The Czech Republic Has Rearmed With A New Battle
Rifle And It Is Now Available To The Public
By Holt Bodinson
Walking into Murphy’s Gun Shop in Tucson, AZ, I asked if my Bren gun had arrived? Half-a-dozen heads on the floor snapped in my direction to check if they had heard the question right. “Bren gun?” Indeed, my Bren gun had arrived, or, should I say, my CZ 805 Bren S1 had arrived. As it was unwrapped at the counter so we could complete the necessary transfer paperwork, comments from the customers present ranged from “Way cool!” to “I thought we’d never really see one.”
The Czech arms industry has enjoyed a long and rich history of innovative small arms design. Familiar examples coming to mind are the WWII Bren light machine gun, the Sa vz.58 assault rifle, the Scorpion machine pistol, the CZ 52 pistol with its distinctive roller-locking system, the storied CZ 75 and, of course, those finely made CZ sporting rifles and shotguns.
The Czechs are individualistic. Swallowed up into the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact (1955-1991), they rejected the adoption of the Soviet AK-47. Soldiering down an independent path, Czechoslovakia developed a series of prototype assault rifles culminating with the advanced model Sa vz.58 in 1959.
The Sa vz.58 shares not one interchangeable part with the AK. It features a fast, inline striker ignition rather than the internal hammer of the AK. The gas piston is separate and not attached to the bolt carrier. The receiver is milled, not stamped and riveted, yet the Sa vz.58 is almost 2 pounds lighter than the AK. In fact, the Czechs were so concerned with weight they used an unusually lightweight alloy rather than steel to fabricate their 7.62×39 magazines.
The Bren points well for a compact rifle. Folding sights are factory installed, and Holt
mounted a Leupold Mk 6 1-6X scope on the rail.
The Bren proved extremely accurate, favoring bullets in the 60- to 70-grain range.
The Sa vz.58 is one of my favorites. It’s a sleek, accurate and weatherproof design. A decade ago, two semi-automatic versions were available in the milsurp market. Century International Arms built semi-automatic versions of the Sa vz.58 using original Czech parts kits. The C.A.I. model carries the designation “VZ2008.” CZ-USA itself imported a newly manufactured, commercial-grade model known as the “Sa vz.58 Sporter” with a spacey-looking Zytel stock. If you ever spring for either one, be sure it comes with its original Sa vz.58 magazines. AK magazines will not fit an Sa vz.58.
With an eye on becoming a member nation of NATO, which calls for the adoption of the 5.56x45mm NATO round, Czechoslovakia embarked on a series of new assault rifle designs rather than updating and retrofitting their existing Sa vz.58 with modern architecture. The key concepts seemed to be modularity and ambidextrous functionality—a design that could be a rifle, carbine, designated marksman rifle, squad automatic weapon in different calibers. Through the integration of M1913 rails, it offers flexibility in mounting optics and lighting options.
The final design, known as the CZ S 805, began gradually replacing the Sa vz.58’s after the Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999. Production of the military model has obviously been ramped up sufficiently for CZ to make a semi-automatic, civilian version, the CZ 805 Bren S1 reviewed here.
First impressions? Solid, robust, finely machined and finished, heavy. As military long arms go, the Bren carbine is as nicely crafted and executed a weapon as you’ll ever handle. With few exceptions, it’s all metal, robustly dimensioned. It’s so solid it would take a truly committed soldier to wreck it.
Out of the box, the Bren weighs 8.43 pounds. Add a loaded 30-round magazine and a milspec optic like Leupold’s Mark 6 1-6x20mm and the Bren tips 10.75 pounds on my Sunbeam scale. Keep adding lasers, IR illuminators and lights to the 1913 rails and you better be 19 again to hump this baby around the field. CZ could easily take some metal out of the upper chassis, reducing the weight by a pound or so and still field a robust combat firearm. I imagine in time they will.
At the last shot, the bolt locks open—an invaluable signal to the shooter when things go hot.
When the stock is fully folded, the trigger and safety are still reachable and fully operable.
CZ’s 4-position, folding stock is rock solid and comfortable to use.
It is a truly ambidextrous firearm. There’s a safety lever and a magazine release on both sides of the receiver while the reciprocating charging handle and the fiber cheekrest on the folding stock can be switched over for right- or left-hand use. I have a large hand, but when gripping the pistol grip, I could not thumb-off or apply the safety without shifting my grip. Going to the CZ-USA website, I found CZ offers a smaller, interchangeable backstrap for the standard pistol grip. Worth keeping in mind.
The Bren’s gas piston driven system is simplicity itself. It’s easy to service by merely unscrewing the gas valve from the front of the gas block. From the standpoint of keeping the breech of an AR clean, I’m beginning to lean toward these reliable, piston-driven machines.
The Bren’s 16.2-inch barrel is hammer forged, chrome lined and threaded at the muzzle (1/2×28 for flash hiders and silencers). Twist is 1:7. It’s shaped with a very light contour, but proved stable and didn’t wander about when it got sizzling hot during test firing under an Arizona summer sun.
CZ’s 4-position folding stock proved to be utterly rigid and comfortable. The forward end of the upper chassis sports blank rail panels on both sides of the stock and a replaceable 1913 rail underneath. Aftermarket M-LOK or KeyMod rails could be attached if desired at any of those 3 locations. In short, the chassis will accommodate 4 rails.
At the last shot, the bolt locks open. The Bren does not feature a bolt release. Pulling back and letting go of the charging handle slams the bolt home. The charging handle reciprocates a full 4.5 inches along the side of the stock. It’s possible, but not probable, the handle will hit a shooter’s hand, so a non-reciprocating design or a fold-down handle would be a welcomed improvement.
If the 2-stage trigger of the Bren is normal “milspec” in the Czech Republic, my hat’s off to CZ. After 10 pull-weight tries, it averaged 4 pounds, 15 ounces on a Lyman electronic scale.
CZ’s 805 Bren S1 is an exacting, semi-automatic, clone of the Czech Republic’s current main battle rifle.
How did it shoot? While the Bren comes complete with an excellent set of factory zeroed, flip-up front and rear sights, I used a milspec Mark 6 Leupold for group shooting. The Bren proved to have a distinct taste for bullets in the 60- to 70-grain range. The results of 3-shot groups at 100 yards are impressive. Federal Gold Medal Match topped with the Sierra 69-grain MatchKing won accuracy laurels with a sterling 0.3-oinch group.
Maintenance? The Bren comes with a neat factory cleaning kit consisting of a jointed rod, chamber and bore brushes, piston tube brush, toothbrush, disassembly tool, pin punch and patches. The cleaning instructions in the owner’s manual guide you in fieldstripping the whole gun. The process is just a little bit complex and too time consuming. The gas piston system doesn’t need cleaning very often, and when it does, it’s readily accessible. To keep the bore clean from the chamber end, I recommend simply using a Hoppe’s Boresnake or an Otis pull-through and be done with it.
Overall, the CZ 805 Bren S1 is a great shooting carbine but as an exacting semi-automatic clone of the Czech Republic’s current main battle rifle, it’s the real deal!
CZ 805 BREN S1
MAKER: Ceska Zbrojovka A.S., Uhersky Brod, Czech Republic,
P.O. Box 171073
Kansas City, KS 66117
ACTION TYPE: Semi-auto, gas piston, rotating bolt
BARREL LENGTH: 16.2 inches
OVERALL LENGTH: 36.6 inches (collapsed), 39 inches (extended)
WEIGHT: 8.43 pounds (unloaded)
FINISH: Matte black
SIGHTS: Flip-up, front and rear, M1913 rails
STOCK: 4-position, side-folding, polymer