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Awesome Art
Rifle Magazine
June - July 2004
Volume 39, Number 3
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 229
On the cover...
The Hornady Lock-N-Load AP five station press is shown with the CZ Model 85 Combat 9mm. Loading press photo by Stan Trzoniec. Pistol photo by Steve Gash.
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The first Saturday in June is almost an official holiday in my neck of the woods, because this is the day the Ottawa (Kansas) Police Department puts on its annual Special Olympics Benefit pistol match. Men in blue and civilians alike transport in from as far away as the Delta Quadrant to compete for the numerous individual and team trophies. Entries are limited to the first 250, and it fills up fast. The affair is a marvel of efficiency, as each shooter fires a minimum of 101 rounds, and everyone’s done a little after lunch, which is available on the premises, by the way.

During breaks in the action, there is always time to peruse the tables set up by numerous vendors covered with “must have” guns and their accouterments. At the 2003 fete, I was drawn to the CZ-USA table like matter to a black hole. Examples of most of the firm’s rifles and pistols were present, along with affable Mike Eagleshield, CZ’s gunsmith, from the company’s nearby Kansas City, Kansas, headquarters. Mike answered all of our team’s questions, even if we didn’t ask, and pretty soon each of us had picked out our next “I’ve always wanted a (fill in the blank).”

The show-stopper for me was the CZ Model 85 Combat 9mm Luger. Mike had two examples on display – one done up in their “black polycoat” finish (think flat-black spray paint, and you get the idea). Glossy blue is also available. The other specimen was covered with satin nickel and was about as pretty as a kitten. The 85 Combats sported adjustable rear sights that Mike said are made by Mec-Gar in Italy. While the sight looks dinky and frangible, I have used Mec-Gar sights on several other pistols and found them to be rugged and reliable. The utility of the ambidextrous safety and slide release was not lost on this southpaw either. Best of all, the trigger pull was delightful, and the trigger even had an overtravel screw. Since a member of our contingent is an FFL dealer, one was ordered on the spot.

When it arrived, I replaced the stock 20-pound hammer spring with a 15-pound spring from Wolff Gunsprings (no. 28915), and it made all the difference. The single-action trigger pull is now even better at about 4 pounds, and the double-action pull is smooth throughout its course. While I was at it, I replaced the factory 14-pound recoil spring with a slightly heavier 16-pound version from Wolff (no. 43016).

CZ stands for Ceska Zbrojovka, or “Czech weapons factory,” and has been in operation in the Czech Republic since 1936. The firm was originally founded as a subsidiary of Ceska Zbrojovka Strakonice in the city of Uhersky Brod. The location was chosen so that its arms manufacturing plant was farther away from the German border and Hitler’s bombers. There was, after all, a war on. In 1938-1939, Germany seized control of Czechoslovakia, and soon the once-proud country was geographically and politically dissected. As Winston Churchill somberly observed of the occasion, “... Czechoslovika recedes into the darkness.”

The extensive line of CZ pistols has its foundation in the famous Model 75. Designed and first produced in 1975, the CZ 75 is widely regarded as one of the premier pistols available today. This traditional double/single-action model has spawned a host of variants by CZ, including compact, single action only, double action only (DAO) models, a “decocker” version and two race guns for IPSC competition.

Another branch of the Model 75 family tree is the Model 85, characterized by the addition of ambidextrous controls (slide release and safety). The 85B comes with fixed sights and a firing pin block safety. The 85 Combat loses this safety but sports the aforementioned adjustable rear sight. When you press on the magazine release button, the magazine drops out like a rock.

The 85 Combat is a visually striking firearm. The satin-nickel finish emanates a soft, elegant luster that is totally uniform overall. About the only aesthetic downside of the pistol are the grips. Not only are they a shiny black plastic and downright slick, but the grip screws are black-painted, Phillips-head items that would look right at home on a Yugo.

My pal Bob French, of French’s Gun Shop in Denver, took one look at the grips and almost became ill. Upon regaining his composure, he reached into the display case and handed me a set of sumptuously figured Hogue Coco Bolo checkered grips (no. 75811) and commanded that I install them immediately. This improved the appearance and handling of the pistol about 1,000 percent. But then the grip screws really looked out of place. Fortunately, Hogue sells elegant slotted grip screws for the CZ 75/85s, so that faux pas was soon remedied, as well.


The 85 is a pleasant handful, weighing in at 35.4 ounces. The slide and frame are constructed of steel, and the slide rails are inside the frame, opposite of that on the Model 1911 pattern. Slide-to-frame fit is very good, as is the barrel fit to the bushing. At first glance, it appears the 85’s slide is “bushingless.” However, the bushing is actually a separate part that is held in place by the front sight pin, and the bushing can be easily replaced, if necessary. The bore slugs a flat .355 inch, is smooth as silk and has six-groove rifling with a one-in-9.75-inch twist over its 4.7 inch length.

The Model 85’s hammer has a half-cock notch, but this shouldn’t be used as a “safety” device. Since this is a traditional double-action pistol, it can be carried “cocked-and-locked” like a Model 1911. The large and convenient ambidextrous safety levers are easy to use. They work firmly but surely. A red dot on either side of the frame is visible when the safety is “off.” A pivoting extractor is pinned to the slide. The hammer, safety levers, slide stop levers and magazine release button are finished in a very pleasing matte black (not “poly coat”). The magazine release button extends out a bit from the left side of the frame, and its spring is pretty strong. This might bother some left-handed shooters, but I’m left-handed and habitually press the magazine release with my left index finger, and I got along fine with it.

The sights follow the familiar three-dot pattern and are easy to see. The rear notch has a generous .122 inch wide notch through which one can easily see the .120-inch front blade over the sight radius of 6.6 inches, and the rear sight’s click adjustments work well. All in all, the sighting system is highly functional.

Disassembly of the 85 is straightforward. First, of course, make sure the pistol is unloaded, then remove the magazine. At the backs of the left sides of the slide and frame are two witness marks. Retract the slide approximately 5mm to line up these marks, and push out the slide stop from the right side of the pistol. The pin on the left-side slide-stop lever extends through the right-side slide-stop lever, and probably the easiest way to get it started is to press its tip against a hard surface – all the while keeping the marks aligned. (The slide release lever on the right side of the frame remains in place.) If you have cocked the hammer while doing this, gently lower it at this time. Then ease the slide forward off the frame.

Next, remove the recoil spring and its guide. Caution: This assembly can be launched into orbit if you’re not careful. Remove the barrel, and you’re done. Reassemble in reverse order. Cocking the hammer makes lining up the witness marks a little easier in reassembly.

The 9mm Luger needs little introduction to seasoned handgunners. In service for over 100 years, it has carved out a substantial nitch in the shooting world and recently has enjoyed increased popularity for competition and concealed carry functions in the U.S.

The test handloads were assembled on a new Redding T-7 Turret press (no. 67000) with my ancient RCBS three-die set (no. 20515), but bullets were seated and crimped in separate operations. Crimping was done with a Lee Carbide factory crimp die (no. 90860). Chronographing was done with an Oehler Model 35P.

A total of 49 loads was tested from a benchrest, and the pistol was “field tested” at a couple of limited class matches, where it performed admirably. The load data for the handloads and factory loads tested are shown in Table I. You will note that case brand is usually identified as “mixed.” With my apologies to those who delight in punctilious handloading, as far as I’m concerned, life’s too short to sort a five-gallon bucket of 9mm brass.

At the bench, it was soon evident that the 85 was a shooter. First of all, it was reliable. In all of the hundreds of test rounds fired, there was not a single bobble of any kind, and the heavier recoil spring kept the empties in the same zip code.

As a baseline, I rounded up and tested a goodly selection of factory loads. Some, like Winchester’s USA Brand 115-grain FMJ “Q” load was right on the heels of my best handloads. This ammunition registered a relatively modest velocity of 1,169 fps and had a group average of 1.14 inches – the best of all factory loads. The new Winchester USA brand “Personal Protection” ammunition was the least accurate factory load at 2.80 inches, but the gaping maw in this hollowpoint certainly looks businesslike.

The CCI 100-grain Frangible load was the fastest factory load tested. At 1,213 fps, it had mild recoil and was acceptably accurate at 2.09 inches. Higher velocities with this bullet weight are easily obtainable. The 100-grain Speer hollowpoint (HP) ahead of 4.5 grains of Titegroup clocked 1,246 fps and at 2.20 inches was almost as accurate as the 100-grain factory loads.


Not far behind the 100-grain loads were the 115-grain bullets, and this performance can also be improved upon considerably by handloading. The average velocity of the six, 115-grain HP factory loads tested was 1,172 fps, almost 100 fps slower than my best handload with the 115-grain Speer Gold Dot hollowpoint over 6.1 grains of Vihtavuori N350 at 1,270 fps. This is of significance in the quest for a more powerful defense load, as this extra velocity increased the muzzle energy 18 percent to 412 foot-pounds (ft-lbs), turned in a great group average of .91 inch and clinched top honors in the jacketed bullet category. The Federal 124-grain full-metal-jacket (FMJ) factory load was also accurate, at 1.22 inches, but a bit slower at 1,095 fps. Overall, all factory loads averaged 1.91 inches.

Probably the most popular bullet weight in the 9mm is the 115 grainer, and the Model 85 certainly seemed to prefer the Speer Gold Dot version, with an overall average of 1.24 inches. The 115-grain Hornady XTP hollowpoint loaded with 4.5 grains of W-231 also makes a good, all-around load.

The 124-grain Hornady XTP hollowpoint was close with a group average of 2.03 inches. Its best load was 7.6 grains of AAC-7 for a velocity of 1,134 fps that produced good groups of 1.46 inches. Highest velocity (1,150 fps) was obtained with either 7.8 grains of AAC-7 or 4.2 grains of Titegroup, but these groups were almost twice as large as with the best load.

The 147-grain Hornady XTP was less accurate overall, at 2.55 inches, but with 4.5 grains of Longshot, it went into 2.09 inches at 926 fps – the best of the heavy bullet loads.

The story was similar with cast bullets: as bullet weight increased, so did group sizes. Best overall was one of my favorite 9mm cast bullets: the Bushwacker 122-grain flatnose. Over 3.7 grains of Titegroup, most groups with this bullet were under an inch, velocity was 1,094 fps, power factor was 133, recoil was light and cases weren’t launched into orbit – a perfect fit. Not to be overlooked, however, is the 122-grain FP and 3.6 grains of WSL at 1,032 fps with groups of 1.32 inches.

The ever-popular 125-grain bullet was represented by both the roundnose and semiwadcutter (SWC) versions. Top honors went to the former, but barely, and good loads were developed for each. The roundnose bullet over 3.6 grains of WSL registered 1,024 fps and 1.32-inch groups. The best combination with the SWC variety was 5.4 grains of Longshot. At 1,102 fps and groups of 1.50 inches, it emerged as the pick of the 125-grain SWC litter.

The power factors of most of the 122- and 125-grain loads are darn close to the minimum of 120 required for IPSC “minor” or NRA Action Pistol competition, so it would behoove the competitor to double-check the velocity of his ammunition in his pistol before trundling to a match. Don’t forget to take the predicted low temperature on match day into account.

I tried a few loads with the heavier 145-grain roundnose bullets, but the Model 85 didn’t like them at all. For example, 3.4 grains of the usually accurate Titegroup powder produced 1,001 fps. While the power factor was ample at 145, the groups were unacceptably large at 3.43 inches.

No matter – since making major power factor is out of the question, all one has to strive for is accuracy, and this the Model 85 has in spades. Of the 49 loads tested, 25 (51 percent) averaged under 2 inches, and 16 (33 percent) went into 1.50 inches. Overall, cast bullets in the 122- to 125-grain weights averaged 2.21 inches. Jacketed handloads overall averaged 1.90 inches, with the factory loads clustering into 1.91 inches. The average of all 49 loads tested was 2.03 inches.

While it is common practice to rank accuracy by bullet, I have been asked several times to do the same for powders. So, for those folks, Table II shows average group sizes by powder. Note that for some powders, there are only a few groups; the statistician in me must caution you to view this data with a jaundiced eye.

Nonetheless, of the 11 powders tested, Vihtavuori’s N350, Alliant’s Power Pistol and Hodgdon’s Longshot came out on top. Not far back, however, were three spherical propellants: Winchester’s 231 and Action Pistol, and Accurate Arms Company’s AAC-7. The group averages of these six powders were all under 2 inches, and Winchester’s Super Lite was close behind. Of course, all guns are different, but these results will get the student of the 9mm off on the right foot.

The CZ Model 85 Combat did all one could ask of a 9mm. It is well designed, well made, never hiccupped, is pleasingly accurate and is aesthetically rewarding. It is a fine testament to its Czech heritage. If you’re in the market for a quality 9mm autoloader for plinking, carry or competition, do yourself a favor and check out the CZ Model 85 Combat.

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