Tag Archives: firearms

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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An original Colt MK IV Series 70

Next week I begin another travel series — 54 days at sea on a trip that took us on two transatlantic crossings and a tour of both the Mediterranean and Black Seas. But for this week I’m returning to the subject that garners my highest audience, firearms.

An original Colt MK IV Series 70

It’s not often you come across a 36-year-old firearm in this condition. And according to the previous owner, the original Colt MK IV Series 70 has less than 100 rounds through it.

Colt MK IV Series 70 circa 1982

There are a few flaws in the original Colt satin blue finish, but I’d rate this pistol at around 98%. The wood grips also had some minor dings, as well, but also very minor.

Colt MK IV Series 70 original grip with Colt medallion

If you read my previous blog article on the new MK IV Series 70 (see: A Look at the Colt MK IV Series 70), then you know that the originals differed from the original in more than just the trigger. The original run from 1970 to 1983 also included a fingered “collet” bushing over a barrel with a widened muzzle end. This change was incorporated to improve the barrel-to-bushing fit in order to improve accuracy.

Series 70 collet bushing and wide-end barrel

The collet bushing held over into the Series 80 line until the late 1980s, but reports of bushing failures led Colt to revert back to the solid bushing which carries over to the reintroduced Series 70 pistols of today.

An original Colt MK IV Series 70 disassembled

The example here has a 70B prefixed serial number. That places this 1911 at the very end of the original MK IV Series 70 run, as the 70B serial number began in 1981 and ran through the end of production in 1983. The rest of the serial number leads me to believe that the actual year of production was probably 1982.

Colt 70B serial number places manufacture between 1981 and 1983

In my second article on the current Series 70 (see: Colt’s Series 70 Trigger Put to the Test — Series 70 vs. Series 80) I noted that the trigger was not all it was cracked up to be my Colt 1911 enthusiasts. I’ve since repeated my experiment (see video below) on side-by-side comparisons between probably half a dozen new Series 70 Colts and the current line of Series 80. Results were always the same. Out of the box, the current Colt Series 80 routinely beats the current Series 70 on every gun I’ve tried.

So, what about the original MK IV Series 70? Not so in this case. This truly the trigger I’ve seen praised. That’s not to say that the current Series 70 trigger is bad, as no Colt 1911/1991A1 trigger can be described as such from my experience, it’s just that the new Series 70 has more creep after take up and displays a degree of grittiness that simply doesn’t exist in any other Series 80 Colt I’ve tried.

Colt MK IV Series 70 slide stamp


Sights on the original Series 70 match the current crop. They’re nothing about which to write home. I much prefer the three-dot sights Colt uses on the current Series 80.

Colt MK IV Series 70 rear sight

Colt MK IV Series 70 front sight

Here’s a comparison between a new Series 70 and a Series 80 M1991A1 to illistrate what I mean:

New MK IV Series 70 left; new M1991A1 Series 80 right

Fortunately, both the original and previous owners of this pistol did something that far too few people do; they retained the original box and owner’s manual.

Colt MK IV Series 70 box and owner’s manual ©1981

Here is this original Mk IV Series 70 posing with the box it came in:

Colt MK IV Series 70 with original box

But the box has definitely seen better days, and the Styrofoam insert inside was partially melted away from gun lubricant. Fortunately, that didn’t mar the finish on the pistol.

Colt MK IV Series 70 box

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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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