Among the most reliable and battled tested handgun designs of all time is the Russian Tokarev. It simply doesn’t get the respect the 1911, Browning Hi Power and CZ 75 do, yet the pistol is always reliable, accurate enough for personal defense, and chambered for hard hitting cartridges. Century International Arms Zastava M88 continues the tradition. The original 7.62 x 25mm chambering has much merit. However, only a few companies offer hollow point ammunition for this caliber. Some years ago, I began to see Tokarev pistols chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge. While I enjoy my original TT-33 pistols I have to admit, the 9mm makes a lot of sense. The 9mm is affordable, widely distributed, and hollow-point defense loads are widely available. The new pistols were basically re-barreled TT-33 pistols.
A new variant I find most interesting is a redesign of the original pistol. The Century M88 retains the easily field strip design of the original—including the ability to remove the hammer group in a unit. The pistol features the original locked breech recoil system and single-action trigger of the Tokarev. However, the pistol is considerably shorter and lighter.
Romania’s Zastava has designed a compact version of the Tokarev. This is a well-balanced handgun with good handling and excellent balance. It isn’t the most polished pistol, or the most accurate, but it is dirt tough and should serve anyone on a budget well.
This pistol resembles other single-action pistols in profile, but it is much slimmer than a 1911 or Browning Hi Power. The M88 uses a single column 8-shot magazine—allowing a slim grip. The sights trigger and hammer spur reflect the lineage of the pistol. The slide is shortened into compact configuration. The sights are good combat sights. There is a grooved portion in front of the ejection port leading to the front sight to break up heat mirage. The front sight is dovetailed in place. The cocking serrations afford good leverage. Chambering the pistol for the 9mm Luger cartridge means real economy and easy availability of personal defense loads. The pistol is reliable and as accurate as any Tokarev, securing 5-shot 3.5-inch groups at a long 25 yards with Winchester USA FMJ loads.
The pistol now has a magazine safety that prevents the pistol from firing when the magazine is removed. I do not foresee firing the pistol without a magazine. The safety is a lever on the slide. Slide mounted safeties are not usually as fast as a frame mounted safety, however, this one, with the compact size of the pistol, is pretty quick. The slide isn’t locked and the pistol may be loaded with the safety applied. I trust this safety for cocked and safety on (it isn’t cocked and locked-because the safety moves to cover the firing pin). If the hammer fell the pistol could not fire. Just the same many will elect to carry the pistol hammer down. There is nothing wrong with keeping the chamber empty at home ready for personal defense. This is an interesting adaption of the Tokarev—a light, handy, steel frame 9mm that retails for less than $300.
Initial range testing has proven encouraging. I have fired the pistol extensively with lead bullet handloads with good results. The pistol feed the Winchester 115-grain JHP and Winchester 115-grain Silvertip without any problems. Firing from a solid barricade firing position at 15 yards, the M88 placed five 115-grain JHP bullets into a group less than 2 inches. The M88 trigger isn’t the smoothest, but it is a straight to the rear, single-action trigger and may be controlled. The sights were also good. This is a good gun for the money and one that will save your life if need be.
|Barrel length||3.6 inches|
Are you in the market for an M88 or other dependable home defense pistol and on a budget? Share your top choice(s) in the comment section.