Just like with their Kalashnikovs, the Yugoslavians put their own twist on a famous Soviet weapon when they developed their M57 Tokarev pistol. Widely available both as original military surplus and new production, these guns are more than just historical relics.
Zastava Tokarevs That Can Be Found Stateside:
- Surplus M57, Blued, 7.62 Tok.
- New M57A, Blued, 7.62 Tok.
- New M57A, Chrome, 7.62 Tok.
- New M70AA, Blued, 9mm
- New M70AA, Chrome, 9mm
Tokarevs of any variety may be the most popular foreign military surplus handgun in the United States. They have been imported for a long time, and the sheer scale of their production numbers meant that they were extremely affordable. While some variants, like original Russian TTs, were more collectible and demanded a higher price, clones from places like China, Poland, and Yugoslavia were cheap enough for many to buy them as beaters or glove box guns. While the surplus Tokarevs have dried up some in recent years, as surplus tends to do, Zastava is still manufacturing and importing two new production variants on the classic design- The M57A and the M70AA.
The Original M57
Tokarevs are a functional copy of John Browning’s early automatic pistol designs. Externally they resemble a Browning 1903, and internally they are very similar to a 1911’s short-recoil tilting-barrel action. Chambered for 7.62x25mm, these single-action pistols saw heavy use in WWII by the Soviets and continued to see use by their allies and guerrilla forces afterward up through today.
They were produced by several countries, and all were nearly identical to the original Russian design besides one: the Yugoslavian M57. Adopted in 1957, Zastava’s Tokarev copy once again mixed things up from the original Soviet design. The M57 is the only Tokarev clone to have a 9-round magazine rather than an 8-rounder, and the grip is appropriately longer to compensate for this. While the unique features of Yugoslavian Kalashnikovs were not always necessarily improvements, the changes they made to their Tokarev are an objective improvement.
Not only does the M57 gain an extra round in the magazine, bringing the total capacity to 10 rather than the usual 9, but the extended pistol grip is also much more ergonomic than the Soviet-pattern clones that often leave part of the shooter’s hand hanging off the bottom. With the longer grip, the M57 begins to feel much more like a 1911 in the hand than the stubbier Tokarevs ever could.
All original military Tokarev designs utilized a half-cock safety, with no other controls on the gun beside a slide-release lever and magazine-eject button. Notably, the magazine release is positioned in the Western style, near the trigger guard where the thumb naturally rests. Most handguns of European design, including the later Soviet Makarov, feature a magazine release on the heel of the pistol-something which is foreign to many American shooters.
Due to the 1968 Gun Control Act, all imported auto-loader handguns are required to have a manual safety, so the Tokarev’s original half-cock wouldn’t cut it. This led to the addition of a variety of aftermarket safeties being installed on these guns to make them legal for sale. Unfortunately, most of these unoriginal safeties are terrible and some even impede the function of the gun. Some can be removed but will leave a small hole in the frame where it was once installed.
7.62x25mm is well-respected as far as antiquated cartridges go. Surplus and new production ammo is widely available (or at least it was during more normal times), and its bottlenecked design gives it better performance than most would predict. 7.62 Tokarev was derived from the 7.63x25mm cartridge, which was commonly used in C96 Mausers. The Soviets took this cartridge and only slightly modified it for their own use, with the most notable difference being 7.62 Tokarev being loaded much hotter. For this reason, 7.62 Mauser can be fired from a Tokarev pistol, but 7.62 Tokarev should never be fired from a Mauser.
While this other ammo type can be used in a pinch, it defeats much of the point of the hotter 7.62 chambering. Part of the reason why 7.62 Tokarev is so loved is because of the ballistic qualities that it gains from the higher-pressure load. It is quite a high velocity for a handgun cartridge, lending itself to not only good accuracy but some better penetration capabilities as well. It is not “armor-piercing” ammo, and mileage may vary depending on the exact load and armor being tested, but you can find videos online showing 7.62 Tokarev successfully passing through level IIIA soft armor.
One of Zastava’s imports of current-production Tokarevs. The M57A is identical in function and caliber to the original M57, but with the addition of a slide-mounted safety at the factory. This allows them to be legally imported and sold without modification. While in my opinion the original half-cock safety was good enough and the addition of a manual safety was an unfortunate molestation of the design, laws are laws and the Zastava-designed safety is much better than the aftermarket abominations found on surplus guns. While surplus Tokarevs often have extra character from their wear, the current M57 imports feature very nice, deep bluing and will be mechanically sounder than those which have potentially had hundreds of rounds put through them.
This version is Zastava’s current production import of their M70A pistol which was adopted in about 1970. The only difference between the M70A and the M57 was the caliber, chambered for 9mm Luger rather than the original 7.62x25mm. The M70AA is simply the updated version of their 9mm Tokarev with the addition of a manual safety for importation purposes. It is otherwise identical to the M57A besides the switch to the more prolific caliber. The magazine still holds 9-rounds, but it is not interchangeable with 7.62 M57 mags.
While I love the historical novelty of genuine military surplus, if you are in the market for a Tokarev as a shooter, Zastava’s new production guns are the best choice to make. They do not suffer from the addition of a shoddy aftermarket safety like most surplus variants have, and it will come in brand-new condition. The larger grip and extended magazine also make the Zastava variants more desirable. With the option between the original caliber and 9mm, available in both blued and chromed versions, either will make a great choice for a shooter or collector looking for a functional pistol with a lot of historical charm.
For more information on Zastava Arms, please visit zastavaarmsusa.com.