June 11, 2013
By David Fortier
While chatting with the crew of Quantico Tactical in Junction City, Kansas I noticed a customer look confused as he came up to the firearms counter. He had good reason. The pistol cabinets were almost empty and the walls were bare. The continued panic buying had stripped the place of pistols and rifles. While the walls were usually covered in rifles and shotguns, only a Remington 700 and 870 hung there now. The pistol cases had also been ravished. "Are you guys packing for a move or something?" The puzzled customer asked. It took a bit for the staff to explain to him the extent of the recent panic buying spurred on by the Leftist anti-gunners and their attack on the Constitution. As I'm sure most Shotgun News readers are aware, there has been an unprecedented run on firearms, ammunition and magazines like this country has never seen before.
Due to this run on everything firearms related, I have been trying to tread a bit off the beaten path. Rather than writing up the latest Modern Sporting Rifle, which is likely backordered six months, I went searching for interesting deals which were actually available. On my quest I came across Century Arms recently introduced M70A Tokarev in 9x19mm Luger. A simple, durable and reliable piece in a popular and effective caliber, the M70A has a very interesting lineage. While manufactured at the world famous Serb arsenal of Zastava, its roots extend both East to Tula and West to Colt.
A quick examination of the M70A will reveal it's a variant of the tough Soviet 7.62x25mm TT-33 Tokarev service pistol. But the foundation of the design predates Fedor V. Tokarev's work by decades. In profile the TT-33 pistol closely resembles Colt's highly popular Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless. While not as small as the Colt Model 1903, the TT-33 is very thin and easy to carry with a short butt. Although outwardly similar to the Model 1903, internally the TT-33 is a relative of John Moses Browning's much more famous Model 1911. It utilizes Browning's distinctive short-recoil tilting barrel system of operation, right down to his swinging link. So, in some respects the design is straight Colt-Browning.
However, Fedor Vasilievich Tokarev certainly added his own distinctive touch to the design. He began working on this model in the 1920s as a possible replacement for the obsolete Model 1895 Nagant revolver. One of the Soviet Union's most prominent small arms designers, Tokarev was born on June 2, 1871. At the age of 17 he was admitted to the Military Vocational School at Novocherkassk. Four years later he graduated as a Cossack noncommissioned officer and was assigned to the 12th Don Cossack Regiment as an armorer-artificer. At the age of 25 Tokarev returned to Novecherkassk as a Master Armorer Instructor and then applied to the Military Technical School. He graduated in 1900 at the age of 29, received his commission and returned to his Regiment as a Master Gunsmith. In the years that followed he would survive the Revolution and become a key small arms designer for the Soviet Union. Like all Soviet designers of this period, he was influenced by Vladimir Grigoryevich Fyodorov, although not to the extent Sergei Simonov was. Both his TT-30/33 pistol and SVT-38/40 self-loading rifle were adopted by the Soviet Union and fielded in large numbers. For his work he received the Hero of Socialist Labor award in 1940. He also served as a deputy for the Supreme Soviet of the USSR from 1941 to 1950. He passed away in March of 1968 at the age of 96.
While Tokarev 'borrowed' some features from the Capitalist Browning, he did more than just copy. His design differs from Browning's work in certain distinct areas. Most notable are the lock mechanism and safety arrangements. In Tokarev's design the lock mechanism is 'packaged' in that the sear and hammer assembly are removed as a unit. This package also contains two machined guides which act as feed lips to aid reliability. The easily removable firing mechanism allows quick and easy cleaning and maintenance. Plus the machined guides make this design more tolerant of low quality or distorted magazines. Tokarev also ditched Browning's extractor design. He replaced it with a simpler external extractor pinned in place. While people will argue with me, I feel this was an improvement. Safety-wise he departed from Browning, and the US Cavalry, and threw out not only the grip safety, but also the manual safety. The only safety the Soviet issue Tokarev possesses is a half-cock notch. These changes were less positive in my opinion.
Tokarev's design performed well enough during trials to be adopted as the 7.62mm Samozaryadnyi Pistolet Tokareva obraztsa 1930 goda (7.62mm Tokarev self-loading pistol model 1930). Developed and produced at Tula Arsenal it became known as the Tula Tokarev 1930 or TT-30. However this model was quickly simplified and improved to become the TT-33. The TT-33 would go on to become the standard Soviet service pistol until replaced by the 9x18mm Pistol Makarov (PM) in the 1950s. It should be noted though that the long obsolete M1895 Nagant revolver remained in service, simply due to need, throughout World War II.
The TT-30/33 performed well during the border wars with Imperial Japan, the Winter War and World War II. It was easy to use and proved reliable even in the harsh conditions of the Eastern Front. While the TT-33 gave as good as it got standing toe to toe with the Wehrmacht's P-38, it was replaced by a new double-action design after the war. However the TT-33 didn't simply disappear after being replaced in Soviet service. Instead the Soviet's shared the design with countries in their sphere of influence. Some of these, such as China, Poland, Romania, Hungry and Yugoslavia produced Tokarevs of their own.
While most countries simply made direct copies of the TT-33, the Yugoslav arsenal of Zastava tweaked the design a bit. Adopted by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) as the Md57, the most obvious difference is a longer grip frame. This makes the Md57 a bit more comfortable in the hand. The longer frame also adds a round to the magazine. So unlike the Soviet TT-33, which holds eight rounds in the magazine, the Md57 holds nine plus one in the chamber. The downside is this precludes using standard TT-33 magazines. Another departure from Tokarev's original design is a one-piece guide rod. Plus, for whatever reason they also felt the need to add a magazine safety. The Md57 was fielded by the JNA until the break-up of Yugoslavia. It also saw widespread use during the chaos which followed. While an aging design by the 1990s, it still proved rugged, reliable and effective during the fighting and carnage of the civil war.
Today though finds the Md57 put out to pasture, with many available as surplus on the US commercial market. One nice feature, added to allow importation of these surplus pistols, is the addition of a 1911-type thumb safety. Built to a high standard, the 7.62x25mm Md57 is my favorite Tokarev to plink with. The only drawback to this model today is the lack of inexpensive 7.62x25mm ammunition. For a time, surplus 7.62x25mm ammunition was not only readily available but it was also incredibly inexpensive. Unfortunately those days are over. Surplus 7.62x25mm ammunition has dried up, and what is available is being scalped at prohibitive prices.
This is where the M70A really shines; it is chambered for the hugely popular 9x19mm cartridge. Basically the M70A is a 9x19mm variant of the Md57. But, it's not just an Md57 with a 9mm barrel stuffed into it. There are a few changes to be aware of. Most notable is the slide mounted safety. While surplus Tokarev's typically have manual safety devices added to them to allow importation, most are crude after thoughts. They are simply intended to get them into the country for resale. The M70A on the other hand has a usable slide mounted safety. While not quite ideal, it is very usable by a right handed shooter. In actual use it gives up nothing to the safety on a Beretta M9 service pistol. I had little problem quickly disengaging the safety with my thumb.
Rather than utilizing the standard 7.62x25mm magazines the M70A uses a dedicated 9x19mm magazine. This is slightly shorter (front to rear) than a Md57 magazine. Due to this a spacer has been added to the magazine well. What does this mean? Simply that you can't use Md57 magazines in your M70A, or vice-versa. The Md57 and M70A are almost identical in other regards.
The M70A is simple to operate, handles well and proved both accurate and reliable. Recoil is mild.
The M70A strips easily for routine maintenance. Note the self-contained recoil spring assembly with full length guide rod.
A notable feature of the Tokarev family is the packaged firing mechanism which is easily removed as a unit.
Tokarev tweaked Browning's design, adding an external extractor and a retainer for the slide catch.
The magazine release and slide catch are both conventionally located and easy to manipulate.
A slide mounted safety is fitted to the M70A. This allows the pistol to be put into action much quicker than a traditional TT-33 with its half-cock safety.
A 1911-style barrel bushing is utilized by the M70A. Also note the dovetailed front sight.
One distinctive feature of the M70A is a longer grip frame than a standard TT-33. This also allows for a longer 9-shot magazine.
While long obsolete in Russian service, Tokarevs can still be encountered around the world. (Photo courtesy USMC).
The M70A is based upon the Yugoslav 7.62x25mm Md57 seen here. Note the thumb safety added for importation after this piece was surplused.
While Tokarev's traditionally are chambered for the 1930 vintage Soviet 7.62x25mm cartridge the M70A is chambered in 9x19mm.
The M70A is an interesting mix of Browning's genius, Fedor Tokarev's tweaking and Serb refinement.
Built by Zastava of Serbia for Century Arms, the M70A is chambered for the hugely popular 9x19mm cartridge rather than the traditional 7.62x25mm.
Build quality on the M70A is very good and it sports an attractive blue finish offset by black plastic grips. Internally I noted a few rough spots present. This is a traditional single-action steel framed pistol with roots dating back to the early 20th Century. It is a very straight forward piece to run. If you've ever operated an M1911 you'll have no issues with a M70A. While the safety is placed differently, the slide catch and magazine release are similar. When the safety is rotated down the piece is on SAFE. When rotated up it is on FIRE. The design allows the pistol to be loaded or unloaded with the safety on. Barrel length is approximately 4.6 inches and it sports six groove rifling with a right hand twist. Overall length is 7.7 inches. The front sight is rather small, while the rear is quite tall. Both are dovetailed into the slide. Weight of my review pistol with an empty magazine was 30.7 ounces.
My review pistol arrived packed in a simple foam lined cardboard box. Included was a manual, lock, chamber flag, spare nine-round magazine and bore brush. Examining it I found the manual to be well written and easy to understand. This is not always the case, and I have read my share of broken 'Engrish' manuals from former Communist countries over the years. Both magazines inserted and ejected without issue and the trigger pull was on the heavy side but quite usable.
Stripping the M70A is fairly simple, and I wanted to have a look inside, so I did that next. You begin by ensuring the pistol is unloaded. Remove the magazine and visually check the chamber with the piece on SAFE. Next push the slide lock retainer, located on the right side of the pistol, to the rear. This allows the slide lock to be pulled straight out of the frame. The slide can now be pushed forward and off the frame. Keep in mind, this is not a 1911 and the M70A features a full-length guide rod. Once the slide is removed, turn it over and simply pull the rear of the recoil spring assembly away from the barrel. The guide rod consists of two pieces pinned together which allows it to pivot for easy removal. This is actually a pretty well thought out feature and the recoil spring assembly is removed as a single self-contained unit. Next the barrel bushing is rotated and pulled out of the front of the slide. This allows the barrel to also be easily removed. The firing mechanism is removed from the frame by simply lifting it up and out. If you are curious about how to remove the M70A's grips, it is also very simple. Looking inside the bottom of the magazine well you note a flat metal lever on the inside of the left grip. Using a screwdriver or other device, rotate this to the rear of the pistol. This will release the left grip panel allowing its removal. With the left grip panel removed you now have access to the retainer on the inside of the right grip. Rotate this and you can now remove the right grip panel as well. Reassembly is the reverse, and also easily accomplished. This is a very simple pistol to maintain and keep running.
With the piece back together it was time to hit the range. To see how the M70A performed, I gathered together five different 9mm loads. These ranged in weight from an ultra-light 60 grains up to 135 grains. Loads included brass and steel cases as well as standard and +P pressures. I began by trundling the targets out to 25 yards and firing groups from the bench. A cold snowy Kansas day added a bit of zest to our testing. Four consecutive five-shot groups were fired with each load while velocity was measured 10 feet from the muzzle. During this portion of testing I noted the magazines loaded easily to full capacity. Magazines inserted easily, rounds chambered smoothly, extracted and ejected without issue. I was especially pleased to see JHPs posed no problems and the M70A functioned flawlessly with all five loads.
Accuracy from the bench was quite acceptable for a rack grade service type pistol. I found the small sights well suited to firing from the bench. Three of the five loads averaged three inches or less at 25 yards. The tightest average went to Black Hills' 124 grain JHP +P at 2.6 inches. Right behind it was Hornady's new 135 grain +P Critical Duty which averaged 2.7 inches. Wolf Performance Ammunition's 115 grain FMJ load averaged a respectable 2.9 inches. Highest muzzle velocity went to MagSafe's 60 grain Defender which blasted across the sky screens at 1,884 fps. Even this zippy load averaged a respectable 3.5 inches. I've found Hornady's new 135 grain +P Critical Duty load to be a bit snappy in very small concealed carry pistols. However the M70A is an all steel service pistol and recoil was easy to control. It proved to be a very pleasant pistol to shoot.
With the bench testing out of the way it was time to have some fun. So I moved to running drills from 3 to 15 yards. Here the M70A performed well. While the single-action trigger pull is nothing to write home about, it is quite usable. As stated previously recoil is mild and reloads are straight forward. One concern I had initially was the placement of the safety. It is slide mounted like an M9 Beretta. With the M9 Beretta it's possible to inadvertently move the safety from FIRE to SAFE while manually running the slide. I never experienced this with the M70A and do not think it would be an issue.
What was an issue for me though were the small sights. They may not be a problem for an 18 year old but I'm in my mid-40s. Up close I simply ignored them and the M70A provided rapid hits. I've spent a bit of time behind a Type 54 and Md57 so the grip angle is quite familiar. I had no problem making fast multiple hits in the center of a B-27. As the distances increased though, I had to slow down to find the smallish front sight. Even so the M70A acquitted itself well on an Action Target Dueling Tree and Plate Rack. I was pleased to note the M70A was capable of making consistent hits on B-27 silhouettes at 50, 75 and even 100 yards if I did my part. Practical accuracy was quite good. Better still, reliability throughout testing was flawless. Zero issues of any kind were encountered.
Negatives? The M70A is certainly not for everyone. It is a Serb produced variant of a 1930s Soviet design. That by itself will cause some to turn their nose up at it. The sights are small and it's a single-stack 9mm with a capacity of 9 +1. Being a steel frame gun it is not a lightweight either. I am not a fan of the magazine safety and feel it negatively affects the trigger pull. Plus the gun is a bit rough on the inside. Lastly it requires a dedicated magazine and will not accept a standard TT-33 or even a 7.62mm Md57 magazine.
On the plus side the M70A is a great value for the money. Build quality is good and the piece looks quite nice externally. Any internal rough edges will smooth over with a bit of use. My recommendation is to put 500 rounds through one for a thorough break-in. While the 7.62x25mm cartridge has a certain appeal, the 9x19mm is much more practical. Remember, the M70A is capable of handling the very latest expanding JHP loads for self-protection. Practical accuracy is very good and reliability is excellent. Plus it should be noted Strike Hard Gear offers a modern Kydex holster for the Tokarev.
All in all I was very favorably impressed by Century Arms' Zastava built M70A pistol. With an MSRP of just $299.95 and a street price often lower it is a steal. Here's an economical pistol designed for hard military use capable of being utilized for personal protection or recreational shooting. At this price I suspect they will sell fast.