9mm Surplus Pistols: FEG, Carpati, And a Bulgarian Makarov All Fail
Should you pay $229 for a Romanian M95 Carpati, $239 for an FEG PA63, or $249 for a Bulgarian Makarov? Nope. Our test guns often wouldn’t shoot at all, or were otherwise flawed.
Surplus pistols occupy a niche in the marketplace that is surprisingly large and varied. Buyers who want a low-priced plinking gun will often consider buying $200 to $300 sidearms because they (a) might not have much money to spend, or (b), they might be interested in some historical aspect of a particular gun, which they nonetheless still want to shoot for fun. But there are pitfalls in finding one that works well enough to keep and further, to enjoy shooting.
We recently tested a trio of surplus double-action guns chambered for .380 Auto (9mm Kurz) and 9x18 (9mm Makarov). They were the Romanian M95 Carpati, which shot the .380 Auto round (MSRP, $229; published dealer price, $109). The two Maks were the 9mm Makarov FEG PA63, (MSRP, $239; published dealer price, $89); and the Bulgarian Makarov (MSRP, $249; published dealer price, $109), which also shot the 9x18 round. Expect to pay $50 to $100 markup if you buy one of these guns from a dealer or at a gun show.
With that pricing in mind, our evaluation standards for this test were much more lax than what we subject new firearms to. If these guns ran properly, and they were fun and cheap to shoot, then we could see taking a flyer on one. If perchance one functioned and shot well enough to rise to the level of being a reliable self-defense gun, then we’d be ecstatic.
Therefore, we decided that our test should not require any long distance bench rest work — 10 yards would be enough to gauge their accuracy. However, like other guns we test, reliability would be mandatory, unless we can trace function problems to something we inadvertently cause during testing. Also, we tested working combat accuracy from 10 yards offhand.
Initially, due to the lack of owner’s manuals with each pistol, we encountered some confusion as to their chambering. Careful examination of shallow engraving on the frames clarified what they chambered for. Moreover, we found a problem when it came to filling magazines and even loading a round: the similarly sized .380 Auto and the 9x18 can be confused.
But with the mags loaded, we went to the range and started banging away. Here’s what we found:
Bulgarian Makarov 9x18, $249
It is interesting to note that according to the Blue Book, value for a Makarov pistol in 100 percent condition is only $185. Dealer price on this very pistol was $109.95. We estimate it was rated at 98 percent condition, and would likely sell for around $145.
The Makarov pistol dates back to the early 1950s. At one time it was the standard pistol for both the Soviet forces and the Warsaw Pact countries. While it shares many similarities with the Walther pistol, it can be distinguished by at least one mechanical feature. That is the Makarov has no locking system, but fires instead on a simple blowback action. Both the Walther and the Makarov can be fired single or double action.
One feature that makes the Makarov pistol famous is its excellent ergonomics. The Mak is indeed comfortable in the hand. Our pistol offered generous cocking serrations on the rear portion of the slide and a small but effective rear sight that is drift adjustable for windage. The front blade on our Bulgarian model was too brief in our estimation, but the sight picture was adequate. The double-action trigger pull, while usable, stacks heavily. But the serrated hammer can be pulled back for single action shooting to take advantage of its pleasant SA trigger that is acceptably progressive in its take-up.
The magazine, however, is rough to load. It does have an external lever that can be used to compress the magazine spring and lower the follower, but we found it to be too sharp to handle without a cap. This can be done with the use of a hull.
We didn’t collect accuracy or chronograph data because our Bulgarian Makarov threw off the safety lever and dislodged the firing pin on its very first (and last) shot. Firing a standard-pressure Federal American Eagle FMJ bullet, the Mak’s safety lever came loose during recoil and fell off. We reinstalled the lever, but because of safety reasons, we don’t continue testing guns which lose parts when the guns fire.
In October 1999 we tested a Makarov from the now-defunct Miltex Company that met exactly the same fate, albeit after several more rounds — 25 to be exact.
Since we have now tried twice to purchase a working Bulgarian Makarov (once new in the box and once out of surplus) and failed each time, we would avoid them. In fact, the only good Makarov we have first-hand experience with is a Russian-made model. It is owned by one of our research associates. Her pistol was made by IMEZ and even has adjustable sights. Inscription on the slide is the only key to model name or number. It reads PMIJ70-18A. This pistol was a prize at the Second Chance Bowling Pin Championship, and it now resides in a glove box somewhere in Louisiana, stoked with Cor-Bon ammunition, which it digests with enthusiasm. This is quite a different story from our own experience with Maks.
Romanian M95 Carpati .380 Auto, $229
We haven’t been able to find out much about the origin of this pistol. It arrived in a basic cardboard box without owner’s manual. The box sticker read, “Century International Arms, Inc. HG950, Pistols Carpati Mdl 95 .380; Condition, new.” Also, the gun was stamped, “Imported by C.A.I. St. Alb. VT.” That’s Century Arms International of St. Albans, Vermont, (802) 524-5288. We found no additional information on the gun at the Century Arms website.
On the left side of the slide, more etchings read, “Made by Romarm in Romania,” plus an emblem that reads “Cugir,” the town in which the gun was made.
This is a Walther copy, but the grip frame is boxier than the Walther’s. The magazine release is at the bottom of the grip, and the basepad on the mag offers additional area for the pinkie. Safety and decocker levers are ambidextrous. The double-action pull was beyond the strength of normal humans (at least 25+ pounds; our gauge wouldn’t go higher), so we fired it single action.
The 95 would not chamber a round on its own. Once the magazine had been coaxed into position and the slide pulled back, a first round was ready to fire. Try as we might, we never got this pistol to feed a second round on its own. However we were afforded the satisfaction of clearing some of the most horrendous jams we’ve encountered to date. The offending brass fixed itself against the feed ramp like a weld.
FEG PA63 9MM Makarov, $239
FEG, which stands for Fegyver es Gepgyar, has been producing guns since 1900. The PA-63 is based on the 7.65mm Model 48 pistol, which itself was based on the Walther PP. The main difference between the original and the copy is the position of the loaded chamber indicator. On the original it was at the rear of the slide, and on the M48 it was over the chamber. The M48 pistol has also been offered in .380 ACP and was called the “Walam”. The M48 was later offered with an aluminum frame. This model was designated the M60. The FEG PA63 most closely resembles the Walther PPK. It has a side-mounted magazine release and a left-side-only safety-decocker, which on this gun had a sharp top edge and stiff action.
When we began shooting this gun, we said, “Eureka, a pistol that works!” Well, some of the time. In firing our PA63, we experienced several failures to ignite caused by light hits on the primer using all three brands of ammo, the brass-cased Federal American Eagle FMJs, the steel-cased Norinco FMJ fodder, and the Russian-made Barnaul HPs, which also have steel cases.
Also, the Barnaul hollow points would not fit properly into the magazine. Once we loaded a third round into the magazine, they would stick and not come up and feed. We gave up firing this round after a few two-round strings of fire. When the gun misfed, we had to open the action, pop out the magazine, and pop the edge of the magazine against the bench to dislodge the stuck rounds.
We found the PA63 pistol to be best fired single action only. The DA pull is heavy and stacks badly—resistance builds as the trigger is pulled back, and just when you are concentrating all your energy to overcome the pressure the shot breaks. This is undesirable because you have to put aside your fine motor skills at a crucial moment and favor brute strength instead.
The gun will decock for safe hammer-down handling, but the lever tended to stick at a false point that neither decocks the gun nor stops the hammer.
Firing ammunition designed for this gun showed it to be very accurate at a combat distance of 10 yards off of a sandbag rest. However, standing and firing through the double to single action sequence we found it difficult to land an accurate first shot. Certainly the pistol could be cocked if there was time to do so, but in a draw-and-fire emergency we would not feel confident. (There is no way to carry this pistol cocked and locked.)
In terms of power, the strongest rounds were the Barnaul hollow points. However, they are useless because they wouldn’t fit in the magazine. From a self-defense perspective, that leaves us with about 200 ft./lbs. of muzzle energy delivered by a roundnosed-jacketed bullet. This is equivalent to the power from a two-inch .38 Special revolver costing about the same money.
One of our Best Guns of 2001 in the December 2001 issue was the Taurus M85. This gun delivered an average of 216 ft./lbs of muzzle energy firing the 125-grain Speer Gold Dot Hollowpoint, which is famous for reliable, aggressive expansion. While a smooth jacketed bullet may kill, it is unlikely to deliver the type of shock necessary to stop an aggressor in the act. So from the perspective of self-defense, we think there are other better choices.
Gun Tests Recommends
Bulgarian Makarov 9x18 (9mm Makarov), $249. Don’t Buy. Both Bulgarian Makarovs we’ve tested expired quickly and in the same manner.
FEG PA63 9x18 (9mm Makarov), $239. Don’t Buy as a defense gun. Despite having combat accuracy with two ammos, our FEG PA63 suffered light primer hits and would not function with the hollowpoints we tried. Other samples might work better, but we report on the gun we buy, not what might occur elsewhere in the marketplace.
We also struggled with perhaps issuing a Conditional Buy for the FEG as a low-cost plinker, but it would have to be fun and easy to shoot to earn even that ranking. Besides the reliability problems noted above, it also had a horrible DA trigger pull, sharp edges on the magazine lip that would need to be removed, an uncomfortable backstrap, and it’s chambered for the 9x18 Makarov shell, which offers less brand selection in ammo than a comparable .380 ACP. That does not sound like fun to us.
Romanian M95 Carpati .380 Auto, $229. Don’t Buy. No collectible value, poor function, rough manufacturing.
At such low prices, we were certainly willing to cut our test pistols a break. If they had functioned well, they might have been worth playing around with. But their problems would mean they would cause more aggravation than they’re worth, in our view.
From a self-defense standpoint, the choice is even clearer. If for the first time or the only time you have to defend yourself or the life of a loved one, you might just end up wishing you had spent a little more money and bought a better weapon than these guns.