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Fun Firearm Friday on Beretta Week — 950 BS Jetfire — Is this the original James Bond gun?

Beretta Week firearms from left to right: 84B Cheetah; 21A Bobcat; 950 BS Jetfire

“He then took from under his shirts in another drawer a very flat .25 Beretta automatic with a skeleton grip, extracted the clip and the single round in the barrel and whipped the action to and fro several times, finally pulling the trigger on the empty chamber. He charged the weapon again, loaded it, put up the safety catch and dropped it into the shallow pouch of the shoulder-holster.

Ian Fleming from his novel Casino Royale (Jonathan Cape, 1953) describing the sidearm of his fictional spy, Commander James Bond CMG, RNVR

The Beretta 950 debuted in 1952 — “a very flat .25 Beretta automatic”

Today we’re going to have some fun, combing literature, cinema, and firearms with a focus on the most famous spy in fiction. The sidearm most associated with James Bond is, of course, the 7.65mm (.32 ACP) Walther PPK “… with a delivery like a brick through a plate glass window.” But that sidearm isn’t mentioned in any of the first five Ian Fleming novels. It’s not until the sixth, Dr. No, that 007 is forced to exchange his beloved Beretta .25 for the Walther. From the first Bond film, based upon that sixth novel:

  • M, speaking to James Bond: Take off your jacket.
  • M: Give me your gun.
  • M: Yes, I thought so. This damn Beretta again. I’ve told you about this before.
  • M, turning to the armorer: You tell him. For the last time.
  • Armorer, weighing the Beretta in his open hand: Nice and light… in a lady’s handbag. No stopping power.
  • M: Any comments, 007?
Beretta 950 BS “Jetfire”; hammer cocked and safety engaged (i.e., “locked”)

As entertaining as Ian Fleming was, he certainly didn’t know much about firearms. He proved that repeatedly in the early Bond novels, beginning with the choice of a .25 caliber Beretta. As for the Beretta, Mr. Fleming didn’t even state the model number, which leaves us to speculate. The Beretta 950 was Beretta’s first tip-barrel pistol. It arrived in 1952, one year before the publication of the first Bond novel Casino Royale. It came in two flavors — the very weak .25 ACP/6.35mm (“Jetfire”) and the incredibly anemic .22 Short (“Minx”). Considering the weak cartridges available to the 950, anyone licensed to kill and of sound mind would resort to neither the Minx nor the Jetfire. Fortunately, in that first novel Mr. Fleming also assigned to Bond a .38 Colt Police Positive with a “sawn barrel” and a “long-barreled” .45 Colt Army Special (a.k.a., Colt Official Police) for those times when .25 ACP just wouldn’t cut it (which would pretty much be any time Bond needed a weapon).

As for that Colt Army Special, there’s also a problem with that description as well. The Colt Army Special was never chambered in .45 Colt; it was only available in the much weaker .22 LR, .32-20, .38 S&W (and related .38/200), .38 Special, and .41 Long Colt cartridges.

.25 ACP Beretta 950 BS Jetfire

The impotence of the .25 ACP/6.35mm aside, if one were going to arm a Double-0 with a .25 ACP Beretta, the 950 would seem a logical choice. The tip-barrel would allow Bond to drop a round directly into the chamber rather than inserting a loaded magazine into the grip and racking the slide. And to render the firearm safe, he would merely push forward the barrel release and snatch the ejected cartridge as it gets tossed into the air. That would certainly be an iconic image for a cool spy.

Beretta 950, barrel tipped

But is the 950 the weapon Ian Fleming had in mind when he assigned to 007 a very flat .25 Beretta automatic with a skeleton grip? An intriguing question, but one easily answered with a little knowledge of .25 caliber Berettas. We’ll get to that conclusion in a moment, but first a discussion on the original 950 and 950 B. The 950 was introduced to great fanfare in 1952 and, amazingly, it soldiered on in production until 2003. Impressive!

A Beretta 950 BS chamber waiting for you to just drop in a .25 ACP cartridge

The 950 and 950 B were straight single action only (SAO) pistols. The slide and barrel are carbon steel sitting atop an aluminum alloy frame. There is no manual safety on either the 950 or 950 B, but there is a half-cock position. That means one needs to fully cock (thumb back) the hammer before it can be fired. Not exactly spy friendly, as the act of cocking on the draw increases the time needed to ready the weapon for firing. Strike One on the 950 being Mr. Fleming’s intended choice.

Beretta 950 BS; slide removed

This original setup was changed with the 1968 introduction of the 950 BS variant. The 950 BS is also a SAO pistol, but this variant incorporates a manual safety that allows the weapon to be carried in a cocked-and-locked configuration — hammer cocked, pistol in single-action mode, safety engaged, i.e., “locked.” And, if you’ve been paying attention so far, you’ve already stumbled upon Strike Two. Any ideas? Here’s a hint from the first paragraph of this article: “He charged the weapon again, loaded it, put up the safety catch and dropped it into the shallow pouch of the shoulder-holster.”

Disassembled Beretta 950 BS

So, if Bond is engaging the safety on his .25 Beretta, it’s not the 950 from 1952. Or is it? As we’ve already seen, Mr. Fleming was notoriously unversed in firearms. Remember that .45 Colt Army Special? At any rate, he certainly didn’t have in mind the 950 BS, which does come with a manual safety. The 950 BS didn’t arrive on scene until 16 years after the publication of Casino Royale, and some four years after Mr. Fleming’s death from a heart attack. So, did Mr. Fleming attribute to the 950 a nonexistent manual safety? There’s one more clue, and it comes from the “skeleton grip” of the weapon described.

The last clue. Can you spot it? Hint: Is that a paperclip protruding from the grip?

A “skeleton grip” is when one removes the left and right panel grips from the frame, leaving only the frame “skeleton” available to grasp. With the 950, that means taking off the plastic panels you see in the photos above, leaving this:

Beretta 950 BS; grip panels removed (“skeleton grip”); recoil “spring” engaged in slide notches
Beretta 950 BS; “skeleton grip” with magazine inserted

I made this point before in my review of the Beretta 3032 Tomcat: Notice that there is no recoil spring? Actually, if you look closely at the three photos directly above, there is. In the Tomcat there are two spring loaded plungers inside the frame. The plunger tips insert into notches on the inside of the slide. With the 950 it’s a bit simpler system. Instead of plungers and springs, the slide notches catch on the thick wire you see running outside the magazine well and protruding from the top of the grips. That is your “recoil spring,” if you want to call it that.

950 BS recoil wire (left); 3032 spring-loaded plunger tip (right)

Question: How do you run this gun with a skeleton grip configuration if the recoil system is exposed and subject to interference and binding?
Answer: You don’t. Attempting to do so would make the weapon so unreliable as to render it useless.

950 BS Jetfire (left); 3032 Tomcat “thin slide” (top); 3032 “wide slide” bottom

So, if not the 950 or 950 B, what Beretta did Ian Fleming have in mind? What “flat .25 Beretta automatic” has a traditional recoil spring incorporated into the slide that would allow one to operate it with the grip panels removed? That’s easy. We’re left with the Beretta 418, which went into production in 1936 (1919 if you include the earlier design designations) and continued to run concurrently with 950 production until at least 1958.

Beretta 418 as Bond would have carrried it — Picture from CommandoBond.com

And in this photograph you can see the traditional guide rod/recoil spring setup, since the 418 is not a tip-barrel design:

Beretta 418 disassembled — Picture from CommandoBond.com

I can hear you now asking, but… but… but where’s that “safety catch” Bond engages? In the photo of the assembled 418, that would be the lever on the frame, just above the trigger. That lever also acts as the slide catch, something the tip-barrel Berettas lack completely. Instead, on the tip-barrels, the lever in that location is the release for the pivoting tip-barrel.

Mystery solved! Ian Fleming didn’t use the most recent (at the time) .25 Beretta. He instead went with a design dating back to 1919.

But one mystery remains. The 950 BS presented today was made in Accokeek, Maryland, but what year? These were produced in the U.S. from 1978 until 2003. If you can solve that mystery for me, I would be greatly appreciative.

While you’re pondering that, let me give you the relevant statistics and specifications on this firearm.

Model 950/950 B (1952-1968) Model 950 BS (Italy and Brazil 1968-?; USA 1978-2003):

  • barrel: 2.4″/60mm
  • length: 4.7″/120mm
  • width: 0.91″/23mm
  • height: 3.4″/87mm
  • weight: 9.9oz/260gr
  • caliber: .22 Short (Minx) and .25 ACP/6.35mm (Jetfire)
  • magazine capacity: 6 (.22 Short); 8 (.25 ACP/6.35mm)

I hope you enjoyed Beretta Week, and I trust you found this Fun Firearm Friday to be particularly entertaining. Next week I return to travel, taking on our recent late April-early July 71-day excursion to Europe and back. Along the way I’ll show you the Canary Islands (again); rarely visited cruise ports in Spain and France; a charming town in Germany, and another in the Netherlands. After that it’s three back-to-back cruises to Iceland, Ireland, the U.K. (including Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland); and a journey to seven destinations in Norway, including deep into the Arctic Circle as far north as 71º 10′ 21″ North Latitude. That series will conclude with the four days we spent in Dublin before heading back to the U.S. Until then, I’ll leave you with this Beretta tip-barrel family portrait:

Слава Україні! (Slava Ukraini!)

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Beretta Week — 21A “Bobcat” from 1986

Beretta Week Family Portrait

Time to move on to something considerably smaller than the .380 ACP/9mm kurz Beretta 84B Cheetah depicted above to the left. That brings us to the second of this week’s Beretta Week entries — the Beretta 21A “Bobcat.” The firearm you see here was manufactured in 1986 at Beretta’s former Accokeek, Maryland facility. As production of the Model 21A began in the U.S. in 1984, that would make this pistol a very early example. Today, the 21A Bobcat is made at Beretta’s Gallatin, Tennessee facility, as is its slightly beefier .32 ACP/7.65mm cousin, the wonderful Beretta 3032 Tomcat. Now for a look at this little gem chambered in .22 Long Rifle (.22 LR):

1986 Beretta 21A Bobcat

The Beretta Bobcat has a thumb safety that allows it to be carried cocked-and-locked (hammer cocked; weapon in single-action mode). The magazine release is placed in the same unusual position as on the Tomcat and the featured firearm in this week’s Fun Firearms Friday, on the lower left corner of the left-side grip. Now let’s talk about that nifty little lever you see just above and behind the trigger. That’s the barrel release, as this is one of Beretta’s famed tip-barrel pocket pistols. Just pivot it forward and the barrel pops up, away from the slide, exposing the chamber:

The 21A Bobcat is another of Beretta’s famed tip-barrels.

The tip-barrel allows one to do several things that cannot be done with a standard magazine-fed semi-automatic. You can drop a round directly into the chamber without raking the slide. You can clear the chamber without dropping the magazine and then raking the slide. And, finally, the Beretta 21A Bobcat lacks a decock, but because of the tip barrel that’s not a problem. If you want to safely decock the loaded weapon, just tilt the barrel, pull the trigger, and gently lower the hammer with your thumb (Beretta recommends against dry fire, so don’t let the hammer just fall). Using this procedure, it’s not even necessary to remove a loaded magazine to safely decock the weapon. Once the Bobcat is decocked, just push the barrel with the chambered round back into place. Voilà, your Bobcat is now in double-action mode.

Beretta 21A; barrel tipped up and chamber waiting for a round

Yep. Your read that correctly. The 21A Bobcat, like its similarly sized but weightier Tomcat cousin, is a true DA/SA (double-action/single-action) semiautomatic, and the magazine of the diminutive 21A holds an impressive seven rounds of .22 LR. But wait! There’s MORE! Is .22 LR a bit too persnickety for your tastes? Does the higher misfire rate of a rimfire cartridge leave you cold? Prefer the reliability of a centerfire round? Not to worry. The 21A also comes available in .25 ACP/6.35mm., and that variant holds 8+1 rounds.

Best word to describe this handgun — Diminutive

Disassembly is incredibly simple: Cock the hammer, tip the barrel and pivot it fully forward, retract the slide a fraction of an inch, lift the front of the slide, then pull the slide forward off the rails.

Beretta 21A Tomcat, slide removed

So, what else came with this particular example? Well, like Monday’s 84B Cheetah, this Bobcat came with a box and an instruction manual. Unlike the Cheetah however, this box was original to this weapon:

Beretta 21A with original box, owner’s manual, and a spare magazine

How do I know this is the original box paired with this gun? The same way that I knew Monday’s 84B Cheetah box was not; the serial number on this box matched that on the Bobcat:

Model 21; Caliber .22LR; Grips W(ood); Serial Number (matched to pistol)

I’ve not yet fired the Bobcat, but its turn is coming. I’ll be taking it out at some future date along with this week’s Fun Firearm Friday. But before I do, I’ll need to acquire some .25 ACP/6.35mm ammunition for Friday’s subject. And, no, that upcoming pistol is not a .25 ACP variant of the Bobcat. It’s something a bit more historic in nature — a later, improved version of Beretta’s very first tip-barrel pistol.

A complete set… AND a spare magazine

Beretta 21A Bobcat specifications:

  • Trigger: Double-action/single-action; cocked-and-locked capable
  • Caliber: ..22 LR or 25 ACP (6.35mm)
  • Steel slide, alloy frame
  • Length: 4.92″/125mm
  • Width: 1.1″/28mm
  • Height: 3.7″/94mm
  • Weight: 11.8oz/335gr
  • Barrel length: 2.4 inches/61 mm
Final Look: Beretta 21A Bobcat cocked-and-locked

Слава Україні! (Slava Ukraini!)

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Beretta Week — 84B “Cheetah” from 1982

Beretta Family Portrait of this week’s subjects

Next week I start a new travel series, but in the meantime, this is Beretta Week. Can you guess from the image above what’s on tap today, Wednesday, and this week’s Fun Firearm Friday? Hint number one: Although it looks similar to the larger and much more famous Beretta 92, the firearm on the left is a smaller blowback pistol chambered in .380 ACP/9mm kurz. Give up? Well, then, the one on the left is a Beretta 84 Cheetah. Specifically, the firearm we’re perusing today is an 84B dating back to 1982.

Beretta 84B “Cheetah”

I’ve clued you in on the remarkable Beretta 81-series pistols before, but with the current FS models. First was in November of 2016 with Shooting a Pair of Cheetahs — Comparing the Beretta 84FS and 85FS. I followed up in February 2019 with a bit of a rarity: Beretta 81FS Cheetah — And tips on gun collecting. Today we’re going back in time, back to when the Beretta 84B was produced. That would be during the short span from 1980 to 1984.

Beretta 84B with “PB” (Pietro Beretta) medallion missing

You’ll note that this example is in remarkable condition for a handgun celebrating its 38th birthday. Save for the left grip missing the “PB” — short for Pietro Beretta — medallion, there’s not much here about which to complain. The bluing is in good condition, the factory wood grips are relatively unmarred, and a replacement “PB” medallion has been ordered and should be here by the time you read this! And while you’ll note from the image below that this example came with a factory box, don’t get too excited. I wasn’t.

Beretta 84B factory box

I mean, sure, it looks complete, but there’s a catch:

Beretta 84B box, warning card, cleaning rod, and owner’s manual

This box, while correct for the 84B and the year this example was born, is not the box originally issued to this specific firearm. How did I know this before I even decided to take it? Simple. The serial number on the label doesn’t match that on the firearm. Neither the clerk nor the store owner had noticed the discrepancy. This is something to watch out for when you think you’re getting a complete set on a collectible.

Right era box; wrong firearm

Nevertheless, that’s not that big a deal. It beats the later expense of having to purchase a correct era box and owner’s guide on eBay. Besides, this example was not priced out of line even for a firearm that was missing the extras. And it’s always great to have an original owner’s manual:

“Armi Beretta” translates to Beretta Weapons

Now time for a little history lesson. The Beretta 81-series pistols began life in 1976, and would eventually include Cheetah models 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 87 Target, and 89.  If you’re wondering about those designations, here’s a breakdown:

  • Model 81: .32 ACP/7.65mm with 12-round, double-stack magazine and wide grip
  • Model 82: .32 ACP/7.65mm with 9-round, single-stack magazine and thin grip
  • Model 83: .380 ACP/9mm kurz with 7-round, single-stack magazine, and longer 4-inch/102mm barrel
  • Model 84: .380 ACP/9mm kurz with 13-round, double-stack magazine
  • Model 85: .380 ACP/9mm kurz with 8-round, single-stack magazine
  • Model 86: .380 ACP/9mm kurz with 8-round magazine; differs from other Cheetahs in that it has longer 4.37-inch/111mm barrel, and a unique tipping barrel that allows a round to be dropped directly into the chamber rather than necessitating a load from the magazine
  • Model 87: .22 LR with 10-round magazine
  • Model 87 Target: .22 LR with one of the longest barrels in the Cheetah line at 5.91 inches/150mm
  • Model 89: .22 LR with 8-round magazine; this is the competition model of the Cheetah series; it has the longest barrel at 5.98 inches/152mm and weighs in at a rather hefty 41 ounces/1,160 grams.
  • Browning BDA380: Now, this one is a bit tricky. The BDA380 was indeed based upon the Beretta 81 and 84, but examples were made not only by Beretta (.380 ACP/9mm kurz), but also Fabrique Nationale (FN) Herstal (.32 ACP/7.5mm) of Belgium. Visual differences include an enclosed barrel and a slide-mounted safety. Even the grips look nearly the same, down to the medallion inserts. The primary difference there is that the medallions show “B” for Browning rather than the three arrows on the right grip and the “PB” on the left.
Beretta 84B, slide removed

As for those letters that follow the model number? Let’s stick to the Model 84 specifically on this. The original 1976 Model 84 had no letter following the number. In 1980 the improved 84B arrived, with a shortened extractor, groves added to the frame at the front and back straps, an automatic firing pin safety, and a trigger disconnect when the safety is engaged. The 84BB changes included improvements to the sights, which previously were all black combat-style. Additional cocking serrations were placed on the slide, and the slide was made wider and slightly heavier. There were also changes to the guide rod and recoil spring.

Beretta 84B slide with barrel, guide rod, and recoil spring in place

Things got more interesting with the change from the 84BB to the 84F and later FS. Engaging the safety on the original Model 84, 84B, and 84BB resulted in a 1911-style cocked-and-locked situation in which the hammer is cocked, leaving this Double-Action/Single-Action (DA/SA) pistol in single-action mode once the safety is disengaged. Internally the barrel and chamber gained chrome lining.

Beretta 84B — Cocked and locked (hammer back; safety engaged)
Beretta 84B — Single-action mode (hammer cocked; safety disengaged)

Cosmetically, the differences between the 84BB and 84F were huge. The finish went from high-gloss blue to Beretta’s more durable, semi-matte Bruniton finish (and, yes, I’ve seen a factory nickel version of the FS as well). Gone were the wood grips with medallions; they were replaced with hard plastic grips. The elegantly rounded trigger guard gave way to a squared-off combat-style with some front serrations. The slide was also notched at the safety, and the slide indentation for the catch was now hidden from view. You can see some of these changes in the image below from my previous 2016 article on the 84FS and 85FS Cheetahs:

Beretta 84FS (top) and 85FS (single-stack variant)

As for the changes between the 84F and 84FS, you won’t see any, but there’s one internal difference. The safety on the 84FS supposedly has a more positive engagement. The criticism with the 84F was that you could halfway engage the safety, leaving one with the mistaken tactile impression that the safety was engaged. The hammer would remain cocked, and if you pulled the trigger, the gun would still fire. Now, I tried this on an 84FS and 85FS, and as far as I can tell it still operates that way. So, if you have either an F or FS, be warned — that safety must be fully and forcefully engaged to the point where the hammer drops before the gun is truly placed in a safe condition.

Beretta 84B with barrel, guide rod, and recoil spring removed

As with the previously reviewed Beretta 84FS, most of the specifications remain the same save for the weight. This is a result of the slightly narrower, lighter slide. My measurements show a difference of 40 grams/1.4 ounces.

Beretta 84B:

  • Length: 6.77 inches/172mm
  • Width (see text): 1.37 inches/35mm
  • Width (at grip): 1.37 inches/35mm
  • Height: 4.8 inches/122mm
  • Weight (with empty magazine): 22.4 ounces/634 grams
  • Barrel: 3.82 inches/97mm
  • Capacity: 13+1
13+1 rounds of .380 ACP/9mm kurz (or “corso in Italian)

I hope you’re enjoying Beretta week. We’ve now finished with the firearm on the left (see below). On Wednesday we move on to something even smaller, that little guy in the middle:

Beretta Family Portrait

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