In 1958 the world was trying desperately to burst. It had been fourteen years since the Allies had crushed the Axis, and the reverberations of that war still resonated around the planet.
The USSR was the in charge of satellite and slave states in the Warsaw Pact. Soviet doctrine drove both military procurement and tactics. Despite being surrounded by nations that accepted Russian rule the state of Czechoslovakia clung to its own individuality, and that was true for their arms industry as well.
It was in 1958 that the Czechs released their newest assault rifle, the vz. 58 — short for 7.62 samopal vzor 58. This literally translates to “7.62mm submachine gun model 1958.” The new gun was intended to replace vz. 52 rifles as well as several submachine guns in Czech service. While the vz.58 resembles the AK-47, it is an entirely different design.
The vz. 58 is remarkably lightweight. At 6.4 pounds the gun is nearly a pound and a half lighter than the AK-47. This puts the vz. 58 at the same weight as an M16.
The operating system uses a gas tappet design like the M1 Carbine. The bolt locks using a tilting block system.
The locking system on the vz. 58 is similar to that of the Walther P38 and later Beretta 92. A pivoting locking piece engages recesses machined in the receiver to keep everything together when firing.
The vz. 58 uses a linear hammer, similar to a striker but with a separate firing pin. Original versions of the gun were select fire with a selector oriented on the right side of the receiver. The safety is opposite of an AR. Down is safe and horizontal is fire.
The vz. 58 has a machined steel receiver. It has a stamped steel dust cover that protects the action from battlefield grime. The bolt carrier seals off the front half of the action. The rigid charging handle protrudes upward at an angle on the right for easy access with either hand.
Rugged ears protect the front sight, and the rear sight uses a ramp like on an AK. It is marked out to 800 meters. Sling attachment points are on the left side.
The 30-round magazine resembles that of a Kalashnikov but is not interchangeable. Standard vz. 58 magazines are lightweight pressed aluminum with grey paint. Magazines rock in and out in the manner of the AK. While this may seem a wee bit cumbersome to those of us who are spoiled to the ARs, this does allow a full magazine to be seated easily with the bolt closed. Compared to AK magazines, vz. 58 mags are lighter in weight.
Unlike an AK the bolt locks to the rear on the last round fired. Closing the bolt over a fresh magazine involves giving the charging handle a quick snatch to the rear. There is also a notch cut into the bolt carrier so the rifle can be reloaded from the top using SKS stripper clips.
The vz. 58 P version sports a rigid buttstock. Early stocks were made from wood while later versions were a synthetic composite material. The composite is wood chips in a polymer matrix and it is affectionately known as “beaver barf” on this side of the pond.
The vz. 59 V is an airborne variant with a side-folding steel stock that collapses to the right side of the gun. This stock is a single steel strut and isn’t terribly comfortable. Unlike the AK either stock can be readily interchanged with a large screwdriver. The vz. 58 Pi is a vz58 P with a rail for NSP2 night sights. These variants are also frequently found with a conical flash hider and folding bipod.
With a 15.4-inch barrel, the vz. 58 is close to submachine gun size. Because U.S. law requires rifles to have 16-inch or longer barrels, almost all guns found in this country have elongated barrels or fixed muzzle devices to meet federal requirements. There is a detachable knife bayonet that was designed for the gun. The military version cycles at around 800 rounds per minute in full auto.
The vz. 58 is markedly lighter than even a stamped-receiver AK-pattern rifle. The gun jumps around a bit on rapid fire but it’s controllable. The action feels smoother and less violent than an AK. The sights on the vz. 58 are comparable to those of the AK. Magazine changes are a bit faster simply because of the last round bolt hold open.
The trigger is much better than on an AK and the gun maneuvers quickly and well. When moving indoors or within a vehicle the vz. 58 feels more compact than an AK. The side-folding stock seems is better than most underfolding stocks. Some people wrap the wire stocks with paracord to provide a more comfortable cheek weld.
Double taps are easy, especially at modest ranges, and the gun seems to reach out about like an AK might. The gun, with its iron sights, should perform well out to 300 yards or more.
The Czechs produced just shy of a million vz. 58 rifles, and it is still in limited service around the world today. Military production ended in 1984, but commercial versions of these guns are still through GunsAmerica with regularity. My example is a parts gun built up on a domestic receiver. CZ-USA imported Czech-made versions for a time that typically cost more. Today CzechPoint, Inc. imports new-production Czech Small Arms vz. 58 rifles and pistols in 7.62x39mm and 5.56x45mm, although they sell out quickly with every batch.
Lightweight, rugged, and maneuverable, the Czech vz. 58 represents a tiny glimmer of individuality in the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War. Comrade Kalashnikov’s ubiquitous rifle was an icon of Soviet dominance. However, the argument could be made that it was actually the second most efficient communist rifle of the 1950s.
Vz. 58 Specifications
- Caliber: 7.62x39mm
- Action: gas-operated falling-block
- Weight: 6.4 pounds
- Barrel length: 15.4 inches
- Overall length: 33.3 inches
- Folded length: 25 inches
- Capacity: 30 rounds standard
- Rate of fire: 800 RPM