1982: War seems forever on the horizon as an icy – yet smoldering – blanket of tension grips Europe. It was the Cold War, and in the eyes of many Americans today there were only two sides: the democratic West and the Soviet East. Anything east of West Germany was just a sea of red. 

Enter the CZ 82 pistol, a gun that both confirms and contradicts this idea. 

History is rarely black and white (or red and blue in this case). The guns of the Cold War are no exception. The small, blowback CZ 82 pistol is one of those guns and a beautiful little shooter with a really cool story behind it. I learned to love surplus and collectible firearms because of firearms like this.

Origin Story: CZ 82 & Makarov

The Makarov PM, left, and the CZ 82, right, represent two similar, yet dueling, guns used on the other side of the “Iron Curtain.”  (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

The Czechoslovakian CZ 82 really owes its origins to the Russian Makarov PM, which was itself heavily influenced by the Walther PP series. Both are blowback, all-metal pistols with quite a bit of heft to them. The heavier CZ 82 weighs in at just over 2 pounds loaded.  

But the real link between these guns is their cartridge, the 9x18mm Makarov. This was the replacement for the zippy 7.62x25mm Tokarev round favored by the Russians in World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. The 9x18 round falls between a .380 and the 9mm Luger. Indeed, it was basically the Russian’s answer to the NATO adoption of the 9x19mm.

Two 9x18mm Makarov rounds, left, stand next to a 9x19mm round, center. The taller 7.62x25mm Tokarev, center right, and .45 ACP, right, give some comparisons for size. Today, you can find plenty of different 9x18mm ammo, including modern self-defense rounds like the one shown on the far left. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

Despite its size, the 9x18mm is actually quite powerful for the limits of blowback pistols of the era, and Eastern Bloc countries like Czechoslovakia eventually changed their pistol calibers to match this new Russian round. (It was really less of a choice and more of a directive from the Soviet Union.)

But not every country was thrilled with the idea of adopting the Soviet Makarov PM pistol, which continued to serve the Russian military for decades after the Cold War. It was robust and reliable, but there is a level of national pride in gun designs.

CZ Enters the Game

The CZ 82 was still a blowback pistol with a fixed barrel like the Makarov PM, but it featured several changes, including an ambidextrous safety and 12-round, double-stack magazine. (Photo Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

Along with countries like Poland and Hungry, Czechoslovakia chose to rebuff the Makarov PM and create a homegrown gun for their militaries. Each kept the blowback functionality favorable to the 9x18mm round, but the CZ 82 added some unique touches that make it arguably better than the Makarov PM in certain ways.

This is really a testament to CZ, which has earned a cult-like following for guns like the CZ 75. It’s also not the first time Czechoslovakia chose to cut its own path away from Russian-designed pistols. They also created the CZ 52, their answer to the Russian TT-33, but still chambered in the same 7.62x25mm Tokarev. No doubt there was a level of national pride that drove this, but the CZ 82 also featured some more modern enhancements. 

Thumb Safety & Mag Release

The manual safety on the CZ 82 resembles the familiar 1911-style safety, but it is smaller and ambidextrous. The safety sweeps down like a 1911’s and is easy to use. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

The CZ 82 boasts an ambidextrous thumb safety and magazine release, making it the first service gun to feature both (to my knowledge at least). The Makarov PM featured a heel magazine release, and the thumb safety doubled as a decocker when put on safe. But CZ opted to drop the decocker in favor of a 1911-style safety that allows users to carry with the hammer back and a round in the chamber with the safety on. While this is a double-action pistol, the safety can only be engaged when the hammer is back. The double-action trigger effectively gives you a second-strike capability. 

Also, before you think about doing speed reloads, note that the magazine releases are lowered well below the grip and not terribly easy to get to as a modern shooter. My best explanation for this is that, like most militaries of the day, the creators were worried that soldiers would lose their magazines while carrying the firearm – a reasonable concern. So they just made it really hard to bump.

Polygonal Rifling

cz 82 pistol
Notice the grooves in the barrel? Neither do I, because the CZ 82 uses polygonal rifling unlike the image of the barrel in the top right. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

One of my favorite features of the CZ 82 is actually one of the hardest to see. Instead of the normal “lands and grooves," the gun has polygonal rifling. Effectively, the 3.8-inch barrel has a twist in it instead of the traditional cut rifling. 

Polygonal grooves may provide a better gas seal and improve the lifespan of the barrel. It might even help with accuracy over time as you are eliminating the erosion of the rifling. Frankly, I’m no expert on the topic, and most modern barrels are pretty darn tough. Nor do I shoot well enough to really notice the difference. But I will say this, it’s a breeze to clean and a really interesting part of the gun to show off. 

Magazine Capacity

cz pistol
Makarov PM pistol magazines, bottom, are single stack and only hold 8 rounds. The CZ 82 magazine, top, is a double-stack magazine that pushes that number up to 12 rounds. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)

If more is better, then the CZ 82 takes the cake on this one. The magazine boasts 12 rounds, compared to the Makarov PM’s eight. For the time, it was at the peak for capacity among the 9x18mm pistols. 

The gun is compact, but still 6.8-inches long overall with a heavy metal frame. For comparison, the Glock 19 is 7.28 inches long. So if you were trapped in the 1980s looking for a pistol in 9x18mm, I’d say it was a pretty sweet option overall. The capacity and size actually earned it a place among the concealed carry community in the U.S. before the wider availability of modern compact guns. 

Let’s Talk Shooting

It’s worth remembering at this point that the CZ 82 was a service pistol for an East Bloc military. Don’t expect finely polished internals. But the double-action trigger is smooth, not that you’ll really be using it. The single-action trigger pull is relatively light and there is some takeup before it breaks. Honestly, it shoots like I would expect a decent military service pistol of the day would shoot.

It also has a low bore axis, and the front sight is ramped with a grove down the center that is painted white. Overall, they are much better than most Cold War sights that are basically just a front sight post and a cut notch in the back. My only complaint would be the grip, which is ergonomic – maybe a bit fat – but a tad slippery. The material used is like plastic, so sweaty hands could be a bit of a problem. I haven’t really had issues, and it does have checkering to help improve traction on the grip. At nearly 2 pounds and shooting the lighter 9x18mm, it is still very controllable and a joy to shoot.

Like old collectible guns like these? Keep your eyes peeled. They have rolled in several times and vanished quickly, as is often the case for the surplus market these days. I’ve watched them come and go a few times, only to see the price slowly creep up and up over time.