Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Gun Test: CZ’s 97 E .45 ACP

Guns and Gear Contributor
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By Wayne Van Zwoll, American Handgunner

The man was gathering mushrooms. In dawn’s mist above Uhersky Brod, he might have been a Soviet agent. I’d imagined as much, jogging up the forest track. An empty Trabant slumped morosely at roadside, its faded green metal going to rust. A glob of mud on a quarter-panel crept downward almost imperceptibly, as if the car wanted to be still and unnoticed, a fixture, not a recent arrival.

Trabant. Cheap, fast and roomy by Cold War standards, it had come to symbolize a failed Soviet state, its smoky, two-stroke engine an anachronism 30 years and 3 million units in production as the West pulled farther and farther ahead in sleek 4-cycle sedans. Where had this one been?

I slowed alongside. Front seats, covers frayed, had been cupped by heavy passengers. A rumpled Czech newspaper served as floor-mat under a foot-feed worn to the steel. I looked about, half expecting the shadows to disgorge a trench-coat, a hat pulled down, hunched shoulders, perhaps the glint of a PPK.

A cold breeze rippled through hardwoods long stripped of fall foliage. A distant crow squawked. Strengthening light from the east winked on the cracked windscreen. I moved on, past the old man bent with a pail, scarf wound snugly against the frost. His tattered coat surely dated to Krushchev. But he was not of the stuff in a Le Carre novel.

Mushrooms. I jogged out of 1960 into the present, turned and wound my way back toward town.

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The 97 B fits Wayne’s big hands well. The polymer magazine boot assists the lower finger.

 

Today

Now 25 miles from Slovakia, it lies 240 northeast of Vienna, as far as practical from Germany. In 1936 the Czech government moved its arms factory to Uhersky Brod. Hitler’s intentions were obvious in eastern Europe long before Chamberlain misread them. The original CZ plant, in Strakonice, farther west, had sprung up in the ’20’s to produce pistols, augmenting post-WWI rifle output at the Brno facility.

Before the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand triggered the Great War, Zbrojovka Brno built rifles for the government in the central Czech town of Brno. In 1921 it became Ceska Zbrojovka: “Czech Armsmaker.” By the late ’30’s the Uhersky Brod facility was a subsidiary of CZ Prague.

After the Munich capitulation by England, Hitler snatched Sudetenland. To no one’s surprise east of Berlin, he lost no time annexing the rest of the country. At war’s end Germany was forced to relinquish territory it had seized. Czechoslovakia became, briefly, self-governing. Communists consolidated control during 1948. In 1955 the Uhersky Brod operation was cleaved from Strakonice’s. Nine years later, the government cut Brno’s manufacturing output. But as the Brno name had long-standing respect at market, it was applied to the ZKK, ZKM and 527 rifles of the 1960’s. All issued from the Uhersky Brod factory, which had expanded. Updates included replacing peaked tile roofs, added during the war so the industrial park would look like a residential block from the air. Throughout the 1970’s and ’80’s, CZ Uhersky Brod produced mostly military arms.

A revolution led by poet Vaclav Havel overthrew Communist rule in 1989. Two years later Czech industry was privatized. In 1993 the nation split to form autonomous governments. The Czech and Slovak Republics remain independent today.

In 2004 Zbrojovka Brno faced bankruptcy, a victim of internal improprieties. Reorganized over the next couple of years, Brno began building shotguns and single-shot rifles. It sold them under the CZ label. Now CZ manufactures all major parts for long guns and pistols built at the Uhersky Brod plant. At 200 acres of buildings alone, this facility ranks as “the largest small arms factory in the world,” according to the company.

The 1,300 people employed at Uhersky Brod use traditional tooling and CNC machines. Barrels are hammer-forged. I’ve toured a number of gun-making factories and can’t recall walking as far to cover any premises as I did at the Czech facility. It’s no doubt the major employer in this rural area, a beacon of industry below the woods where old men hunt mushrooms.

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The Czech factory turning out CZ pistols has operated, uninterrupted, since 1936! They are imported by CZ-USA.

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No need for tools up front. The bushing screws out easily by hand. Note slide serrations.

 

Modern Meets Old Ideas

Handgun production at CZ has increased to meet demand for full-frame autoloaders. Civilians, as well as the military and police market, have welcomed the growing range of choices in CZ pistols. These include the discontinued CZ 100 and 75 DAO, or double-action-only models. The current line comprises exposed-hammer guns, most of DA/SA design. The original CZ 75, the CZ 85 and 97 and the CZ P-01 and SP-01, are DA/SA’s. The CZ 75 SA and 75 Tactical Sport have single-action-only actions. So does the 1911 series manufactured Stateside under the Dan Wesson label, which CZ acquired just a few years ago.

Forgive me the long preamble. Much of what we value in firearms lies in their history. While the Colt SAA is a becoming revolver, it would not fetch so much at auction less its roots in the Old West. The Luger shows fine machining but is otherwise unremarkable, save for its Nazi past. I suppose the ocean of 1911’s at market now owes much to the pistol’s impeccable design. Mr. Browning got it right. But had this gun appeared after Hiroshima, it might not have flown quite so high. So when last year CZ announced its new Model 97 B, I couldn’t help but explore its past.

Not that this handgun can’t stand on engineering and performance alone. Essentially a big-bore version of the CZ 75 B (a 9mm also available in .40 S&W), the 97 B is chambered in .45 ACP. It’s an all-steel gun with slim, crisply “checkered” black aluminum grip panels. The cavernous well between them accommodates a 10-round, double-stack magazine. The extended beavertail (not a grip safety) arcs above a gently convex, lightly grooved backstrap. It fits my oven-mitt hand very well. The slide release and left-side-only safety lie where any 1911 shooter’s thumb probes automatically. Ditto the magazine button. CZ includes two magazines, both with contoured, easy-to-grasp polymer bases. Their forward lip helps secure my little finger on the grip.

The 97 B wears both front and rear slide serrations, with a useful slant. The slide tapers upward, to a grooved top surface. That taper counters the otherwise boxy look of high-cap autoloaders with wide frames and full-length rails. It also makes the serrations crucial, as without a firm bite, my fingers and thumb tend to slip upward. After a few minutes cycling the 97 B, you’ll get used to the not-quite-1911 feel of the slide.

Deep cuts on the Spartan, loop-style hammer give your thumb plenty of purchase; but spur protrusion from the slide is minimal to prevent snagging on clothes and holster strap. The half-cock notch puts that hammer just a little more proud. The safety won’t engage unless it’s at full-cock. A small pin just aft of the port rises when the chamber is loaded to provide a quick visible and tactile check.

CZ installed a drift-adjustable two-dot rear sight low on the slide. Up front there’s a scarlet fiber optic bar in a sturdy cradle. Well lit, the sights are very fast. I prefer red-between-white dots to standard three-white configurations. Against strong back-lighting, you get a target-sight image: a sharply defined square notch bracketing a stout, flat-topped blade. The sliver of light either side of the front sight is wide enough for quick aim, slim enough for precise shooting.

The 97 B’s 4.53″ barrel rides in a threaded barrel bushing. Rifling is the standard 1-in-16. You can get the 97 B with a black polycoat finish or in glossy blue, both with the standard thumb safety. A third option (97 BD): black polycoat on a pistol with tritium night sights and a de-cocking lever.
Retail prices for these pistols — CZ’s first .45’s — are $686, $713 and $792.

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The pistol’s heft keeps muzzle jump down and felt recoil mild, even with Hornady +P loads.

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Slide latch and safety are 1911-familiar. Slim, almost flat grip panels are cleanly “checkered.”

 

Test Gun

I’d requested a 97 B in glossy blue, and was pleased when I opened the plastic hard case. Fit and finish of this handgun match that of many custom pistols. While matte, even satin polish can hide minor imperfections in edge and surface contouring, highly buffed steel bares all. On my 97 B I found no flaws in detailing. Crisp lines and dead-flat surfaces show careful work. Cycling slide and trigger, double- and single-action, I got the same impression. Snug but smooth. No rattles, no hang-ups.

“I’ll fix the kitchen faucet as soon as I finish this project.” I smiled weakly. Alice gave the CZ a sideways look. “Shoot a group right away,” she said, “and you’ll have more time at Home Depot.”

Sometimes a vigorous nod is the best reply. I gathered up several types of .45 ACP ammo and hied off to the bench.

The 97 B cycled without hiccup every load I fed it: 185-gr. jacketed hollowpoints from Black Hills, 185 Silvertip HPs from Winchester, 200 FPD’s from Hornady, as well as Remington 230-gr. flat-points and Federal 230 JHP’s. The Hornady ammo was friskier than the rest, clocking 1,055 fps by factory charts (a +P load). The brawny CZ handled it without strain, ejector and extractor hurling all empties into a tight landing zone about 11 feet at 3 o’clock. The 5½-pound single-action pull was a bit heavier than I prefer, but like the 97 B’s DA pull, it was smooth and consistent — an easy trigger to control.

Shooting with a 2-hand hold over a Caldwell shooting bag, I found the sights about right for a 6 o’clock hold. Group centers for bullets of all weights fell 2″ to 4″ above the top of the post at 25 yards. Every group also printed about a hand’s width to the right, so I’ll have to drift that rear sight a tad left. The pistol obviously performs better than I can.

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Remington 230-gr. flat-points drilled this 25-yard group, the gun over a Caldwell bag. It shot well with a cross-section of factory loads.

 

Reliable And Accurate

My first three shots with the Winchester ammunition cut a lovely 0.7″ cloverleaf. Alas, I admired it too long, and my grip changed for the last two rounds — they landed an inch and a half left. I managed to ruin — with the last shot — a Federal group coming in at 1.4″ for the first four. The Remington 230 flat-points punched a 1.8″ 5-shot cluster. Hornady and Black Hills ammo didn’t equal that, but I suspect both were as accurate as the pistol. Not so the shooter!

At 2.54 pounds empty, CZ’s 97 B is hardly a lightweight. With nearly a dozen .45 ACP rounds in the grip, it won’t be forgotten in your waistband! But that heft helps you steady it, and recoil feels like a 9mm’s. In a market stuffed with compact and subcompact pistols, composite frames and plastic grips, the CZ 97 B has singular appeal. It fits my big hands, points naturally and cycles as smoothly as a steam piston. It costs about as much as an entry-level 1911, but is anything but entry-level in quality. Pressed to improve on it, I’d suggest only a combat-style adjustable rear sight. And I’d like a bit more convexity in the grip panels — they’re quite flat.

Shooters with small hands can buy lesser guns.

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