Sometimes I look at guns, shooting gear and extras, and I think, “What could have been ….” Back in the 1970s the CZ 75 was all the rage. Unavailable in the U.S., it was a 9mm high-cap classic that felt so good in the hands and had such an attractive set of features that no less than Jeff Cooper himself expressed admiration for it. Its cult status spawned both a gray market (import-via-Canada) and the Bren Ten pistol.
Unveiled in 1997 (hence the model designation), the CZ 97 B is a medium-capacity .45 ACP with the features of the CZ 75 — and some more recent extras.
First off, it’s an all-steel pistol; the Czechs know how to make steel firearms, that’s for sure. So, at its 40 ounces, you are not going to find recoil to be a problem, even with +P ammo. The sights have been updated. In the current version, the front is a red fiber optic. Combine that with the two white dots of the fixed rear and you have a three-dot red/white sight setup.
The slide-to-frame fit is like that of the original CZ 75 — the slide is inside of the frame rails, and thus the slide is fully supported, front to rear. The slide, incidentally, has a beefy external extractor and a loaded-chamber indicator. It also has cocking serrations front and rear. On a 1911, that can be an obstacle. With the CZ 97 it is useful.
The trigger system is single action/double action. You can load the gun and leave the hammer cocked, then put the side safety on, which will block the firing mechanism and lock the slide closed. Or you can load the gun, ease the hammer down and have a double-action first shot. You can even ease the hammer down and put the safety on if you wish, but in that case you’ll have to disengage the safety before you can fire that first DA shot. The choice is yours.
The grips are the other recent change. Before, the CZ 97 had black plastic grips. On the current model, CZ has changed the grips to billet aluminum. The effect is startling. Where the CZ 97 had been slim before, it is now — for a medium-capacity .45 — almost supermodel thin. No, really. The grip, especially at the web of your shooting hand, is no thicker than that of a 1911, and the flared lower configuration does not make it feel large.
In getting a proper grip on with the other hand, the heel of your strong hand gets locked into the pattern of the aluminum grip. It almost feels as if you can’t let go of it. Or if you do, it won’t let go of you.
By “medium capacity,” I mean that the magazine holds 10 rounds. It’s not wide enough to hold rounds fully double-stacked, and the taper at the top is more gentle than on fatbody high-cap .45s. That’s what cuts it from the 14 to 15 rounds of the fatbodies to 10 rounds. It’s also what makes the grip so slim in your hands. And since the magazine baseplate is held in place on magazine-tube rails that are bent outward, it would be possible to make — or find — magazine extensions to increase capacity.
Built in blued steel, the CZ 97 B has the full panoply of markings. It features the model designation on the left side of the slide, above the “Made in Czech Republic” on the frame. On the right side are the serial numbers (slide, frame and barrel), along with a proofmark on the slide as well as the import markings on the frame. And the designation “CZ 97 B” simply means it is the Model 97 with the “B” trigger design.
But what do I mean by “What could have been”? Simple. The CZ 97 is an interesting and desirable pistol. But had it been the CZ 87, it could have ruled the roost. In 1987 we were still fighting the “.45 ACP vs. .38 Super” battle in USPSA/IPSC competition. A high-cap (for the time) .45, especially an all-steel one that would shrug off the volume of shooting we were doing, would have been able to stave off the .38 Super for a bit longer. A comp’d CZ 87 would have been a killer competition gun at the end of the Reagan Era.
And when the .40 S&W came out in 1990, the CZ 87 could have been built to take that round, gained an increase in magazine capacity and continued to rule the competition ranges. But, 10 years later, it was all over. The .38 Super and .40 S&W had divvied the competition world between them, and the .45 was relegated to Single Stack, classic status.
So then, what is the CZ 97 B useful for? Well, for one thing, it would make a really good duty gun. In the event that a department wasn’t so ruled by bureaucratic drones that they didn’t mandate “one size fits all” and you could choose, choosing a CZ 97 B would be smart. Being that it’s all steel, the recoil of any .45 load would be no big deal. Given the slim frame size of the pistol, I wasn’t really looking forward to the hottest .45 loads, but I was pleasantly surprised. Even the hand-smacking Hornady Critical Duty was not onerous to shoot. It was work, but it wasn’t like I was firing a polymer-frame pistol (where +P loads are like firing a hand-held rocket launcher).
Another application would be as a home-defense gun. At 40 ounces empty, you might not want to be carrying it concealed. But if the gun sat on a nightstand, then got locked up each morning and came out again in the evening, the weight is irrelevant. The only drawback here — and one that can be addressed — is the lack of a rail for a light or laser. But, being that it’s all steel, a good gunsmith could drill and tap the frame to bolt on an accessory rail for you.
Although heft and durability are for naught if a pistol won’t shoot, that isn’t the case with the CZ 97 B (CZ knows how to make pistols). I had no malfunctions in testing, which, after I had done my due diligence with chronographing and grouping, entailed diving into the trunk of the car, looking for any more .45 ACP ammo to be found. I then cleaned up the odds and ends of what was rattling around back there, the partial boxes of this ’n that. The gun didn’t care. It chewed it all up and spat out the empties, locking open when the magazine was finished.
And it shot into nice groups. Not Bullseye-class clusters, but certainly small enough to hit what you’re aiming for, even if you aim small. The 100-yard test was more a test of me than it was of the gun. With +P loads, it slapped the steel out there with vigor.
If you like steel, if you want .45 and you have need of a double-action trigger system, the CZ 97 B should be on your short list.