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Buyer Beware: Buying 'Bargain' Guns Can Be Risky

Sometimes salvaging a bargain firearm really is too good to be true.

Buyer Beware: Buying 'Bargain' Guns Can Be Risky

(Guns and Ammo photo)

When the opportunity arises, I try to take my own advice. In the August 2020 issue, I used this column to espouse the virtues of surplus firearms for the bargain-hunting gun buyer. Just a few days after that issue arrived in my mailbox, an email landed that advertised a wide selection of surplus Czech-made pistols. Though I love my CZ Shadow 2, I’d never owned an original CZ 75. So, I forked over the cash and a pre-”­B” CZ 75 soon arrived at my FFL. It was advertised as being in “very good” condition, but when I opened the box it was clear that my definition of “very good” was a lot different than the seller’s. Oh well, I love a project, I thought.

As the original so-called “Wonder Nine,” the CZ 75 was groundbreaking for the time, and it still is a viable handgun today. This extremely innovative pistol offered both double-­action and single-­action “cocked and locked” carry. Like the classic SIG P210, the slide rides inside the frame’s rails, which decreases the reciprocating mass and cuts muzzle rise. Both guns are legendary for being accurate and reliable.

The CZ 75 design and decades of subsequent variations have been especially popular in international practical pistol competitions. My Cold War-surplus example was produced in 1986 and made in “Czechoslovakia,” as roll-marked on the slide. I smile for owning a gun made in a country that no longer exists.

I paid near $430 for the pistol and two magazines. The CZ 75 functioned, but it was filthy internally and the enamel finish was flaking off in spots. I can be lazy when it comes to cleaning guns, so I dropped it into an ultrasonic tank and went about my day. Imagine my surprise when I pulled out the major components and discovered that nearly all of the finish was gone! (Whoops!) No matter; It was time to have the gun refinished.

As I began detail-­stripping the pistol, I discovered that the internals were more of a disaster than the exterior! Somewhere in the gun’s life, an armorer silver-­soldered the extractor and trigger pins in place. After ruining two perfectly good punches, I put both the frame and slide into my Bridgeport and milled out the offending pins. (Add three or four carbide end-mill bits to my growing list of expenses.)

I was finally able to completely strip the gun, replace some worn parts and do some polishing on the exterior. I sent everything but the barrel and springs to H&M Metal Processing in Ohio for their rock-­hard black-nitride finish. I’ve used their services on several firearms before and have always been more than satisfied with their work. It came back looking as good as new, and I finally had a handsome pistol.

This gun really put the term “bargain” in perspective. The MSRP for a brand-­new CZ ­75 B is $699 ( If you add what I paid for my pre-”­B” original ($430), throw in the cost of numerous parts ($100), refinishing ($250) and shipping ($63), I’m far beyond the price of a new gun. That doesn’t factor my time into consideration, and I have more shop hours in this one than I’d like to admit. It will be fun to shoot but, thanks to my modifications, it has no real collector appeal.

Surplus guns can still be a great value, but there are pitfalls, as with any used firearm. Buying them online, sight unseen, increases that risk. In the end, you usually get what you pay for.

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