Gun Review: Zastava M70A Handgun

Zastava M70A, c Nick Leghorn

Everyone and their brother is looking for the most bang for their buck when it comes to handguns, and on the lower end of that scale things tend to look pretty bleak. Your options are pretty much limited to either the Hi-Point C9, which compares unfavorably with a masonry brick, and a wide assortment of military surplus handguns that either use calibers that come in boxes with foreign languages on them or look like they were picked up after a particularly nasty battle. So when I saw that Zastava had a new production handgun that retailed for under $240, I was intrigued. Century Arms International (who imports them into the United States) was nice enough to lend me one to review, and… well…

It’s a Tokarev. Well, an M57 version of the Tokarev TT-33, which was the first handgun I ever fired, and was also manufactured by Zastava… in the 1960s. I actually have video from that event.

Yes, I am aware that I am a massive history nerd.

Anyway the guns are identical in every way shape and form, except the barrel and the safety. And the missing lanyard loop on the side of the gun, yet the grip panels still strangely have the cutout as if it were in place. The gun has the same dimensions, uses the same magazines, and takes down in the exact same way as that original M57 handgun. The only differences are that the gun has a 9mm barrel instead of the 7.62×25 chambering on the M57, and has a safety that actually works. The safety on the CAI imported M57 handguns has a tendency to spin around and not actually do anything useful, but the M70A safety is crisp and functional. There’s also a magazine safety, which is slightly frustrating.

Zastava M70A, c Nick Leghorn

I’m harping on the safety because that’s the only difference that really matters in this gun. Robert reviewed the original M57 way back in 2011 shortly after I started writing for TTAG, and in every way that matters it’s the same gun. But I guess since I have some time and my glass is still full of Macallan 10 year old scotch I’ll continue for a bit.

The TT-33 and the subsequent Serbian copy (the M57) is basically a bad copy of John Moses Browning’s 1911 design. It has all the same general characteristics and takes down in mostly the same way, but the Soviets cut corners. Instead of having a rotating barrel bushing that releases the plunger and spring, there’s a bar that locks the slide release and keeps it from falling out. Instead of a grip safety, there is… nothing. And while the external extractor might have been ahead of its time in terms of a feature, it’s a fiddly bit of metal instead of the chunky and solid one found in a 1911. In addition, the lighter recoil from the 30 caliber bullet meant that the gun could be made from lighter materials and therefore feels more like a prize from a Cracker Jack box instead of a handgun.

The M70A has the same characteristics, and therefore feels the same in your hand. If I could sum it up in one word, it’s “meh.” Manipulating the slide you can feel that the gun is a little rough, it’s like you’re dragging a metal rod through a gravel pit. Probably something that would smooth out in time, but I was hoping for a more polished finished product from the factory.

Magazines are a bit of an issue. Inserting them isn’t a problem, but getting them out is damn near impossible. It takes me about thirty seconds of smacking the magazine and trying to pry it free before it comes out, and I can confirm that this isn’t a one-off issue with my the handgun they sent. CAI actually sent me two of these guns, and they both had the same problem.

The safety on this gun is actually pretty good. It’s a slide mounted safety, which is about par for the course for cheaper handguns, but it’s easy to manipulate and solidly flicks from “S” to “F.” Not only does it completely disconnect the trigger, but the safety also pops up two prongs on either side of the firing pin to keep anything from inadvertently hitting it and setting off the chambered round. It’s nice. The magazine safety, on the other hand, is an annoying addition in my opinion. It doesn’t make the gun any safer, and is one more Serbian engineered Soviet era thing to go wrong.

Zastava M70A, c Nick Leghorn

Out on the range, the gun does actually work — and reliably so. No matter what I did or what I fed it the gun continued to run without any problems. Except, of course, when it came time to reload. Then it took forever. However, accuracy is a problem.

P1000486

This is from about 10 feet, and the gun shoots reliably low and wide. It’s not a precision instrument by any means, but it’ll hit a man sized target no problem.

The only real concerning issue I had was that the gun is able to fire even when the slide is out of battery. The M1911A1 handguns have a disconnector that disables the trigger unless the gun is fully in battery, but with the M70A it can fire even if the slide isn’t all the way home. It’s a safety concern in my opinion.

Zastava M70A, c Nick Leghorn

Whether this is a “good” handgun or not really depends on the price, and it’s about the same as one of SCCY’s latest contraptions. Or if you prefer a Kahr, they’re less than $100 more. Really, you’re not gaining anything by choosing this gun over the others. Unless you happen to have a Soviet uniform sitting in your closet.

Which I do. Haters gunna hate.

Zastava M70A Handgun

Specifications:

Caliber: 9mm
Barrel: 4.5 inches
Overall: 7.9 Inches
Weight: 30.3 oz
Trigger: Single stage
Capacity: 9
MSRP: $239.95 (AIM Surplus)

Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
All ratings are relative compared to the other weapons in the gun’s category.

Accuracy: * *
Not very impressive. We’re talking “minute of bad guy” at bad breath distances.

Ergonomics: * * * *
The ergonomics actually aren’t bad. The gun fits my hand well, and the lack of a grip safety means that there’s nothing to annoy the webbing on my palm. The slide mounted safety is annoying, though.

Ergonomics Firing: * * * *
Not bad, actually. Relatively light, if snappy.

Customization: *
While the Russkies are good at mass producing things, they aren’t very good at making them customizable. There’s a laser attachment you can buy from Zastava, but that’s about it.

Overall Rating: * *
The SCCY handguns are in the same price range, but they don’t use manufacturing processes from before the Iron Curtain fell and are actually pretty accurate. If you really want something that looks like a Tokarev this is a good option, but for everything else I’d go with the newer guns.