Range Report: Century International Arms Zastava M88 9mm

CIA Zastava M88 pistol right side and magazine

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.

CIA Zastava M88 pistol right side and magazine
The M88 uses a slim single column magazine. This means it fits most hands well.

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.

Tokarev pistol in Kydex holster
Very few makers offer gear for the Tokarev, this is a good design.

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.

Weight 28 ounces
Length 7 inches
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.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (20)

  1. I have a more than a few Tokarevs, I respect the partial JMB design piracy, I would confidently shoot 9 mm+p or 9×23 largo+p, and 38 Super in Yugo M57 /w heavier springs, maybe some added slide weight of a faux comp.

    I already had an M88, the older model described with wooden grips, and bought one of these newer ones. Even with one of the new magazines malformed in some way, it won’t stay latched, I’m not displeased. Replacements are available.

    I have quality 1911s, CZ75s, many others, so save any snarky comment about buying a better gun. I have recommended Tokarev as the slimmest, strongest, most powerful, accurate, reliable and inexpensive all-steel pistol available. A “Commander” Tokarev is not to be missed.

  2. I acquired an original Tokarev made in the Tula Arsenal, the first generation of this design, no safety and maybe 10 percent original finish. I was impressed with the smooth surface finish for a Soviet made weapon. It had a few dings from handling/being dropped and what have you, but over all it was every bit as well made as contemporary arms from other nations. The thing I thought was most interesting was the modularity of the hammer/sear/feed ramps; for the time this was a very ingenious way to deal with problems that combat pistols have in regard to the firing mechanism or magazine feeding. It eliminated the need for field personnel with armorer skills to overcoome 80-90 percent of the problems that develop in field use. This made it possible to supply units with the module and when a pistol had stoppage issues you simply removed the module and replaced it with a new one, and it also took care of magazine malfunctions due to damaged feed lips.

    Unfortunately, I no longer have it and have regretted selling it ever since. I have examined many iterations of the original made in various communist bloc countries and the quality of fit and finish varies as well as in caliber,(7.62x25mm or 9x19mm), but one thing despite the variations remained true – the Tokarev pistol is as reliable as any top quality pistol – they always work when you need them to. They may not be as fancy or sophisticated as your high end pistols, but they always work.

    1. Tokarevs actually do have a safety, though you cant carry it cocked and locked in the traditional sense you can lower the hammer all the way (CAREFULLY!) and then pull it back to put it in half cock and completely lock the gun up (trigger and slide cant be moved) and make it drop safe. then when ready to fire completely re cock the hammer and you are ready to go. certainly not as convienient as a 1911’s safety or basically any other gun from the era. (Browning hi power was released only 2 years after the “revised and improved” TT33 came out)

  3. All that work to modernize the TT33 & they still didn’t fix the horrid grip angle. What a waste. Might as well stick with the original if you just want a safe queen, and get a modern pistol with decent ergonomics for carry.

    1. Surculus,
      There was a Norinco version that did put larger grips that wrapped around the rear grip strap I think it was the model 55 or something like that.
      Personally, I don’t see a real problem with the grip angle, but this may be a reason that I don’t especially like Glock’s angle.
      Realistically, I can shoot any of them pretty well. That’s what really matters anyway.
      “One mind, any weapon”.

  4. Some record-straightening:
    The M88A is a current offering from CAI (not CIA). It differs from the original Serbian M88 (which was a military and police sidearm until replaced with the CZ-99) The older M88 has smooth wood grips and a much better finish. The M88 has been better polished and edges softened than its later version, the M88A, which has cheap plastic grips.
    Both are the same size, and parts might interchange, though I’ve never tried that (I own one of each).
    The sights are (like most Tokarevs) decent, but with a ridiculously high rear sight that will snag on almost everything. unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil because of the height of the hammer. Also, the U-notch rear sight is rather an outdated feature, even 30 years ago when it was put on these pistols.
    If I were truly trying to carry one of these for daily defense, I’d replace the sights with Novaks or similar, re-contour the top of the hammer to be lower, find some spare mags (not easy) and drop it into a Colt 1911 Officer’s model leather holster. Hammer cocked with safety on, the safety is pretty easy to flip off at the end of draw. Just practice.

    1. 1911 holster is a loose fit.

      MDJ custom holsters makes the correct holster in kydex

      If were to spend money on Novak sights, well, you might as well go ahead and purchase a more expensive 9mm to begin with.

      the cost of custom work would be prohibitive with the Novak sights and the lowered hammer spur would be hard to cock and removing that much metal just might lower reliability when the hammer smacked the firing pin and then the primer.

    2. rkc,
      I tried mine in a leather Galco 1911 holster just before I typed this – It’s not perfect, but if you tighten the belt snugly the M88 will not fall out, and the draw is pretty good too. I know the rage these days is kydex, but I still prefer leather.
      As for Novak sights, it doesn’t have to be the name brand. What I’m really saying is lower, snag-free sights. I’ve asked my gunsmith and he said he could re-cut the dovetails for $45. Add some half-decent Novak knock-offs for $60, and that’s hardly the same as buying a $400 pistol instead.
      As for re-contouring the hammer, it’s not really even necessary since this is a single-action, and with the hammer cocked while you’re aiming, it’s out of the way of the sights.

  5. OOOPS

    Sorry about that. But in my defense who can keep up with those fractured Balkan states?

    Thanks for reading. This is actually a neat little gun that works. The Tokarev is one great handgun line that just doesn’t get any respect.

  6. Zastava is Serbian, not Romanian. I had their M88A I think is what it was called, the full sized 9mm tok from Zastava. It was not shooting anywhere near point of aim and the trigger was heavy (but extremely easy to stone smooth and take the pull weight down a bit) it was also a bit gritty but it went bang every single time. Kind of want another but im broke lol. oh well, maybe some day,

  7. Sounds like a decent option for those who want a durable pistol with a 1911-style trigger but could also use an extra $300-$400 worth of ammo for practice.

    (Then again, that pretty much describes anyone who shoots on their own dime.)

    Is the trigger just gritty (something a break-in period or gunsmith could clean up), or are there issues with stacking or an inconsistent break that can’t readily be remedied?

    1. Im not a trigger expert so im not sure what stacking is, but it had a very consistent break, just quite heavy and kind of gritty feeling on the way there. the Tokarev triggers are extremely simple and the removable triggerpack and exposed sear make it superbly easy to work on and smooth out. I literally just took it to my diamond/ arkansas sharpening stone and took my time slowly polishing the sear surface and making sure it kept its geometry. One way to make sure you are doing that is putting some sharpie marker on it to make sure it is rubbed off evenly while stoning. I didnt have a trigger measure, but id say it probably started off around 12-14 pounds and when I was done it was probably around 7-8 and about 10% as gritty as it was in the beginning with less than 30 minutes of work. (trigger weight was a guess, I can just tell you it was a good bit heavier than my stock S&W model 10’s double action trigger before worked on, and about as heavy after. though that is mostly a testament to S&W having made excellent revolvers at some point in the past.)

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