The Beretta 85F: Fixing a Problem the Industry Won’t

If you had to guess, how many metal frame single stack 9mm pistols with frame mounted controls would you say are being produced today? Ten models? Five? Nope, you’re quite wrong, there are actually no metal frame Single Stack DA/SA 9mms in production today. If you look at the state of the industry this makes a lot of sense. Striker fired polymer frame guns are the future, and they are by far the most popular type of pistols sold today. There are a few companies that still produce metal frame hammer fired guns CZ, Beretta, and Sig being the biggest, but they have all released Glock alternatives in recent years. CZ would probably have a license to print money if they released a single stack PCR or P-01, heck even a single stack P-07. Beretta and Sig both had single stack 9mms in the past; Beretta with the 92 Type M, which is now rarer than a single chick without a kid, and Sig with the P225, and P239. The 225 and 239 are also both fairly rare now and command premiums far removed from their actual value as carry guns. So, what if you wanted a small DA/SA for carry? What’s the best solution? Well, when modern guns won’t fill the niche, you have to get weird…..

The Criteria

What made my search for the perfect DA/SA carry gun so difficult was my unique (or perhaps silly) set of requirements. I was looking for a metal frame, ideally steel but aluminum would be acceptable, pistol, with a frame mounted decocker, in 9mm. Metal frame because to me metal frame guns are just more comfortable to shoot, also my P-07 sometimes has issues with certain mags not dropping free, and that turned me off plastic guns for a while. Double Action to Single action because that’s what my Competition pistols are and I wanted the trigger system to be uniform across all my pistols. Frame mounted decocker because I had a concern about engaging any slide mounted controls during slide manipulation. My early shortlist was:

  • Springfield XDE
  • Republic Arms RAP-401/Astra A-75
  • Sig P225
  • Sig P239
  • S&W 3975
  • Beretta 92 Type M

I eliminated the XDE almost immediately after handling one at a gun show. It’s ergonomics are trash, and the slide is way too tall for such a small gun. In all honesty though as a polymer framed gun it was never a front runner. The RAP/Astra was an interesting option, I saw a Forgotten Weapons video about the RAP and began researching it (for the record as great as Forgotten Weapons is, it is probably one of the worst channels to look for a new carry gun). The RAP had a lot going for it, steel frame, frame mounted decocker, and single stack magazines. Both the RAP and the Astra it was copied from were issued to police departments in Spain and South African which is a good sign for any pistol. They were also not terribly expensive, there were several examples on gunbroker for less than $400. I’ll admit being as big of a Wilbur Smith fan as I am, the idea of owning something made in South Africa had a certain allure. My concern came from lack of market support, not just that there are no options for upgraded sights or grips, but also that replacement parts such as extractors or firing pins would be difficult to source. The Sigs were eliminated mainly on cost, as well as the Sig manual of arms not being terribly lefty friendly, the 239 in 9mm is usually over $700 dollars, and 225s are often north of $800. That’s a lot of money to spend before working on modernizing older production guns like those. The S&W was eliminated because, well because the 3975 does not exist. S&W only made four models with frame mounted decocker, and none of them were single stack. The 3975 model number comes from Lucky Gunner’s very helpful S&W model number flowchart, and represents what would been my dream 3rd Gen Auto: Mid-size, single stack, frame decocker 9mm. S&W really missed out on literally dozens of sales there. The last mainstream option would have been the Beretta 92 Compact Type M. A low production single stack version of the already rare 92 Compact, the Type M met every requirement apart from it’s slide mounted decocker. With such small production numbers, when they can be found it is rare to see them for less than $900, and all Type Ms came with the front sight milled into the slide. Another gun that would be pretty expensive to modernize, on top of such a high initial cost. So with basically every “mainstream” option eliminated, it was time to adjust the criteria.

Enter The Cheetah

At some point around this time, I came across Military Arms Channels’ video on the Beretta 85. On the surface, it met all the criteria, it was aluminum framed, DA/SA with a frame mounted decocker/safety (but the safety aspect was easy to ignore and impossible to engage accidentally unlike the typical Beretta or S&W slide mounted). It was also single stack, and police trade in examples were available for less than $400. There were a few downsides, it was straight blow back rather than locked breech, Beretta had just recently ended production of all Cheetah variants, and it was chambered in 9mm ……. Short, or .380 ACP as it’s known in the US. The reviews were generally positive however, Midwest Gunworks has a section dedicated solely to the 85 with pretty much every small part available, and after watching ShootingTheBull410’s excellent series on .380 ammo tests, I felt that stepping down to .380 was an acceptable trade off for the other features I was looking for. For a little more detail on my initial impressions of the 85 check out my Angry Gun review.

My 85F as it was delivered

The Testing

After I bought the 85F, I began a period of testing before I started carrying it. My first range trip I fired 100 FMJs and 25 hollow points through it with no malfunctions. The recoil from the straight blow back system is stout, more so than you would expect from a .380. But, because of the light open top slide the recoil is very flat, even for new shooters. For the second range trip I bought four different brands of hollow point ammo (about 125 rounds total) and shot them all, I had three failures with 99 grain Federal HST. Further testing would lead me to avoid heavy for caliber rounds as I believe the extra bullet length is what causes problems with feeding. After the hollow point test I ordered a 350 round pack of 95 grain Blazer Brass. I shot all 350 rounds in one range session, at one point having to take a break because the gun was too hot to hold comfortably. There were no failures at any point in that session either. Around this time Caleb Giddings (of recent Paul Harrel-drama fame), was posting on Instagram about his Beretta 84, and mentioned that a Wilson Combat GP100 mainspring dropped right in. The Beretta 84 is the double stack version of the Cheetah, and the two have a great deal of parts commonality. I ordered a GP100 spring set and installed the 12# mainspring, and it fit! This cut the double action trigger pull by about 6 pounds (that’s a guess, I don’t own a trigger gauge). After installing this mod I ordered a 250 round case of Hornady American Gunner Hollow Points. I decided on the American Gunners as my carry load because in Shootthebull410’s videos, rounds loaded with Hornady XTP bullets performed the best, and American Gunner was plentiful at my local Academy Sporting Goods, and gun stores. The new mainspring caused no problems igniting primers, the 85 went over 1000 rounds with only three malfunctions, and I decided it was suitable for carry. (For anyone who actually tries this nonsense on their 84/85, Beretta recommends changing the recoil spring every 500 rounds if you have a lightened mainspring.) After this I also shot the 85 in an IDPA match with my actual carry gear, video of that be seen here. I finished 26th out of 76 shooters despite my equipment handicap and deliberately taking penalties on the one stage with movement. Not bad for a little pocket pistol.

My 85 after testing, retexturing the grips, and liberally applying the grip tape

Conclusion

I ended up with my Beretta 85 due to my own stringent (some would say ridiculous) guidelines. However, I think this is an excellent example of choosing which characteristics in a firearm are most important to you. Somewhat ironically, shooting the 85 has helped me overcome my dislike of slide mounted controls. Since the only way to rack the 85 quickly is to use the scalloped section on the front of the slide, I have developed the habit of using the front cocking serrations on all my pistols (the way you’re supposed to do it, I know). Because of this, guns I previously considered unsuitable look very appealing now. But overall I am very happy with my 85 even if I probably wouldn’t recommend it as a carry gun to anyone I know. It runs very well, is easier to operate under stress than I would have guessed, and perhaps most importantly, very few people I meet or shoot with have heard of it, and no one carries one. I’m still a bit of gun hipster after all. 

My continuum of DA/SA pistols. One for every occasion.

Of course this is all because I shot Production with a DA/SA CZ. In 2020 I have decided to switch to Limited division and shoot Single Action Only, so I will be able to do this process all over again soon with a weird SAO gun. On a completely unrelated note, I have recently ordered a surplus Browning Hi Power …….

6 thoughts on “The Beretta 85F: Fixing a Problem the Industry Won’t

  1. I once had a Beretta 84 BB Cheetah that would occasionally fire with the safety on. Had a few close calls, and one is one too many. So I got rid of it.

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    1. Huh, haven’t experienced that issue myself, but I always carried my 85 with the safety off and the hammer fully decocked.

      Like

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