For many years I have been interested in Berettas. One derivative in particular has fascinated me, the single action Egyptian Helwan Brigader. The Helwan is a 8 shot 9mm copy of the Beretta 1951, much the same as a Sistema is a copy of a Colt 1911. Beretta set up the factory and trained the workers to produce the pistol in Egypt. Of course, that was a long time ago.I never did get around to shooting the Helwan very much after that. There were other pistols to keep me interested. I did see a Helwan in a pawn shop for $119. I passed. Today, my Helwan still resides in my gun room, as a lesson learned and a possible bartering bit should I ever need one.
Helwans have often been derided in the US as a cheap pistol with no real value. Recently Helwans have once again become available for $159 at SOG. I placed an order. I figured for that kind of money, I could take a chance.
When the pistol arrived, it was NIB, and a pretty flimsy box at that. It came with a manual, two single stack magazines, and a brush. The fit and finish was OK, but not up to Beretta standards by any stretch of the imagination; not even close. The serial number and importer's marks were the typical CAI buzzpen job. The slide is obviously cast. The sights are pure itty bitty military. The magazine release is on the bottom of the grip, Euro style. The barrel locks up with a falling block, like the 92FS. The safety is a button that runs though the frame at the top of the grip. Left to fire, right to safe. Cocked and locked is an option. The safety blocks both the sear and the hammer.
I began to clean the pistol, and lube it in preparation to go to the range. I found that the grips do not like Gun Scrubber. "Ah well, it's a cheapo pistol, and a bit of spray paint will take care of it" I thought. The trigger was heavy, and the underside of the slide was corrugated with machining marks, but it slid easily along the frame rails. The barrel locked up tightly. It is about as narrow as a 1911, with the length a bit longer than a Commander.
The next day, after the grips had hardened up again, I took the pistol to the range. I also carried 300 rounds of Winchester White Box, 100 rounds of Wolff, and a gallon bucket of 9mm reloads. I did my usual load one shoot one, load two shoot two, load three etc routine and had no unintended double taps. I ran a target out to 25 feet and loaded up a full magazine. I began to shoot 4 inch groups, and as I settled into the heavy trigger, they began to shrink down, finally averaging around two inches.
I stopped counting rounds at 500 (and still had a half bucket of ammo). I had no failures of any kind. No failures to extract, no failures to eject, no failures to fire. Nothing. The recoil was heavier than I was expecting in a pistol this size. I'd equate it along the lines of my HK USP in .40S&W. The pistol will empty a magazine as fast as you can pull the trigger.
The slide release was a bit pointy and could use some smoothing out, and the trigger never did lighten up. All in all though, I have to say that I am happy with the pistol. It is a low buck service pistol. You have to figure that into the analysis. It has the design of a Beretta, the finish of a KelTec, and the price of a High Point. I found this pistol to be reasonably accurate at combat ranges. It is certainly no target pistol, nor was it meant to be. I found it to be easy to aim and shoot despite the small sights.
I will definitely strip this one down and see if I can lighten up that trigger some. Oh, and I think it deserves some new grips. It's a keeper.
Today, I tested my trigger job. I had replaced the hammer spring with a 1911 18 pound mainspring. I had also polished up the sear and hammer hooks and applied a bit of Action Magic. The trigger was sweet now, and at the range, I saw some benefit in my accuracy.
After approximately round 1200 though (total round count), the Helwan choked. It failed to extract a shell, and the pistol jammed hard. I was unable to field strip it at the range, so I pulled the magazine, put it in my bag and went to another pistol.
Tonight, it took a bit of work to tear the pistol down, but I was able to do it using my hands and leverage. The front of the frame rails had peened where the slide impacts them, making movement of the barrel very difficult. I could find no cracks. I took a file and removed the burrs from the front of the frame rails. I stoned the rails everywhere the barrel contacts them. After a bit of work, I had the barrel sliding nicely again. I reassembled the pistol and the action worked smoothly. I'm hoping that the original rough machining in the frame rails and slide rails contributed to the burr development that brought shooting to a halt. If so, then beveling these corners should prevent it from reoccuring.
I am thinking about adapting a B92 Shok Buff if I cannot find one specific for this pistol. It's possible the steel may be a bit soft. I tried to fit a heavier B92 recoil spring, but it would not fit.
On another note, the blueing seems to be a bit thin, and is already starting to wear off the barrel. By contrast, my Beretta 92FS that I purchased in 1992 has about the same amount of wear with many more rounds through it.
As of right now, I cannot recommend this pistol to anyone who is not a tinkerer. For the money, it certainly is not a pistol to take to a gunsmith to fix. Because of this failure, I cannot recommend the Helwan as a defensive pistol either. It is not a failure that can be cleared without taking tools to the pistol. On the flip side, If you can find a jammed one used, you might be able to pick it up for under $50 and put it back into range use with a minimum of effort. I am not calling the Helwan a POS yet, as the problem may have been erased for good with a little filework and stoning. Time will tell.
Labels: Range Reports