This surplus 9mm from Century Arms is not only economical; it’s a great performer, too. By Steven Paul Barlow
THIS SURPLUS 9MM FROM CENTURY ARMS IS NOT ONLY ECONOMICAL; IT’S A GREAT PERFORMER, TOO
Not all good things come shiny and new. When it comes to a defensive handgun, a little holster wear and a couple of small scratches mean little, even if they are someone else’s holster wear and small scratches on your “new” gun.
I appreciate a good value. So, after spending some time recently with a surplus Star BM 9mm pistol from Century Arms, I was encouraged to find that good used guns are still available for what most people would consider an affordable price—under $300.
That’s important whether you’re on a tight budget or simply thrifty by nature or good habit. No one should be priced out of being able to defend his or her own life. I was pleased with the Star BM as soon as I lifted it from its box.
LOOKING IT OVER
And that little cardboard box was an original box for that gun. Also inside were a cleaning rod, the instruction manual—in Spanish—and a single magazine. Century Arms has more magazines available and I got a couple more.
The gun felt good in my hands, solid. It should. It featured a blued steel slide and frame that gave it a comfortable heft (nearly 2 pounds) despite its overall compact size. There was a slight bit of wear to the
finish. That was to be expected of a gun that was probably 40 years old. But it showed no signs of abuse or neglect.
The bore looked good. The checkered plastic grips were in good shape.
The gun seemed to point naturally, and when I dry-fired it, I found the trigger pull to be excellent. It broke cleanly after a short bit of take-up. I measured the pull later at an even 3 pounds. I wouldn’t want it any lighter on a defensive pistol. The safety operated smoothly and clicked into place positively. The sights consisted of a plain black rear sight blade dovetailed into the slide and a small integral black metal front sight.
It was obvious this handgun was a not-too-distant descendant of a more famous design.
Star Bonifacio Echeverria, S.A. of Spain manufactured more than 200,000 BM pistols over a 20-year period between
“THE STAR BM... IS THE PERFECT SIZE... YOU CAN GET A FULL GRIP ON THE GUN, YET IT CONCEALS EASILY.”
1972 and 1992. The company went out of business in 1997.
There’s no mistaking this pistol’s strong resemblance to the 1911 and it does borrow many of that gun’s design features. It is, after all, a single-action, external-hammer semi-auto with a frame-mounted manual thumb safety, a barrel link, removable barrel bushing and single column magazine.
There are numerous differences, however. First, and most obviously, the Star is chambered in 9mm Parabellum as opposed to the standard .45 ACP of the original 1911. The Star BM has no grip safety and the thumb safety disengages the sear instead of blocking it as on the 1911. Another difference is the contour of the back strap.
The Star has a magazine disconnect safety, too, similar not to a 1911, but to a Browning Hi-Power. The Star has a large external extractor, a feature seen on only a handful of modern 1911s. Faithful 1911 pistols have an internal extractor. The Star has a full-length guide rod, too, and while some 1911s now feature that as well, it wasn’t part of the original design. There is no internal firing pin block.
Another difference between the Star and the 1911 is the takedown procedure. The Star has a takedown notch on the slide. With an empty gun, you pull the slide back and move the thumb safety into that notch to lock the slide. That enables you to remove the slide stop release lever. Then, while holding onto the slide, which is still under some spring pressure, you move the safety off and remove the slide. From there, you can remove the recoil spring and guide rod, barrel bushing and barrel.
I fired a variety of 9mm ammo through the Star pistol, from 115- and 124-grain full metal jacket practice ammo, to heavy Federal HST 150-grain jacketed hollowpoints and even some light-for-caliber +P Telos ammo with 92-grain all-copper petaled hollowpoint bullets. The Star fed them all, ejected the empties with force and the slide locked back after the last shot with all of my magazines.
The excellent trigger made shooting this pistol an absolute pleasure. Recoil was mild. I did some accuracy testing from the bench at 25 yards, where most three-shot groups measured about 2 inches plus or minus a bit.
I find myself shooting from the bench less and less. It becomes not so much a true test of a defensive pistol as a test of patience and skill in sitting still long enough.
From the bench, I want to see two things. First, I want to see if the gun will put them in approximately the same spot on the target each time if I do things correctly. Next, I want to see the point of impact for a particular load. I don’t need to expend a lot of ammo to find that out. That ammo is better fired in defensive drills. With the Star, I found after just a few shots that this was going to be an accurate pistol. The point of impact was spot on as far as windage, but the holes in the target were appearing about 5 inches high consistently. The solution would be a higher front sight, more difficult because the existing front sight isn’t dovetailed in place. Given my propensity to break anything I try to fix, it becomes a job for a gunsmith. Or I can just live with it.
Consider that nothing you buy new stays new for very long. Carry a handgun on a regular basis and it will show signs of wear. The Star BM I received from Century Arms had only slight, cosmetic signs of use. There was no abuse. It fed everything I could stuff into it and was very accurate, despite shooting a bit high. It is the perfect size for a carry gun with a barrel just
slightly less than 4 inches and an overall length of a bit over 7 inches. You can get a full grip on the gun, yet it conceals easily.
I remember a time when my wife and I had to give careful consideration of every dollar spent. If you’re in that position now, I understand the situation. You don’t have a lot of money to spend on guns, but you don’t want to be defenseless either. Or you might just be a collector or a shooting enthusiast who likes to try a variety of guns.
Whatever the case, the Star BM can serve you well as an affordable defensive arm, a range gun for casual plinking or something to merely add to the collection.
Above: The compact size of the Star BM makes it an ideal gun for concealed carry while still allowing for a full grip on the gun. Right: The rear sight is a plain black metal blade that is dovetailed into the slide. The front, however, is integral with the slide, and because the gun tended to shoot high, the author would have liked the sight to be taller.
Above: The Star BM makes use of a single-stack, eightround magazine. Century Arms has spares available.
Below: The frame-mounted, manual thumb safety is in the usual, familiar location. If you’ve shot pistols before, there will be no learning curve with this Spanish pistol.
Left: Holsters made specifically for the Star BM might be hard to find, so holsters designed to fit a number of different guns is the way to go. The author has used this DeSantis Vanquisher tuckable IWB holster with several guns and found it to be an excellent option.
The slide on the
Star BM has a takedown notch in addition to the regular safety notch. When the thumb safety is locked into this notch, the slide lock release lever can be pushed out and the slide removed. Right: The author’s Star BM came in an original cardboard box with cleaning rod and an instruction manual that was written in Spanish only.
Familiar parts. The Star BM can be fieldstripped easily for cleaning and maintenance.