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  • Writer's pictureFlemming Mark Pedersen

The evolution of the Phoenix

The CZ in IPSC

I first saw a CZ 75 in 1978. I was working in the local gun-store and still remember being very excited when I opened the box. However, I was not really that impressed as the pistol had a small safety, smallish sights and a DA/SA trigger.

An early CZ75 with the horrible lacquered finish some of them had.

This was a time, when even shooting a revolver in DA mode was revolutionary and pure stupidity with a pistol.

Obviously the CZ stayed strong on the market, but mostly as a “poor man’s option” for those who could not afford a 1911 or maybe a P210.

All this changed when Tanfoglio entered the market. Ergonomically, the pistols were good and they needed very little work done to them before they were ready for the range. That is, if you were lucky as quality control was poor. Very poor at times.

We did not have “Divisions” and everybody shot in “Open”. For that reason, we all shot with comps, 9 mm Major and, a few years later, red dot sights were mounted as well. Back then, the power factor for major was set at 175 and that’s a rather tall order for a 9 mm and especially in a pistol with a poorly fitted barred. Sure enough, Tanfoglio shooters would change barrels and slides all the time, which of course, was easy enough as no fitting was required.

At the time, I was sponsored by Springfield Armory and their Custom Shop built me a P9 World Cup pistol. The pistol was built on Tanfoglio parts, but everything was nicely fitted, including an over-sized match barrel from Briley (I think) and a hardened steel pin instead of the conventional slide stop.

That pistol was truly great. It was accurate and amazingly reliable – and the pistol I used to win the Europeans in 92. I used that pistol intensively over a period of 3 years and shot app. 50.000 rounds of PF 180 - 9 mm major, all without any issues at all. Granted, I mostly shot 147 grs bullets, but still… No doubt, the key to both reliability and performance was the properly fitted barrel. Tight tolerances reduced wear of the barrel lugs and delayed the unlocking process, making the slide move much softer, which again reduced felt recoil and wear on other parts – including the slide stop.

I also recall that I broke a lot less red-dot sights than my fellow shooters and believe there had to be a connection. Some guy on the team insisted on shooting Tanfoglios and 116 grs bullets and I think he went through 8 or 9 Tasco ProPoints in one season.

Here is a tip; if you have a pistol where the barrel drops immediately when you start to pull the slide back – fitting is not ok. If you have an open gun; grab hold of the slide with one hand and the comp with other and pull. If you can feel the barrel moving back and forth – fitting is not ok and things will get bad, fast.

Obviously lowering the PF for Open Division to 160 helps a lot (ask yourself; why did they do that in the first place? – and I’ll leave the rest to your imagination), but barrel fitting, correct hardening of parts and general quality control were/are still crucial to make a CZ based open gun function for an extended period of time. That is also the reason why most Open division shooters still prefer the 1911 platform. The downside is that everything has to be fitted and preferably by someone competent.

Production Division

The introduction of the Production division changed everything. As always, the guys who make the rules completely underestimate the shooters’ creativity in seeking a competitive advantage. Therefore, it did not take long before we saw dedicated competition pistols for this division. Here the CZ platform shines; great ergonomics and manufacturers dedicated to our game (or to the money they can make from it).

We went in early (2003), working with Armin Landolt (a former IPSC world class champion) in the introduction of the Sphinx pistol. Armin had taken control of the company a few years earlier and he knew how to build and design a dedicated pistol for our game. The pistol was beautifully made, an excellent competition tool and certainly ahead of its time.

An early Sphinx 3000. This one set up for Standard Division in Minor. If the pistol looks worn, it's because it is. This one used to belong to 2014 World Champion Hilde Nakling, before she converted “major”, an option Sphinx did not offer.

Shortly after, Tanfoglio and CZ also introduced their Production division competition pistols and the CZ platform has dominated the division up till today.

What we learned over the years, was that the same factors (pun intended) apply with “Open PF 180” as with “Production PF 130”, just to a much lesser degree.

Barrel lugs would still deform and recoil impulse would increase with a poorly fitted barrel. Slide stops would still break from time to time. A lot of police officers and military personnel would shoot their very hot duty / training ammunition in these pistols and wear would accelerate dramatically. Barrel lugs would break and both slides and frames would occasionally develop cracks.

We too had our issues with the Sphinx pistols. Barrels had to be re-designed and frames had to be beefed up a little. It was great working with Armin as he supported his products 100% and we were able to offer our customers a “no bullshit guarantee” and improved solutions.

Competing with the Sphinx. Won a bronze medal at Nordic Championships with the same pistol in 2005. Even Skaarer won the Gold Medal, also shooting a Sphinx

Our competition continued to have the same issues that we had seen over the years; specifically, poor quality control or soft parts.

The Phoenix rises

Armin contacted me again last year and asked if we would be interested in distributing his new Phoenix line of pistols: The Fusion and The Redback, the latter being the full-blown competition pistol for IPSC Production division.

The Phoenix is the evolution of the Sphinx and is designed to eliminate all issues with the CZ design based pistols, in addition to providing superior ergonomics.

The Phoenix Redback

Barrel fitting and locking surface 30% larger barrel locking surface and very precise fitting for accuracy and delayed unlocking. This will reduce slide velocity and wear on the pistol in general. In addition, delayed unlocking means a much softer shooting pistol and slide stops that don’t break in a match.Barrel and locking surfaces are specially hardened to eliminate peening and deformation. (You can actually see the discoloration on the inside of the slide).

The increased locking surface of the Redback, becomes very clear, when compared to the original Sphinx (on the right if you are blind).

Modular design Machining is kept to very tight tolerances and this means that there is no need for fitting of replacement parts. If something breaks, you get a new part and it can be installed with no fitting. This is one of the major advantages of this system over the 1911, where almost everything needs to be fitted by a competent person (who can be very hard to find).

Note: the mainspring and mainspring housing on the Redback are compatible with the 1911 pistol, giving the shooter a wide range of spring poundage and mainspring configurations to choose between.

Improved extractor It’s not uncommon to see failure to extract in CZ design pistols. This can be caused be several factors, but sometimes the extractor will need to be changed, which means a bit of “gunsmithing” and test firing to ensure that all is ok.

The Phoenix pistols all use a newly designed SigP226 style extractor. This type of extractor has proven to be extremely reliable in the P226 platform and it can be changed quickly with just a small-headed screw driver. The Phoenix extractor has more than 40% larger gripping surface compared to a traditional extractor, providing a much higher degree of reliability.

Integrated buffer

The Redback pistol comes with an integrated and replaceable 8 mm nylon buffer, recessed in the frame, softening the impact of the slide.

This again makes the pistol smoother to shoot and reduces general wear. In addition, this feature was also added to reduce shock and vibrations to protect slide mounted red-dot sights.

Modular grips

Frames and grips are also available in steel or aluminum as an option for the competitor who wants a heavier or lighter pistol.

Most competitors will choose an all steel gun, but some may want a lighter pistol and opt for an aluminum grip – or even an aluminum frame if all you shoot is steel.

Grips are attached to the frame via a recess that will absorb the impact and vibrations from the slide moving and hardened torx screws through the frame into the grip section.

High quality throughout Very tight tolerances which means consistency from pistol to pistol and full modularity. No machine marks, which actually makes the pistol look a bit unreal when you look at the insides. Proper quality control. All pistols are test shot, by people who actually know how to shoot. Testing is performed in the in-house, and very nice, shooting ranges in the basement of the production facilities.

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