Category Archives: Firearms

A Tale of Two Berettas — 92FS and 92FS “Reverse Two-Tone”


Standard Beretta 92FS (top); uncommon 92FS “Reverse Two-Tone”

The Beretta 92 family of handgus  is a design that until recently I hadn’t much interest. It’s big, bulky, and heavy, and there are smaller, lighter high-capacity pistols out there — the exceptional Walther P99 comes readily to mind (for a review of the P99c AS compact see: When Fashion Goes Macho—Walther P99c AS in 9mm). And while Beretta would love for you to believe they invented that locking block system that keeps the barrel parallel to the frame during recoil operation, first with their M1951 (1949-1980) and later with the more famous Model 92 (1976-current) the fact is that Walther beat them to it by eleven years with the P38/P-1 (designed in 1938, produced 1939-2000).

Beretta 92FS with 15-round magazine; 17-round magazines also available

 

But, darn, if that Beretta isn’t just one sexy looking pistol with that beautiful, sleek, naked Italian barrel peeking up through that indecent, open-top slide.

Open top slide with exposed barrel

Indeed, exposed barrels are a bit of a thing with Beretta. Another way to put it is that Beretta makes the world’s largest ejection ports. To illustrate what I mean, here’s a family portrait featuring a 92FS, 85FS Cheetah, and a 3032 Tomcat (for additional information of the latter two see: Shooting a Pair of Cheetahs — Comparing the Beretta 84FS and 85FSPocket Pistol Week — Beretta Tomcat  and  Fun Firearms Friday — Pocket Pistol Shootout: Colt Mustang vs. Beretta Tomcat):

Three different Berettas — all with open slides

Beretta Family Portrait

So, when one day I stumbled across a used (2013) 92FS in good shape at a reasonable price, I was intrigued. That this particular 92FS was actually manufactured in Italy rather that the U.S. made me reconsider my previous reluctance in acquiring one. Yeah, I’m a bit funny that way — if I’m going to get an Italian pistol then I prefer that it come from the original Italian factory. Consequently, that particular 92FS followed me home like a forlorn puppy looking for a good home, complete with the original box, both magazines, and all the extraneous goodies:

Used Italian-manufactured 92FS

While this example may be “used”, it certainly is clean:

Italian-made Beretta 92FS

Field stripping and cleaning the Beretta 92FS is pretty straight forward. Step one in disassembly is locating the take-down button on the starboard side of the pistol and push it:

Beretta take-down button

While holding in the button, locate the take-down latch on the opposite side of the pistol:

Beretta 92 take-down latch

Rotate the lever clockwise 90°:

Beretta take-down latch rotated to disassembly position

Pull the slide and barrel forward off the frame as a unit. Unlike a SIG P22(x), FNX, and many other pistols, you don’t even need to lock back the slide to engage the take-down controls. Taking apart the barrel, guide rod, and recoil spring is a straight forward operation from this point:

Disassembled Beretta 92FS

As previously mentioned, the 92FS uses a falling locking block system that keeps the barrel parallel to the frame during recoil operation rather than John Browning’s more familiar tilt-barrel design used in most locked breech pistols made today. Here is the locking block in both positions:

Locking block engaged (position when the barrel is locked with the slide)

Beretta locking block dropped (the position when the barrel disengages from the slide)

The 92FS is a combat pistol. It’s the M9 version of this pistol that in 1986 began replacing the famed Colt M1911, which had been in common U.S. military use for the preceding 75 years and which some U.S. military units continued to use until just recently — over 100 years in service! Being a combat pistol, the 92FS uses rather basic but functional three-dot sights:

92FS rear sight

92FS front sight

I’ve not yet fired this pistol (or any other 92 for that matter), but I have studied its operation and manipulated the controls. I rate the double action trigger pull as fair, about what one would expect from a double-action/single-action hammer-fired pistol (rated at 11.3 pounds)/5,100 grams). Single action pull is a tad on the heavy side for what I would expect (rated at 6.6 pounds/3,000 grams), but it breaks cleanly and predictably. In comparison, a SIG P22(x) trigger is rated at 10 pounds/4,400 grams double action and 4.4 pounds/2,000 grams single action. The double-action/single-action striker-fired Walther P99 comes in at 8.8 pounds/4,000 grams and 4.4 pounds/2,000 grams respectively. No wonder I love my P99 pistols and variants!

As for use as a concealed carry pistol, well . . . . Did I mention that the 92FS is huge? And heavy? The Beretta 92FS weighs in at a hefty 33.3 ounces/944 grams empty, even though it sports an alloy frame. The SIG P229 also has an alloy frame, yet weighs in at 29.6 ounces/839 grams. And that polymer frame Walther? An empty full-size P99 comes in at a relatively svelte 21.3 ounces/605 grams. Nevertheless, I’m sure the Beretta will acquit itself quite well at the range. Watch for a firing review at a future date.

Now let’s take a look at that other reason I bit the bullet (pun intended) on this example, the roll mark:

Beretta Gardone V.T. (short for Val Trompia) — Made in Italy

Are Italian-made Berettas superior to those made here in the U.S.? No. But that isn’t the point. Would you rather have a Walther PPK/S stamped “Made in Germany” or one marked “Houlton, Maine”? A SIG P225 proudly bragging “Made in Switzerland”, or one from Exeter, New Hampshire?

Which brings us to this next 92FS, which I stumbled across at my favorite local gun store (Collector’s Gun Exchange). This one is rather unique and somewhat hard to find in that it’s a “reverse two-tone”, meaning that the slide is Bruniton, the barrel matte blued, and the alloy frame set in “Inox” finish even though it’s not an Inox (stainless) frame. If you decide to track down one of these pistols for your collection, the model number is SPEC0523A.

Beretta “Reverse Two-Tone” 92 FS

Unlike its all Bruniton (slide)/black anodized (frame) brother, this pistol also comes with an ambidextrous safety:

Beretta “Reverse Two-Tone” 92 FS with ambidextrous safety

And, yes, this one also comes from Gardone Val Trompia, Northern Italy.

Beretta Gardone V.T. — Made in Italy

The reverse two-tone 92FS appears to have come to the U.S. in very limited quantities, and I believe none have been imported since around 2012. This particular example was made in 2011, and like its 2013 Bruniton brother it was never registered with Beretta by any previous owner. That’s my tip of the day for collectors, by the way. Always check to see if a used firearm has been registered by the previous owner with the manufacturer or distributor. You would be shocked at how many times this isn’t done, and you become the “first” owner in regards to warranty as far as the manufacturer/distributor is concerned.

This 92FS has been fired, and there are a couple of minor scratches on the left front frame and slide, but otherwise it’s in excellent condition. As such, this pistol’s days at the range are over. It’s been cleaned, treated with Renaissance (museum restoration) Wax, lubricated, and slides greased, and now officially retired.

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Interesting Collectables: “Old” 1st issue Ruger Bearcats


Rare unmodified Ruger “Alpha Cat” Bearcat

Until recently the Ruger Bearcat wasn’t even on my radar, as the new production models are pricey (MSRP $639 blued; $689 stainless) and older models seldom come up in the market. So, when the above pictured Bearcat showed up at my favorite local gun store (Collector’s Gun Exchange) for what looked to be a relatively so-so price, I took a chance. The only reason I did was because this particular example had not been modified with the Ruger transfer block system. Thus, cocking the four-stage hammer gave me that very satisfying, nostalgic, Old West quadruple C-O-L-T click. The bore was clean, the rifling intact, the cylinder lock-up good. Several of those beautiful cocking sounds later I asked the salesman to stuff it behind the counter while I looked around the shop and thought it over.

Rare unmodified Ruger “Alpha Cat” Bearcat

After completing my rounds I headed back to that Ruger Bearcat and cocked it a few more times. By this time another collector whom I know had walked into the shop and told me if I didn’t take it, he would. So, it followed me home, whereupon I started doing research and found I’d inadvertently struck pay dirt. The shop thought this particular Bearcat was from 1971. It wasn’t. It was from 1960, the third year of a fourteen-year production (1958-1971) before the alloy frame was changed to steel (1971-1975). Not only that, this particular example was a rare “Alpha Cat”, which used a letter at the beginning of the serial number (A001 through Z999 excluding the letter “O” for obvious reasons). Additionally, this was a very late “Alpha Cat” on which the front sight had been reduced in height ¼-inch to improve aim. This modification probably started around serial number X165 and ran through Z999, continuing on through later numbering schemes until the end of “1st issue” production. Thus, at most, only 2,382 “Alpha Cats” were produced with that lowered sight.

Y293 — “Alpha Cats” X165 through Z999 had reduced height front sights

Where did I get all this wonderful Bearcat 1st issue information? From an article written by noted Ruger collector Bill Hamm and posted online at GunBlast.com. Here’s a link to that article: Ruger Bearcat 1958 to 1970. Thanks, Bill!

Reading up on values, I was pleased to see what I thought was only a so-so deal turned out to be $200 to the good on my side. Add another $75 if the darned thing had come with the original box and owner’s manual, which it didn’t. But then a funny thing happened exactly two weeks to the day later, same gun store, when I ran into another 1st issue Bearcat.

1964 Ruger Bearcat with lightly stamped “Ruger Eagle” on walnut grips

At first I thought this one had non-original grips, because these grips were oiled walnut instead of the shiny rosin-impregnated rosewood grips on the earlier Bearcat.

1964 Ruger Bearcat — early oiled-walnut grip variant

This post-Alpha Cat example was also unmodified, and so still had that wonderful Single Action quadruple click. But in this case it wasn’t the gun I was after, even though it was a beauty despite the shiny drag mark around the circumference of the cylinder. So, what was I really after? This:

Original Ruger Bearcat box and owner’s manual

Considering that the box and manual added about $75 to the value of the “Alpha Cat”, I figure I got are really good deal on this later oiled walnut Ruger with the “aftermarket” grips. Well, it turns out those oiled-walnut grips are factory, and that this particular example is one of the first ones to come out of the factory that way. Oiled walnut grips were used starting at serial number 35000 through the end of 1st issue production. This Bearcat is number 35623, meaning only 623 Bearcats with oiled walnut grips preceded it out of the Ruger factory door. It’s also one of only about 15,000 Bearcats in the 35000-to-114000 serial number range that retained the original steel ejector housing before Ruger switched to aluminum. Yes, I checked that with a magnet. It’s steel.

35623 makes this the 623rd Bearcat to come with oiled walnut grips

So, while the original Ruger box and manual came with this 1964 Bearcat, it’s now paired with the “Alpha Cat”.

1964 Bearcat in its original box

Here is a comparison of the rosin-impregnated rosewood grips originally used on the early Bearcat next to the oiled walnut grips with lightly stamped Ruger Eagle medallion that first appeared in 1964:

Rare 1960 “Alpha Cat” (top); very early (1964) oiled-walnut Bearcat

1964 oiled-walnut Bearcat (top); 1960 rosin-impregnated Bearcat

The Bearcat is a smaller cousin to Ruger’s very popular Single Six (see: Six Shooter Week — Ruger Single-Six Convertible). In my previous article on the Single-Six I displayed a new engraved example next to a two-screw example from 1976. What wasn’t pictured is an unmodified (no transfer bar) three-screw example from 1971 that I acquired after that article was written. Because the three-screw is unmodified, it also comes with that nostalgia-inducing C-O-L-T click when cocked. The all-steel Single Six is big, though, and heavier than the original alloy frame Bearcat, as you can see here:

Size comparison — Ruger Single Six (top); Ruger Bearcat

Indeed, the Single Six is nearly as big as a full-size copy of Colt’s original 1873 Single Action Army pistol. Here is a comparison beneath a USFA Rodeo (see: U.S. Fire Arms Mfg. Co. — A Look at the Premier “Colt” Model 1873 Single Action) standing in for a Colt:

USFA Single Action Army; unmodified 3-screw Ruger Single Six; 1960 Ruger Bearcat

The “Alpha Cat” is now retired, reunited with an original Bearcat box and owner’s manual and potentially becoming too valuable to keep shooting. The 1964 Bearcat is well used, and will continue to see time at the range. Look for a firing review on that pistol, along with a direct comparison to its three-screw Single Six cousin, in a future article. For now, I’ll just close with observations about the pistol and how it handles. The original alloy frame Bearcat is light, well-balanced, and comfortable in the hand, more so on all counts than the Single Six. The trigger is a real gem—fairly light (not as light as an El Patron Competition, but lighter than the USFA Rodeo), and with a very crisp break with absolutely no play whatsoever. It should be a great shooter.

A word of warning about acquiring any early unmodified Ruger single-action revolver: These pistols do not have a trigger-activated transfer bar between the hammer and frame-mounted firing pin. As such, it is not safe to carry such “six shooters” with all six cylinder chambers loaded. For safety, the hammer must rest over an empty chamber. Failure to do this can result in an unintended discharge if the weapon to dropped or otherwise forcefully impacted in any manner. Bad things happen with unintended discharges, including damage to property, nearby people, or even the shooter.

Proper (safe) loading sequence for any Single Action Army-type pistol or unmodified (no transfer bar) Ruger single action revolver:

  1. Count out and place five (for a six-round weapon) bullets before you
  2. Five rounds only!
  3. Put the rest of the ammunition out of reach
  4. Thumb back the hammer two clicks, to the half-cock position; this frees the cylinder for rotation by hand
  5. Open the loading gate
  6. Visually inspect all cylinder chambers, making certain no bullets are loaded, by rotating the cylinder while peering down through the open loading gate
  7. After verifying all chambers are empty, place one round in the chamber exposed through the open loading gate (we’ll call this “Chamber 5”)
  8. Rotate the cylinder, bypassing the next empty chamber (Chamber 6) and proceeding to the second empty chamber (Chamber 1—why the skip will become evident in a moment); load one bullet into Chamber 1
  9. Continue loading the next three chambers in order (Chambers 2, 3, and 4)
  10. Close the loading gate
  11. Loaded Chamber 5 is next in line for the barrel, a.k.a., firing position
  12. Thumb back the hammer to the fully cocked position; doing this rotates loaded Chamber 5 away from the barrel
  13. Empty Chamber 6 is now in the firing position
  14. Holding the hammer back with your thumb, squeeze the trigger until the hammer releases
  15. Keeping the trigger pulled, gently lowering the hammer all the way to the frame with your thumb; failure to keep pulling the trigger will result in the hammer stopping at the half-cock loading position, which is not safe

You’re done. Your “six shooter” is now properly loaded with five bullets, and if you followed these directions the hammer is safely resting over an empty chamber and the weapon is safe to carry.

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Fun Firearms Friday — Pocket Pistol Shootout: Colt Mustang vs. Beretta Tomcat


Left to right: Walther PPK, Beretta Tomcat, PPK/S, Colt Mustang

I hope you’ve enjoyed Pocket Pistol Week here at the blog, but now it’s time to determine a winner. The 9mm P99c AS by Walther remains my primary concealed carry weapon, and it will continue in that role. But sometimes you simply need something just slightly more compact than the (in my opinion) best concealed carry weapon ever made, and for years my go-to choices for this were the Walther .380 ACP PPK/S for winter and the .32 ACP PPK for summer. Let’s look at the relevant numbers:

Walther PPK/S:

  • Length: 6.1 inches/155mm
  • Width: .98 inches/25mm
  • Height: 4.3 inches/109mm
  • Weight with empty 7-round .380 ACP magazine/9mm kurz: 23.6 ounces/627 grams

Walther PPK same as PPK/S above except:

  • Height: 3.8 inches/97mm
  • Weight with empty 7-round .32 ACP magazine: 22.1 ounces/669 grams

Colt Mustang Lite:

  • Length: 5.5 inches/140 millimeters
  • Width: 1.06 inches/27 mm
  • Height with flat-based 6-round magazine: 3.9 inches/99 mm
  • Weight with empty 6-round .380 ACP/9mm kurz magazine: 12.58 ounces/357 grams

Beretta 3032 Tomcat:

  • Length: 4.92 inches/125 millimeters
  • Width: 1.1 inches/28 mm
  • Height: 3.7 inches/94 mm
  • Weight with empty 7-round .32 ACP/7.65mm magazine:
    • Early thin-slide Tomcat 14.38 ounces/408 grams
    • Later wide-slide Tomcat 15.72 ounces/446 grams

Mustang vs. Tomcat

As you can see, the Walther pocket pistols are noticeably larger and much heavier than the competition in today’s article, almost to the point that calling either a “pocket pistol” is really a misnomer by today’s standards. Between the Mustang and the Beretta measurements get a bit tighter, with the Colt coming out ahead in the weight category, and the Beretta clearly winning in length and height. The two pistols are virtually tied in overall width, but the much narrower slide of the Mustang makes it feel substantially thinner compared to the Tomcat.

Mustang vs. Tomcat length

Ergonomically the Mustang wins by a landslide. The button slide release on the Colt is where any experienced shooter expects, directly behind the trigger. And when pressed, the magazine falls freely from the grip magazine well. The Tomcat button release is much farther down the slide and located to the rear, making thumb manipulation with the shooting hand (for right-handers) very awkward. It’s actually easier to use the off hand to press the release, and when released the magazine stops dropping after just over a third of an inch of travel, about 10mm.  The Mustang also comes out on top with an ambidextrous safety and a slide that locks back on the last shot. The Tomcat’s only real win here is the ease of breech loading that marvelous tip-barrel rather than having to rack the slide. Further working in the Beretta’s favor here is the location of the barrel release lever above and slightly behind the trigger; its location is perfect for thumb activation with the shooting hand.

Mustang vs. Tomcat height

Triggers are pretty much a wash. The Mustang’s single-action only trigger is much stiffer than what one normally encounters in a 1911-type design. I’d estimate it at over seven pounds, probably approaching eight.  Reset is shorter, at about a sixteenth of an inch/1.6mm compared to three sixteenths/4.8mm for the Tomcat.  The Tomcat single-action trigger feels lighter than the Colt’s, but not appreciably so; probably around six pounds if I must guess (I really need to invest in a trigger gauge at some point for these articles).  As for the Tomcat’s double-action trigger, it’s better than the above cited Walthers, but it’s not very smooth and you can both feel and hear when the hammer passes the half-cock position. Despite its flaws, the Tomcat’s double-action trigger is more than adequate at self-defense ranges, and the Beretta has the added advantage of a cocked-and-locked option.

Mustang with 7+1 magazine vs. Tomcat height

I’m going to grant a tie in the shootability between the Mustang and the Tomcat. Both have atrocious sights. Both are very mild in the recoil department, the Mustang being surprisingly so considering the more powerful .380 ACP in a lighter package. Because of their light recoil characteristics, both are extremely quick at reacquiring the target for follow up shots, or would be if the sights were actually up to that task. With factory magazines the Tomcat comes out ahead for two reasons.  First, the Tomcat is 7+1 versus 6+1 for the Mustang, although there are 7+1 magazines available for the latter at the expense of an extra inch of height.  Second, the Beretta’s factory magazine actually worked. The Colt’s did not, as the rounds nose-dived into the feed ramp so badly I couldn’t even get a round chambered until I switched to the three after-market Metalform seven-rounders I’d brought with me to the range.

Targets — Colt vs. Beretta

Both the Tomcat and the Mustang are quality pistols at comparable pricing.  Indeed, the Mustang would be my choice for a mini-1911 pistol in .380 ACP when compared to higher priced offerings from SIG (P238) and Kimber (Micro 380). The Mustang is lighter and less expensive than either, although I do like the SIG’s night sight option.

Walther PPK over Beretta Tomcat; PPK/S over Colt Mustang

Tomcat overlying PPK; Mustang atop PPK/S

So, bottom line, which weapon wins in the battle to replace the PPK and PPK/S as an alternate carry to the Walther P99c AS? Surprisingly to most having read this, I’m going with the Beretta Tomcat for several reasons:

  • I like being able to safely decock the weapon without having to clear the chamber
  • I’m more accustomed to double-action/single-action, and feel safer with the added resistance necessary to pull the trigger in double-action mode
  • For accuracy shots at beyond 21 feet, the hammer can still be thumbed back to place the weapon in single-action
  • The Tomcat still provides me with single-action cocked-and-locked capability if I so choose, whereas the Mustang only gives me that one method of carry

On a cold winter day, I’ll probably consider going with the Mustang for better penetration of heavier clothing, but in those cases the 9mm, 10+1 P99c AS is going to be easy to conceal anyway so the need to carry a smaller weapon is less likely to arise.

The Overall Winner in the occasional deep-concealment carry sweepstakes — Beretta’s .32 ACP 3032 Tomcat.

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