April 22, 2021
Old school surplus has dried up, and the pickings are fairly slim these days. One piece you can run across at a reasonable price is a 9mm Star BM pistol. Due to this the Star BM has a bit of an appeal. Better still, it’s chambered for the hugely popular and readily available 9mm Parabellum rather than some oddball, like the obsolete 9mm Largo. With this in mind, should you consider a Star BM for your collection or for recreational shooting?
The BM was the product of Star Bonifacio Echevarria, S.A. which was located in the Eibar region of Spain. This geographical location has long been linked to weapons and firearm manufacture, of both good and poor quality. Star Bonifacio Echevarria, S.A. was in business from about 1905 to 1997. The Star lineage can be traced back to the 19th century muzzle-loading black powder firearms built by José Cruz Echeverria. Echeverria went on to have two sons, Julián and Bonifacio who began producing firearms of their own in about 1905. The brothers worked together for about five years, and then Julián left. Bonifacio then began to expand his company and improve his product line, which was focused on small automatic pistols.
With the end of World War I came the cancellation of Bonifacio’s lucrative French military contract building 7.65mm Ruby pistols. In the years that followed he decided to take the company in a different direction. He would move away from the Ruby-style pistols and begin manufacturing clones of the recently introduced Colt 1911. The Star Model 1920 was the company’s first stab at imitating Colt, and it fell a bit short. Available in 9mm Largo and .38 Auto, it was a bit ungainly looking and sported an unattractive slide mounted safety. The Model 1920 was only produced for one year, and the following Model 1922 was a better looking piece, closer to the Colt. The Model 1922 sported a frame mounted safety, but like the Model 1920, dispensed with the 1911’s grip safety. In the years and decades that followed Star would produce a variety of models in different calibers and sizes.
The Star pistol seen here is their mid-size BM in 9mm Parabellum. This is a very practical design which proved fairly popular due to its size, build quality, features and price. Introduced in 1972, production of this model ran until 1992, with approximately 217,682 examples being manufactured. The BM is conceptually similar to the Colt Commander, being a shortened version of Star’s take on the 1911. It features a locked breach operating system with Browning’s swinging link. The 3.7-inch barrel features two locking lugs which mate with recesses in the slide. While it retains a removable barrel bushing, similar to the Colt, it features a different recoil spring assembly. The BM sports a captured recoil spring with a full length steel guide rod. This is a nice upgrade over the Colt.
Another nice feature is the improved extractor. This is a beefy piece plainly visible on the right side of the slide. In my humble opinion, the Star extractor is a better design. The tang of the frame will prevent hammer bite so that shouldn’t be a concern. The safety is a bit different than the 1911, but is similarly placed and easy to manipulate. The slide catch and magazine release are both placed like a 1911, and easy to reach. The rear sight is a square notch which can be drifted to adjust windage when zeroing. The front sight is a fairly wide and easy to see post. This changed to a serrated ramp in 1981 on serial number 1,560,901. My review sample’s original serial number is 1,512,639 so it was made prior to the change.
About this same time Star made some minor changes to increase production. These included a coarser polishing job, a different roll mark, and the small parts were given a simple bead blast matte finish. Later production guns also had less slide serrations. While mechanically the BM didn’t change through its production cycle, there were a variety of cosmetic changes depending upon the whims of the purchaser.
The review Star BM arrived in its original cardboard box with manual and a cleaning rod. Examining it, I noted some holster wear, dings and scratches, some ground off markings, recently added importers markings and a new serial number. Overall the pistol was in “Good” condition and seemed mechanically sound. The bore was in very good condition, and it looked like a shooter. The only real negative was the rear sight was bashed noticeably to the right. Basically, it looked like it had been dropped at some point in its life, and landed on its rear sight. It would just need to be bashed back to realign the witness mark on the sight with the witness mark on the slide.
This brings up a point to consider. The Star BM is an old school steel frame gun, so it’s a bit on the heavy side. Tossing the review gun on my scale showed it to weigh in at 34.5 ounces. On the plus side, the heavy steel frame makes the BM fairly soft shooting, even with +P loads. The downside is if you intend on carrying it personal protection. Size-wise I was a bit surprised at how close it is to my Glock 43 with a +2 baseplate attached. The Star BM even drops right into my DeSantis IWB holster, and that’s how I carried it during testing. It features a 3.77-inch barrel, an overall length of 7.2 inches and a height of 5 inches. Width is 1.2 inches.
The BM feeds from robust 8-round steel detachable box magazines. I received only one magazine, and that is something to keep in mind. Unless you are a Fudd who is content to slowly shoot 8+1 rounds at a time, you will want additional magazines. These currently are a bit hard to source. J&G Sales currently has Star BM magazines for $39.95, or $29.95 if you buy five or more. So, if you have a magazine fetish, you will want to buy some while they are available. Plus, due to a magazine safety, the magazine on my example would not drop free. I loathe magazine safeties, so if you feel in a similar way it’s something else to be aware of.
I began testing by firing four 5-shot groups with four different loads at 25 yards. Rack grade 1911-style pistols sometimes shoot well, and other times they shoot like a bucket. So I was interested to see how this particular pistol would perform. Firing off bags I found the BM pleasant to shoot. The trigger was a bit heavy at 5.5 pounds, but had zero creep and broke cleanly. Better still, it was very consistent. The slide cycled very smoothly, this was a used pistol after all and it was nicely broken in. Acquiring a good sight picture was no trouble either, so no complaints there.
1911-style pistols from this era sometimes have issues with JHP ammunition, so I selected three different styles along with a steel case 115-grain FMJ load from Tula Ammo. JHP loads consisted of Black Hills Ammunition’s 124-grain +P, SIG Sauer’s 115-grain 365 V-Crown and Hornady’s 135-grain Critical Duty +P. During this portion of testing I ran into a problem using the Tula steel case load. About 30% of the time cases would not fully extract. I had zero issues with the Black Hills, SIG Sauer or Hornady loads. They all fed and functioned without issue.
Accuracy from the bench was good, with the Black Hills 124-grain JHP +P load posting the best average at 3 inches. Velocity was 1,170 fps. SIG Sauer’s 115-grain 365 V-Crown averaged 3.5 inches at 1,080 fps. Hornady’s 135-grain Critical Duty +P averaged 3.7 inches, while Tula Ammo’s 115-grain FMJ averaged 3.9 inches. So, for a used rack grade service pistol, the pre-1981 vintage Star BM acquitted itself well.
Moving from the bench I ran the BM through some drills starting at 7 yards. Since I only had one magazine I couldn’t get too elaborate. With that in mind, Mozambique Drills were the order of the day in honor of where many of these pistols served. Two shots to the chest followed by one shot to the head. The BM did very well on this, and other drills firing on multiple ShootSteel.com silhouettes and 8-inch plates. I suppose I am old enough to have grown up in an age where a manual safety was not considered a hindrance. Drills slowly worked their way back until I was at the 50-yard line. The Star easily kept all its rounds centered on a silhouette at this distance.
I found the Star BM to be a very pleasant pistol to shoot. It is comfortable in the hand, and points well for me due to the grip angle. While the sights are basic, they are very usable for combat shooting. The trigger is not match grade, but very usable for its intended purpose, and the reset is very good. Thanks to its heft, its smooth shooting and easy to control.
Now, as the Star BMs on the market are surplus from various LE and military organizations, they will range in condition. All of them though were produced prior to 1993. Like with all surplus, some pistols will have been shot a little and others will have seen heavier use. What am I getting at? When you buy any surplus firearm you kinda roll the dice. Springs may need to be replaced and little problems may need to be fixed. In my case the review pistol simply needed to be lubricated and the sights re-zeroed. But springs and things do wear out. Changing the recoil spring to ensure proper function is always a good idea, although seldom actually done.
So, is the Star BM a good value, and is it something you should consider? Build quality is actually pretty good with old world methods. The basic design is both reliable and durable, and properly maintained a BM should live a very long and happy life. It is very much a child of the 1970s though, and looks behind the times today compared to the current crop of polymer pistols and uber capacity magazines. However, it remains a very fun shooter which is very enjoyable to run drills with on the range. As an economical carry pistol its only real drawback, in my opinion, is its weight. Star agreed and did build aluminum frame versions of the BM as well. All in all, the Star BM is a fun shooter and definitely something to consider if you love surplus!
Star BM Specifications
Caliber: 9x19mm Parabellum
Operation: Self-loading with Browning swinging link
Barrel length: 3.7 inches
Feed: Detachable 8-round box magazine
Overall Length: 7.2 inches
Height: 5 inches
Width: 1.2 inches
Weight: 35 ounces
Sights: Fixed front post, drift adjustable rear square notch
Manufacturer: Star Bonifacio Echevarria, S.A.
About the author:
David M. Fortier has been covering firearms, ammunition and optics for 23 years. He is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Outdoor Writer of the Year award and his writing has been recognized by the Civil Rights organization JPFO. In 2007 he covered the war in Iraq as an embedded journalist.