Baikal MP-654K

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The Baikal MP-654K is a replica air pistol which is made in the same manufacturing plant as the original Makarov pistol.  There is some argument for saying that this isn’t really a replica at all – it’s simply a CO2 powered version of the original firearm.  It’s certainly a weighty, rugged and reliable air pistol which is amenable to tuning and improvement.  The 654 has undergone a number of changes since it was introduced in 1998, so this review is a little different to usual.  In addition to reviewing my experience with the single MP-654K that I owned, I’ll also be looking at the history and development of this replica, refuting some of the myths surrounding it and providing reference information for anyone who may be considering owning one.

The Makarov pistol

In late 1941, as Nazi armies were pressing towards Moscow, the Soviet Union began moving essential manufacturing capacity east, to the Urals, where it would be beyond the range of German air attacks.  In 1942 the State Defence Committee announced that N° 622 State All-Union Small-Arms Plant would be established in the city of  Izhevsk in the Western Urals. An armoury had existed in this location since the early nineteenth century and production at the new manufacturing plant was to include Degtyarev and Simonov anti-tank rifles, Nagant revolvers and the TT-33 pistol.

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Nikolay Fyodorovich Makarov in the late 1960s

The plant, Izhevsky Mechanichesky Zavod ( Ижевский механический завод – Izhevsk Mechanical Works, usually known as IMZ or Izmash) was hugely successful, producing vast quantities of arms and ammunition during World War Two. Soon after the end of the war, a Soviet design competition was announced to find a replacement for the ageing Nagant M1895 revolver and TT-33 Tokarev pistol.  A young engineer, Nikolay Fyodorovich Makarov, was given the job of leading the design team for the IMZ entry to the competition.  In 1950 the pistol submitted by IMZ was selected to become the new standard sidearm for soviet forces.  Officially designated the PM (Пистолет Макарова – Pistolet Makarova or Makarov’s Pistol) the pistol became universally known as the Makarov and entered Soviet service in 1951.  The Makarov wasn’t officially replaced until 2003 by the Yarygin pistol, also from IMZ.  IMZ produced over five million examples of the Makarov for military use and pistol is still in production for commercial sales.

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1967 Makarov pistol

The Makarov was chosen because of its simplicity, ease of manufacture and reliability.  It is a SA/DA pistol which uses a straight blowback design with the barrel fixed to the frame.  It is chambered for a 9x18mm cartridge.  This cartridge is shorter and slightly wider (the actual diameter of the bullet is 9.22mm) than the NATO standard 9x19mm cartridge.  Although they look broadly similar (and both use the same method for releasing the slide) the Makarov is not a copy of the earlier Walther PPK as is sometimes suggested.  The Makarov is much simpler (27 parts in the Makarov versus 42 in the PPK) and is easier and cheaper to manufacture than the Walther.

The Baikal MP-654K

In 1949 IMZ began producing commercial sporting firearms for sale within the Soviet bloc.  Using the trade name Baikal, the company quickly gained a reputation for producing high quality, rugged shotguns and hunting rifles.  In 1989 the company was granted permission to begin exporting commercial firearms to other countries.  In 1990, following the break-up of the Soviet Union, orders for military hardware declined sharply and the company began to look for alternative sources of income.

One of the avenues explored was the production of air guns.  The company began production of a range of sporting and target air rifles in addition to several target air pistols.  In 1996 a CO2 powered, .177 version of the Makarov pistol was proposed: the MP-654K.  In part, this was in response to a need in military and law enforcement agencies for a safe training version of the Makarov pistol, though it has also been claimed that it was an attempt to find a commercial use for existing stocks of surplus parts for the cartridge version.  Design and initial manufacturing was completed in 1997 and the pistol was first offered for sale as part of the 1998 model range (though apparently very early examples were available from late 1997).

Development

To date there have been five clearly different models of the MP-654K, usually referred to as Generations 1 – 5, though there are also minor differences in shape and finish within generations.  Major differences between generations are outlined below.  All MP-654Ks have a unique serial number, the first two digits of which identify the year of manufacture.  However, please note that dates given here aren’t absolute and there is some overlap between the generations – for example, an early 2000 model may have a Generation 1 slide and so on.  There also doesn’t seem to be a clear chronological progression in models – I would guess that 654s were sometimes assembled using parts stockpiled during earlier manufacturing runs.  For this reason, this isn’t intended as a complete and comprehensive guide to every difference between generations – it’s an overall explanation of the major differences.

All versions of the Baikal MP-654K are powered by CO2 retained in a drop-out magazine and shoot 4.5mm steel BBs through a 3.8 inch rifled barrel.  BBs are retained in the magazine and the pistol can be fired in single or double action.  The magazine also incorporates the firing valve.  The slide is moveable and can be racked and locked, but this is not a blowback replica.  The sights are fixed, though the rear sight is drift-adjustable.  The pistol is manufactured almost entirely from steel as opposed to the zinc alloy which is used on most replicas.

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Generation 3 pistol field stripped, but with magazine in place, showing the firing valve.

Takedown is identical to the cartridge version and similar to the Walther PPK – the trigger guard is hinged at the lower rear.  Pulling the front of the trigger guard down and propping it against the frame allows the slide to be pulled backwards, raised and then slid off to the front.  Other than removing the slide return spring, no further field stripping is possible.

It has been claimed by some people that 654 parts and parts for the Makarov pistol are interchangeable – I have seen 60, 70 and even 80% parts commonality claimed.  It has also been suggested that 654s are in some way converted from cartridge Makarov pistols.  Both things are almost certainly untrue (although it is possible that very early versions may have used stocks of surplus parts originally manufactured for the cartridge version).  IMZ generally don’t respond helpfully to requests for clarification.  So, although many parts of the 654 are dimensionally identical to Makarov parts, and may even have been produced using the same tools and jigs, the materials used and heat treatment employed are different.

Generation 1 (1998 – 1999)

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Generation 1 (1999) MP-654K with alternative slide nose profiles, inset

Official production of the MP-654K began with the 1998 model (though these were actually first available in late 1997).  Visually, this version is a very close match for the cartridge Makarov pistol, especially those models which have a flat-fronted slide.  Finish is either blued or nickel for the slide and fit and operation of the slide is very good indeed (though the slide return spring is extremely powerful, making racking difficult).  Grips are made of a fairly soft grey plastic and fit very well, making this model particularly pleasant to handle.  The frame is finished in a matt grey “Parkerised” effect except for the area on the left of the frame, under the safety catch which is blued.

The inner barrel support is very substantial on Generation 1 pistols and the barrel itself is pressed and pinned (or on some examples welded) in place (the barrels on all subsequent models were screw-in).  Machining of the slide is extensive, accurate and of high quality both inside and out and the slide is a weighty piece of metal made from a thick-walled casting.  Some very early examples have a covered ejection slot, but most Generation 1 pistols (and all subsequent models) have an open ejection slot.  Some generation 1 pistols also had the ejector pin slot milled out.

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Comparative pictures – Generation 1 (left), Generation 3 (right).  Note better slide fit and finishing on Gen 1.

It is sometimes said that early 654s have machined slides where later models have cast slides.  This is misleading.  All slides start as rough castings or forgings and are then finished by machining.  The degree, extent and quality of final machining varies across the different generations (as does the weight and gauge of the original casting/forging) but the manufacturing process is the same in all cases.  The machining on Generation 1 pistols is especially good, extending to the flat area of the slide under the safety catch and including some inner surfaces of the slide.  There seem to be several slide profiles on Generation 1 pistols – the earliest versions had a flat-fronted slide that is a very close match for the cartridge Makarov, where some later models have more angled slide fronts.

Generation 1 MP-654Ks are considered to be of the highest quality, and this is the model most sought-after by collectors.

Generation 2 (2000 – 2003)

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Generation 2 (2000) MP-654K with nickel finish slide and flat-fronted profile.  Inset: more typical Generation 2 (2000) rounded slide nose.

Most of the differences between Generation 1 and Generation 2 pistols are in the slide.  The slide is re-shaped with a more rounded front.  It has been suggested that this was done to provide a visual clue that this is not a cartridge version, but I have no idea if this is true.  However, just as on Generation 1 Pistols, Generation 2 MP-654Ks come with a variety of slide shapes and finishes.  The slide is generally less weighty and thinner walled and there is no machining on the inside surfaces.  The firing pin is thicker and has a blunt end, compared to the pointed version on Generation 1 pistols.  The rear sight and anti-reflective strip on top of the slide are narrower and the front sight is smaller.  The fit quality of the slide on the frame is not quite as good as on the first generation.

This version retains the grey plastic grips and the heavy slide return spring from the previous version.  The magazine supplied with the Generation 2 version appears to be identical that supplied with the Generation 1 pistol.

Generation 3 (2004 – 2009)

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Generation 3 (2006) MP-654K

Generation 3 introduced a revised magazine, with a larger feed-lip to accommodate 4.5mm lead balls and a catch to hold the follower down, making  loading easier.  The magazine is dimensionally identical to those on earlier models and Generation 1, 2 and 3 magazines appear to be interchangeable.  The slide has the same overall shape as the Generation 2 model, but the extent and quality of final machining is less impressive.  The slide return spring on many (but not all) Generation 3 pistols is shorter and lighter, making it easier to rack the slide.

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Generation 1(left) and Generation 3 (right).  Note wider anti-glare strip and rear sight on Gen 1.

This model is provided with black or grey plastic grips.

Generation 4 (2010 – 2012)

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Generation 4 (2011) nickel finish with black plastic grips

Generation 4 pistols have a lighter, thinner walled slide and machining seems to be of lower quality and less extensive.  The magazine on Generation 4 pistols is wider than those on earlier models, though otherwise it appears to be of identical design and construction.  The slide return spring on many Generation 4 pistols is shorter and lighter, making it easier to rack the slide.  This model is generally provided with re-shaped black or red, shiny and rather hard grips.

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Generation 4 (2011) with red plastic grips

Generation 4 models are considered by some to be the poorest of the MP-654s, which seems a little harsh.  The material, build and finishing quality may not be up to the standards of the earliest models, but this model is still way ahead of most replica pistols.

Generation 5 (2012 – present)

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Generation 5 (2012)

Generation 5 pistols represent a major update to the MP-654K with a redesigned frame, slide and magazine.

The slide is flat-fronted, very similar in shape to the original weapon and the extractor pin slot is milled out.  The quality of casting and machining is very good indeed.  Slides are provided with an all over glossy finish, or with the top part in a matt finish and the sides glossy.  A wider anti-glare strip (similar to Generation 1 models) is provided.  There appear to be minor variations in the shape of the slide nose within Generation 5 pistols.  The barrel is drilled to a diameter of around 9mm to a depth of 10mm to replicate the look of the barrel on the cartridge Makarov.

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Generation 4 (left) and 5 (right) magazines

The magazine is much slimmer than previous models, though still of the same basic design and incorporating the firing valve. Some version of the Generation 5 MP-654K are supplied with a flush CO2 tightening screw in the base of the magazine rather than the usual tab. The bottom part of the frame is cut away.  Grips are similar in shape to the Generation 4, made from red hard plastic resembling Bakelite and featuring a red star.  A lanyard loop is provided on the lower left of the grip (something that was also seen on some earlier models).  A very powerful slide return spring is fitted, making it difficult to rack the slide.

Many people have welcomed the Generation 5 model as a return to the levels of quality and finish seen on the earlier models.

Legal issues in the US

In 2001 the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) blocked importation of the MP-654K to the United States, citing concerns that this air pistol could be converted to fire live rounds.  This seems an odd decision in a country where firearms are so easy to obtain (and where importation of the cartridge Makarov pistol continued without restriction), and it’s difficult to see what prompted this concern.  The MP-654K may be based on the Makarov, but very extensive machining and modification and replacement of parts such as the barrel would be required to allow the 654 to accept live rounds.  Even if this were to be done, the lack of heat treatment on vital parts would almost certainly mean that the converted pistol would pose as much of a risk to the user as to anyone else.  I’m not aware of any case in the US or elsewhere involving conversion of an MP-654K to fire cartridges and one would imagine that it would be simpler just to buy a firearm in the first place?

Tuning

The MP-654K is a very popular pistol to tune for more power – I have seen claims of tuned MP-654s with extended barrels which shoot steel BBs at over 700fps! Replacement valves and other parts are certainly widely available. However, I am not aware of any tuning of modification which is designed purely to improve accuracy. And if you do decide to increase the power of your MP-654K, please do be careful – it seems to be possible to tune these to the point where they break airgun laws in some parts of the world. Don’t do that or you may find yourself in a very great deal of trouble!

Packaging and presentation  3/5

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Just like the cartridge version, the MP-654K comes in a sturdy card box, wrapped in greased brown paper.  Generation 1 – 4 models also come with a cleaning rod, spare O-rings and a valve disassembly tool.

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Cleaning rod, replacement O-rings and valve disassembly tool

This is rather an old-fashioned form of packaging compared to modern plastic inserts and bubble packs, but it fits rather nicely with the period feel of this replica. The inclusion of a valve disassembly tool and spare O-rings is a particularly nice touch.

Visual Accuracy 9/10

As you’d expect, this is a very good visual replica of the cartridge firing Makarov. It’s not completely identical – the slide profile on some versions is slightly different and the CO2 piercing tab on the bottom of the magazine is very evident. But overall, this is very close.

Functional accuracy  13/15

Again, as you’d expect, functional accuracy here is very good. All controls work as they do on the original, the drop-out magazine is very close in size to the original and the field-stripping procedure is identical. The lack of blowback does mean that shooting the MP-654K is a little different to shooting the original, but otherwise this is a good functional replica.

Shooting  25/40

OK, this is where things get a bit complicated. Let me say again that I have personally owned just one MP-654K (a 2008 Generation 3 model), so my shooting experience is limited to that particular model.  However, I don’t believe that performance varies greatly across the generations, so I think this is probably representative of shooting any MP-654K.

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My MP-654K

You see, as a shooter, the MP-654K has one fundamental and intrinsic problem; Contrary to what you may read elsewhere, it is designed to shoot 4.5mm steel BBs through a rifled barrel (Generation 1 & 2 magazines can only shoot steel BBs – it wasn’t until Generation 3 that the magazine was redesigned to be able to shoot .177” lead balls as well). That is always going to be inaccurate (if you’re interested, there’s a link at the end of this article to a short description of why this is so). The feed system on the 654 means that it can only shoot BBs, not pellets. It has a .177” rifled barrel but it is intended to shoot 4.5mm steel BBs. Now, many people seem to think that 4.5mm and .177” are the same thing, but they’re not. The internal diameter of a .177” rifled barrel is larger than the external diameter of a 4.5mm steel BB. So, when a steel BB travels down a rifled barrel, it rattles and bounces off the lands of the rifling, causing an erratic trajectory when it leaves the barrel.

You might wonder why Baikal used this system here rather than providing a more appropriate (for a BB shooter) smoothbore barrel? The answer is cost: Baikal already produced .177” rifled barrels for several other airguns and it was cheaper to use this in the 654 rather than to design a completely new smoothbore barrel. One thing that Baikal have said is that they have tested the 654 extensively with steel BBs and that they have not found these to cause any erosion to the rifling. You can use .177” lead balls in this replica too (for Generation 3 and onwards), but these aren’t without problems. The soft lead balls tend to get slightly distorted as they are compressed by the magazine follower spring, leaving them with small flats. Any distortion on the surface of a spherical BB will cause variations in trajectory, so although lead balls are generally marginally more accurate than steel BBs in this replica, the difference isn’t pronounced.

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The magazine is removed by pushing back on the looped end of the main spring which projects below the base of the grip.  However, this is small and rounded and it can be difficult to operate if you have sweaty man-fingers.  Some people tie a small piece of cord to the loop to make releasing the magazine easier.  CO2 is loaded into the magazine and pierced by turning the lanyard loop in the base.  Up to 13 steel BBs are loaded into the magazine which is then inserted into the grip.  The magazine locks in place with a nice, positive click.  The trigger pull in DA is long and heavy but with a consistent and clean break point.

On pulling the trigger, the first thing you’ll notice is that these replicas are LOUD.  My 654 was one of the loudest air pistols I have owned.  I don’t use hearing protection when shooting air pistols, but with the 654 I would seriously consider it if shooting for extended periods.  The second thing you’ll notice is that your steel BBs aren’t grouping particularly tightly.  I found that a spread of anything from 2½” – 3″ at 6 yards was about average.  Accuracy is slightly better with .177” lead balls – I found average groupings of 2″ at 6 yards using these, with the occasional flyer.

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Eight shots, six yards, .177” lead balls

For single action shooting, it’s possible to rack the slide to cock the hammer, but only if you have a model with the shorter slide return spring and even then it’s hard work.  I generally manually cocked the hammer back for each shot.  The SA trigger pull is nice – short, not too heavy and with a very precise break. With the slide locked back, operating the slide release feels rather like tripping a rat-trap – the slide returns with a very positive action indeed.  The safety lever also de-cocks the pistol in addition to blocking the trigger and locking the slide.

Power and CO2 usage seems to vary widely even amongst similar models. My Generation 3 MP-654K typically chronoed at around 375 – 400fps with steel BBs and around 50 fps lower with lead balls. However, I have seen claims of over 500fps using steel BBs with unmodified, standard versions of this replica. I got around 60 – 70 shots per CO2 on average though I have seen claims of over 100 shots per CO2.

Quality and reliability  14/15

Early MP-654Ks are built like a T-34 tank – heavy, solid, dependable and feeling as if they would survive anything including a direct hit from a tactical nuclear weapon.  Subsequent models lost some of that feel, but all MP-654s are weighty pistols which feel more like a firearm than a replica. Finish is generally very good indeed, approaching firearm levels on early models and still much better than average on later models. Reliability also seems to be reasonable with no more than the sort of wear and tear you would expect to see, especially on early versions which are now almost twenty years old.

Overall Impression  14/15

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Not your average MP-654K. This is one of several limited special editions produced by Baikal.

When you pick up some replicas, they feel disappointing. This can be down to a lack of weight, the use of plastic where the original used steel or just an overall feel and balance that doesn’t match that of a firearm. None of these things apply here. The MP-654K looks, feels and handles just like the cartridge firing Makarov pistol. Not many replicas manage that and when you add functionality that also matches the original, the MP-654K replicates the firearm it is based on better than just about anything else currently in the market.

Conclusion

There are some obvious problems here. Despite (or perhaps because of) having a rifled barrel, shooting performance of the MP-654K isn’t fantastic in terms of fps or accuracy.  Some models have slide return springs which are so powerful that racking the slide to cock the hammer for SA shooting is virtually impossible.  On Generation 3 and particularly Generation 4 models, fit and finish aren’t as good.  When you add all these things up, and consider that the MP-654K is fairly expensive compared to many other replicas, it may not sound especially attractive.

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And there’s the problem…  Objectively I can see its flaws, but I loved my MP-654K and enjoyed shooting it as much as any other replica air pistol I have owned.  It just feels so much better made and put together than most replicas and the deafening bang when you pull the trigger makes it feel like shooting a firearm.  In fact, it may be more accurate not to consider this a replica at all – it’s really a practice version of the cartridge version of the Makarov pistol.  So you may look at the negatives and conclude that the MP-654K isn’t for you, and I can understand that.  Or you may become obsessed with a desire to own examples from every generation and sub-type ever made, and I can understand that too.  It’s easy to become focussed on numbers when looking at replica pistols – how fast does it shoot?  How accurate?  How realistic? How much CO2 does it use? I do it myself when reviewing. But this replica has an emotive appeal that goes beyond simple numbers.  If you can, try handling and shooting one and I think you’ll see what I mean.  Just don’t blame me if you end up selling your house and children to fund your own collection of 654s!

Many thanks to the folk at the Makarov Pistol Association who helped with pictures and arcane knowledge regarding the MP-654K.  Sadly, the PSA is no longer available on-line but there is an extensive and helpful Makarov forum at the Umarex Boys Club (link below) which provides a great resource for anyone interested in finding out more about these replicas.

Total score: 78/100

Related pages:

Anics Beretta 9000S review

Anics SKIF A-3000 review

How to make your replica shoot more accurately

Links

Makarov related forum at the Umarex Boys Club

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