Being a fan of the CZ75 pistol, I was naturally enthused when I learned that Sphinx was building their CZ-patterned pistol in .45ACP. As often happens in the industry, the first reports of the new model came more than two years before the gun would actually begin to come available in the US. I patiently waited, occasionally checking the status of the pistol with my contacts. After learning that Sabre Defence was importing and distributing the pistols for Sphinx in the US, things began moving quickly in response to my inquiries, and finally I received a sample for testing and evaluation.
With a company history that dates back to 1876, Sphinx Systems of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, in the heart of the Swiss Alps, already had a reputation for precision manufacturing and attention to detail by the time they announced their .45ACP. Though commanding a high price tag, like the reputation held by the Swiss for fine watches, they quickly established their reputation for high-end pistols. As a point of fact, Sphinx Systems is the last remaining weapons manufacturer in Switzerland whose products are officially accepted and registered as “Swiss Ordnance Pistols.” In order to obtain this highly regarded certification, Sphinx went through official governmental quality tests and trials.
There are a number of aspects of the Sphinx manufacturing process and materials that set them apart from other guns on the market in terms of quality. For starters, every part in the pistol is CNC machined from a single block of stainless steel using the most modern equipment and techniques. This is noteworthy in an industry that relies heavily upon MIM parts.
All pistols must go through stringent quality control stages and must pass a drop-test, exposure to sand and mud, extreme temperatures, an overpressure test, a parts precision inspection, and longtime loading tests, just to name a few.
The frame, milled from stainless steel bar stock, is a two-piece modular unit that retains the outstanding ergonomic qualities of the CZ-style pistols. The inside of the grip is EDM (electrical discharge machining) wire eroded to hold very precise dimensions. The two pieces (grip and frame) are fit together with a dovetail cut and held in place by two internal screws. This dual-piece design permits steel-to-steel interface between the slide and frame, and the option to utilize aluminum alloy, titanium or stainless steel for the grip thereby changing the weight and balance of the pistol.
A heavy dustcover with integral accessory rail adds weight forward to help control muzzle flip. The frame/slide rails are reversed from what is typical so that it receives the slide that rides down inside it. The results are another performance-based feature, a lower bore axis for better control.
The triggerguard is squared at the front and shallow vertical serrations are cut into the front and back straps, which provide a textured surface. Additionally, the grip panels are from rubber, and have checkering molded into about 3/4ths of their surface. An extended grip tang further helps to control muzzle flip. A highly raised magazine release may be reversed for left-handed shooters. What appears to be a thumb safety is actually an ambidextrous decocker with a raised and serrated shelf for indexing and positive engagement, and the slide stop shares these features. Hammer is a spurred and skeletonized unit.
The magazine well is beveled, even though the truncated profile of the 10-shot Mec-Gar magazines combined with the yawning magazine well should make quick loading easy enough. The trigger’s profile is that of an aggressive forward curve. The mode of operation is double-action (DA) for the first pull, and single-action (SA) for subsequent shots.
The frame is roll-marked “SPHINX MADE IN SWITZERLAND” on the left flank, and “SABRE DEFENCE INDUSTRIES LLC Nashville, TN” on the right with the Sphinx logo just forward of the triggerguard.
The Sphinx’s slide has both forward and rear cocking serrations, and since it rides down inside the frame, it sits much lower than with most pistols. It’s machined from CrNiMo-steel bar stock. An external extractor is employed, and fixed combat sights are fitted into dovetails. Each sight is fitted with one tritium vial to be aligned one atop the other. The slide rails run the entire length of the pistol, and I was barely able to manage a hair of play between the slide and frame while using a great deal of strength.
A 3.74-inch CrNiMo-steel ramped barrel mates directly to the front of the slide, so no bushing is necessary. Bore is button broached with a 1-in-10-inch right-hand twist, and six lands and grooves. The Sphinx uses a Browning-style cam system, and is locked to slide by single lug via large ejection port. The Sphinx also employs a full-length guide rod.
The fit and finish was excellent throughout, the pistol’s black coating is Sphinx’s AlTin. All machining was clean. The pistol was without machine marks even inside the slide and frame.
By all indications, the Sphinx seemed to be a very high-quality pistol. It was time to take any uncertainty out of the equation and put the gun to the test. We made our way to the range and set up 5-inch VisiColor Targets from Champion Traps & Targets at 25 feet. Our accuracy test would consist of five-round groups fired off-hand at this range.
We ended up with some tight groups, the best of the day coming from Hornady’s 200-grain TAP CQ at just 0.88 of an inch. This was followed by CorBon’s 230-grain FMJ with a 1.06-inch pattern. Third place was a tie between Federal’s Tactical 230-grain HST and Black Hills’ 185-grain JHP at 1.13 inches. The average of all groups fired was 1.12 inches, with the largest group being no more than 1.38 inches. On one occasion, I had a perfect 0.56-of-an-inch clover forming when I threw the last of five rounds, ruining the ragged hole in progress. Groups did not exhibit “fliers” in most cases. This is fine accuracy that exceeds practical combat accuracy.
The contours of the grip will be familiar to CZ75 fans. We found it to be very comfortable in the hand, and its angle conducive to a natural point-of-aim. Surprisingly, the fine, light vertical serrations on both front and back straps provided quite an effective texture for maintaining a firm grip on the pistol. The Sphinx handles well, being heavy out front and the rear tang further added to muzzle control. The trigger, with its smooth curved face, was long and heavy in DA but quite smooth, much like that of a quality revolver, except that it seemed to have two stages.
After about 1/8 of an inch of slack, a barely discernable click came after the first 1/8 of an inch of resistance. In single-action mode, after about 0.25 of an inch of slack, one encounters a silky-smooth rolling break at just 4.5 pounds with about 1/8 of an inch of overtravel, but it felt more like 3.5 pounds.
The trigger has a pretty long reach in DA, while I had no problems since I have large hands, and I think the reach would rule out some small-handed shooters. This leads me to my only criticism of this gun—the standard model doesn’t have a manual frame-mounted thumb safety. Nonetheless, for those of you 1911 shooters who employ a high thumb hold on the safety, the decocker on the standard model is sufficiently “stiff” that you can still rest the thumb on it without worry that the lever will decock the gun during firing.
Recoil was comfortable, the low bore axis and aforementioned design features produced more of a “push” than a flip. Reloads were smooth and quick, owing to the large-mouthed beveled magazine well and the narrowed top of the magazines. The magazine release was easy to find and use. Magazines dropped free, and the slide consistently locked to the rear on the last shot.
Despite the slide’s low profile, we had no problems retracting the slide with the overhand grasp we used, even during speed reloads. There wasn’t a single malfunction during our tests.
All in all, the Sphinx acquitted itself very well. It seemed exceptionally well made, felt great in the hand, pointed naturally and performed flawlessly and with great accuracy. Moreover, the Sphinx gives the operator rails to attach tactical accessories, night sights, and a payload of eleven rounds of big bore .45ACP. The Sphinx’s quality is in line with a high-end custom pistol, making it worth its hefty price tag.
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by Mike Boyle / May 11, 2009