Time for a review of something a little different. The Baikal MP-654K is an 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 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 minor changes since it was introduced in 1998, so this review is a little different to usual. Rather than looking at a single example, this examines the history and development of this pistol, refutes some of the myths surrounding it and provides 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.
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.
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 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 – 42 in the PPK), is easier and cheaper to manufacture and has a reputation for being more rugged and reliable than the Walther.
The Baikal MP-654K
In 1949 IMZ began producing commercial sporting firearms in addition to military hardware. 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 outside the Soviet bloc. In 1990, following the break-up of the Soviet Union, orders for military hardware reduced 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 utilise 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).
The Baikal MP-654K is powered by CO2 retained in a full-size drop-out magazine and fires 4.5mm steel BBs or lead balls 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 pistol. 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.
Generation 3 pistol field stripped, but with magazine in place, showing 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.
The MP-654K comes in a sturdy cardboard box, wrapped in greased paper. Generation 1 – 4 models also come with a cleaning rod, spare O-rings and a valve disassembly tool. Baikal claim that extensive testing has not shown any deterioration of the rifled barrel through the use of steel BBs, though many owners choose to use softer lead balls. It should be noted that on Generation 1 and 2 models the magazine feed may cause jams if 4.5mm lead balls are used (these are slightly larger diameter than steel BBs). Later models can fire both types of ammunition without any problems.
Cleaning rod, replacement O-rings and valve disassembly tool
It has been claimed that 654s use parts intended for cartridge Makarov pistols – 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 probably untrue despite the cartridge and CO2 versions being produced in the same manufacturing plant (although it is possible that early versions may have used stocks of surplus parts originally manufactured for the cartridge version). IMZ don’t respond helpfully to requests for clarification. So, although many parts of the 654 are dimensionally identical to original parts, and may even have been produced using the same tools and jigs, the materials used and heat treatment employed are likely to be different. A magazine from a cartridge Makarov will fit in some models of the MP-654K, though of course you can’t load or fire cartridge ammo in the CO2 version.
Legal issues in the US
In 2001 the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) blocked importation of the 654 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 cartridge Makarov, but extensive machining and modification 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? At the time of writing, it is believed that the US importation ban is still in place.
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 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 pistols were sometimes assembled using parts stockpiled during earlier manufacturing runs. This isn’t intended as a complete and comprehensive guide to every difference between generations – it’s an overall explanation of major differences.
Generation 1 (1998 – 1999)
Generation 1 (1999) MP-654K with alternative slide nose profiles, inset
Official production of the MP-654K began with the 1998 model (though it has been claimed that these were actually first available in late 1997). Visually, this 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.
Comparative pictures – Generation 1 (left), Generation 3 (right). Note better slide fit and seating 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)
Generation 2 (2000) MP-654K with nickel finish, flat-fronted slide. 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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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. The bottom part of the frame is cut away. Grips are original Makarov Bakelite items 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.
Shooting the MP-654
I have owned just one MP-654K (a 2008 Generation 3 model), so my shooting experience is limited to that pistol. However, performance doesn’t greatly vary across the generations, so I believe this is probably representative of shooting across the range.
The magazine is removed by pushing back on the looped end of the main spring which projects below the butt. However, this is small and rounded, and it can be difficult to operate. Some people add a small piece of cord to the loop to make releasing the mag easier. CO2 is loaded into the magazine and pierced by turning the lanyard loop. BBs or lead balls 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 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 2″ – 2½” at 6 yards was about average. Accuracy is better with 4.5mm lead balls (but only Generation 3 and later will accept these without jamming). With lead balls I found that groupings reduced to 1½” – 2″ at 6 yards.
Eight shots, six yards, steel BBs
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 pulled the hammer back for each shot. 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.
Early MP-654Ks are built like a T-34 tank – heavy, solid and dependable if not terribly user-friendly. Subsequent models lost some of that feel, but all MP-654s are weighty pistols which feel more like a firearm than a replica. However, shooting performance 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 4 models, fit and finish aren’t fantastic. When you add all these things up, and consider that the MP-654K is fairly expensive, it doesn’t sound especially attractive.
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 air pistol I have owned. It just feels so much better made and put together than most replicas. In fact, it may be more accurate not to consider this a replica at all – it’s really a practice version of the cartridge Makarov. 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? I do it myself when reviewing. But you may have noticed that this review doesn’t include scores. That’s partly because I’m covering many variants of the MP-654K and I’d have to assign separate scores to each type. But it also because this pistol has an emotive appeal that goes beyond numbers. If you can, try handling and shooting one. 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!
Many thanks to the folk at the Makarov Pistol Association who helped with pictures and arcane knowledge regarding the MP-654K. The MPA is a great resource for anyone interested in finding out more about these pistols, though you will have to register to see posts.
Umarex Walther CP99 Compact review
You may also be interested in The Man Place. It’s a companion site to The Pistol Place and features articles on growing up in the UK in the 1960s. Topics include the toys, television, movies and games of the period.