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Fun Firearm Friday — Colt MK IV/Series’ 80 Mustang Plus II

Colt’s MK IV/Series 80′ Mustang Plus II

In May, 2017, I ran a three-article series on pocket pistols. The pistols viewed that week were the Beretta 3032 Tomcat (.32 ACP/7.65mm) and the Colt Mustang Lite (.380 ACP/9mm kurz). That series culminated in a shoot off between the two, as well as a size/weight comparison between them of the Walther PPK and PPK/S.

Colt’s MK IV/Series 80 Mustang Plus II

While researching that article, I found information on the Colt MK IV/Series 80 Government Model 380 (a scaled down version of the Series 80 Model 1911 introduced in 1984), and the even smaller early Colt Mustangs, which arrived two years later and continued in the market until around 1998 (reintroduced in 2011). What I did not include in that article was information on another Colt .380 ACP/9mm kurz pistol that starting in 1988 bridged the size gap between the Government Model 380 and the Mustang.

Colt’s MK IV/Series 80 Mustang Plus II

That pistol is the Colt MK IV/Series 80 Mustang Plus II. The Mustang Plus II took the all steel 7+1 capacity frame of the Government Model 380, and mated to it the shorter slide and barrel from the 5+1 (later increased to 6+1 after 1992) capacity Mustang — two additional rounds, hence the name Mustang Plus II. These original Mustang Plus II pistols were blued steel, but sometime around 1990 Colt came out with a stainless version. Production of the stainless Mustang Plus II was thus only around seven or eight years, making this a bit of a rarity. At least I’d never seen one, up until July of last year.

Colt’s MK IV/Series 80 Mustang Plus II

The MK IV/Series 80 Mustang Plus II you see here today was manufactured in 1991, and appears very lightly used with no holster wear marring the stainless slide. It came with three factory magazines, which on the base are stamped with the Rampant Colt trademark, the letter ‘M’ on all three magazines, and the letter ‘S’ also on the nickel plated magazine, and the words ‘Colt .380 Auto.’ on all three.

Original Mustang Plus II/Government Model 380 magazines

The left side of the slide top line reads, “COLT MK IV/SERIES’ 80.” Below that in a smaller font is, “—MUSTANG-380 AUTO—.” The Rampant Colt is to the right of both lines. On the reverse side ahead of the ejection port, the slide is stamped, “PLUS II.” The barrel inside the ejection port reads, “CAL 380.”

Colt Mustang Plus II — Slide stamp

Comparing the slide markings to a more recent (circa 2016) polymer-frame Mustang Lite, the two lines on the left side read, “—MUSTANG—,” and “COLT 380 AUTO.” The right side of the newer Mustang Lite is blank, but, “CAL 380,” is stamped on that portion of the barrel visible through the ejection port.

Mustang Plus II and Mustang Lite (formerly XSP)

Dimensionally, the two guns are very similar. Slide and barrel length are, of course, the same, but the slightly longer beavertail of the Mustang Plus II adds perhaps a millimeter of length. The height differs, as one would expect. The Mustang Lite comes in at 3.9 inches/99mm, whereas the Mustang Plus II measures about 4.5 inches/114mm.

Mustang Plus II and Mustang Lite — Height comparison

But it’s the weight that most distinguishes the two. The Mustang Lite with it’s lightweight polymer frame, is a mere 12.54 ounces/356 grams including a empty magazine 11.2 ounces/318 grams without magazine). The slightly larger, all steel Mustang Plus II tips my scale at 19.42 ounces/551 grams (17.9 ounces/508 grams without magazine).

Colt’s MK IV/Series 80 Mustang Plus II

Magazine capacity only differs by a grand total of one—7+1 for the Mustang Plus II vs. 6+1 for the Mustang Lite when using the included (but in my case nonfunctioning) factory magazine. There are aftermarket (and more importantly reliable) magazines that give the Mustang Lite 7+1 capacity, but at the expense of an extra full inch/25mm of height because of the magazine’s finger rest configuration. Comparing the Plus II magazine to the extended aftermarket magazine for the Lite, it appears Metalform could knock off a half-inch/12.5mm of that penalty if they just left off the finger rest extension. But that extra length does allow for a more secure grip, as the pinky finger is no longer left dangling beneath the frame when the extended magazine is used.

Mustang Plus II and Mustang Lite — Height comparison

I’ve yet to fire the Mustang Plus II, and I look forward to a direct comparison with the Mustang Lite. The additional weight probably won’t help much in the recoil department, as I find the Mustang Lite already very controllable even without the 6.88 ounces/195 grams of added mass.

Mustang Plus II (1991) and Mustang Lite (2016)

So, if I were to choose between the two for a concealed carry piece, which would I pick? Hard choice. The Mustang Lite has the advantage of an ambidextrous safety, which is not really relevant to me as a right-hander (unless I had to use it with my left hand, of course), and the Mustang Plus II wins out in the height department by a small amount if you equip the Mustang Lite with an extended magazine to match the capacity of the Plus II. Weight difference isn’t really a factor on something already under 18 ounces, but I’ll admit that I do enjoy the additional heft and overall balance in the hand of the marginally heavier Plus II.

Colt Mustang Plus II — Rear sight

There is, however, a subtle difference in the triggers. The Mustang Lite takes up quickly and consistently, then has perhaps an eight of an inch of creep before breaking. The Plus II, on the other hand, displays more resistance on the longer take up, almost to the point of feeling mushy. And there’s a tactile, almost second-stage feel during the take-up pull. But the break requires less pull and feels cleaner with no creep at the end. Both triggers are exceptional, but I believe I prefer the feel of the Plus II in this department.

Mustang Plus II — Front sight


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Ruger (original) Police Carbine PC9 — A First Look

Ruger Police Carbine from 1996

As many readers of my firearms articles may have surmised by now, I’m an unapologetic fan of pistol-caliber carbines. Why pistol calibers in a rifle? Because it just makes sense for a whole host of reasons, unless perhaps you’re a hunter of large game. A 9mm carbine, such as the Beretta CX4 Storm, is a perfect longer-range compliment to a handgun chambered for the same round. If your carbine accepts the same magazines as your handgun, such as a CX4 paired with a Beretta 92, so much the better.

Ruger Police Carbine — 15-round P-series magazine

Back in 1996, Ruger tried to convince U.S. police departments to do just that. Ruger came out with two Police Carbines based on a scaled-up, beefed-up version of the blowback design used in their bestselling .22 LR 10/22 rifle line. The Ruger PC9 Police Carbine was chambered in 9mm, and accepted magazines from their Ruger P89, P93, P94, and P95 semiautomatic handguns. The .40 SW PC4 used magazines compatible with Ruger’s P91 and P944D handguns. The idea was that an officer would have a Ruger P-Series pistol strapped to his hip, and have in the trunk of the patrol car a fully compatible carbine using both the same ammunition and magazines as did the sidearm. The advantage of the Police Carbine being a longer effective range (100+ yards/90+ meters), greater accuracy, and marginally more power because of the longer barrel.

Ruger Police Carbine

That was not a new concept back in 1996, by the way. The American cowboy realized the advantages of owning a rifle chambered for the same round as his pistol shortly after the Civil War. The famous Winchester Models 1866, 1873, and 1892 were all chambered in popular handgun cartridges of the era. The most famous of these pairings would be a Winchester Model 1873 (“The Rifle that Won the West) and an 1873 Colt Peacemaker/Single Action Army (“The Gun that Won the West”) both chambered in .44-40 WCF (Winchester Center Fire).

Ruger Police Carbine — Controls

Alas, the Ruger Police Carbine came out about the same time that police departments started fielding AR-style rifles, and the Ruger P-Series was by then fighting obsolescence from lighter, cheaper, polymer-framed handguns with similar, or in some cases even greater, capacity magazines. The Police Carbine was also weighty, coming in at around seven pounds; and had a heavy trigger that, in the hands of someone who didn’t train a lot, tended to negate the accuracy benefits normally associated with a rifle. The PC9 and PC4 designs were also hamstrung by what some considered a tactically inferior traditional rifle stock rather than the more modern pistol-style grip of the AR.

Ruger Police Carbine

At the same time, the Ruger Police Carbine was considered over-engineered for the civilian market. It’s a very robust design, for sure. The Police Carbine was nearly sturdy as a block of granite, and about as reliable as grandma in the store candy aisle. That engineering comes at a cost, and the Ruger simply could not compete with cheaper pistol caliber carbines coming to market shortly after it debuted, such as the Kel-Tec Sub-2000, or the Hi-Point 995TS at nearly one-third the cost (2002 prices: Hi-Point $199 vs. $575 for the Ruger).

Ruger Police Carbine

So, the Ruger Police Carbine died in 2006, just ten short years after its introduction. It would be greatly missed, however, and prices for used examples started shooting upwards.

Ruger Police Carbine — 9mm PC9 version

The PC9 is back as of late 2017, but in a slightly different form and at a cheaper price. Magazines are now paired to the Ruger Series-9 and SR-Series pistols, and the box includes an interchangeable magazine well that allows the new PC9 to accept Glock magazines if you prefer. It’s also a takedown design that comes with a Picatinny rail.

Ruger Police Carbine

Where does that leave the original Ruger Police Carbine? It’s still a much sought-after firearm, but prices have probably stabilized, or perhaps even fallen slightly since the reintroduction of the PC9 (there is no new PC4, as the .40 SW is dying a not-so-slow death). If you can find an original Ruger Police Carbine for under $800, that’s probably a good deal. But I would expect to pay perhaps a couple hundred more for a very nice example. Throw in the original box and owner’s manual and you’re probably north of $1,200, but I’m no expert on that.

Ruger Police Carbine

So, it was a pleasant surprise when, during a recent visit to my second favorite local gun store (Sportsman’s Elite, managed by my good friend Henry Bone), I found an excellent condition original 9mm Ruger Police Carbine which included a cheap but serviceable red dot held by Ruger scope rings mounted to the receiver, for less than half what I would consider a good deal. No box, no manual, but for $350 I’m not about to quibble. Then, when I ran the serial number, I discovered that this was a first-year production example, which pleased me even more. Assuming the serial numbers are sequential with no skips, this particular PC9 was the 2,225th carbine off the production line out of a first-year run of 4,189.

Ruger Police Carbine — First year production example

Inspection of the Ruger Police Carbine reveals that it is indeed the robust, slightly heavy design many have noted before me. With an empty magazine and the mounted red dot and rings, I measured 7.5 pounds/3.4 kilograms. But the real surprise to me was the trigger. It was not nearly as bad as I’d been led to believe reading the contemporaneous reviews. Take-up is about .2 inches/5mm with no creep afterward. I estimate the trigger weight to be less than six pounds, but not much less, with a crisp break at the end. Trigger reset is less that a sixteenth of an inch/<2mm, with both audible and positive tactile cues. I’ll know more when I hit the range with it and compare it to the Beretta CX4, but the trigger seems to me more than adequate for the intended purpose — a pistol caliber carbine that extends the range of a standard 9mm round out to 100 yards/90 meters or so with relative ease.

Ruger Police Carbine and Beretta CX4 Carbine

I’m also confident that the nearly 1 ½-pound additional heft will give the PC9 an even milder kick than that of the already mild Beretta CX4.

Red dot sight

At any rate, and without the benefit of having actually fired the Ruger Police Carbine, I rate this rifle a winner in quality. It appears to indeed be every bit as over-engineered as its civilian-market critics claim, which to me is not a bad thing at all. In firearms, I’m a believer that you truly get what you’re willing to pay for. The trigger, while not match-grade by any stretch, seems completely adequate to the intended purpose of the design. I can see this as a very good urban home-to-backwoods cabin defense weapon, as well as a fun and affordable range plinker using relatively inexpensive 9mm ammunition. But the Ruger’s almost five additional inches of length over the CX4 would, in my view, make it somewhat less maneuverable in the close quarters of a home.

Ruger Police Carbine — Front sight

My only regret? I would have preferred an original PC9GR, which substituted ghost ring rear sight for the standard Patridge open sight of the PC9/PC4.

Ruger Police Carbine — Adjustable Patridge rear sight

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Beretta 81FS Cheetah — And tips on gun collecting

Beretta 81FS Cheetah — The complete kit

We’ve looked at the Beretta 80 Series Cheetah before, but the Cheetah in today’s article is one you seldom see imported anymore. How seldom? The Beretta 81FS Cheetah is chambered in .32 ACP/7.65mm, and .32 ACP is frowned upon in the U.S. and mocked as a ‘mouse cartridge’ unworthy of use for defense (it most certainly is not, but that’s a discussion for a later date). As such, I’ve not seen a newly imported 81FS in any gun store ever. I know they’ve been imported in small batches over the past several decades; I’ve just never seen one before this. Today’s example was manufactured in 2016, and the distributor shipped it out to my favorite local gun store (Collector’s Gun Exchange) just nine months ago. That means this Cheetah probably sat out pretty much all of 2017 in a warehouse somewhere in Gardone Val Trompia, Italy.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah box and label

Beretta 81FS Cheetah

For a shooting review of the .380 ACP versions of Beretta’s Series 80 Cheetahs (the double-stack 84FS with 13+1 capacity, and the single-stack 85FS which hold 8+1 rounds) please see: Shooting a Pair of Cheetahs — Comparing the Beretta 84FS and 85FS.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah 12+1 rounds of .32 ACP/7.65mm

First, the relevant statistics for the .32 ACP/7.65mm 81FS:

  • Length: 6.77 inches/172mm
  • Width: 1.37 inches/35mm
  • Width (at grip): 1.37 inches/35mm
  • Height: 4.8 inches/122mm
  • Weight (with empty magazine): 24.2 ounces/685 grams
  • Barrel: 3.82 inches/97mm
  • Capacity: 12+1

Beretta 81FS Cheetah — Double-action/Single-action

Interestingly, while the barrel length, total length, width, and height measurements match those of the .380 ACP/9mm kurz 84FS, the 81FS comes in weighing .9 ounce/25 grams more (probably from a thicker barrel padded out so as to use the same slide as the 84FS) and loses one round of capacity (which really makes no sense no matter how you slice it). Thrown up against the single-stack .380 ACP/9mm kurz 85FS, the weight disadvantage stretches to 2.3 ounces/65 grams. Ammunition advantage between the latter two, however, swings to the 81FS at 12+1 over the 8+1 capacity of the 85FS.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah

Fit and finish among these three recent Cheetahs (the 84FS and 85FS were manufactured in 2012 and 2016 respectively) is comparable, meaning excellent as usual for Italian-made Berettas. All three have Beretta’s superb, highly durable, and, in my view, very attractive semi-gloss Bruniton finish on both the steel slides/barrels and the alloy frames.

The double-action/single-action trigger is excellent. Double-action is smooth and consistent all the way to trigger trip. Single-action has a crisp break, but only after a longish take-up. The only disappointment, and I’m not a short-reset snob by any measure, is the seemingly endless third of an inch/8mm reset. That may not sound like much, but compared to most of my other handguns, such as the superlative Walther P99c AS, it feels ridiculous.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah — Rear sight

Beretta 81FS Cheetah — Front sight

I personally feel that the Beretta 80 Series Cheetahs are among the most attractive compact handguns in existence. True, they are large and a bit heavy for the calibers they handle, but they exude a certain panache simply not found in more current designs. They are natural pointers, almost on par with the Walther PP-series (my original concealed carry weapon being a PPK/S in .380 ACP/9mm kurz) in that regard, but they are not nearly as ammo finicky. The sights are certainly better than the Walthers, and unlike the PP-series the Cheetahs give you a slide stop release and an ambidextrous manual safety. The gun seems to soak up recoil much better, especially in the .380 ACP/9mm kurz round, which results in more control and faster follow-up shots.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah

Beretta — Makers of the world’s largest ejection ports!

Gun Collecting Tips using this Beretta 81FS example:

Fortunately, I knew in advance that Collector’s had one of these 81FS rarities coming into the shop, as they gave me a call when it shipped from the distributor. Unfortunately, the Cheetah arrived the day after we departed for a month-long trip to Shanghai, China; various cities in Japan; Petropavlovsk, Russia; and several locations in Alaska. By the time we returned, that Beretta 81FS Cheetah was snagged on layaway, and Collector’s owner Paul Lee informed me that his distributor had already shipped out the last of his meager supply.

Ambidextrous manual safety

But then a funny thing happened on the way to disappointment. Two weeks later I got another call from Collector’s telling me that the person holding this rare, recently imported 81FS had found something in the shop that he liked even more. Unbelievably, he decided that he wanted a Ruger Mini-14 Paul had in stock more than the Cheetah. Knowing my disappointment for having initially lost the chance at the 81FS, Paul did nothing to dissuade the layaway swap, and two days later I was in luck.

Ambidextrous manual safety

Now, far be it from me to complain here, but this is where a little firearms knowledge comes in handy, especially if you’re just starting a collection. Mini-14 Ranch Rifles are very commonplace, and there is currently no danger that you’re going to miss out if you don’t take the first one you see. Or even the hundredth, for that matter. Not so on a newly manufactured, recently imported Beretta 81FS Cheetah. In my book, that’s a bit like passing on a bargain-priced, minty-condition stainless Colt Mustang Plus II (Friday’s subject) in favor of a current production Ruger SP101; or forgoing what appears to be a barely used original, first-year-of manufacture Ruger Police Carbine with a red dot sight included (Wednesday’s featured firearm) in order to snag a dime-a-dozen Mosin-Nagant 91/30 (a subject for a future article, I’m sure).

You’ll also notice that my established relationship with Paul Lee and the salespeople at Collector’s Gun Exchange, forged over many years, helped me in acquiring something Paul knew would interest me. By now, they know what I like, they call me when something is either coming or being shipped to them, and they give me a good break on the price. Same with Henry Bone over at Sportsman’s Elite. If you’re serious about collecting, it pays to establish a bond with the locally owned gun store rather than the big box operation (I’m looking at you and your ridiculous used gun prices, Cabella’s) that may occasionally undercut them in price on new firearms. It also doesn’t hurt to have that local store sell you a box or two of ammunition now and again, even if you might pay a fraction of that amount over at Walmart.

By the way, don’t bother going to the U.S. Beretta site to look for any Beretta Cheetah, not even the more popular .380 ACP 84FS and 85FS versions. They’re not listed there anymore (but they are on the Italian site), even though they’re still made in Italy and occasionally imported. So, if you see a new one, don’t pass on it if you even think you may be in the market for one at some point. You may not see it again. This is especially true of the 81FS, which isn’t even listed on the U.S. Beretta site for warranty registration; only the 84, 85, and 87 (.22 LR version) are listed as options, and the 87 isn’t even made anymore.

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