Except for the 1909 Argentine Mauser (which wasn’t even made there), Argentina is not a name that springs to mind as a source of fine weaponry. In recent years, however, Argentina has made a modest name for itself, and that name is Bersa. Bersa (formerly Baraldo SA) manufactures a range of handguns imported to the United States by Eagle Imports of New Jersey and selling at very reasonable prices.
The Bersa Thunder .380 bears a close resemblance to Walther’s famous PPK. Before discussing the Bersa, one really should look at the PPK. It was introduced in the 1930s as a concealed carry version of Walther’s police pistol, the PP. The PPK has been available in three calibers .22 LR, .32 ACP and .380 ACP. The pistol itself is, in many ways, a little gem, and was years ahead of its time when it was introduced. Even today, its list of features read like those of a new design, not a gun that’s been on the market for 70 years.
The PPK’s major feature is its double-action mechanism with external hammer and a decocking lever rather than a conventional safety catch. The PPK was introduced at a time when most small semiauto pistols employed spring-loaded strikers and safeties–not a combination that I, for one, would like to carry around in my pocket.
It is very quick to reload, with its magazine catch in the same place as a 1911 and slide release just above that. Both are readily operated by the thumb without shifting your grip.
If the PPK had a drawback as a gun for personal protection, it was the three calibers in which it was originally offered. None is very good, especially in the original loadings. In recent years, however, advances in ammo have made both the .32 ACP and the .380 ACP sound choices either as guns for concealed carry or second, backup pistols for police officers. The .380 will never be a 9mm
Parabellum, but it can come close with ammunition such as Hornady’s 90-grain XTP jacketed hollowpoint or Federal’s HydraShok JHP.
The old PPK was not perfect. Particularly, its double-action trigger pull is noted for being long, uneven and often gritty.
Bersa’s Thunder .380 was introduced in 1995. Externally, it looks exactly like a Walther PPK. It is available in a number of finishes, including nickel, matte black, deluxe blue and duotone, some with polished wooden grips, others with polymer grips. The Thunder .380 has a seven-round magazine, plus one in the chamber gives you eight shots.
Out of the box, the Bersa costs less than half the price of a PPK. As well, the Bersa is available with modifications for concealed carry or one or two additional rounds of capacity, at a slightly higher price.
The standard Thunder .380, however, offers a compact and cost-effective configuration, and I, for one, do not believe that if eight rounds don’t work, a ninth will make a difference.
Out of the box, the Thunder .380 has a better trigger pull than either of the pre-war Walther PPKs in my vault, but to someone accustomed to the silky slide and crisp trigger of a Kimber, the Bersa both needed and deserved some work. A quick trip to a gunsmith and the trigger was smoother in double action, crisper in single action, and the slide, while not silky, was at least acceptable.
The Thunder .380’s primary use will be in situations of last resort, in which case you need a gun that is easy to use and absolutely reliable, with accuracy to make it effective out to 10 yards.
We tested the Bersa with seven types of ammunition Three were standard FMJ rounds (Independence, Magtech and PMC); four were self-defense rounds (Hornady, Federal, Cor-Bon and Winchester).
Hornady JHP/XTP and Independence FMJ tied for the smallest group. Both loads printed to the same point of impact, whereas the other types of ammunition moved around slightly.
The only time in the testing that the Bersa failed to feed was the first round from a full magazine, after firing the round in the chamber. This happened with each of the three test magazines. This is not unusual with semiautos, and no amount of fiddling changed it. If I were carrying the Bersa for serious purposes, I would carry it 6+1.
Other than that, there was not a single malfunction. Empty magazines eject smartly, the slide release does so with authority, and the slide chambers a round every time.
The Bersa Thunder .380 is equipped with adjustable night sights with the familiar three horizontal dots. The rear sight adjusted positively with a screw and stayed adjusted. The Thunder .380 also comes equipped with a key lock to disable the gun for storage.