By Will Dabbs, MD
In the field of small arms design there are frequently multiple routes available to reach the same destination. As such, the many methods by which gun designers have harnessed the energy of a detonating cartridge and used it to subsequently cycle the action of a repeating firearm can be fascinating. There is the Ljungman-inspired direct-gas impingement system, gas tappets, long recoil systems, short recoil systems, and pistons of all shapes and sizes. There are bolts that rotate, tip, pivot, and float. One of the most fascinating, however, is the Teutonic contrivance of locking by means of roller bearings.
The first roller-locked German assault rifles had their genesis in the waning days of World War II. Adapted loosely from the roller-locked, recoil-operated system of the extraordinary MG 42 belt-fed General Purpose Machine Gun, this line of roller-locked infantry rifles traces its parentage through the Spanish CETME produced in Spain by German engineers soon after the close of WWII. The design was brought back to Germany in the 1950s and produced as the G3 in 7.62 x 51mm. The G3 went on to become one of the most successful Western-produced weapons of the Cold War. Subsequent evolution of the design led to the 5.56 x 45mm HK-33 and the ubiquitous 9mm MP-5. For a relatively brief period of time the 5.56mm rifle was imported into the United States as the semiautomatic-only HK-93.
The HK-93 was a jewel in any 1980s-era gun collection. They were never all that common and after the import ban under George Bush Senior the prices on these pieces grew to outrageous proportions. Today an original pre-ban HK-93 brings at least a couple thousand dollars or more on the rare occasion that they can be found. It is into this sad state of affairs that Century International Arms works their magic yet again.
Century Arms has carved itself a tidy spot in the American gun market by, among other things, resurrecting surplus gun kits on U.S.-made receivers. They offer some unique and fascinating firearms as a result. This author has owned several and has been very pleased with them as reliable shooters that are priced for the common man. The full-sized C-93 rifle was profiled in detail in a previous article. (SAR, August, 2011)
Big Brother Brings a Lot to the Table
The original C-93 is a very nice contemporary rendition of the HK-93 that has been on sale for several years now. The standard C-93 is built from excellent surplus military parts on a new-made U.S. receiver. I have pushed several thousand rounds through mine since the first article and have had nary a hiccup. It is a nice-looking rifle that is as reliable as a ball peen hammer. My copy shoots straight, readily eats any respectable ammunition, and looks great. The purchase price on this rifle is lower today than was that of an original thirty years ago even discounting inflation.
One of the interesting aspects of the roller-locked recoil system used in these guns is that it will function reliably independent of barrel length. Unlike traditional gas-operated weapons that depend upon a pulse of high-pressure gas to cycle a weapon’s action, the HK series of roller-locked rifles will function just fine whether the barrel is one inch long or twenty. As a result HK successfully marketed a line of short-barreled variants of their rifle lineup back in the day as well. The short-barreled version of the HK-33 that spawned the newest Century offering was designated the HK-53.
American gun laws are just plain ridiculous. The arbitrary definitions of Rifles, Pistols, Shotguns, Machine Guns, and, Lord help us; Any Other Weapons can boggle the mind. As a result of this disjointed mess we do get some fascinating products directed specifically at the U.S. consumer, however. One of those is the classic, for lack of a better term, purpose-built pistol-made-from-rifle-parts.
AR-15 pistols have been around for years. They come in countless configurations from several suppliers. SIG also offers a pistol version of their 550-series black rifle with a short carbine barrel and no stock. There has been any number of Kalashnikov-based handguns floating about as well. The new kid on the block for this odd genre is the Century C-93 handgun.
The Runt of the Litter Still Bites Hard
The HK-53 was in essence a full-sized HK-33 action mated to the slightly modified forend of the MP-5 submachine gun. The resulting gun was compact and maneuverable while still launching full-powered 5.56mm ammunition. The propensity of the 5.56mm cartridge to spill unburned powder out of such a short barrel with the resulting inevitably excessive muzzle flash necessitated the inclusion of a generous flash suppressor to the muzzle. It is in this configuration, sans the shoulder stock, that the C-93 pistol hits U.S. gun shops.
The C-93 pistol is 20 inches long from muzzle to buttcap and tips the scales at 6 pounds unloaded. The barrel is 8.5 inches long. It comes from the factory with two forty-round magazines and a buttcap cum sling swivel in place of a buttstock. The magazines are brilliantly executed with a pair of small ancillary lift springs that are configured to give a little extra boost to the column of cartridges when the magazine is fully loaded.
The C-93 pistol is also built from surplus German parts mated to a U.S.-made barrel and receiver. Most of the parts on my test gun were dated in the late seventies and were in excellent condition. The finish was uniform and robust and the finishing welds on the rear sight base and cocking tube were nice. The bolt carrier incorporates a series of grooves in its right hand side to serve as a rudimentary forward assist. To be fair, the crispness of the receiver pressing is not quite up to the original H&K products and the front sight base is affixed with the tiniest smidgeon of clockwise cant but the gun is, relatively speaking, dirt cheap compared to the originals. Don’t sweat these trivial issues, however. The gun still looks great and windage was spot on during accuracy testing from a rest without any adjustment to the sights.
The gun even comes with a nice assault case. The case incorporates pouches for three spare magazines and a small zippered pocket. The accompanying literature claims that the case will float with the weapon inside. I will admit to not being man enough to throw my gun into our farm pond to test this claim.
But Can You Really Hit Anything With It?
You might be surprised. I was. The 5.56mm round has negligible recoil when launched from such a platform so keeping the gun on target was surprisingly easy. The most effective technique we found in our range testing was to sling the gun over the firing shoulder and keep tension on the sling with the weapon extended out towards the target in the manner of the stockless MP-5K submachine gun. In this configuration we could consistently keep all rounds in the black on a tactical target at reasonable handgun engagement ranges just by firing over the iron sights. The addition of a laser designator or red dot sight makes this task all the simpler. A little “Google Fu” will turn up plenty of railed forends and scope mounting solutions. At the end of the day I was frankly shocked at how effective this firearm was at up-close-and-personal engagement ranges. Shooters of various experience levels tried the gun out and all involved found it to be an intuitive and simple task to consistently hit a man-sized target, even in rapid fire, at reasonable pistol ranges.
In its standard configuration my particular C-93 pistol was completely reliable with a variety of ammunition loads. Steel or brass cased ammo did not make any difference though the fluted chamber leaves longitudinal streaks on the cases, as do all H&K weapons of this generation, and the ejection system launches the empties into outer space.
The C-93 pistol is not the gun for engaging targets at one hundred meters and beyond. To be fair, neither is your Glock. If the threat is loitering out a couple hundred meters off then the original C-93 is your go-to iron. However, for an immensely powerful package that is short, handy, maneuverable, and carries enough onboard ammo to let you get bored shooting it, the C-93 pistol is unbeatable.
A good friend posed that simple question when I told him I had obtained one of these odd guns. There are countless handguns that are significantly smaller, handier, and more concealable. There are countless rifles that are more effective and comfortable at moderate distances. I have no interest in competing for a Gangster of the Year award though, to be honest, the C-93 pistol would look pretty sharp tucked inside a dapper trench coat. Sometimes I have picked up guns just because they look cool and I didn’t already own anything similar. In this case, however, I think there is a legitimate place for the C-93 pistol in a working gun collection. We live in a weird world and it will only get weirder in the coming years. A standard C-93 pistol stashed behind the seat of a pickup truck down here in the Deep South where I live would sure be comforting if you were stuck out in the middle of no-place when the zombies come. The two magazines that come with the gun hold eighty rounds. If that is insufficient to take care of business during the zombie apocalypse then I suppose it just wasn’t your day.
American gun laws are indeed silly but the Century Arms C-93 pistol is a remarkably clever and effective platform that is launched specifically to comply with them. It has been said that when life gives you lemons you should make a little lemonade. The lemonade in this case is pretty sweet.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V16N4 (December 2012)