By Warren Ferguson
The Ceská Zbrojovka Samopal vzor 1958 assault rifle entered service as the standard assault rifle of the Czechoslovakian army in the late 1950s and continues to serve Czech forces on duty in Iraq. While it shares a passing resemblance to a Kalashnikov, its engineering is entirely different. Recently, a Czech factory released a semi-automatic version of the Model 58, called the VZ-58S. One such rifle became available for inspection and testing and Small Arms Review decided to see how it would perform at the range.
With the VZ-58S (a.k.a. the CZH-2003 Sport), you have an exact duplicate of the military version, right down to the markings and barrel length. For all intents and purposes, it appears to be the same 7.62x39mm rifle that Czech arms designer Jirí Cermák created in the town Uherský Brod. Here was a design so successful that the Czechs continued to produce them when all other Iron Curtain countries were forced to manufacture Kalashnikovs.
The VZ-58 is a gas operated, magazine fed, select fire weapon. It employs a short stroke gas piston located above the barrel but, unlike the AK the gas piston, has its own return spring. The locking system features a tilting locking piece, not too far off from what we see in the Walther P-38 and Beretta M92 pistols, and the bolt locks into the machined receiver.
The charging handle is located on the right side of the bolt carrier and the carrier also provides a stripper clip guide. The 30-round magazines are pressed aluminum construction and incorporate a rear tab to lock the bolt open when the magazine is empty. This is an inspired addition to the weapon which makes reloading very fast.
The trigger group arrangement is also unexpected as it is a striker fired design. The striker uses its own spring located under the main bolt carrier return spring. The fire selector is situated on the right side of the receiver and has three positions for safe, single shot and fully automatic fire. It is a simple design, but as with all Czech workmanship, the entire package is over-engineered and machined to a high degree. It would not have been cheap to produce the VZ-58.
The open sights include a hooded front post and open notch adjustable rear, which looks like the AK type. A bayonet mount is provided and unexpectedly the blade bayonet slips on from the rear to lock forward. In the same way, a folding bipod is fitted to certain 58s in the field.
There are three basic variants of the VZ-58: the 58P with its fixed buttstock and the 58V with a side folding metal stock. The 58Pi includes a large optic mounting bracket on the left side of the receiver for the mounting of night vision equipment.
The furniture is unique in that it is made of wood-impregnated plastic in later models. What we have here is essentially the addition of wood chips to a plastic resin placed into a mould. The resulting furniture is red in appearance, strong and durable.
When compared to Kalashnikovs, the VZ-58 is notably smaller and lighter. It is roughly the same size as an M1 Carbine. The Czech Army had planned to replace the rifles with the newer 5.56mm NATO CZ-2000 rifle system, but that transition has been stalled for economic reasons. If you watch the news, you would be surprised how often the VZ-58 is used, including its use by the current Afghanistan government forces.
A closer look
The factory produced semi-auto only version of the VZ-58 is now being sold to civilians around the world for under $500 a unit. It seems that cash is king in the Czech Republic and for qualified buyers, even full-auto 58s can be had for $80 US.
Note that the VZ-58S is not made by simply converting the host rifle into a semi-automatic version. Each VZ-58S starts out as a receiver that has never been used to construct a VZ-58, but one that has simply sat around in crates all this time. The receiver has then been modified to prevent the use of full-auto parts. The result is a rifle that externally looks identical to the military assault rifle right down to the fire control selector. Turning the selector to ‘30’ (full-auto) now disconnects the entire trigger group.
It should be stressed that the VZ-58S is not importable into the USA for civilian use for a number of reasons. Its barrel is the standard length of 15.35 inches, it is not constructed using any US made parts, and its receiver was originally built in the late-fifties to the 1970s as a select-fire receiver.
The finish on the VZ-58S is a uniform grey, likely manganese phosphate, that contrasts nicely with the red synthetic stock, handguards and pistol grip. It is evident that once the rifles were assembled, they were given a finish treatment so that out of the box the rifles look great.
In many respects the rifle is ambidextrous. The fire selector can be moved to ‘30’ with the left thumb from the safe position. Naturally, this is only useful for real VZ-58s. The cocking handle is angled up to a slight degree and located high on the right side of the breech block so right handed operators can load without canting the weapon. The magazine release can be used with either hand with equal ease.
Mechanically the rifle is tight and the fixed stock takes a long handled screwdriver to aggressively remove it. The ergonomics are exceptional but the rifle and its pistol grip will feel small in most hands. The pistol grip, additionally, needs periodic tightening.
What is exciting about receiving one of these rifles is the array of accessories available. The test rifle came from Marstar Canada and included two 30-round magazines, one short 10-round magazine, a new leather two pocket military magazine pouch, a field cleaning kit with blank firing attachment, military sling and a gun case.
It gets better with the optional accessories: four 30-round magazines, a four pocket leather magazine pouch, a bell type flash suppressor, a bayonet and scabbard, a military folding bipod and the paratroop issue folding stock. The folding stock is very strong but does not provide a comfortable cheek weld. For this reason, this writer constructed a slip on wooden cheek pad finished to match the rest of the furniture. It allowed the convenience of a folding stock with the comfort of a fixed stock.
Modern range test
For our evaluation, we took the Czech rifle to the range along with a crate of Czech 7.62x39mm, some Norinco ball and an assortment of magazines and accessories. The chosen range was 100 yards. Inserting a 30-round magazine into the carbine, it is easy to see why the VZ-58 is so popular – it is so light. One chambers a round by merely pulling back the operating handle and letting it go.
At 100 yards in the standing position, it is effortless to place five shots within seven inches. This kind of accuracy is more than enough to subdue an adversary. The trigger has a somewhat spongy two stage feel to it, but it works. The brass would eject up and forward and usually spun like a propeller; which was mesmerizing to watch.
When the 100 yard bench test was conducted using the military bipod, the groups shrunk to around 2.5 inches. This does not qualify the rifle as a tack driver, but for a military 7.62x39mm with open sights, this is pretty good. Most AKs and SKSs have a great deal of trouble duplicating this feat.
The rifle is easy to shoulder and operate and the recoil is moderate. The one negative aspect of the design, however, is its propensity for muzzle climb and subsequently its effect on the shooter’s cheek. Fortunately, the Slovakian firm Grand Power produces a highly effective muzzle compensator. This is a most welcome accessory that makes rapid firing accurate.
After 500 rounds, there was not a single failure to feed, fire, extract, or eject. Being able to use stripper clips was indeed handy. The carbine did not beat the shooter’s shoulder and it was quick to reload and bring to bear.
It is straightforward to field strip the VZ-58S. First remove the magazine, clear the chamber, and let the bolt go forward. Pull the trigger. Then press in a pin located at the rear and left side of the receiver. Pulling the pin to the right, the next motion is to press the sheet metal dust cover forward and up out of the receiver. The recoil spring and striker spring are captive and come with the dust cover.
The breech block and bolt are pulled to the rear and lifted out of the receiver. Removing the striker cylinder out of the breech block allows the bolt to drop out. The bolt can be further stripped using the tools provided in the issue cleaning kit, but this is not required for a field stripping.
The top handguard comes off by pressing another pin to the right. The operating rod is pulled back slightly to clear the gas block and then pivoted up and out of the rifle.
It may be that as a combat weapon the VZ-58’s time has eclipsed. As the civilianized VZ-58S, then again, the design may have a new lease on life. The range test provides a short insight into what it would be like to trust one’s life in the little rifle and the results are gratifying. In this writer’s opinion, the VZ-58 is in every way a superior weapon to the Kalashnikov.
It is true that the VZ-58S is not legal in America, but there is an alternative. So as to not tease the reader too greatly, those interested in the VZ-58 pattern should consider the well regarded VZ-2000 rifle obtainable through Ohio Ordnance Works.
New variants of the VZ-58 continue to come out of the Czech Republic, including one with an 18.9 inch barrel to make it legal in more jurisdictions. A picatinny rail upper hand guard is available as well as a CAR stock adaptor. The VZ-58 is one well-conceived package and so it should be interesting to see where the design is headed in civilian hands in its various forms.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V9N7 (April 2006)|
and was posted online on March 1, 2013