(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)
I’m not very keen on practical pistols, which is what leaves me digging up weird old crap and playing with it in the woods. That’s what brought me to the Star Firestar M-43 9mm, imported by Interarms of Alexandria, Virginia more than 20 years ago.
The story of Interarms is really what makes Star Firearms so interesting. The founder of International Armament Corporation, Samuel Cummings, was a real life Lord of War. After serving in World War II, he bought up an enormous quantity of surplus arms from across Europe. In the 1950s he set up Interarmco, and began importing military surplus to the United States. At the same time, he started exporting American firearms to hotspots around the world; notably supplying Armalite AR-10s to Dominican revolutionaries and General Trujillo at the same time, which went over about as well as you’d expect.
Interarms imported a number of high-quality firearms from Europe, including the Mauser HSC, the Walther PP series, various and sundry Luger pistols, and seemingly the entire range of Star pistols like the 9mm 1911 clone Model B, the Megastar, and this:
Star’s Firestar is a weird mechanical hybrid of their classic Model B, and the later Model 28 series of Wondernines they designed to appeal to military contracts. As a result the Firestar is something of a transitional firearm. The action is strictly old school; single action like their 1911 clones. It’s a very heavy, stainless on stainless pistol, made at a time when the Gen 2 GLOCK 19 was an option. At the same time the Firestar is extremely compact for the caliber, cornering the single stack pocket 9mm market 20 years early.
The three models of the Firestar are the M-43, M-40, and M-45, chambered in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP respectively. The M-43 and M-40 are nearly identical in size, and most parts and magazines should be interchangeable between the two. The M-45 is, predictably, chunkier to accommodate the girthy 45 Auto cartridge.
This one is in Star’s “Starvel” nickel finish, which looks tremendous when in good shape. When in bad shape, it looks like chrome paint chipping off of a plastic bumper. Everything else on the Firestar is quality. Most of the gun is satin nickel, except for the flats on the slide which are more polished and have a brushed look to them. The checkering on the front and backstrap, the front of the trigger guard, and the controls (slide release, ambi safety, and combat hammer) is sharp and clean.
The only negative from an aesthetic standpoint is the mediocre soft rubber grips. After some fevered internet searching, I found some custom wood grips made by an eBay seller. These are checkered French walnut with a cool Star logo. If you had told me two years ago I would get so obsessed with stainless pistols and wood grips, I would have laughed in your face, and maybe kicked you in the nads. Addiction really sneaks up on a guy.
The Firestar is not a duty pistol. The small size means a small magazine capacity of 7 rounds for the M-43, and 6 rounds for the .40 caliber M-40. Extended 10-rounders are available from Triple K and ProMag, but the Firestar is a concealed carry gun through and through. Reloads could certainly be faster; ejected magazines do not drop free, and in fact only drop a centimeter when empty. This is a side effect of the magazine disconnect, which relies on the magazine impinging on a tab to allow the trigger bar to travel rearwards and trip the hammer.
The whole magazine disconnect assembly is easily removed with a brass punch, but it’s pulling double duty as a stop for the bottom of the mainspring. When the disconnect is removed, the mainspring drops in the housing by about 3/4 of a centimeter. I modified my Firestar in this way, and haven’t had any issues with reliable ignition, it’s just something to be aware of.
With the magazine disconnect removed, pressing the mag release causes the magazines to leap from the bottom of the gun like a 2 dollar bill getting rejected by the vending machine in my office (damn you, PepsiCo, I need a Dew and I don’t have any friggin’ quarters!)
I haven’t bothered with the Triple K magazines, partly because their AMT Backup magazines are shockingly poor, but mostly because they have star shaped witness holes which is tackier than wearing Birkenstocks and tube socks (sorry Dad). And don’t even get me started on the ProMags.
The rest of the controls work just fine. The magazine release is oblong, and the extra length front to rear makes it very easy to reach. The ambidextrous safety actuates cleanly with a nice click and stays where you put it. The sloping, textured surface and the position of the safety make flicking it off very easy. The large surface of the slide release is just as easy to actuate, which comes in handy as the Firestar has reversed slide rails like a CZ-75 and there’s not a lot of real estate for a powerstroke.
I am a large-handed individual who finds the grip of a GLOCK 19 (if anything) too small, and the Firestar fits my hand perfectly. The grip is exactly as short as I would ever want from a concealed carry pistol. Any shorter and you have to make a no-win decision about where to keep your “extra” finger, any longer and they might feel the need to put some unnecessary finger grooves on it.
Shooting the Firestar is extremely pleasant. The gun is damn heavy; unloaded it weighs more than a fully-loaded GLOCK 19. I have it on my lap as I’m writing this, and I think it’s cutting off the circulation to my lower extremities. The upshot is that recoil is mild for a gun of its size, which makes speed shooting fun and easy. I would love it unconditionally if only I could out shoot a Stormtrooper at 7 yards. What a twist!
The single action trigger is not 1911 style, and I have a hard time with it. For one, it pinches gloves and prevents the trigger from resetting until you pull your finger completely out of the trigger guard. That’s not likely to be a concern in a suburban defensive role, but I wouldn’t carry it camping. Even after spending a few lengthy sessions snappin’ caps while watching Bob’s Burgers, I still can’t predict the break. Careful target shooting slowed to a crawl at the range while I tried to slowly increment pressure to find the break. It was throwing fliers like a kid with a missing cat.
The Firestar has adjustable 3 white dot sights. The rear sight has a generous gap for the front dot, which makes getting your sights on target very fast, but getting your rounds on target a bit harder. Some glow-in-the-dark sight paint would make them a bit easier to pick out. For that matter so would a fresh coat of white, since the M-43’s sights have gone to beige in the last 25 years.
Standing between you and carrying the Firestar is a dearth of available holsters. The only one I could find that is still in production for the Firestar, is a Bianchi 6D with a host of minor problems. For one, it only “kinda” fits the Firestar, as well as several other models of pistol. I really don’t like using a holster that only fits my gun by coincidence. Second, it has a retention strap with a thumb break which I think is unnecessary for an IWB holster. Not only does the thumb break just get in the way, it also doesn’t fit the M-43 properly.
I modified this one by cutting the thumb break off on one side, and sliding the adjustable strap completely out of the other side. This left a big strip of useless Velcro on the inside, so I cut out the stitching and removed that as well. Unfortunately the Velcro was also held on with contact cement, and removing that was a pain in the ass. I also trimmed the leather on the bottom of the holster by about a half inch so it didn’t overlap the muzzle so far. It’s not a great holster and rides slightly high, but it works well enough when modified this way.
I really love my Firestar M-43, and the understated panache of the rest of Star’s lineup has me wanting more. The rest of the Star/Interarms story kind of sucks. Spanish arms companies Astra, CETME, and Star all went bankrupt in the 1990s. Star went out kicking with a torrent of new models before the end, but none of them really caught on and the doors closed on this excellent small arms company in 1997. Samuel Cummings had no one to take over his company, and when he died in 1998 Interarms died with him.
The last years of Star were impressive, though not financially. The Firestar M-43 got a late-life upgrade to the appropriately named M-43 Plus, a double stack version of the same gun. It boasts a chunky GLOCK-like grip width to accommodate a larger magazine, and a lighter alloy frame. More impressive was the Megastar, a big double stack, double action combat pistol chambered in .45 ACP and 10mm. In 1992 it was probably the only 10mm pistol that wouldn’t destroy itself under normal use of full power 10mm loads.
There was also the Ultrastar, their first polymer framed pistol. The Ultrastar honestly looks like a legitimate contender in the modern concealed carry market, and based on my experience with the Firestar I’d take one over a S&W Shield or GLOCK 43 just to be different. If I ever get one, you’ll read about it here.
The Firestar represents an interesting enigma. On one hand, it’s not a combat pistol. The capacity is too limited, and the controls too slow (especially ejecting spent magazines). But on the other hand, the Firestar shoots well. The weight keeps it controllable, and the uncomplicated single action trigger is capable of combat accuracy if you can learn to stop anticipating the break.
On still another hand, that weight and that single action manual of arms make it a less than stellar carry pistol. And on yet a fourth hand, the Firestar’s small size makes it a carrying contender after all.
Specifications: Star Firestar M-43
Barrel Length: 3″
Overall Length: 6.5″
Price: About $350 (approximate Gunbroker price for one in good shape)
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
Style, Fit & Finish: * * * *
Star’s electroless nickel “Starvel” finish is drop-dead gorgeous when new, but when it starts to go it looks like hammered fecal matter. Nice proportions and quality machining make the Firestar look good even with those meh rubber grips.
Accuracy: * * *
Mechanically accurate maybe, but the trigger break is too vague. The sights are too coarse as well, so accuracy will come down to the shooter.
Ergonomics (Carry): * *
Dimensionally the Firestar is very similar to a Smith & Wesson Shield, but for the all-important width. The horizontal beefiness makes concealment unusually uncomfortable for such a small gun, and the ambidextrous safety stabs at thee from anywhere you tuck it. And it weighs about as much as a gold brick.
Ergonomics (Shooting): * * *
The Firestar is hand-filling and barely seems to recoil. Large handed shooters will feel the ambidextrous safety biting into the web of their hand with a high grip, and the mushy trigger discourages accurate shooting.
Reliability: * * * * *
My Firestar has literally never malfunctioned. I don’t mean “almost never,” I mean literally not even once. It always shoots, it always cycles, it always ejects. Through several hundred rounds of hollow-points, cheap ammo, and even steel cased Tula.
Customize This: –
No rail means no add-ons, and the Firestar’s EOL status means no good holsters. Aftermarket magazines are of questionable quality, and the only source of custom grips is one guy on eBay.
Overall: * * *
Compared to the modern polymer single stack, the Firestar just doesn’t compete. It’s too fat, too heavy, and it has a manual safety and a single action trigger. In the early 90s, though, it was ahead of its time, and today fills a niche as a good-looking and affordable curio. The size and weight allow it to fill an unexpected role: a great handgun to introduce novice shooters to centerfire shooting. The Ultrastar, Star’s successor to the Firestar, looks like it might come a bit closer to stacking up, but that’ll be a story for another day.