By Andrew Tuohy, LuckyGunner.com
You’ve probably heard of the AK-47, even if they’ve never seen or held a gun in person. Odds are, even if you’re a “gun person” you probably haven’t heard of the Vz-58, the Czechoslovakian answer to the AK-47 in the 1950′s.
Essentially every other country behind the Iron Curtain had to fall in line with the Soviets and use an indigenously produced AK-47 variant, but the Czechs’ long history of firearms production gave them some leeway. They had to adopt the 7.62×39 cartridge, but were allowed to develop their own firearm design.
The result was the Vz-58, that basically means “Model 58″ (for simplicity’s sake, I’ll simply call it “the Vz” in this article). While it bears a passing resemblance to the AK-47, nearly every detail is significantly different. And it’s these details and differences that, in my opinion, make the Vz-58 superior to the AK-47.
One of the biggest differences on paper is the method of operation. The Vz-58 utilizes a short stroke gas piston, while the AK-47 has a long stroke gas piston. In basic terms, this means that the Vz-58′s operating rod is not attached to the bolt carrier, while the AK-47′s is. Also, the AK has a traditional hammer, while the Vz is striker fired.
While some would love to debate the merits of these systems until aliens land on Earth, I am actually not very concerned one way or the other. The choice of operating system (long stroke, short stroke, etc.) can affect accuracy and precision, and the Vz-58 is commonly reputed to be more accurate than the AK-47. I have certainly seen more than acceptable results from the numerous Vz-58s that I have owned and/or shot.
However, accuracy is severely limited by commonly available 7.62×39 ammunition, which is not meant for match purposes. Basically, both the AK and the Vz deliver acceptable accuracy within normal infantry engagement distances. The Czech rifle might be a little better, but not by much.
No, there are other details that make the Vz-58 a better choice of weapon. For example, the AK safety is cumbersome to operate, requiring the firing hand to come off the pistol grip or gyrations with the non-firing hand, while the Vz’s can be pushed to the “off” position with a simple trigger finger movement as the weapon is brought up to fire – but as the safety is outside the trigger guard, this movement of the trigger finger is not a negligent discharge hazard.
In addition, switching the AK safety to the “off” position opens a large portion of the firearm to the elements. While much ado is made about the reliability of the AK – and it will certainly cycle even if the bolt carrier itself is really dirty – it is susceptible to failures of the trigger if debris makes its way into the right place. Dirt entering the receiver from the opening left by the safety is one mechanism for this to occur. Because the Vz’s safety lever doesn’t leave such an opening, it is less susceptible to this problem than the AK.
Also, while the AK has been manufactured with stamped and milled steel receivers, the Vz’s receiver is milled from steel. This results in a lighter firearm, which, unless you pride yourself on your long gun doubling as a workout program, is a good thing. The Vz-58′s aluminum magazines are also significantly lighter than the AK’s steel magazines, too, although lighter weight magazines are available for the AK.
Another excellent feature of the Vz is the bolt catch, easily manipulated by the trigger finger and automatically activated by the follower of an empty magazine. The sudden stop of the bolt carrier at its rearmost position alerts the user that the firearm is out of ammunition, unlike the vast majority of AK magazines, which will allow the bolt to go forward on an empty chamber. Unlike AK magazines with bolt hold open provisions, the bolt of the Vz will stay open when the empty magazine is removed, enabling easier insertion of a fresh mag and less effort to send the bolt home.
While much ado is made about having aftermarket support for a firearm, and the AK certainly has a lot of aftermarket support, the Vz-58 has all the essentials covered. Quality railed handguards are available, as are adapters for different collapsible stocks. Magazines are not difficult to find, and practically all are original, and therefore reliable.
Many of the things that people attempt to “fix” on the AK are standard features of the Vz-58, and many other aftermarket products for the AK are, put simply, low quality garbage. If you get bored with the lack of available modifications for the Vz-58, paint it pink or something.
To be sure, the Vz-58 isn’t without drawbacks. Fire a few mags through one in short order and you’ll have a hard time holding on to the handguards because they heat up quickly. Some people don’t like the sights, although they are nearly identical to the Mosin/AK/SKS style sights and are therefore a complete non-issue for me.
Also, because the original barrel was just shy of 16″, a short barrel extension was pinned in place for NFA purposes. Depending on the importer/manufacturer, this may or may not be itself threaded, making replacing muzzle devices a little more complicated. The location of the front sight would make turning the rifle into an SBR (short barreled rifle) harder, too. But for many, these things will never even be noticed.
In summary, the Vz-58 is a lightweight, reliable firearm designed to make the individual shooter’s job easier. It is affordable and available, and in my opinion, a superior firearm than the AK platform in 7.62×39.