A Fishy Race Gun Proposal: Beretta 96

In my review of the Beretta M9, I teased that I would be looking into a true competition gun based on the Beretta 92 platform. In this article, I’ll go into it a little deeper.

Why?

Why build a race gun at all? I like USPSA. (More on that later.) I like tinkering. I don’t want to be boring and buy the same gun everyone else is using1. There you have it. As I’ve said in the past, I like Beretta 92 platform. It points naturally for me, and my M9 is one of the softer-shooting 9mm firearms I’ve handled. (Obviously. It’s enormous and heavy.)

Given that I find myself really enjoying USPSA, I want to explore some of the other divisions. Given that I don’t have $2500 to spend on a 20112, nor much experience with the 1911 platform, nor much interest in learning how to tinker with the 1911 platform, I don’t have much reason to go in the traditional direction. Given, finally, that the thing slowing me down is not the handgun but rather my limited skill, I don’t mind slightly suboptimal equipment.

Since the kinds of race-y modifications I’m considering take me out of USPSA Production, the obvious place to aim is Limited, where scoring depends on power factor, and 9mm Major isn’t allowed. I need to do a little testing to verify, but my suspicion is that I’ll be insignificantly slower shooting .40 S&W, and the more forgiving scoring will help me out.

So, let’s look at the parts.

The Parts

Beretta 96A1
We’ll start with the gun itself. The Beretta 96 was the first 92-pattern gun chambered for .40 S&W, which is the minimum caliber required for shooting Limited Major in USPSA. The original 96, being simply a 92 with a larger-bore barrel, did not cover itself in acclaim. It was, in fact, oft-maligned for falling apart. The 96A1, a 2010 refresh of the design, solved many of the issues, adding a recoil buffer in addition to heavier construction elsewhere. As a recent design made of alloy, rather than plastic, its street price is about $675. Figure $725, shipped and transferred. Stock magazine capacity is twelve, going up to fifteen with MecGar’s extended jobbers.

The 96A1 also features a front sight dovetail, which brings me to my next item.

Sights
The traditional sighting system for Limited guns is blacked-out rear sights and a fiber-optic front sight. Wilson Combat sells just such a setup for the 96A1, coming to about $1003.

Trigger
Quite a bit going on here. The stock Beretta trigger is plastic, which doesn’t bother me overmuch, and bends a long way forward, which makes it difficult for me to get a good finger on it for the double-action pull. Wilson Combat and Beretta both make an identical steel trigger which features a less aggressive forward bend and a shorter overall reach.

While I’m working in the trigger well, I plan to remove the factory trigger return spring and replace it with a reduced-power unit, to score an easy improvement in trigger pull weight.

The trigger and reduced-power return spring come to about $50.

Action tuning
Wilson Combat sells an action tune kit for $80, which includes three options for lightened hammer springs, a trigger bar, and a chrome-silicon trigger return spring. As far as I can tell, this kit is the only way to get the Wilson trigger bar, which is an important part of tuning lightened trigger pulls.

It goes like this: you install a reduced-power hammer spring. (The kit includes a 12lb spring, down from the 20lb factory spring.) Your gun no longer reliably ignites primers. You install the trigger bar, which lengthens the hammer arc and delivers more impulse to the firing pin.

This is one of the most important mods for a competition gun, and would probably bring the double action pull weight well under ten pounds, and the single-action pull weight to the vicinity of three or four, much better than stock.

Skeleton hammer
The skeleton hammer not only looks cool, it also masses less than the factory hammer. A given spring therefore drives it more quickly, which helps to reduce lock time and increase the energy delivered to the firing pin. $30 from Beretta.

Steel guide rod
This isn’t all that necessary, but I prefer steel parts where I can get them. It also does a little to combat muzzle rise, being a heavier-than-stock part out near the muzzle. $25 from Wilson Combat.

Extended magazine release
As I mentioned in the M9 review, I can’t reach the factory magazine release from shooting position. Wilson Combat makes one which would fit right under my thumb. $50.

Magazine guide
The hammer spring block on 92-pattern pistols normally has a lanyard loop. Wilson Combat makes a magazine guide instead, a sloped piece to guide misses aft into the magazine well. $50.

Gunsmith work
Living near Pittsburgh as I do, Allegheny Arms is within driving distance. As one of the premier Beretta gunsmiths of the modern day, they offer two services of which I want to take advantage. First is a decocker conversion. For a carry gun, I like having a manual safety. For a gun whose sole purpose is competition, I want to do as little as possible coming out of the holster.

Finally, I’m not great at reloads, and any little bit helps. Allegheny Arms will do a fairly aggressive magazine well bevel. It isn’t a full-on magazine funnel, but combined with the Wilson Combat magazine guide, it would meaningfully improve my first-try reload percentage. All together, the gunsmith work comes to $285.

Magazines
The stock Beretta magazines are useless for Limited. To start off, I’d want to buy four MecGar 15-round magazines for a total stage capacity of 60 rounds. That adds $100 to the total. Eventually, I’d probably want to experiment with custom followers and longer extensions4, but given that I could spend an essentially unlimited amount of money tilting at that particular windmill, we’ll leave it off for now.

Finishing
Beretta’s stock finish is fine, but I’ve always wanted a Flat Dark Earth or Desert Sand Beretta. Leaving it at the local cerakote shop costs about $300 for barrel, slide, and frame, plus armory services.

If you’re keeping track, that puts me at right about $1500, not including the cerakote finish. (That seems fair. It’s completely unnecessary, so I could always do it later.) That cost includes some shipping, but maybe not all of the shipping, and of course fixes the value of my time at zero5. In return, I get a Beretta competition pistol, more or less the pinnacle of the platform, for about half of a reasonable 2011 build. It’s what you might call vintage—Beretta hasn’t been properly popular on the competition circuit since the 1990s. It has a tremendous amount of cool factor for me, a massive Beretta fanboy, and even parvusimperator would agree that the 92-pattern pistols are pretty.

So, why haven’t I started building it? Well, a forum post brought a new contender to my attention, and the choice turns out to be harder than I expected. Stay tuned. Next week, we’ll have a look at another Fishy race gun idea, and the week after, we’ll decide which one it’s going to be.


  1. Sometimes, people settle on a given platform because it’s the best. Competition frequently, but not always, finds that platform. For instance, the downforce revolution in Formula 1 came after a long period of mechanical-grip-only racing. We understood aerodynamics, and there were no rules preventing it. It was just that nobody thought to try it. 
  2. Probably can barely even get a used model from a reputable maker at that price. 
  3. I’ll borrow parvusimperator’s sight pusher. If he doesn’t have one, I’ll borrow his brass punches. 
  4. Woo, 3D printing! 
  5. If I consider building a gun leisure, I think that’s reasonable. 

2 thoughts on “A Fishy Race Gun Proposal: Beretta 96

  1. Pingback: A Fishy Race Gun Proposal: CZ P-09 - The Soapbox

  2. Pingback: A Fishy Race Gun Shootout: Beretta 96A1 vs. CZ P-09 - The Soapbox

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