The Model 50 or vz. 50 (also known as CZ 480 and CZ-50) is a semi-automatic pistol designed by two brothers, Jan and Jaroslav Kratochvíl, in the late 40’s at Česká Zbrojovka in Czechoslovakia for commercial and police sales. Around 670,000 vz. 50’s ("vzor 50" means "model of 1950") were made by Česká Zbrojovka in Strakonice from 1950 to 1975 for sale all over the world, principally in America
Czechoslovakia ended World War Two in a relatively fortunate position. Although it had suffered severe manpower losses on the Russian Front, it's industry and territory had been neither bombed nor fought-over. The collapse of German power following The Big One and the resulting re-emergence of the countries in Eastern Europe as independent entities placed those countries in a favorable economic position, superior in some ways to the mauled and devastated condition of the nominal victor, Russia. Their recovery was, of course, aided by U.S. Marshall Aid in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Czechoslovakia was in possession of an efficient and effective small arms industry which lead the government to try and exploit this legacy by developing a line of small arms uncompromisingly aimed at the U.S. domestic firearms market. Hunting rifles and shotguns led the way, but an automatic pistol was seen as a potentially profitable addition to the CZ line, and the Kratochvíl brothers were commissioned to develop such a weapon in 1948.
The specifications called for a pistol of moderate size, chambered in 7.62x25 Tokarev and capable of handling the very potent Military ammunition in this calibre made for submachine guns and machine carbines, generally known as Tokarev Magnum in civilian circles. This demanded much from the designers, as the Tokarev Magnum is loaded to rifle pressures and generates fearsome forces to be absorbed in a small hand gun.
The pistol produced by the brothers, the Model 50 was larger than intended but otherwise met everyone’s hopes, and has sold well all over the world. The weapon was an instant success on the U.S. market and was even adopted by a number of U.S. Government agencies. This lead to a controversy in U.S. small arms circles over the relative virtues of the "small fast" bullet represented by the Tokarev Magnum as opposed to the "large slow" philosophy represented by the M1911A1 and its .45ACP. This (like most firearms disputes) has never really been resolved although the later appearance of body armor used by criminals has highlighted the virtues of the very penetrating Tokarev Magnum cartridge. Model 50s were very popular in the US during the 1950s and remain so to the present day. They are still common sights on the firing line at most pistol clubs since their long barrel and sight base make them very accurate over effective pistol ranges. The Tokarev Magnum is considered to be equivalent in hitting power to a .357 magnum revolver round. The only problem is that its a very penetrating round and has a habit of going straight through its target to strike whatever is behind it.
The Model 50 has also been the basis for several other pistols and a Machine Pistol, in the vz.52, vz.54 and vz.55.
The Model 50 is a large pistol by European standards, a full inch longer and deeper than the Tokarev TT-33. It's sleek shape (to reduce the danger of the weapon snagging in clothing when drawn and slender design made it easily concealable. The finish on the Model 50 was very good with the weapon having a high-grade and robust blued finish with combined with chequered wooden hand grip panels selected for high grain contrast and attractive patterns. This grip is considered by some to be rather awkward to hold, due primarily to its deep (front-to-back) but slim (side-to-side) grip, combined with the high set barrel (over the hand) which exacerbates muzzle flip and torque on the wrist. These poor ergonomics do nothing to improve the comfort of the shooter or the controllability of the gun, although these factors appear to be of more concern to European users than American (probably due to the greater familiarity of the latter with powerful handgun cartridges and poor ergonomics). The Model 50 is also well known for its very sharp report and the great amount of muzzle flash it produces although its supporters argue that in a self-defense situation, those features are not necessarily a bad thing. Partisans of the Model 50 consider it a reliable and remarkably powerful weapon. The popularity of the Model 50/VZ-52/VZ-54 in civilian circles is largely due to the fact that, unlike its close rival the Makarov-PMv, the Model 50 and its descendents are designed to handle the full power military 7.62 Tokarev Magnum round and can do so without harm, where other pistols of its era wear rapidly if fed this ammunition.
The sights and controls of the Model 50 are mostly quite conventional and so familiar to shooters, however the European style magazine catch is one feature that has never been popular with the American market and remains a criticism of the Model 50. In keeping with the pistols low profile and slim lines, neither the sights or safety catch are very prominent, while this means they are less prone to snagging on clothing and the like, again many critics in America over recent years point out the original sights are a little small and the safety catch hard to operate in fast shooting.
The vz.50 is a single-action pistol with an external hammer and heel type magazine catch. The combined de-cock/safety lever is in the conventional location to the rear of the frame behind the left grip panel. This safety has three positions, Fire is the lower most, Safe is the central detent and the upper position is ‘de-cock’ which also locks the slide. This mechanical de-cocker allows the hammer to be dropped on a loaded chamber safely. In addition to the manual safety, the vz.50 also has two automatic safeties, the firing pin is blocked by a positive lock that prevents it from reaching the primer of a cartridge unless the trigger has been drawn to the rear; and the hammer is of the rebounding type, which cannot reach the firing pin unless it has fallen from full cock and again the trigger has been pulled. These two features render the vz.50 ‘drop safe.’
To prepare the weapon, the manual safety is set to ‘Safe’ (one green dot exposed), a magazine is inserted, the slide is then retracted, cocking the hammer, and released to run forward chambering a round from the magazine. The Model 50’s three-position safety permits the pistol to be carried in four recognised states or conditions:
- 1. Ready - Hammer cocked over a loaded chamber, safety off.
- 2. Cocked and Locked - Hammer cocked over a loaded chamber, safety on.
- 3. Safe - Hammer down over a loaded chamber, safety on.
- 4. Dry – Hammer down on an empty chamber, safety on.
From condition 2, depressing the manual safety unlocks the sear, allowing the trigger bar to be drawn forward by the trigger, rotating the sear about its pivot and so releasing the hammer. As the trigger bar moves forward it lifts the firing pin lock, so when the hammer strikes the rear of the firing pin it is free to transfer the energy forward to the primer and fire a round.
The Model 50 has an operating system unusual in a pistol, short-recoiling roller locks being more common in automatic rifles and machineguns like the MG-42. In this application there are two vertical rollers in the barrel assembly that lock into recesses in the slide under the control of a cam block fitted to the frame. With the slide in battery the cam block forces the two rollers outwards into locking recesses in the slide. As the operating parts recoil together against the coaxial recoil spring; the cam keeps the rollers locked out for about 4mm (0.16”) and then allows them to move inwards once it is safe to unlock the breech. When the rollers have cleared their recesses, the slide is free to recoil freely to its limits against the recoil spring. After ejecting the spent cartridge, cocking the hammer, and chambering a new round from the magazine, the slide comes back into contact with the barrel. Under the impetus of the slide’s momentum and the recoil spring, the slide and barrel move forwards and the rollers retrace their path against the cam, being forced out to lockup at battery.
This system spreads its locking forces over a generous bearing area through rolling contact; with the result being a very strong lockup that is mechanically ‘gentle’ on the parts involved. As such it is ideal for the ferocious pressures and forces generated by Tokarev Magnum ammunition, which are very hard on pistols with more conventional mechanisms.
Once the last round has been fired, the follower platform in the magazine rises against the slide latch and locks the slide in the rear position. The magazine catch, located on the heel of the grip, works against the main spring so demands a firm effort to release it. Once the magazine is free of the catch, this spring pressure continues to force the catch against the side of the magazine and the magazine against the front of the magazine well. All this additional friction means the magazine does not drop freely from the pistol, and indeed requires a degree of effort to withdraw or insert. Releasing the slide catch only requires the slide be slightly retracted and released or the external slide latch depressed with the shooter’s thumb.
Model 50 & Model 50S
In its first five years of production the Model 50 was only offered in two forms, the standard Model 50 and Model 50S fitted with target sights screw adjustable in windage and elevation.
In 1955 the Model 52 was offered for commercial sale. The Model 52 was a vz.52 offered for commercial sale as an ‘economy’ version of the Model 50, but found few buyers.
The Model 54 replaced the Model 52 in 1957. The Model 54 was a vz.54 offered for commercial sale, again as an ‘economy’ alternative to the Model 50. This pistol was far more Spartan that the Model 52, with a military phosphate finish, plastic grip panels held by a spring clip and fixed sights. This time the difference in price lead to respectable sales and the range stabilised on these three pistols (Model 50, 50S and 54) for the rest of their production lives, terminating in 1975.