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The CZ 75 SP-01
and 18 of its closest associates
By Joseph D'Alessandro Editor | RealGuns.Com

For anyone searching for a pistol that illustrates why big 9's are relevant, the SP-01 would be an excellent example; modest recoil, long sight radius and three times the magazine capacity of a typical revolver. If you are like me, a fan but not an alumnus of Ed McGivern's school of fast and fancy revolver shooting, this is a gun that could very realistically be a life saver.

I brought an SP-01 to the range the day I was wrapping up a recent Glock M22 project. While happy with the results of $400 worth of parts and mods that nudged the Glock into consistent 3/4" 7 yard groups, a casual and first time use of the unmodified CZ SP-01 easily bettered the Glock's performance and the CZ was a pleasure to shoot.


The CZ 75 series began production in 1976 in what is now known as the Czech Republic. For obvious historical reasons associated with time and location, the gun did exceptionally well in Europe, but was not distributed in the United States until 1993 when the Eastern European and Russian political landscape had changed. Beginning in early 1980, about the time Colt went to the 80 Series safety plunger trigger and spawned a 1911 clone industry predicated on the original 70 Series trigger, CZ models began to incorporate a firing pin block. These CZ 75 models were designated "B" models. The intent of the revision was to anchor the inertial firing pin unless the trigger was pulled, thereby reducing the potential of an accidental discharge. The precursor to the CZ 75 SP01 was the compact, alloy framed and NATO approved CZ 75 PO-1. The PO-1 was introduced in 2003, the full size CZ SP-01 followed with a US introduction in October 2005.

The CZ 75 SP-01 is an all steel gun; precision investment cast frame and forged slide. While not light weight by any definition, the example I shot weighed 46 ounces empty, about the same as a full size steel 1911 type pistol, and not all that different in overall size. The SP-01 holds a lot of ammo, 18 rounds in a magazine, if you live in the real United States.

Obvious form and functional features of the SP-01 are serrated front trigger guard and cocking serrations fore and aft on the slide. The area forward and above the trigger is radiused for glove clearance. The grip frame front strap is cut high which, in conjunction with the extended beavertail and more recent model CZ grip geometry, make for a pistol with a natural level point. A stable 1913 accessory rail is integrated into the frames dust cover that, unlike the rail found on a Glock, can actually hold an accessory without flexing. Controls are easy to actuate but require a slight shifting of the shooter's grip to reach them...unless you were blessed with thumbs longer than your fingers.

For me, the need to reach controls without shifting grip is grossly overstated for all but competitive shooters and perhaps highly trained tactical personnel. I don't  slam slides closed by flicking a gun's slide release as, in some pistols, this will damage sear contact surfaces. I'd rather have a magazine release button close, but not so close as to cause an accidental release. If a mag unexpectedly drops out even once in normal use, that is one time too many, so for me the SP-01's controls are fine where they are. The SP-01 has an ambidextrous safety, the tactical version of the same gun substitutes an ambidextrous decocker.

The SP-01 is a single / double action pistol. However, without a decocker on the standard model, the way to get to a loaded chamber and decocked hammer is to pull the trigger while carefully lowering the hammer over a live round. My brain interprets that passage in the manual as, "The SP-01 is a single action pistol". Cocked and locked, the gun is safe and ready to go. The double action trigger stroke is 0.600", pull is 11 lbs 7 oz. The single action trigger stroke is 0.300", pull is 5 lbs 6 oz. The SP-01 has a firing pin block, a device intended to eliminate accidental discharge of a dropped gun. When the gun is not being dropped, the block mostly serves to get in the way of an otherwise clean trigger. The SP-01 has a decent trigger, however, it is of course open to typical spring change and polished component trigger improvements. A competition model with lots of tweaks and refinements useful in competitive shooting is available from CZ-USA's custom shop as the SP-01 Shadow. The SP-01 and variants do very well in competitive shooting.

SP-01 sights are very good. Judging from the "Tru-Dot" logo, I'll assume these steel sights are produced by Meprolight. Three white dots with Tritium inserts are well suited for  recreational target and defensive work. Rear dot size is 0.090", the front dot is 0.100". Meprolight holds patent No. 5359800 which covers, in brief, a shock resistant mounting system and an inward, angular recessed tube reflective outline that is highly solvent resistant. The sights are bright, crisp and retain an appearance of uniform size in typical daylight or low light situations.

The rear sight's horizontal position is adjusted by drifting within its dovetail slot, the front insert resides in a longitudinally cut dovetail slot and is roll pin anchored. Adjustable and fixed, plain, Tritium and fiber optics sights sets are available for the SP-01, through retail outlets as well as directly through the CZ-USA parts department.

A little more detail...

The CZ 75 slide appears to ride low in the pistol's frame in comparison to other autoloaders. Part of this illusion is the result of the CZ 75 slide rails being located on the outside while the full length frame rails are on the inside. The frame masks 0.200" of the slide's profile. Rail engagement is exceptional. I don't believe there is another similar auto pistol that provides so much slide / frame bearing surface, which may contribute to the gun's excellent out of the box accuracy. The slide is relatively light at 11.9 ounces, compared to the full size Glock at 14.1 ounces. The bore centerline is not lower relative to the grip than other autoloaders. In fact, the SP-01 bore axis is approximately 0.250" higher above the hand then the Glock, or about the same as a 1911 type gun.

The recoil spring is a flat stock coil riding over a plastic guide. The effect of a plastic guide rod on the function and accuracy of the SP-01 is probably even less, if that's possible, then on other similar pistols. Recoil springs from 9 lbs to 22 lbs are available from Wolff if there is a compulsion to make a change. In stock form, this gun's spring measured 16 lbs at full operating compressed length. At the range, target ammo empties blopped out on the bench, hotter defense loads were tossed a few feet. None resulted in any type of failure to feed or fully cycle. The stock spring worked just fine.

The CZ barrel / slide lockup is secured by  three radial lugs, very similar to a 1911, in comparison to the Glock's single rectangular lug pictured top right. Lock and unlock motion of the CZ, center right, is achieved through the camming channel of the barrel riding a fixed slide stop. The 1911 is similar, however, a pivot link is provided to increase the rate of vertical versus rearward motion to reduce the wear and tear on barrel / slide lug engagement. The potential lug engagement of the SP-01 is approximately 0.065" compared to 0.045" for the 1911 so it's a pretty solid lockup.

The CZ barrel (center above) has an extended feed ramp that drops well below the nose of a cartridge queued for feeding from the gun's magazine. The ramp is set at an angle, and has a finish, that will assure reliable feed. Case support is good, certainly better than the 1911 barrel pictured left. The only appearance of an oddity I encountered was the chamber depth in relationship to the barrel's small breech face protrusion. The 9mm Luger has a nominal case length of 0.754". The chamber depth from support of the case mouth to the end of the protrusion measured 0.721" leaving over 0.030" of rim projection beyond the protrusion. I'm sure headspace is established by the barrel and slide radial lugs. Perhaps the small protrusion from the breech end of the barrel has a role in guiding feed and directing ejection rather than participating in headspace setting. Barrel twist rate is 1:9.7", 6 groove, right hand twist. Hammer forged rifling is conventional square cut, rather than polygonal, for improved accuracy and the ability to handle cast and jacketed bullets. Chambers are precision cut.

Not a tinkerer's pistol...

The CZ 75 SP-01, unlike the Glock, is not made to detail strip with no more than a toothpick and a length of dental floss. The SP-01 is, however, easily field stripped for cleaning; pull the mag, check for empty, pull back the slide until index marks on the slide and frame are in alignment. Then remove the slide stop and the slide will comes forward and off. Unless the gun is well used, I wouldn't bank on finger tip persuasion to pop out the slide stop. Something on the order of a light tap with a plastic capped hammer on the pin side of the slide stop will do the trick. For further disassembly - break out the bench block and pin punches and get ready to do a little hammer tapping and spring chasing. The gun is relatively modular at the subassembly level and not overly complicated, but I doubt most people will be making trigger component changes at the range. Pulling the grips uncovers material as nice on the inside as that on the outside; a really nice casting and quality manufacturing. The flat spring steel piece, in front of the mainspring, guides the magazine so it won't hang on insertion. I think there is no greater confidence to gain from a firearm than when it is clear even the parts that are not normally visible get the same finishing attention.

If you need to buy the newest cartooned logoed parts and accessories to drop into your handgun, the SP-01 is probably not a gun for you, but then it is nice when a gun leaves the factory not in need of an overhaul and upgrade to make it useful. A good selection of sights and grips are available through retail channels and directly from CZ-USA. With the exception of Crimson Trace grips that are not compatible with the SP-01's ambidextrous controls, sights and grips intended for the CZ 75 work with the SP-01. Hard core competition parts and gunsmithing services are available directly from CZ-USA at more than reasonable prices and from people who know their products well.

Recap, pros and cons...

CZ 75 SP-01 size: I buy compact handguns all of the time. Light, short barrels, tactical sights; perfect compromises for concealed carry...but I don't carry a concealed handgun, so basically I lose more than I gain in performance, all for the cheap tawdry reward of impressing my superficial friends. The increased sight radius and stabilizing mass of the SP-01 made me a much better shooter. If you'll notice my target shooting references, they are mostly close, 7 yards, just 21 feet. I review handguns at a distance typical for home defense and I shoot rapidly as might be the case in a defensive situation. In this setting the SP-01 provides a lot of confidence. I don't know how the SP-01 will do at 50 yards from a Ransom Rest when some writer is apparently attempting to simulate deer hunting with an autoloader. I do know the SP-01 will punch cloverleaf groups all day long at 7 yards, a distance greater than most of the rooms in my home.

The 9x19 cartridge: I am not a 9mm Luger fan, but then I am not a 308 Winchester fan either. Still, I accept both cartridges' ability to do the job for which they were intended. For a defensive piece, the 9mm Luger is an excellent choice. There is a big difference between impressing buddies at the range with excessive muzzle blast and recoil and being alone in the dark with your family and having to deal with a possibly armed intruder in the house. In the first case, you buy every idiot combination on the market. A snub nosed 500 S&W comes to mind - welcome to my world. In the second case, you want manageable recoil, an absence of excessive muzzle blast and a choice in ammo that has absolute stopping power without turning the interior and exterior walls of the house into Swiss cheese. The SP-01 shoots such a round and it shoots a lot of them without reloading. Welcome to the real world.

Recreational target shooting: I spent a lot of time bullseye shooting with a Colt Gold Cup...two or three hundred years ago. I didn't load up with +P 230 grain hollow points, I shot 185 grain semi wad cutters that did little more than crawl out of its barrel. Like the soft recoiling 45 ACP bullseye load, only at 1,100 fps, 9mm Luger full power factory ammo makes gaining skill through practice a positive experience. I usually get to the range once a week or once every two weeks. While writing this article I found myself at the range four times in the same week. By the time the second session came around, I wasn't paying attention to the gun anymore, I was paying attention to the little groups on my targets.

I believe the SP-01 needs adjustable sights if the goal is more precise target shooting. The factory installed Tritium sights are the way to go for defensive work and developing defensive shooting skills. If practical pistol shooting is a goal, it would probably be worthwhile to order a SP-01 Shadow from the CZ-USA custom shop and get a tuned gun with the right sights. At $850, compared to the $616 MSRP for the standard SP-01, it is probably one of the lease expensive competition pieces you'll find.

Appearance, layout and workmanship: The CZ 75 SP-01 is a good gun, both ergonomically and aesthetically. Part finish is good, casting quality is excellent and machine work is commendable. This is clearly not a gun that will fall apart. There are two things I don't like about the SP-01's appearance. I don't like Polycoat, even if it offers good utility and service. I like smooth, uniform non-reflective black surfaces on handguns or satin blued or stainless finishes. Polycoat, on this particular gun, was slightly mottled on one side of its slide as I noted earlier. Yes, I am really picky - The CZ is finished much better than a Glock, not as nice as a SIG. The second thing I don't like about the SP-01's appearance is the use of rolled versus solid pins for firing and front sight retention. I don't like to see light shinning through my guns in profile. This is an aesthetic not a functional issue. The roll pins are fine, they stay put and are inexpensive as replacement parts.

If you are one of those folks who needs to feel exaggerated controls under your fingers without shifting your grip to: dump a mag, close a slide or order from the clown at Jack in the Box, the controls on the SP-01 probably won't work for you. Additionally, you will not find a ready source for custom pieces to serve this purpose. The CZ's controls are well defined and in easy reach for deliberate actuation, just not optimally placed for accidentally dropping a magazine full of ammo or carelessly letting the slide slam shut.

Value: The CZ 75 SP-01 has an MSRP of $616.00, but is available through retail outlets more in the $500 range. Like their rifles, the CZ line up of handguns represents a lot of gun for the money. The SP-01 comes in a hard plastic case, with: a lock, two magazines, a loading tool, two snap cap cartridges and cleaning tools. If the SP-01 doesn't do it for you, CZ-USA offers lots of other hardware. On a quick count I found twenty one handgun models catalogued, available in: stainless, carbon steel, aluminum, and poly frame. Please don't write to tell me stainless steel has carbon content also. When I write "carbon steel" I mean the one they don't call "stainless". Various CZ models are available in: 45 ACP, 40 S&W, 9x19, 380 ACP, and 32 ACP. At the moment I'm stuck between choosing a compact, alloy CZ 2075 RAMI in 40 S&W and a very clean CZ 75 stainless in 9mm. Decisions, decisions...


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