Poor Man’s Shadow 2: Customizing the Pre B CZ-75
The CZ Shadow 2 is probably the best out of the box competition ready handgun on the market right now. At least, that’s what people tell me, I’ve always been more of a surplus or defensive handgun kind of guy and that’s been enough fun for me. That said, recently I had the opportunity to purchase a surplus CZ-75 Pre B for an incredible price and had it in hand around the same time I had access to a factory Shadow 2. Since the Pre B was a little rough around the edges and in need of new sights anyway, I decided to turn it into a fun project and see if after a re-springing and some new parts, if I could turn it into something that shot on par with a Shadow 2.
What is a “Pre B”?
The history section is usually one of the longest parts of my reviews, but I’m going to keep it brief this time since there has been a ton written about the history of the CZ-75 and I don’t have much of value to add.
What’s important here is why am I specifically choosing to work with a Pre B, and what does Pre B denote?
There have been 3 (and a half if you include the Transitionals, more on that below) major variations of the CZ-75 since it was introduced which I will show in pictures below:
CZ-75 “Short Rail”: made from 1975-1979 but really didn’t see mass produced numbers until 1977. The Short Rail refers to the scallop in the slide and frame that goes almost all the way back to the roll marks.
CZ-75 “Pre B”: made from 1980-1993. Until well into the production of the CZ-75B, this would be known simply as the “CZ-75”. The “B” denoted a firing pin block which became standard on pistols starting in 1993 and is mostly easily identified by the block’s retaining roll pin being visible in the rear slide serrations.
Late 1991, all of 1992, and early 1993 guns would later be known as “Transitionals” that incorporated some later “B” features (like new style slide stops, ring hammers, pinned front sights instead of staked, serrated trigger guards, etc) but still had no firing pin block.
CZ-75B: 1993-Present. The current production CZ-75 still being sold by CZ-USA today. Note the telltale roll pin hole in the rear slide serrations.
Pros and Cons of the Pre B
So, why the fuss about the Pre B’s? Well trigger snobs will tell you that 75’s that lack a firing pin block have significantly less slack and also have a shorter reset. Full on trigger obscurantists will tell you that pre 1986 75’s will have even BETTER triggers due to the fact that sears from 1975-1985 were more finely fitted to guns and had almost no trigger creep.
A less commonly touted benefit to the Pre B CZ-75 but one that was important to me was that the Pre B 75’s have about 1/3 less wear parts than a modern 75B has (9 vs 13). On a 75B, the firing pin block stop, stop spring, block lever spring, and firing pin roll pin are all wear parts that don’t exist at all on a Pre B, and the roll pin is one that needs replaced every 5,000 rounds. With a Pre B, the only thing you’re replacing every 5,000 rounds is the recoil spring and everything else has a 20,000 round replacement interval.
Also, Pre B’s are just cooler and the idea of taking a retro old wondernine and sticking some modern upgrades on it sounded fun.
So that’s all the good things covered, but there’s always a trade off. Firstly, while most modern production 75B parts will fit fine in a Pre B, other parts are Pre B specific and no longer in production: barrels, safety levers, slide stops, and hammers are the biggest. That said, CZ wasn’t always the most consistent with its features so sometimes stuff can swap on if you’re lucky (for example, mine accepted a current production 75B slide stop).
Another thorn in the side of the Pre B is magazine compatibility. The magazine bodies from before 1990 had a smaller overall circumference and as a result modern 75B magazines will not always fit a Pre B. CZ for a while actually imported new production magazines designed to work in legacy pre B’s but stopped around 2018-2019. If you can find any of these mags new old stock (SKU 11114), jump on them.
Another lesser known mag hack is to use the modern production SP-01 18 round mags (SKU 11152) as these will almost always work in Pre B’s (although they will look a little goofy with the extended base pad):
My 1991 gun was new enough that modern production 16 rounds mags (SKU 11101) would fit, but MecGar made mags like SKU 11111 were too wide and did not fit well.
My Starting Point
As previously stated, my Pre B was dated 1991 and had an “F” prefix serial. It had a very cool looking (to me) phosphate finish instead of the more common polycoat. The sights were in rough shape and the factory plastic grips were modified (I assume by Israeli police) to accommodate a mainspring retaining pin with a large lanyard loop build in:
Neither of these factors were a huge concern for me as replacing the sights and grips was going to be a part of this project for me anyway.
New springs are the cheapest and often times the most significant upgrade. I’ve gotten into the habit whenever I buy a surplus handgun to go ahead and replace the springs immediately. A new mainspring will make a world of difference for your DA pull. A 20lb spring is factory, 15lb is lighter and more than enough for any commercial or military primer. 13lb is good for any commercial primer. 11.5lb is what competition shooters who control what primers that use generally run. I was planning to use a 13lb mainspring but after testing my DA trigger pull with a gauge I ended up with an average of 8lbs 6oz which I thought was pretty decent so the 13lb spring went into my spares bin for now.
*Pro tip I didn’t learn until I already bought the parts: CZUSA sells a combo 13lb mainspring and new firing pin spring under SKU 10911232. It isn’t listed on their site but they will still sell it to you if you call in and ask for it and it will save you a couple bucks over buying the mainspring and FP spring separately.
For recoils springs, 14lb is factory. 16lb is good if you plan to shoot a decent amount of +P. If you only want to shoot light target loads, you can get away with an 11lb but you need to make sure you are changing them out at regular intervals to prevent battering the slide stop too much.
A fairly pricey and more involved upgrade is a new hammer. CZ-USA used to offer the 11lb recoil spring, 13 lb main spring, and Competition hammer (CZ SKU 19504) as a package kit for turning a bog standard 75B or SP-01 into a semi tuned competition minded gun. The hammer on its own is $60 and I decided to try it out partially for performance and partially because it looks cool. Positive takeaway first, I was seriously impressed by how much this hammer impacted the single action weight. Pulling the factory trigger in single action 3 times with a gauge and averaging it came out to 3lbs 10oz. Not terrible, but after the comp hammer was installed, the average had come down to 2lbs 2oz. All of the trigger creep was also eliminated. It was like shooting an entirely different gun.
So not bad for $60 right? Well get ready to add on probably that much again in labor fees to your local gunsmith. The CZ-75 is a fairly simple design but the heart of the guns mechanical operation is in how the sear/hammer/and safety lever all interact with each other. Modern production Pre B compatible sears and hammers are no problem to find from CZ Custom and Cajun Gun Works, but remember the safety levers on the Pre B are specific parts that do not interchange with the B and they are no longer in current production by CZ or any aftermarket company.
It could be my example was just particularly uncooperative, but be aware that if a new hammer is something you are really wanting to add on, a gunsmith experienced with CZ’s would be highly advised.
There are a million directions to go in here and I personally shelled out probably too much for a Novak front and rear. I would say if one was doing this strictly on a budget, stick with the factory rear if it’s in good condition and open up the notch a little (if that’s your cup of tea) or get a rear sight like this from CZ’s website: https://shop.cz-usa.com/shadow-rear-sight-factory19650.html
For the front sight, since they are staked ramps on a Pre B, this is probably going to be the priciest part of the project. Have a quality shop like Novak cut you a front dovetail for $50 and then put your choice of brass bead, tritium, or fiber optic front sight in there. I think fiber optic probably would be the best cost wise and also the most visible of the three for range shooting given that it has been the standard on every gun in the CZ Shadow series thus far.
Last upgrade which is more personal would be grips. I went with LOK as they have a ton of different options for a decent price and I like G-10 since it’s grippy enough to compete with competition style aluminum grips but doesn’t have the colorful flashiness aluminum usually does. But since Pre B’s do have a sort of retro coolness to them, I would not fault anyone for going with wood or some reproduction original pattern waffle grips (https://vintagegungrips.com/product/cz-model-75-waffle-style-pistol/) or even keeping whatever kind of plastic grips came with them.
As far as any recommendations for parts past these, I’d say go through Cajun Gun Works and CZ Custom’s online catalog, read the descriptions for the parts and see if the juice is worth the squeeze for you. Before I decided to go with the comp hammer, I looked pretty hard at the CGW adjustable sear as it does quite a bit to eliminate trigger creep in single action and combined with the lightened sear spring would reduce the pull weight in double action too. If you do go that route, just be aware of what I warned about earlier regarding sear/hammer/safety tuning. The 85 combat trigger is decently affordable, fits in any 75 model, and is drilled out for an overtravel screw if that’s your thing.
Approximate Project Cost
Surplus Pre B: $400-$450
New recoil spring: $8
New 13lb main spring/ fp spring combo (CZ SKU 10911232): $5
Wolff extractor spring: $5
S2 Trigger spring: $9
Comp hammer: $60
Dawson fiber optic sight: $40
Front sight cut: $50
Factory Shadow 1 rear sight (CZ SKU 19650): $45
(Shadow 2 MSRP: $1,099)
Custom Pre B vs Stock Shadow 2
The biggest thing I can really do a one to one comparison on is the trigger as visually and ergonomically, the Shadow 2 and my 75 are quite a bit different. The Shadow 2 has extended controls (minus the safety), a longer barrel, a full length dust cover that makes the front much more front heavy, the slide and frame on the Shadow 2 are both ever so slightly wider, and the Shadow 2 has front and backstrap checkering, an undercut trigger guard, and a higher rise beavertail.
In short- the Shadow 2 is a competition minded gun through and through and my Pre B is a heavily tuned combat pistol. A “dual sport” if you will.
As stated previously, my trigger pull weights were 8lbs 6oz for double action and 2lbs 2oz for single. Compared to a bone stock, off the shelf Shadow 2, average double action was 8lbs 11oz and single action was 2lbs 13oz. There was a slight bit more grit to my Pre B’s DA that made me prefer the slightly heavier but smoother Shadow 2’s DA just a little more.
When shooting both guns head to head, my opinions on the double action were solidified as shooting the Shadow 2 his way is extremely pleasant while doing the same on the Pre B is just ok. For single action though, I ended up being very happy with my choice to pay the extra money for the Comp hammer as single action shooting was a dream. I had the unique opportunity several years back to buy a very well worn surplus Sphinx Model AT2000s which as far as the numerous CZ-75 clones in the world go, is one of the highest quality and most desirable.
I can safely say the single action on the Pre B ran circles around the Sphinx and at the end of the day, I’m just as happy with this gun than I was with it from a shooting standpoint.
This while likely go down as one of those projects that I thought when I started would have wide appeal, but now it’s easy to imagine that someone who wants a Pre B is getting one because they like the retro look and someone who wants a well tuned 75 variant will just go ahead and grab a Shadow 2. This was mostly just a fun project for me as my price on the gun was less than $400 and I had a small supply of extra spare 75 parts from when I had the Sphinx.
For a full on combat/duty gun, CZ developed and has sold with great success the 75BD and SP-01 Tactical models which trade the traditional safety for a more modern and popular decocking lever. I will say that I kind of miss that ability on a gun like this as shooting in double action means manually lowering the hammer which needs to be done carefully by pinching both sides of the hammer since I have removed my very generous spur.
That said, being that this gun is a riot to shoot single action and that’s pretty much how the gun is going to shoot 90% of the time, I suppose I’m ultimately happy with how everything turned out. If you are wanting to find a 75 Pre B for a project starter or just as a collectible, I purchased mine from DWJ Imports. They have full blooded CZ as well as some Jerichos, Tanfoglios, and other interesting surplus pistols for reasonable prices on their website.
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