By Frank Iannamico
The 9mm Parabellum round that was developed by Germany in 1904 finally came of age as a pistol cartridge in the United States in the 1980s. During this time period many high capacity 9mm semi-automatic pistols were being introduced to the U.S. market by a number of manufacturers. The popular gun magazines affectionately referred to the new generation of 9mm high-capacity pistols as “wonder nines”. The American shooter’s love affair with the wonder nine began to wane shortly after the FBI’s tragic shoot out in Florida when repeated hits from 9mm rounds failed to stop two determined felons, resulting in the death of several agents. After that well studied and documented incident, law enforcement agencies began to lose faith in the performance of the 9mm cartridge, and began to search for a more capable round. Today the 9mm has largely been replaced by the .40 caliber S&W round as the standard U.S. police cartridge. The United States armed forces have decided to stay with the 9mm NATO caliber M9 Beretta pistol adopted in 1985. Recent laws banning new magazines with over a ten round capacity has also caused a loss of interest in the 9mm cartridge. Most people who were purchasing semi-auto handguns after the over 10 round magazine ban was in effect felt that if they were limited to ten rounds or less, they may as well be big ones like the .45 ACP.
During the heyday of the “wonder nine” pistols there was one particular model that continued to receive unusually high praise from many gun writers. That pistol was the highly touted CZ75. The problem was that the CZ75 wasn’t readily available in the U.S. at the time. The reason for the pistol’s obscurity here was because they were manufactured in Czechoslovakia, a Communist country. Czechoslovakia had only very limited international trade with the United States, and an agreement banned the importation of firearms into the U.S. The CZ75 examples that were in this country had been brought in from Canada where they could be legally imported. A United States citizen could import the Czech pistols from Canada for personal use, after completing a BATF Form 6 and paying the necessary freight and a hefty 55% duty charge (the duty also applied to any extra magazines and accessories ordered with the pistol). The extra cost of the duty, freight charges and the paper work involved were more than most individuals cared to get involved with. A few firearms manufacturers saw the interest in the Czech pistol design and several clones were manufactured, the TZ-75 made by Tanfoglio of Italy, the Swiss AT84 and others.
In the 1990s the Communist world began to collapse and international commerce was established with many nations that were previously banned from trading (or had only limited trade) with the United States. Many firearms that were produced in the Com-bloc nations, once quite rare in the U.S., became common place and inexpensive. The Czech CZ75 pistol was one of these. The odd thing was, as the Czech CZ75 pistol became widely available, they ironically disappeared from the pages of gun magazines and quickly began to lose the notoriety they once enjoyed.
In reality the CZ75 is a well built, accurate firearm, and very reasonably priced. Unlike many “wonder nines” that have aluminum alloy frames, The original CZ75’s frame and slide are made entirely of steel. While the all steel construction adds weight, it is hardly noticed because of the CZ’s excellent balance. The locking system is very similar to that of the Browning Hi-Power, for there are virtually no pistols that don’t use some feature from the brilliant John Browning designs. The barrel is cammed in and out of battery by the latch pin in the frame, and is locked to the slide by two lugs. Another unique feature of the CZ is that the guide rails are machined on the inside of the frame instead of the outside. In this configuration the slide rides on the inside of the frame, rather than the outside. Early CZ75 models up to the 27,000 serial number range have slide/frame mating surfaces that are approximately one-half an inch shorter than current versions. The slide rails were increased in length to decrease the chance of slide problems as was experienced in a few very early guns. The CZ’s 4.72- inch, 6 groove right-hand twist barrel is hard chrome-lined to resist the ravages of corrosive ammunition still found in some isolated parts of the world.
Some early models also featured a rounded “commander” style hammer instead of the more common spur type. The design of the plastic grips will also vary slightly. The very early CZ pistols were painted with flat black epoxy paint, and shortly after the initial production began optional blue and nickel finishes were offered. The year that each individual pistol was manufactured is engraved just aft of the ejection port on the right side of the slide. In 1988 the CZ75 was further modified to be more reliable with hard primers often used in military ammunition. This was done by incorporating a newly designed firing pin, hammer and hammer spring. Many of the parts such as the slide and barrel, are serial numbered to the pistol.
The CZ75 is a conventional double action design, but features a frame-mounted safety, and a half cock notch. The CZ offers the shooter the option of carrying the pistol in the popular “cocked and locked” method or the hammer down-double action-first shot mode. (note: for safety reasons it is the personal opinion of the author not to carry firearms in the “cocked and locked” mode). The CZ offers a 15 round capacity magazine (pre ban models), and a 16th round can be carried in the chamber. The pistol is very ergonomic and offers a decent trigger right out of the box. Trigger pulls tested on several guns averaged a smooth eleven pounds in the double action mode, and a crisp 5 pounds single action. Workmanship and quality of these guns is first rate. The magazine release is located in the same “1911” location familiar to most U.S. shooters. When released, the empty magazines will not drop out of the magazine well by gravity alone, they must be pulled out manually. However, the pistol can be easily modified to allow the magazines to drop out if desired. The rear sight is a non-adjustable notch, the front sight is a simple blade. The sights are simple, but adequate for a military style pistol. The CZ75 is ultra reliable with virtually all types of 9mm Parabellum ammunition
The CZ75 evolved from a long line of Czech designed handguns. The CZ75 was designed primarily for export sales, and was produced in the 9mm NATO caliber instead of one of the common Communist cartridges like the 7.62×25 or the 9mm Makarov. The CZ75 was placed in production in 1975 at the state owned factory in Uhersky Brod, Czechoslovakia. The CZ designation comes form the name of the government arms industry Ceska Zbrojovka, the number 75 is from the first year of production. Since the early days of the CZ75, many new variations have been introduced. There are now compact models, double-action-only, a special IPSC competition model and a host of others varying in: caliber, size, weight, magazine capacity, trigger operation and finishes. An upgraded version designated as the CZ85 was introduced in 1985 that featured ambidextrous safety and slide controls. CZ USA also offers the 75 Kadet that is a .22 caliber conversion kit for the CZ75 and CZ85 pistols for inexpensive training.
The aftermarket industry is fully aware of the CZ75, offering custom barrels, grips, holsters and a variety of other items intended to enhance the pistol’s performance and appearance. Since initially being allowed into the U.S. the CZ75 pistol has been brought into the country by several importers. More recently, CZ USA has been the sole distributor to dealers. CZ USA also offers hunting rifles, airguns as well as a complete line of pistols that includes the; CZ92, CZ100, CZ83, CZ85, CZ40, the CZ75B series and the 122 Sport. The CZ parent company in Czechoslovakia also offers several military weapons for the world market; the famous Skorpion submachine gun in 7.65 and 9×19 calibers, and two AK pattern assault rifles, the Model 58 in 7.62×39 and the CZ2000 in 5.56 NATO.
Surprisingly the CZ75 pistol was never adopted on a large scale by any country as a military weapon. Even the Czech army passed on it in favor of their indigenous vz 83 chambered for the 9mm Makarov caliber. Even though the pistol slowly faded from the pages of the magazines and praise of the gun writers, those writers were correct. The CZ75 pistol was one of the outstanding 9mm designs of the decade.
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|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V4N8 (May 2001)|