A Cold War era classic with smooth lines, a legendary back story, and an exotic-sounding name, Beretta's Model 71 was definitely a mouse that roared.
Debuted in 1958 as a downsized companion pistol line to complement the recently introduced 9mm Beretta M1951, the company's 70-series guns would span no less than 14 variants and sub-variants before ending production in the mid-1980s. Using a fixed barrel and open slide – a hallmark of the M1951 that would later carry on to the 92-series pistols of today – the compact 70-series guns were blowback action pistols with a skeletonized bobbed hammer, a frame-mounted manual safety, and a smooth single-action trigger.
Chambered in .380 ACP, .32 ACP, and .22 LR flavors, they proved a hit both domestically in Italy and on the commercial market.
While the Model 70 would see a modicum of Italian police use, such as with the CFS – the federal forestry service – it would be the Model 71 that shined brightest in the series.
Beretta 'Cat' Guns
The new series of post-WWII Beretta semi-automatic pistols were commonly marketed in the U.S. by a series of catchy names, usually feline-based. For instance, the old Model 418 was dubbed the Panther; the Model 70 was the Puma; the later Model 80s were Cheetahs; the flip-up-barreled rimfire series models would carry the Minx (.22 Short), Bobcat (.22LR/.25ACP) and Tomcat (.32ACP) monikers; and the 9mm 8000 series would be introduced as the Cougar – after the M1934 was done using that name.
Falling into this naming convention was the Model 71, 72, and 75, which would be marketed in the U.S. as the Jaguar. The difference between the three models was slight, with the 71 shipping with a 3.54-inch barrel, the 72 with both the standard barrel and an additional 5.9-inch target barrel, and the 75 with just the target barrel.
Israeli Spy Pistol?
Part of the big cache that the Jaguar has comes from its often unorthodox overt and covert use. Besides Model 71 fan pages that cite it was long a part of the "bailout" survival kit for Italian military pilots during the Cold War – complete with matching pillbox-style suppressor – its Israeli connections are the most buzz-worthy. It seems the svelte little .22 was an unofficial sidearm throughout the 1960s and 70s among the various Israeli intelligence services, the secretive Mossad, El Al airline sky marshals, and the Sayeret Matkal counter-terror unit.
As noted by Nick Jacobellis in a 2014 Tactical Life article on the subject:
I suspect that Israeli Mossad operators and sky marshals liked using the Beretta 70 and 71 because these pistols do not feel like a dainty little handgun that a lady would use to make a mugger take his business elsewhere. When you grip a Beretta 70/71 you feel confident that you are holding a pistol that is capable of winning a gunfight, even though it is chambered in a caliber that is not known for significant stopping power.
Pine boards at 27 yards indeed.
The suave 70 series has also appeared on-screen in almost 100 films, TV shows, and video games including in the hands of Roger Moore's James Bond (A Spy Who Loved Me), Charles Bronson (The Valachi Papers), Jan-Michael Vincent (The Mechanic), Jack Nicholson (Prizzi's Honor), Rutger Hauer (A Moonlit Night), Andy Garcia (Godfather III), and Colin Farrell (The Gentlemen), as well as in The Last of Us franchise.
While the Jaguar went extinct in the 1980s along with the rest of its 70-series kin, Beretta still catalogs a pint-sized .22 LR, the Model 21 Bobcat.