Custom CZ’s —The ‘Un-1911’

Alternative Thinking

Roy Huntington
Photos: Chuck Pittman, Inc.

I was at the Brownells Gunsmith Fair a few years ago talking to a polite young gent in a tie. We were in line for lunch and I had struck up a conversation since I always enjoy hearing what younger people say about the industry. The event was hosted by Brownells as an opportunity for entry-level gunsmith students to learn — and meet potential employers. The young man seemed anxious.

Adam Motter was in his last phase of gunsmith school and was about to take the leap into the workforce. “It’s hard to describe but I kept imagining everyone would be talking guns and helping each other, but it’s much more businesslike. These people are interested in their own shops and concerns and I feel as if it’s hard to, well, I’m not sure how to describe it, but sort of break the ice.” I understood. There were plenty of “old guys” in the crowd and many were there to learn to help their businesses and were focused on that. I’ll also say it seems many of the younger gunsmith students were overwhelmed by the concentration of sheer industry knowledge in the people around them. Many of the young gunsmiths were looking — a bit lost.

I joined Adam and his friends at a table and while we ate, I talked to them about the industry, the concerns of the business people in attendance, and offered some ideas to help as they entered the job market. I also got to look at dozens of good quality pictures showing a broad range of talented work the young ’smiths were doing in school. I saw a future — and an opportunity to help some.

After getting to know the group a bit more that evening, I made them a promise. “I’ve seen your work and know you’re passionate about pushing the envelope on design and high quality work. Graduate, find a slot and when your work is ready, send me some photos. If it’s good, I’ll put it on the cover of Handgunner.”

I noticed Adam smiled when I said that, then reached out and shook my hand. “You’ll be hearing from me.”

Adam kept in touch. After his graduation and cutting his teeth for a while learning the ropes of the daily grind of a custom gun shop, Adam moved to another slot he found at the CZ Custom Shop in Mesa, Arizona. About two years later he sent me an email with an image of a partially completed slide of a CZ-75 model — “How’s this?” was all it said. I said, “Keep at it and show me the final result.”

“This” ended up being just fine (the finger-groove gripped gun in the photos). When Adam sent me a photo of his completed gun, I said “Let’s show what you — and the team at the CZ Custom shop — can do, while we’re at this.” Shortly, a box of four custom CZ-based guns arrived and I realized the pistol-shooting public had been missing out on something remarkable — custom CZ semi-autos.

1978

As a new cop, I was carrying a revolver and dutifully had a 1911 and a small collection of other handguns too. But there was a strange “painted” auto from the com-bloc nations called the CZ-75. While it looked almost crude with the baked-on finish, it was a genuine “hi-cap” DA/SA 9mm auto holding between 12 to 20-odd rounds depending upon the magazine and model as time passed. Back then it had a mystique which made me want one badly. But alas, being from a communist country (Czechoslovakia, back then), there were none imported.

By the late 1980’s some were making it into the country but they were $1,000 or more, further adding to the mystery. When the Russians gave up, Czechoslovakia became the Czech Republic and the CZ-75 pipeline opened. Other than the Browning Hi-Power, “hi-cap” 9mm’s were scarce and when I finally got my hands on a “real” CZ, rather than the solution to all my woes, I got a military-grade, gritty trigger, medicore-grouping gun, with an awkward safety. The “inside the frame” rails of the slide (similar to a SIG P210) looked very cool, but overall the gun simply wasn’t the smoothly functioning piece of tooled elegance I was hoping for.

As time passed, European gunsmiths continued to hone and improve the basic 1975-era design and interest spiked again. Once “consumer” grade CZ-75 guns began to appear regularly, production quality for factory guns settled down, but I don’t think they ever reached what we Americans considered “right” in regards to the action, looks or performance. Plus, by that time there were other hi-cap autos available so the CZ-75 design remained in the sights of very few.

Big Changes

In the early 2000’s I was fortunate enough to visit the CZ factory, and while there was able to actually handle serial number 1 of the CZ-75. What I found was a classy, beautifully made gun, with a smooth DA trigger pull. This wasn’t anything I expected. It seems once into general “military” production, things had changed.

When I returned to the states I asked around for pistolsmiths who did custom work on the CZ platform and was met with pretty much a deafening silence. Since then I have always wondered why this gun — with so much potential — was essentially ignored by customizers. But it turns out once CZ was strongly entrenched in the US, and it began importing excellent factory, stock guns, eventually partnering with Angus Hobdell (you may recognize that name as being one of the winning handgunning competitors over the decades), things changed. Angus founded a shop in Mesa, AZ focusing on customizing the CZ-75 and as time passed, other CZ platforms too.

Today, the shop turns out a broad assortment of custom work (on guns other than CZ’s too) and through their efforts have turned the CZ-75 into what many of us wished it had always been, a well-dressed, highly functional and accurate auto, not having to hide from even the best any other company has to offer.

Adam’s Gun

Based on a stock 9mm CZ-75 SP01 Shadow, Adam took this basic palette and enhanced it. The stock Shadow is already upgraded and is successful as a competition/military and defensive pistol and is a winning design in international IPSC shooting events. But, Adam began his build with an unfitted, oversized slide to have more control over things. First off, he removed all the factory lettering to keep things clean and smooth.

An ACCU bushing modification was performed by the CNC shop. Adam hand-fit the slide to the frame, added custom checkered serrations (keeping a shallow angle so they weren’t too sharp). This helped with the common complaint about not enough “gripping” surface on a stock CZ slide. Those flowing triangle-flats on the slide were done by hand by the way, with files!

The rear sight is a prototype Adam designed for this particular build. He didn’t want to use an adjustable sight, and there were no fixed sights that extended to the rear of the slide. This new sight is now available from the Custom Shop, with options covering Tritium or fiber optics. It can be used on any CZ long slide models or Tactical Sports. Congrats Adam.

The frame’s factory checkering was removed, trigger guard opened up inside, rear grip reduced and “high-cut” and the front strap was cut higher too. The trigger is a re-shaped CZ85 Combat “gunsmith fit” style with no set screw, mated to a fat style competition hammer. Adam shaped the grips to fit his own hands and the grip texture is the same serrated style as the slide showcases. I do like the lowered, more easily accessible safety on this model as opposed to the stock one on the CZ-75 standard gun. Simply marvelous work at every level!

The barrel, controls, rear sight, slide, etc. are Black Nitride, with the frame being darkened Tungsten Cerakote. The grips and magazine base pad are hard anodized. What struck me instantly about Adam’s gun is the 2.5-pound single action and “smooth as the best Colt Python you’ll ever feel” 6.25-pound double action pull. It truly turns the CZ design into something to admire — and covet. The gun “hangs” beautifully in your hand and the mass of the all-steel construction makes it easy and pleasant to shoot. Accuracy is better than I can hold and is on-par with any custom 1911 I’ve shot.

When I promised to showcase one of Adam’s “best” first-guns, I had no idea he would be able to do this. It honestly is what I think we all had been hoping for when we first saw those early CZ-75 photos in the 1970’s. And, Adam’s gun actually performs as good as it looks.

Custom 97B

Eric Zinn is the head gunsmith at the Custom Shop and built the custom .45 ACP CZ97B (the all-black gun). Eric has a broad background in both general gunsmithing and custom work so he brings a lot to the table. His work on this gun is easy to miss if you just glance, but if you go on-line and get a photo of a stock gun, you’ll see what’s going on here.

He lowered the top of the slide just .125″ but it made a refined difference. He removed the loaded round indicator, trued the breech face, chamfered the firing pin hole, cross dovetailed the front sight, massaged a Heinie low mount rear sight in and fitted a CZC accu-bushing. Ball end-mill cuts at the front of the slide and a good polish to the slide sides round out the top-end work. Like I said, it’s subtle — but substantial.

Shortening and reprofiling the dust cover, he begain his work on the frame. He cut it higher where the hand meets the trigger guard (like a high-cut on a 1911 frame) and did the same with the beaver tail. The grip frame size was reduced .125″, the main spring plug blended to frame, mag well opened, the trigger guard was smoothly rounded and Eric polished the frame sides.

The slide, sear cage and frame were blended at the rear and the entire slide rear was reprofiled for a more traditional look.

Recontoured controls and a general de-horning of the entire gun helps things. A trigger job — using a prototype round hammer — yielded a short reset and short double action. A 13 lb. mainspring and Eric’s action work turned into a 7.5 lb. DA and 3 lb. SA trigger. Nice. A CZ Custom 85 combat trigger, modified CZ Shadow extended magazine release, CZC stainless steel guide rod and 14 lb. recoil spring extended the option list.

Being all-steel, and in .45 ACP, Eric’s gun feels like a police duty pistol to the old cop in me. It’s tough and highly functional and his mods turned it into a smooth-shooting, shooter-friendly partner. You could carry this in a security holster on-duty, then slip it into your CCW rig for the drive home. If you’re not a cop, you can simply enjoy this gun for competiton, personal protection and target shooting since it shoots like a laser beam, not having to hide from any custom 1911 either. This is a serious fighting pistol.

Stock/Custom Guns?

The “red” and “silver” guns are interesting. They represent custom guns built by the CZ Custom shop, and are models they attempt to keep in stock. However, they may be built by any of the custom ’smiths in the shop so we can’t attribute them to any particular fellow. Nonetheless, they both show careful attention to fit, detail work and finish and frankly are class acts on their own.

The Shadow Custom Model (the red-gripped one) is surprisingly affordable, at “around” the $1,300 mark. But keep in mind since they are customs, the price can vary a bit. Basically the “shop” takes stock CZ’s (in this case it’s based on the CZ SP01 Shadow in 9mm), then massage and enhance things. This one gets extensive action work and the special parts going with that, a competiton rear sight, fiber optic front, CZ Custom competition SA/DA hammer and main spring, stainless steel guide rod and 11 lb. recoil spring. Custom grips (different colors) are there too. They also re-profile the slide stop for assured magazine release when using heavy or long bullets.

You end up with a DA pull of around 8 to 9 pounds and an SA pull of 3 to 4 pounds. But keep in mind, any of the options done (all outlined completely on their website) could be applied to any CZ standard style model.

I would call the Shadow Custom more of a competiton pistol than a carry-gun. Weekend matches would be a perfect venue for it, and with the gilt-edged accuracy you could certainly hunt small game too if you wanted. As I age, I like the all-steel guns more and more, and in 9mm this is a joy to shoot. “Point your finger and smite at a distance” comes to mind.

Custom Tactical Sport

The CTS (also a shop-built custom gun) is one heck of a bargain at about $2,400 if you ask me. Based on the stock CZ-75 Tactical Sport SAO, it’s basically a full-race gun but affordable for us regular guys and gals. It looks sleek and serious and feels the same. It’s something you could compete with anywhere in the world. The action is crisp and smooth and the safety (ambi) and mag release are full-figured and easy to find. The flat trigger feels perfect and reduces the reach to the trigger too. Nifty for people like me with smaller hands. With most “custom” 1911’s starting at the $3,000 mark today, this custom gun is a lot of value for the money.

Some upgrades include competition trigger and hammer work and a 2.0 pound (SA only) trigger. An extended firing pin, drop-free mag, reduced weight spring package, stainless guide rod, aluminum grips, extra-wide mag well and 20-round capacity make up the core package group. The shorter trigger makes a huge difference in how this gun feels and that long slide runs on the rails smoothly and confidently. With the fiber-optic front and adjustable rear sights tuned in for your favorite load, the CTS begs to help you run rows of steel plates. Which I did — and it did.

On a side note, unlike many “full house” race-type guns we’ve tested, this one ran 100 percent right from the first round on. The breed tends to be fussy but this one digested ammo like a cop duty gun. I was amazed. My 100-yard steel gong got a workout too. This is simply great fun wrapped up in the guise of a handsome auto pistol. And don’t forget, that all-steel construction means it recoils about like a .32 auto. Who needs a comp?

Hope?

Yes, there is hope for the world, or at least for custom guns. With this sort of work being turned out by young gunsmiths today, I honestly can’t imagine what’s down the road. In this case, it warmed my heart to see young Adam tackle my dare with a grin — then deliver this sublimely graceful pistol. And, an especially satisfying part of this has been to finally behold and shoot iterations of the classic CZ-75 design the way I imagined they should have been some 40-odd years ago.

And keep in mind, while these custom guns are sophisticated examples of the gunmaker’s art, they are all based on current production, factory CZ models. And having experience with those too, I know for a fact you’d be surprised and appreciative of the quality and performance available over the counter with today’s CZ designs. The CZ Custom shop just spreads a bit of icing on that cake.

For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/index, CS Custom Shop, (480) 969-1311, info@nullczcustom.com; CZ USA, (800) 955-4486

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One thought on “Custom CZ’s —The ‘Un-1911’

  1. Daniel L O'Connor

    Your article showed four models of the ‘CZ-75’ but not one of them had an extended and
    threaded barrel. For those of us who use compensators, an extended barrel is a must.
    Dan O.

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