It’s always good to be reunited with an old friend — or, in this case, an old acquaintance: the Star Model BM single-action 1911-style 9mm pistol. The Star Model B and the Star Model BM once served as service arms for the Spanish National Guard (La Guardia Civil). Century Arms International recently acquired a quantity of military-issue Star BMs and is making them available to civilian purchasers.
The 9mm Star Model B is a full-sized 1911-style pistol that has had a role in Hollywood on shows such as M*A*S*H*, where it doubled for the Colt .45 1911. The reason? Back then, it was difficult to get the low-pressure 1911 .45 to cycle with the blanks available. However, the higher-pressure 9mm Star Model B would cycle just fine with 9mm blanks. You can easily spot the Star Model B stand-in due to the external extractor and the blued (rather than Parkerized) finish.
To prove that things don’t always translate well from one language to another, note the model name “BM” for the Star pistol reviewed here. The 9mm Star BM is a shortened, medium “Commander”-sized Model B. The word “medio” or “mediano” is Spanish for medium. I’m assuming that “BM” simply means “Model B Medium.” I am sure the Star company (which sadly went out of business in 1997) had no inkling what that model name might sound like in English.
The Star Model B, or maybe the BM, was the first 9mm pistol I ever fired some 37 years ago — which is why I don’t remember with certainty which model it was. I was a brand-new auxiliary sheriff’s deputy and was looking for an off-duty handgun. My search took me to a small gun shop in the nearby town of Pataskala, Ohio. The owner had a used Star 9mm for sale. I had never fired one, so he took me down to the basement where he had a large steel plate hanging from the upstairs floor joist. He loaded up a magazine of standard FMJ ammo and let me shoot at the plate. There was no ventilation or backstop other than the plate, nor was there any frangible ammo available to use. I fired the magazine without incident, but decided against the purchase, as I was still not familiar with the Star brand.
While I didn’t own a Star Model B or BM, I did later own a .45 ACP Star PD, which was an aluminum-framed compact pistol that I carried on the narcotics unit. It was a great undercover piece and functioned very reliably; I never had a malfunction with it. I can’t say the same of various Colt 1911s of the era, unless their feed ramps and chamber mouths had been smoothed by a gunsmith after purchase.
The Star BM is a battle-proven, all-steel 9mm built to military specifications that weighs in at 34 ounces. Overall length is 7.25 inches, and height is 5.063 inches. Barrel length is 3.77 inches and the plain black sights are fixed, although the rear is drift-adjustable for windage. Magazine capacity is 8 rounds. Finish is an attractive matte, almost bright blue, and the grips on my sample are checkered black plastic. The frame is smooth front and rear. Surprisingly, the spur hammer is color case hardened. The grooved trigger and barrel are left in the white, and the trigger pull is quite crisp. Overall fit and finish are VERY good.
The Star B series of pistols, like the Star PD, are single-action and are designed to be carried cocked and locked. However, unlike the Colt 1911s, there is no grip safety; only a prominent and smooth thumb safety. Because of the lack of a grip safety, I carried my Star PD in an IWB holster with thumb break while on the narcotics unit. The thumb break blocked the firing pin while the hammer was cocked. This made me more comfortable with the gun as I carried it to the right of my belt buckle to avoid detection and to speed the draw. This positioned the muzzle near my — well, you can imagine. However, between the solid safety and thumb break, I wasn’t concerned. I don’t recall the safety ever being accidentally disengaged. I recommend a thumb break holster that blocks the firing pin if you choose to carry a Star Model B, BM or PD.
I was thrilled with the condition of the Star BM when it arrived. It was packed in its original matching serial number La Guardia Civil cardboard box. Also included in the box was an all-Spanish set of directions and an original cleaning rod. The finish was excellent and showed zero signs of holster wear. It definitely isn’t some beat-up war trophy.
I took the Star to the range with SIG Sauer 115-grain FMJ practice and 124-grain V-Crown defensive loads. The V-Crown is not a +P loading, which is ideal for use in a pistol that could be anywhere from 25 to 45 years old. While the Star BM is designed to run with hot 9mm NATO loads, I wouldn’t use them or equivalent +P or +P+ loads in the Star just because they accelerate wear in a pistol that is long out of production.
The Star BM is an excellent shooter. The weight mitigates the recoil of the 9mm, even with the 124-grain V-Crown rated at 1165 feet per second and 374 FPE at the muzzle. The 115-grain FMJ load is rated at 1185 feet per second and 359 FPE at the muzzle. Both loads produce essentially the same recoil and muzzle blast.
I started testing with the FMJ ammo first. Feeding, firing and ejection were flawless. I noted, however, the shots were all falling in a 3-inch cluster off to the left at 30 feet. At first I thought it was me, but my nextdoor neighbor (who happens to be a Spanish professor) was having the same issue. I looked at the rear sight and noticed the only sign of wear on the gun. Someone in La Guardia Civil had moved the rear sight way over to the left and had marked notches on the top of the slide to align it. I don’t know if it worked for that person, but it didn’t work for me or my buddy. At about 25 yards, the group was substantially to the left, with some rounds nearly off the silhouette (I later took a punch and drifted the sight back to the right). It should be dead-on now.
I then ran the V-Crown ammo through the Star. Remember that the BM was not designed to work with hollow-points. However, they ran flawlessly. I did need to run the slide forward a second time to chamber the first round, as the shape of the V-Crown is relatively blunt. I am perfectly comfortable with the V-Crown as a “duty load” in the Star BM.
I only had one minor issue with the Star BM: The slide wouldn’t lock back on the last shot. I thought perhaps it wasn’t designed to do that, but my buddy translated the all-Spanish manual. From what we could gather, the Star BM is supposed to lock open on the last shot (it took a while to figure that out since the Spanish word for “slide” is directly translated as “bolt”). It may be that the mag was a bit worn. However, this is not enough of an issue to me to not carry the gun, since there are a number of defensive pistols out there that don’t lock back on the last shot. It was however, easy to use the prominent 1911-style slide release to manually lock the slide back.
The Star BM is a great buy and is available for under $300, depending on condition. If you want a quality, military-grade, 1911-style handgun at the fraction of the cost of 9mm 1911 pistols currently available, you will want to snap one of these up. By the way, it fits fine in an El Paso belt holster and a Bianchi IWB holster designed for 1911s, but was a bit loose in a Gould & Goodrich 1911 belt holster. This means you won’t need to search for a holster designed specifically for a Star BM; many holsters designed for 1911s will work. For more info, check out the Star BM and other available used handguns at: www.centuryarms.com.