ArmaLite has long been known for its innovative and trendsetting rifle designs. Now, for the first time in its storied existence, there is a pistol that wears the ArmaLite name.
Mark Westrom, a retired Army ordnance colonel and president of ArmaLite, announced recently that he had reached an agreement with Turkish arms manufacturer Sarsilmaz to produce a semi-auto pistol, the AR-24, which closely resembles the famed CZ-75.
Manufactured to ArmaLite’s specifications, the new pistol line will appeal to officers looking for high capacity and double-action capability. Initially offered in two models—a full-size pistol and a compact model—the guns are currently available in 9mm and 40 S&W. A .45 ACP model is in development.
The CZ-75 design has a number of features that make it a popular choice for service and off-duty use. It gives the user the choice of carrying the gun cocked and locked (hammer cocked and thumb safety engaged) like a 1911 .45 pistol, so that all shots are fired single action. Carrying the gun with the hammer down, thumb safety engaged or unengaged, the first shot will be fired in the double-action mode. All subsequent shots will be fired single action. ArmaLite’s rendition of the CZ-75 possesses a 15 + 1 capacity for the full-size model and 13 + 1 for the compact.
Westrom says he first became aware of Sarsilmaz when he attended the Biennial Military Expo. “They’re interested in manufacturing our rifles under license to sell them to the Turkish Ministry of Defense. I was impressed by their facility and manufacturing capabilities.”
There are many different manufacturers of CZ-75 clones. They are made in countries like Italy, the Philippines, Israel, the Czech Republic, and South Africa. But the AR-24 line is different from the CZ clones; it’s a quality gun.
Westrom says he’s had a love affair with the CZ-75 since the 1980s when he was a GI in Germany and bought one through the base Rod and Gun Club. “They were rough guns,” Westrom says. “They featured what could be best called socialist quality levels. Most of the frames and slides exhibited rather coarse machine work and polishing that rounded exterior surfaces. Nonetheless, it was a fine pistol design.”
At one time it was hard to get a CZ-75 in the United States and collectors paid a premium for the guns. Today, the CZ-75 is readily available.
“When the Iron Curtain fell, the lower priced CZ-75s entered the U.S. But no forged models were available,” Westrom says, explaining why his company was interested in the design. “This left ArmaLite with the opportunity to take the all forged and highly machined pistols and modify them to appeal to American tastes. We aren’t positioning these guns against the Czech, Philippine, Italian, or Israeli guns. We’re positioning them against Beretta and SIG, top quality but with a steel frame instead of aluminum. It’s more expensive to produce, but nothing feels like a handful of steel.”
After talking to Westrom, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on an AR-24. The company sent me both an AR-24 and an AR-24K.
One of the things that impresses me about these two test samples is their flawless cosmetics. I’ve seen a lot of these clones over the years and it is not unusual to see heavy machine marks, uneven polishing, and wavy lines on the same gun. The ArmaLite guns don’t have this problem. Their slides and frame flats are sharp, and the polishing is very even. Transitions from flat surfaces to rounded are crisp and uncompromised.
Westrom invited me to pull the slides off of the frames and wipe the oil clean from the parts. What I found was a surface totally devoid of machine marks. “Compare that to the competition,” he said.
Sarsilmaz finishes the pistols with a tough manganese phosphate finish and then applies a thermally cured epoxy finish over it for a handsome, matte black non-reflective finish that provides superior corrosion resistance.[PAGEBREAK]
Not Just a Copy
Before we go much further, I should explain to you that the AR-24 is not just a CZ-75 clone. It’s an updated design.
The AR-24 features a gently upsweeping beavertail. It also has a very pronounced and curved backstrap that locks the hand into a comfortable shooting grip. There’s also a relief cut where the trigger guard meets the frame to allow the shooter to get a higher hold on the gun. And ArmaLite wisely excluded the trigger guard hook, which is counter to American tastes.
Westrom also changed the contours of the slide. “The CZ was heavily influenced by the SIG 210, which was derived from the Petter M1935 pistol,” he says. “I always liked the sleek looks of their slides, so I redesigned our slide to give it a similar look. I also incorporated fine slide serrations rather than the more coarse ones that are so common today.” In my opinion, Westrom’s changes have given the gun a more refined appearance.
There are also some internal differences between the CZ-75 and the AR-24. Westrom wanted the gun to have a somewhat more sophisticated safety that locks the slide, trigger, and hammer when the hammer is down and safety engaged. If the hammer is cocked, the safety locks the trigger only, so that the chamber can be cleared and the gun unloaded without having to disengage the safety like on a 1911 pistol.
Of course, cosmetics and design mean nothing in a firearm if it’s not accurate. Sarsilmaz finely cuts the barrel’s rifling to ArmaLite’s specifications rather than using the more common button rifling technique that can cause metal to be displaced. The result is a barrel capable of tremendous accuracy.
I test fired both the full size AR-24 and AR-24K compact models at 25 yards for accuracy. Unfortunately, the sun was in front of me and to my right and it made getting a consistent sight picture nearly impossible.
Despite this handicap, I fired a number of groups, from both guns, under an inch. In fact, the compact model recorded an unbelievable .59-inch five-shot group! These two ArmaLite pistols are the most accurate 9mm guns that I have ever tested.
As you might expect, the recoil from a steel-framed, high-capacity, semi-auto pistol is nearly negligible. Even the smaller gun was completely controllable and was a pleasure to shoot.
If you’re looking for a lightweight gun for off-duty carry the AR-24 is not your gun. But if you’re the kind of shooter that doesn’t mind a little bit of heft on your hip and appreciates what the weight does for recoil control and quick follow-up shots, then the new ArmaLites might be what you’re looking for (Westrom says the company is working on a polymer-framed model.).
The single-action trigger pull on both test guns broke at just under five pounds, with very little overtravel. The double-action first shot registered at a manageable 12 pounds. Westrom says that the pistols made for the Turkish military had very rough triggers, typical of service guns. “We have altered the standards of the pistol a bit to gain an improved trigger pull. Our next shipment of guns should have even better triggers.”
I fired both guns with a good variety of 9mm ammo. Each round possessed a very different bullet nose profile and both guns digested them all without a bobble. There were no failures with either gun during my evaluation.
I found both the ArmaLite AR-24 and AR-24K (compact) pistols to be accurate and possess the needed reliability for service and off-duty carry. ArmaLite’s version of the old Iron Curtain design may well be the best facsimile of the CZ-75 ever produced.
Mike Detty is an NRA-certified rifle, pistol, and shotgun instructor. A certified rangemaster and competition shooter, Detty served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and holds a degree in criminal justice from the University of Arizona.