The Joy That Is The CZ 75
One of the neatest designs that have gained traction over the past few years in the US has been the CZ75 line of pistols. These durable and slim doublestacks have an interesting background that has made them available in a huge variety of styles and flavors.
Why was it made?
After World War 1, the country of Czechoslovakia rose from the ashes of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. This new country inherited a number of former Austrian military arms factories that became known as the Ceska Zbrojovka ("Czech Armory" in Czech.) This evolved over the years as a powerhouse small arms group that survived German occupation in World War 2 and Soviet occupation during the Cold War, while still turning out a number of famous designs including what became the Bren gun, the Sa vz. 58 assault rifle, and the Skorpion vz. 61 machine pistol.
In the early 1970s, a pair of brothers who worked for CZ started work on a double-stack 9mm pistol for the export market. These brothers, Josef and Frantisek Koucky, had by 1975 perfected a handgun that is known today as the CZ75, after the factory abbreviation and the year of first production.
The brothers Koucky designed a full-sized semi-automatic pistol with a doublestack magazine. This concept in itself was not new as the Browning Hi Power (circa 1935) had the same premise. Indeed, the CZ75 even used the same style linkless locking system as the Hi-Power. What was different was that it was a double-action short recoil operated, locked breech pistol that used a manual safety. This safety, similar to that used on single action pistols such as the old school M1911 Colt .45ACP, allowed the gun to be carried 'cocked and locked'.
It used extremely svelte ergonomics, literally hugging the hand of the user. This, coupled with slim grips, a low-bore axis barrel, and very nice sights (for the 1970s), made the gun accurate. Its basis on some of the most tried-and-true combat handguns of the 20th Century gave it a pedigree in reliability.
Well here's where the story gets a little funny. Remember that part about 'Soviet occupation during the Cold War' above? In 1975, Czechoslovakia was firmly behind the Iron Curtain and the CZ/Koucky partnership wasn't able to patent their gun. So even while the pistol was designed for export, and sold by CZ overseas for hard currency, even more firms popped up and made exact or nearly-exact clones. This included Fratelli Tanfoglio of Italy (makers of the TZ-75), Sphinx Systems of Switzerland, IMI Jericho of Israel, Springfield Armory (the P9) and others. Heck even the Chinese got in on the act, making the 'NZ-75' by Norinco.
Then in 1989, the curtain came down, the Soviets became capitalist Russians, and CZ was able to come into their own. Sure there are lots of clones still out there (EAA Witness, Canik Piranha), but the now-Czech Republic based CZ has set up shop in the US to sell their wares first hand. The same platform was revamped recently as the SP-01 Phantom/Shadow series that incorporates tactical sights, polymer frames, and some other tweaks to garner law enforcement and military sales from those who want more bells and whistles than the 1970s classic started with.
Old school Czech made pre-1989 CZ75s are hard to come by on the US market, as these guns weren't imported directly. Most actual CZs in the states are the later CZ-75B variant that incorporates an internal firing pin safety and longer slide rails among other improvements. This is CZs current model still in production. While many used clones (TZ-75s, EAA Witness, etc.) can be found floating around gun shows and shops for as little as $300, bonafide Czech guns run slightly more.
Still, as many competition, defensive carry, and home protection shooters will vouch for, the CZ75 is definitely a 'check-mate' if you need a good, reliable, and modern combat handgun.