The CZ 75 is 45 Years Young

By David Pazdera

The Czech arms design community has a number of models that are ranked among the best in the world in their categories. In the case of service pistols, they rather missed the mark for quite a long time. That changed 48 years ago. Based on the specifications given to a company known today as ?eská zbrojovka Uherský Brod, the CZ 75 pistol was born.

For a brief period after WWII, Czechoslovakia bet on the 9x19mm cartridge for their new army pistols, which resulted in several interesting prototypes. In 1950, the Czechoslovak Army was pushed into a pro-Soviet orientation, which caused it to favor the 7.62mm Tokarev (7.62x25) cartridge for pistols. Czechoslovaks then introduced the vz. 52 pistol, which was a roller-locked, short, recoil-operated handgun. Unfortunately, the fifty-two was not a great success and suffered from several drawbacks, even of a manufacturing nature.

Parabellum for the West

In 1960s Czechoslovakia, today’s ?eská zbrojovka Uherský Brod produced three semi-automatic pistol models, having gradually gained a monopoly in this field. The quite modern ?Z vz. 50 in 7.65mm Browning (.32 ACP), originated and first produced in Strakonice, was followed by the small personal defense pistols ?Z vz. 45 and “Z” or DUO in 6.35mm Browning (.25 ACP). At the time, the bulk of production went to civilian customers in foreign countries; the most interesting of these customers, in financial terms, were in the West.

For a while, it seemed that everyone was happy and that this arrangement could continue for a long time. But early in the second half of the 60s there was a brief reprieve in the political situation in Czechoslovakia, and domestic enterprises could—for the first time since the communist takeover—get thoroughly familiarized with the situation and trends in Western markets. This brought an unpleasant surprise. The arms factory located in the town of Uherský Brod found that a significant portion of its products had only a limited sales potential in the West. Therefore, if the firm wanted to maintain its growth, it would need to embark on a radical modernization of its portfolio. In the case of pistols, this meant that, as well as modifying the existing models, an entirely new handgun would need to be designed in the powerful 9mm Parabellum caliber.

In Uherský Brod, they initially only had one known, required parameter for the new handgun: the caliber. In the spring of 1968, they started thinking about a “defense pistol in 9mm cal. chambered for the Parabellum cartridge.” But in 1969 the requirements proposed by the Ministry of Foreign Trade changed the preliminary design dramatically. According to the final assignment, this pistol should feature double action mode of fire and a high-capacity magazine.

František Koucký’s Idea

The factory was very lucky in having recently established cooperation with the best designers available in then-Czechoslovakia. These designers were Josef Koucký (1904–1989) and his younger brother František (1907–1994). Both were living legends in Czechoslovak arms design, having actively worked in the field since the 1920s and made their mark with such reputable firearms as the rimfire rifles of the ZKM line, the revolver ZKR 551 and the ZKK line of centerfire rifles.

Initially, it seemed that both brothers would work hand in hand on the new pistol, as usual, but eventually it emerged that only František would be involved in the development. This was an excellent choice, as his was the major creative brain in this brotherly duo. Moreover, František had long dreamed of creating a handgun as ingenious as John Moses Browning´s M1911 pistol. He and his brother had already paid tribute to this model in the first half of the 50s, applying the structure to the service prototype designated as the ZKP 524 in 7.62mm Tokarev.

Western journalists, in particular, like to say that the CZ 75 pistol is actually just a sort of jigsaw of successful features of other popular designs. The reality is more colorful, and as early as 1979 this pistol was aptly characterized by “pistol guru” Jeff Cooper, the creator of modern methodology for training and combat with handguns: “The Czech 75—called the ‘Brünner Pistol’ in Germany—may be considered the ultimate development of the Browning/Colt system. It takes the best Browning features, combines them with a couple of Petter innovations found in the best French and Swiss designs and adds a few original touches of its own to put the whole together in the neatest package in the world.”

František Koucký’s huge talent was precisely in his ability to use the already-proven solutions and combine them with a brand new and original concept of key structural nodes.

In the case of the CZ 75, this new feature was the “revolver mechanism”—or Single Action/Double Action (SA/DA)—trigger and fire mechanism with an external hammer. Such a solution had been used since the days of Czech designer Alois Tomiška before WWI and subsequently became a characteristic feature of pistols made by the German company Walther headed by the PP model. František Koucký thoroughly studied existing designs, and, in the end, he came up with an idea that fundamentally changed the characteristics of trigger operation in DA mode of fire.

His key idea was to use the trigger as a single-arm lever. While in conventional SA/DA trigger mechanisms the trigger operates as a double-arm lever, i.e., when the trigger is pulled, its upper arm carries the trigger bar forward (and the hammer is cocked by a corresponding control element below its axis). By placing the trigger axis above the axis of trigger connection with its trigger bar, Koucký achieved a very advantageous “one-way” movement of the whole mechanism. Pulling the trigger moves the trigger bar rearward, during which time it pushes a rotating interlink hanging on the hammer slightly above its axis. Tripping the hammer when released in double action mode of fire occurs after the inclined slopes at the rear end of the trigger bar slide along the edge of the ejector bridge. Thanks to the second key element, in the form of the symmetric trigger bar whose two arms encircle the magazine well, Koucký achieved an even and smooth operation and uniform transmission of forces without any danger of individual components crossing.

This unit presents a sophisticated and elegant solution, whose advantages for DA mode of fire were aptly described by František Koucký himself in 1972: “The force necessary to cock the hammer is considerably lower when compared with other pistols, and additionally it shows a highly favorable curve.”

The Legend is Born

The final version of the new pistol emerged in 1973, after which only minor changes were made to some parts. The year 1974 was marked by the production of five acquisition samples and product engineering prior to trial series manufacture. This was finished midway through the next year, after which preparations for serial production began. On March 17, 1976, the pistol was approved with the designation “?Z model 75” as a product and for series production, which officially started on June 1, 1977.

In fact, initial demand for the CZ 75 somewhat stagnated, since it was one of the first “wonder nines”—high-capacity SA/DA pistols of service size made in 9mm Parabellum. Furthermore, the Western market was just getting used to this new type of handgun. However, interest soon began to rise. In the first year of series production, the CZ company made 1,800 pistols. In 1980, when the CZ 75 underwent significant structural modifications, it built 9,000 pieces, and in 1982 the company produced 22,000 pieces. This level of output required the factory to operate at maximum capacity for a longer period of time than ever before.

A positive evaluation by the aforementioned Jeff Cooper had a considerable influence on the increase in demand for this model: he ranked the CZ 75 as the best “nine” he had ever seen. He himself brought home, from Europe to the U.S., one Seventy-Five pistol despite the arms embargo from Eastern Bloc countries—allegedly “forgetting it in his pocket …”
Troubles with Patents

František Koucký crowned his successful development by acquiring four patents (copyright certificates). And, since the Seventy-Five was intended for export, it could be expected that those patents would also be registered abroad. But this never happened.

The main reason for this was that the Czechoslovak People’s Army (?SLA) needed a new pistol, in view of the problems it had with the existing ?Z vz. 52. With that in mind, they mentioned in 1969, when the future CZ 75 was being commissioned, that this handgun could be of interest to the Czechoslovak Armed Forces. The ?SLA devoted some attention to the new pistol for a while. Among other things, they allowed one sample to be thoroughly tested at the research and development facility in Brno in 1977. But that was all. The 9mm Parabellum cartridge was, at that time in the Eastern Bloc, considered to be “capitalistic” and its adoption into the armament was out of the question.

However, this coquetry with the army caused Koucký’s patents for the CZ 75 to be given secret classification, limiting the patents’ validity to within Czechoslovakia. In 1979, when the demand for this model from abroad started to grow, a decision was made to declassify the patents. In any case, it seems that human error then crept into the process, because this plan never materialized, despite the fact that relevant drawings were given the inscription “Declassified.” The consequences were and continue to be fatal: the CZ 75 entered foreign markets without any patent protection. When CZ competitors got it, they enthusiastically threw themselves into copying and cloning the model. The Seventy-Five has several dozen identical and also more or less different competitive relatives.

Post-Revolutionary Boom

Despite the patent issues, the CZ 75 pistols made by ?eská zbrojovka still keep the hallmark of the original, and sales are therefore secured. The arrival of the post-1989 era constituted a major milestone for the factory in Uherský Brod, as the cessation of arms production for domestic armed forces urged it to refocus on production for export. The company’s flagship became just the pistols of the CZ 75 line. Since the mid-80s, this line has included the CZ 85, which was derived from the CZ 75 and features ambidextrous controls for the slide stop and safety. Production has grown dramatically. By 1992, the year that marked 15 years of series production and ?eská zbrojovka’s transformation into a joint-stock company, the company had made about 320,000 Seventy-Fives. In October 2007, Uherský Brod saw a ceremonial assembly of the millionth member of the CZ 75 family, which included compact and subcompact versions. At the other end of the spectrum, we can find tactical models and several sports specials. And interest in Seventy-Fives is still going strong—at present, this is mainly due to the successful range of CZ 75 SP-01 tactical and sport pistols.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N6 (July 2017)
and was posted online on May 19, 2017


Comments have not been generated for this article.