights of the Shadow Line underline the attractive look of these handguns.

There is nothing we can say against Shadow Line triggers. We didn’t have a measuring device with us, but we can trust the meter reading for the maximum trigger pull weight in the SA mode listed by the manufacturer to be 16–17 N. For staunch followers of finely-tuned triggers this may seem a lot, but with a smoothly operating trigger this is hard to notice. The Shadow Line pistols can offer this type of operation. Although… From all the tested handguns the real superior trigger is found in the CZ 75 and CZ 75 Compact (the latter was subjectively the best from all the three), while the CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow Line had a smooth trigger pull as well, but for some reason seemed to me to be overly long… this was for carefully aimed shots. With quick, vigorous shots, one is hardly aware of this.

In my experience, the seventy-five can be shot with satisfactory accuracy even in its double-action mode, which is important for those who carry the handgun in the most ready condition, that is with the round in the chamber and the hammer released to the hammer safety notch. Declared reduction in the DA trigger pull weight by 10 N (approximately to 43 N) may be only for the benefit of the whole concept.

Impressions of shooting these are very positive. The shooting was conducted at a 15 meter/16.4 distance using standard 9mm Luger cartridges made by Sellier&Bellot, but not under optimum light conditions in the tunnel shooting range. The CZ 75 Shadow Line and also CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow Line operated with less recoil and minimal climb, so they smoothly recovered their sighting line. Only with the lighter Compact was a little more effort needed. I was shooting at a quick pace, after basic alignment of sights and without a long “target” aiming. As for a group, the best results were achieved with the CZ 75, only slightly worse was the CZ 75 Compact and surprisingly at the last place was the CZ 75 SP-01 (in such a short test it may be a coincidence, but maybe it can be attributed to said negative feelings with the trigger pull and break).

Ing. Premysl Liška concluded his evaluation with the following words:

If I wish to replace something in my firearms collection, I would certainly reach for a pistol of the Shadow Line series. I particularly liked the Compact made from “aluminium.”

Five-shot groups by the Shadow Line pistols at a 15m/16.4 yd distance:

CZ 75 Shadow Line: distance between centres 49mm/1.9in (4-shots 20 mm/0.8)
CZ 75 Compact Shadow Line: distance between centres 61 mm/2.4in (4-shots 25 mm/1.0)
CZ 75 SP-01 Shadow Line: distance between centres 95 mm/3.7in (4-shots 38 mm/1.5)

Final Thoughts

Overall we can summarize that this trio of handguns, allied in structure and design with precisely targeted adjustments, constitutes a nice new addition to the basic pistol line offered by Ceská zbrojovka a.s. The quality, along with the Shadow’s great sounding name assures that there is a good chance it will sell well even in today’s crowded market. The Compact and standard CZ 75 in this series offer characteristics and features not found in the regular seventy-fives. The absence of the firing pin block safety may attract the attention of users who do not use their handgun only for self-defence, but are for example also involved in some of the modern sport disciplines. A tougher starting position may be there for the CZ SP-01 Shadow Line, which differs from the Shadow only in details. Nevertheless there are differences, and so it is up to customers which variant they would prefer. An asset of the Shadow Line pistols is also the price, which is economical and attractive to the consumer.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V18N1 (February 2014)
and was posted online on November 15, 2013


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