Vz Sa 58 M.A.R.S.
- By Pete Moore
- 2 Comments
- Last updated: 26/01/2017
Based on the Czech Small Arms (CSA) Cz Sa. 58 straight pull action it’s the second and separate member of a rather exclusive club that moves on from the manually-operated, hybrid straight-pull rifles we have come to know and love over the last decade. Southern Gun Co (SGC) produced their AR15-based LR (lever release) series about 5-years ago initially in 9mm then moved on to 45 ACP and now 223 Rem (LR223). If you have not yet seen them I did videos on the 9 and 223 which are on our website www.gunmart.net
The concept takes the letter of the law as gospel in that is has banned self-loading, centrefire rifles. However, if you were to physically interrupt that semi-automatic cycle in such a way that the bolt stayed back/open between shots and had to be manually released to chamber then fire the next round it could not be by definition a self-loading mechanism. Ergo it has to be a Section 1 large firearm!
CCA first came to my attention about two years ago as they had started importing mann-opp versions of the Czech Vz. 58 rifle. Purpose-built by CSA in the Czech Republic with an un-gas ported barrel there was no provision for fitting the original piston operating system. Though looking very much like an AK47 the Vz. 58 is very different inside and is probably the best of its type. I was sent both 223 Rem and 7.62x39mm guns in a number of barrel length and stock versions and they proved reliable. They do need a larger/longer cocking handle and better scope mount. But the price was nice compared to an AR15 and they shot well enough.
Scott Rodgers (MD) of CCA told me of his plan to produce a similar concept to the SGC LR223 but based on the Vz. 58 system. Called the M.A.R.S. (manually actuated release system) instead of a separate release lever - as in the LR - it uses what I would call a double-pull trigger as we shall see.
Compared to an AR15 the Vz. 58 is quite a basic design in terms of features and as standard uses a left side-mounted dovetail scope base that requires a special L-shaped mount – much like the AK. This is not ideal as it’s too high and also too short, Scott is working on a billet rear cover with integral Picatinny rail to get over this. Currently there are a number of standard accessories that certainly help shootability. From FAB Defence is a polymer handguard with top and bottom Picatinny bases, a pistol grip and butt with storage and adjustable comb. Next a CAR15 buffer tube and adaptor that will accept the many telescopic butt systems available. A magazine well adaptor allows the use of most AR mags and gives a last round hold open too.
The cocking handle is short and stubby and located at an angle at the front of the large bolt carrier, left or right handed versions are available, I favour the handle on the left for the M.A.R.S. In the mann-opp gun this is too short and too far forward for easy operation. There’s a short, pressed steel cover at the rear of the receiver that mounts both return and firing pin springs. As such the top of the action is open as there’s no upper receiver as in an AR, so only closed off when the bolt and carrier are forward.
Controls are basic with a simple 2-position safety located on the right of the lower receiver; this swings forward to FIRE and pulls down for SAFE. The mag button is located as the AR at the rear right of the well and functions the same with clips dropping free. The trigger felt a lot better than on my original and operates a striker as opposed to a hammer. The pull is longer with less notice of the release point. Sights consist of an elevation-only rear, tangent U-notch and a muzzle-mounted post on a tall A-frame; all very AK-like. This is windage/elevation adjustable for base zeroing.
Operation is by a gas piston in the forend that has a fixed stroke length so works a bit like a tappet. It moves back to impart a sharp blow to the carrier, which is knocked rearwards and in turn disengages the flap-type locking lugs of the bolt that engage with pockets in the receiver. Once the action is fully open a sear rises up from the trigger mechanism and catches the carrier and holds it to the rear.
In this position the trigger is released and re-pulled which disengages the sear and allows the bolt/ carrier to move forward to feed and lock. A further pull fires the cartridge and the whole cycle starts again. After the last round the action holds open as described and in this condition if the trigger is pulled the carrier moves forward a fraction but is held by the last round hold open plunger, so the mag has to be removed to allow it to close.
The standard M.A.R.S. version on test has a light/medium,18.5” barrel with an AR-style flash hider on a 14x1 mm thread. Though no H-BAR it was certainly beefier than the skinny, 16” tube of the original! Rifling offers a 1-7” twist rate in 223, I am told that 1-9” is available to special order. Guns will also be available in 7.62x39mm, 222 Rem and probably 6.5 Grendel. It occurred to me that and though 7.62x39mm is not a popular round it’s cheap and the operating system would also get over any primary extraction problems that can be an issue with this calibre in manually-operated systems.
The Vz. 58 uses a fixed blade ejector and from past experience with the self-loading version in 7.62x39; to say ejection was positive would be a gross understatement! I would guess that the M.A.R.S. will be hard on empty cases; we shall see!
The rifle arrived with a 4x32 Trijicon ACOG on a lower rear, QD mount, which suits the short eye relief of the scope. Problem is I wanted to gauge accuracy potential so needed a more powerful optic, which would not fit over the action. I fitted a Vortex ADR-X Cantilever QR Mount, which offers a 3” off set and clamps to the rail on the forend so allowing me to fit a more conventional Luger 3-9x42 for the purpose.
Ammo consisted of 55-grain FMJ and 69-grain BTHP Match from Sellier & Belliot; along with my AR reload using 24-grains of Ram Shot TAC under a 69-grain Sierra BTHP Match. Next Prvi Partizan (PPU) 69 and 75-grain BTHP Match and finally Hornady’s 62-grain soft point and 69-grain BTHP TAP, the former being as near as I could get to the standard military SS109 load.
I have found a 1-7” twist prefers heavier bullets but they can be a bit fussy on weights and I have had mixed success with 75-grain loads in the original straight-pull Vz. 58. My gut feeling would be to opt for the more flexible 1-9” rate. Despite the faster and easier operating system of the M.A.R.S. they will have to compete with what are now highly refined mann-opp AR15s that have enviable reputations for accuracy and performance.
I first ran the S&B 55-grain FMJ through the rifle just to get the feel of it, this weight is not well suited to a 1-7” twist but would do for shorter ranges on Fig 11 targets. I found it easier to put a full mag in with the bolt open as you really have to push in to engage otherwise. Also if you apply the safety and pull the trigger the carrier will not release until you select FIRE. Similar to the LR223 it’s an odd sensation as you pull the trigger and you feel the bolt/carrier slam forward, which does tends to jar the firing position and sight picture. The trigger pull was long but smooth and better than the mann-opp Vz. 58 I had tested.
Initially I found the double pull required: 1 - bolt forward, 2 – fire, a bit odd. But I soon got it down to a cadence and the rate of operation is good. But you do at first have to remind yourself that the first pull is not the one that fires the rifle! My assistant on the day who has fired a lot less rifles of any sort than me said he found this operation easy and instinctive. Guess it takes longer to teach an old dog new tricks!
I used the Magpul P-MAGS for the test - a 30-rounder and two 20s one straight the other curved and an old, aluminium Colt-type. I had some feed problems with the straight 20 but none of the others.
Discounting this mag-related stoppage the rifle ran 100% reliably and I probably got though near 200-rounds with no problems at all. Testing was done at 100m off a bipod initially with the Luger 3-9x42 on the forward, Vortex mount; big mistake!
As I surmised ejection was positive if not downright fierce and the cases were denting both the alloy body tube and mount as the came out. In this position you could wreck a scope quite easily. This was not evident on the mann-opp gun as the cycle is slower. Inspection of recovered brass showed that the rims took a serious battering and I am not sure how long it would last being pushed and pulled through a sizer die. But to its credit the rifle was shooting a solid inch with all the 69 and 75-grain loads and not much more with the 62-grain TAP either; certainly good enough for Practical and Service Rifle type use. I switched back to the ACOG soon after and it did suit the gun well.
However, the promised billet upper with integral Picatinny rail that will replace the rear springs cover is going to be a must! I used a side-mounted Weaver-type base on the original mann-opp Vz. 58 test and yes it did give a mounting point but it was short, overly high and presented eye relief problems that necessitated extending the butt out as far as possible.
There’s little doubt the Vz. 58 M.A.R.S. is a practical and effective design and I did find the double pull operation once learned to be quick, instinctive and easy to accomplish. The rifle though of all steel construction is not that heavy when compared to a comparable a straight-pull AR15. Also the weight is very much to the rear making it easier unsupported. Shootability is high as is reliability and accuracy potential is good.
I let my assistant shoot my mann-opp SGC Speedmaster A2 for comparison and here’s what he said: ‘ for Practical or Service Rifle the M.A.R.S. offers some distinct advantages over the straight-pulls, mainly in ease of operation, but is more single minded in what it offers for other uses. Whereas the A2 feels a little smoother in operation and could equally be employed on the range for target shooting or taken into the field for fox, vermin and or small deer species.’
I like it and would be very tempted if I shot Service or Practical Rifle, which I do not. But at just under £2,000 it’s a lot of gun for the money!
PRICE: £1950 inc.