9mm Surplus Pistols: FEG, Carpati, And a Bulgarian Makarov All Fail
Should you pay $229 for a Romanian M95 Carpati, $239 for an FEG PA63, or $249 for a Bulgarian Makarov? Nope. Our test guns often wouldn’t shoot at all, or were otherwise flawed.
The FEG PA63 9mm Makarov was the best gun
in this test, which wasn’t saying much.
Surplus pistols occupy a niche in the marketplace that is surprisingly large and varied. Buyers who want a low-priced plinking gun will often consider buying $200 to $300 sidearms because they (a) might not have much money to spend, or (b), they might be interested in some historical aspect of a particular gun, which they nonetheless still want to shoot for fun. But there are pitfalls in finding one that works well enough to keep and further, to enjoy shooting.
We recently tested a trio of surplus double-action guns chambered for .380 Auto (9mm Kurz) and 9x18 (9mm Makarov). They were the Romanian M95 Carpati, which shot the .380 Auto round (MSRP, $229; published dealer price, $109). The two Maks were the 9mm Makarov FEG PA63, (MSRP, $239; published dealer price, $89); and the Bulgarian Makarov (MSRP, $249; published dealer price, $109), which also shot the 9x18 round. Expect to pay $50 to $100 markup if you buy one of these guns from a dealer or at a gun show.
With that pricing in mind, our evaluation standards for this test were much more lax than what we subject new firearms to. If these guns ran properly, and they were fun and cheap to shoot, then we could see taking a flyer on one. If perchance one functioned and shot well enough to rise to the level of being a reliable self-defense gun, then we’d be ecstatic.
Therefore, we decided that our test should not require any long distance bench rest work — 10 yards would be enough to gauge their accuracy. However, like other guns we test, reliability would be mandatory, unless we can trace function problems to something we inadvertently cause during testing. Also, we tested working combat accuracy from 10 yards offhand.
Initially, due to the lack of owner’s manuals with each pistol, we encountered some confusion as to their chambering. Careful examination of shallow engraving on the frames clarified what they chambered for. Moreover, we found a problem when it came to filling magazines and even loading a round: the similarly sized .380 Auto and the 9x18 can be confused.
But with the mags loaded, we went to the range and started banging away. Here’s what we found:
Bulgarian Makarov 9x18, $249
It is interesting to note that according to the Blue Book, value for a Makarov pistol in 100 percent condition is only $185. Dealer price on this very pistol was $109.95. We estimate it was rated at 98 percent condition, and would likely sell for around $145.
Click here to view the Bulgarian Makarov 9x18 features guide.
The Makarov pistol dates back to the early 1950s. At one time it was the standard pistol for both the Soviet forces and the Warsaw Pact countries. While it shares many similarities with the Walther pistol, it can be distinguished by at least one mechanical feature. That is the Makarov has no locking system, but fires instead on a simple blowback action. Both the Walther and the Makarov can be fired single or double action.
One feature that makes the Makarov pistol famous is its excellent ergonomics. The Mak is indeed comfortable in the hand. Our pistol offered generous cocking serrations on the rear portion of the slide and a small but effective rear sight that is drift adjustable for windage. The front blade on our Bulgarian model was too brief in our estimation, but the sight picture was adequate. The double-action trigger pull, while usable, stacks heavily. But the serrated hammer can be pulled back for single action shooting to take advantage of its pleasant SA trigger that is acceptably progressive in its take-up.
The magazine, however, is rough to load. It does have an external lever that can be used to compress the magazine spring and lower the follower, but we found it to be too sharp to handle without a cap. This can be done with the use of a hull.
We didn’t collect accuracy or chronograph data because our Bulgarian Makarov threw off the safety lever and dislodged the firing pin on its very first (and last) shot. Firing a standard-pressure Federal American Eagle FMJ bullet, the Mak’s safety lever came loose during recoil and fell off. We reinstalled the lever, but because of safety reasons, we don’t continue testing guns which lose parts when the guns fire.
In October 1999 we tested a Makarov from the now-defunct Miltex Company that met exactly the same fate, albeit after several more rounds — 25 to be exact.
Since we have now tried twice to purchase a working Bulgarian Makarov (once new in the box and once out of surplus) and failed each time, we would avoid them. In fact, the only good Makarov we have first-hand experience with is a Russian-made model. It is owned by one of our research associates. Her pistol was made by IMEZ and even has adjustable sights. Inscription on the slide is the only key to model name or number. It reads PMIJ70-18A. This pistol was a prize at the Second Chance Bowling Pin Championship, and it now resides in a glove box somewhere in Louisiana, stoked with Cor-Bon ammunition, which it digests with enthusiasm. This is quite a different story from our own experience with Maks.
Romanian M95 Carpati .380 Auto, $229
We haven’t been able to find out much about the origin of this pistol. It arrived in a basic cardboard box without owner’s manual. The box sticker read, “Century International Arms, Inc. HG950, Pistols Carpati Mdl 95 .380; Condition, new.” Also, the gun was stamped, “Imported by C.A.I. St. Alb. VT.” That’s Century Arms International of St. Albans, Vermont, (802) 524-5288. We found no additional information on the gun at the Century Arms website.
Click here to view the Romanian M95 Carpati .380 Auto features guide.
On the left side of the slide, more etchings read, “Made by Romarm in Romania,” plus an emblem that reads “Cugir,” the town in which the gun was made.
This is a Walther copy, but the grip frame is boxier than the Walther’s. The magazine release is at the bottom of the grip, and the basepad on the mag offers additional area for the pinkie. Safety and decocker levers are ambidextrous. The double-action pull was beyond the strength of normal humans (at least 25+ pounds; our gauge wouldn’t go higher), so we fired it single action.
The 95 would not chamber a round on its own. Once the magazine had been coaxed into position and the slide pulled back, a first round was ready to fire. Try as we might, we never got this pistol to feed a second round on its own. However we were afforded the satisfaction of clearing some of the most horrendous jams we’ve encountered to date. The offending brass fixed itself against the feed ramp like a weld.