May 25, 2015
Imagine for a moment that you wanted a light-shooting hobby gun, perhaps as an impractical and fun companion for your practical pocket carry pistol. What are the options? As it turns out, there are quite a few. I'm going to list several favourites, splitting into 3 groups: cute, PPK, and antiques.
The leader of the cute group is Beretta "Cheetah". Although it looks like its full-size counterpart 92F/M9, the little Beretta 84F/85F has nothing to do with it. It actually is a berettized clone of Browning BDA-380, which Beretta built for Browning for a while. The Beretta modernized the BDA enough to make it into something you might even want to carry, or wanted until the recent crop of micro pistols. In particular, they added a decocker. The 84/85 is the only gun in this group that is based on a blowback action, which is what basically qualifies it for the list. It is heavy, and it is a SA/DA. But it's exceptionally reliable, too. Workmanship is impeccable. Last year of production is 2005.
Sphinx AT 380-M is a European rarity that few people heard about. It's nothing special, but it's very hard to find, enough to make it remarkable. Nicely made in Switzerland. It has both DAO and external safety.
Erma KGP-68A, in contrast, qualifies easily, because it's a Luger! Yes, a real one, although not by DWM, but the next best thing. When I saw it first, I thought it was made in 1930s, but nope, it's in the cute group. They were made well into 1980s (Erma collapsed in 1996 IIRC). Well-preserved examples are worth their $700 price, I think. Unfortunately, most are beat up.
Taurus M380 is also unusual, because it's a revolver. Now, with the inexorable march of the full-moon revolvers, a revolver shooting a rimless cartridge is nothing too unusual nowadays. But this is a .380, possibly even the only one produced thus far. It flashed in a pan before the recent explosion of the interest in .380s. In addition, its barrel is only 1.75" long, so you aren't getting much oomph. Not enough to drive the modern hollowpoints that made .380 practical in 2010s, anyway.
Rounding up the cute group is Browning 1911-380, only announced at the beginning of 2015. It's a 7/8 scale toy 1911, but it's painstakingly real (unlike, e.g. the clones of Colt Mustang). It has a real mainspring housing, for example. Kimber makes basically the same gun, developed completely independently, but their micro-1911 is inteded for carrying. This, however, is clearly a hobby gun.
The PPK group is obviously for the medley of clones of Walther PPK of which there is a legion. CZ-83, Sig P232, Bersa Thunder are only the most interesting. There is also an official Makarov, rebarrelled in Russia. It was imported under the "IZH-70" moniker ("IZH" is not an acronym, but stands for the russian brand, mostly known for fine shotguns). The importation ceased right about the time Clinton and Yeltsin striked a fascist deal about it, so possibly IZH-70 was throttled with it. Or maybe it was a coincidence. It really is a dire pistol and a hobbyist should be better off with a P232 or CZ-83. BTW, don't confuse these with Mauser HSc.
Finally, the antiques. I am sad to go on record with a statement that Colt M1908 Hammerless is probably worthless. It was not a terrible gun, but not a fun one either. It is immensely ugly, too (looks like Tokarev/TT, frankly). And naturally, it's hard to find and it's expensive. If you nab one, you want to keep it in your banker's safe instead of shooting it.
The most interesting of the antiques is probably Remington Model 51. It is unique in using a hesitation locking mechanism, but it is reliable even if reasonably worn. The little assembly plug that contributed so well to the disastrous attempt at reintroduction, the R51, is either missing or is designed properly, not sure which, but anyway, it's not a problem. Hard to believe that it's a 1920s gun, it was so well made — which only makes the shame of R51 so much greater.
Although came later, the Beretta M1934 Corto does not seem anywere as nice as Remington Model 51. Machining is awful on it, parts fit poorly. But it was an actual service pistol in .380, having seen action in WWII. So yeah.
The Llama II/III-A (before Mini-Max) is teetering onto the antique group, but only just. It could be the only decent .380 that Llama made (just look at their clone of FN 1910), maybe even the only decent gun period, with the history of the Ruby etc. But owners love their Llamas.
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